War is such a disruptive and destructive activity. Not only does war create vast cost to human life, but it also destroys human endeavour and accomplishment. During World War II Warsaw, the capital of Poland was almost completely destroyed, with only about 15% of pre-war buildings surviving and virtually turned to ashes and rubble. In the post-war years, Warsaw has been completely rebuilt making it an interesting city to visit today.
Warsaw is an inland city that is situated on the Vistula River about halfway between the Baltic Sea and the Carpathian Mountains. Having been the capital of Poland since 1596, it is also known as “Phoenix City” due to the fact that it has survived lots of wars and invasions throughout its history, so re-building the city has been a regular requirement since its inception.
Because warfare does clear a lot of land, Warsaw now has 25% of its area preserved as public land, making the city open and spacious and quite a pleasant place to stroll around. Of the 82 gardens within the city, one of the oldest and most popular is Saxon Garden which covers 15 hectares and was formally a garden that was enjoyed exclusively by the royal family.
Architecturally, Warsaw is a city of many styles. St John’s cathedral is a good example of the Gothic style and there are some examples of Renaissance and Baroque architecture too.
The most prolific style stems from the post-war years when Poland was a member of the Soviet Eastern Bloc, and the buildings were mainly constructed in a stark, authoritarian style with clean, straight lines and towering facades. This is epitomised in buildings such as the Palace of Culture and Science which has a distinct industrial look about it.
Poland was one of the first Soviet Bloc countries to overthrow communism and the new found freedoms and capitalistic economy encouraged more contemporary styles of architecture to develop.
One of the more interesting places to visit, though, is the Old City, which somehow managed to avoid destruction. Typical of medieval towns, the streets here are narrow and the buildings painted in vibrant colours. There is a lot of history associated with these streets, but it is also an area which boasts lots of cafes, restaurants and clubs, and is a great spot in which to indulge in some people watching.
The best time to visit is between May and September when the climate is kind and when the parks and gardens bloom with life.