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The Warsaw Voice » Destination Warsaw » November 28, 2013
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Rebuilding Warsaw’s History
November 28, 2013   
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This year marks 60 years since Warsaw was rebuilt from ruin after it was razed to the ground by the Germans in retaliation for the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, during which Polish resistance fighters tried to seize control of the city.

The rebuilt historic center of Warsaw was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980. It is one of 14 World Heritage List sites in Poland. Under the 1972 Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, certain sites are designated as being of “outstanding universal value.” The World Heritage List currently comprises 962 sites—745 cultural, 188 natural, and 29 mixed—in 157 countries.

In 1944, the Germans destroyed more than 85 percent of Warsaw’s historic center, reducing it to smoking rubble. Some 60,000 people died under the rubble and on the barricades. It took a mammoth effort on the part of residents, with the support of the whole nation, to rebuild the city after the war.

The history of Warsaw’s Old Town goes back to the 13th century. Its heart is the Market Square, which until the end of the 18th century was the most important place in Warsaw where fairs and festivities were held as well as civic and national celebrations.

The 15th-century St. John’s Basilica in the heart of the Old Town was originally a parish church that became a cathedral in 1798. Destroyed in 1944, it was restored to its original Gothic-style appearance. Today, it is one of Poland’s national pantheons. The red marble crypts beneath the main aisle hold the remains of historic figures such as the last Polish king, Stanisław August Poniatowski, prewar presidents Gabriel Narutowicz and Ignacy Mo¶cicki, and prime minister and composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski.

The Royal Castle on Zamkowy Square in the Old Town had to wait longer to be rebuilt after WW II. The communist regime delayed making a decision on whether to rebuild the castle and it was not until 1971 that reconstruction started, financed almost entirely by the Polish people and Poles abroad. Originally built in the 14th century, the Royal Castle is a magnificent example of the Baroque style. In 1569, King Sigismund III Vasa moved his residence here and Warsaw became the capital of Poland. Over the centuries, the Royal Castle served as a residence for kings and also hosted sessions of the Polish parliament. Today, it is a museum, and its fascinating interiors showcase many original furnishings, statues and famous paintings.

Jolanta Wolska
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