Saturday, 27 June 2015


Today we will have a little history lesson. I do not know if all of you know that what is now the north-eastern part of Poland, before the Second World War was southern part of Prussia, part of the Third Reich. When Adolf Hitler started in 1941 Operation Barbarossa, he decided that he needed military headquarters, as close to the front as possible. Such a top secret and highly secured place was created near Kętrzyn and is known as Wolf's Lair (in German Wolfschanze).

"Wolf" was a nickname of Hitler, since his name means a noble wolf. But the name Wolfschanze and the real use of the complex was known only to a small group of people, the others thought they worked in the Askania chemical company. It was guarded with the use of military vehicles like these ones.

The most important personnel have worked and lived in bunkers built from multi layered ferro-concrete, so thick that bunkers were almost as high as surrounding trees.

Here you can see the height of the bunker in comparison with doors. To improve the security, inside there was only one storey and no windows. To hide the complex at night, only blue light was used. Now we know that such separated light has bad influence on people's sight and mind. It is believed to have had a negative influence on Hitler's mental disease.

But there were also lighter buildings for daily work.

In one of such a buildings, on 20th July 1944, Claus von Stauffenberg performed the best known Fuhrer's assassination attempt. You can watch the story in the movie Valkyrie.

Hitler (number 1 on the chart below) narrowly survived because someone unknowingly pushed the briefcase containing the bomb behind a leg of the heavy conference table. When the bomb exploded, the table deflected much of the blast away from Hitler.

When Soviet armies were approaching, Germans tried to destroy most of the bunkers, so that they cannot be used by ennemy. Even 8 tones of TNT was needed to make the bunker unusable.

Thanks to the dynamite we can now admire the inner construction details and ...

... the power of the nature, both of the flora ....

... and the fauna.

Nowadays the area can be visited and I advise you to take a tour guide. Although the place is made safe, keep in mind how many lives it cost we can live here and visit the incredible places like this.

Saturday, 20 June 2015


I am very proud to take you today to yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Poland - the pearl of the Renaissance, the ideal city, in short - welcome to Zamość!

Zamość was founded in the sixteenth century and was the capital of the majorat (or fee tail) of one of the most powerful noble families - Zamojski. It was designed to be a perfect or ideal city - functional, safe, citizen-friendly and beautiful. The safety features can be best seen by the city walls.

To enter the city, visitors must have entered through one of many, well-guarded, gates. Some of them were smaller ...

... while others could easily let through big waggons pulled by horses.

As an additional protection, the city walls were surrounded by an external ring of moats. Today the moats no longer carry water - they have been turned up into parks and recreational areas.

The beating heart of Zamość is centered around it Great Market Square. It is truely square - a hundred meters long and a hundred meters wide. On the Northern side of the Great Market Square you will find the Town Hall. From its tower every day a trumpet call is being played. It is played to three cardinal directions - all except West one. The Zamojski family did not want the call to flow into the direction of Kraków, the capital city of Poland at that time. This was their way of showing they disapproved the royal political choices.

Each side of the square includes 8 residential buildings, except the one with the Town Hall.

To see them better I propose that we go up on the terrace of the Town Hall.

Here come the buildings on the Eastern and Southern side.

And here the most beautiful ones, at least in my view. The Armenian Houses were built in Mannerism-Baroque style and are very colourful. You can also find them on most postcards from Zamość.

When we move out of the Great Market Square the streets become slightly less interesting, though they still impress by their regular lines.

The Zamojski family was living, of course, in a huge palace. Nowadays it is the seat of the local and regional court of justice. In its current shape it does not inspire respect or fear as it probably used to three hundred years ago. The only memory of its past glory is the monument of Jan Zamojski and his faithful horse. The monument is very recent, it was only created in 2005.

An ideal, citizen-friendly city was obviously centered not only around the palace of the local nobility, no matter how powerful it was. Jan Zamojski has founded the Zamojski Academy, so a university, open to all inhabitants, including bourgeoisie. Today, the building houses a secondary school and still serves educational purposes.

Just a few steps from there you will find the seminary (or theological college) of Zamość. In the back you will see again the tower of the Town Hall.

You will not be surprised to hear that next to the seminary stands the Zamość cathedral. It was built towards the end of the sixteenth century, in Renaissance style.

It can be best seen by its ceiling (do you remember the gothic ceilings of the cathedral in Wrocław?).

Next to the ceiling there are 85 rosettes made of stone. Each has a different design.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a longer time sure guessed that in this part of Poland Catholics could not have been the only religion in the past. You are right my friends - the tolerant Zamojski family has allowed Jews to live in their capital starting from 1588. In 1929 they constituted half of the city's population. Their most important place of prayer was the synagogue at Zamenhoffa Street, the best preserved Renaissance synagogue in Poland.

It has been recently refurbished and is being used as an art gallery. It is also an important element of the Chassidic Route.

One could think that a city that was designed in line with some utopic (in the best sense of the word) ideas will not survive the pressure of time. Well, quite the opposite. Zamość is a city still alive, with nice new buildings being added in the outskirts of the Old Town.

As in any case, it is dependent on the people who live there. Zamość was lucky to give to Poland one of it biggest poets and singers of the second half of the twentieth century - Marek Grechuta.

My favourite song by Grechuta is entitled "The days that we do not know yet". It brings a strong message that whatever happens in life the only moments that matter in life are these that are still to come.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Castle in Lublin

During our first winter visit to Lublin we only had a few minutes to see the Lublin Castle. I decided to spend more time there this time in order to allow you to see its rare beauty. Let's leave the Old Town again by the Grodzka Brama (City Gate). The inscription says it was built in MDCCLXXXV meaning 1785.

When walking on the bridge you can see a glimpse of the modern Lublin.

The path to the Castle is wide - in the past horse carriages had to move up the hill. Nowadays it is reserved for pedestrians. Can you spot the young couple in the back? Yes, brides in their wedding gowns are often seen here, it is a popular destination for wedding photo shoots.

The castle has a shape that reminds me of the Arabic architecture in the South of Spain. Do you also have this feeling?

Inside the courtyard looks more familiar. The Lublin castle was largely re-built by king Zygmunt Stary, based on designs of famous Italian architects. This was the same king whose Italian wife Bona Sforza has influenced the current shape of Wawel, the royal castle in Kraków. I see certain similarities.

In the middle of the courtyard you will find a large fortified tower called keep, built in Romanesque style

The white element on the top is called battlement. Originally it was meant as an additional defense tool. Nowadays it is mainly a "lacy" ornament. On top of the tower there is an observation deck.

The building in the back of the courtyard is the Chapel of the Holy Trinity.

This is the main reason why I decided to take you to the Lublin Castle for the second time. Does not look impressive? Just wait a moment. First, we need to walk through the regional museum located inside the castle. We can see some religious paintings ...

... and a few military paintings.

It is possible to see what the local men used when they were going to war, both in the Middle Ages ...

... and more recently.

It is also possible to admire the patience of their wives, translated into magnificent papercuts. I cannot say if I like more this one ...

... or that one.

Finally I found it - the way to the Chapel.

The Holy Trinity Chapel was built in the fourteenth century. Władysław Jagiełło (yes, the one who defeated Teutonic Knights in Grunwald) has hired a famous local painter to decorate its walls. One thing that you need to know is that Jagiełło was a Lithuanian prince who married the heiress of the Polish throne. Until that day he was a pagan and so were all his subjects. He was baptised, together with the entire country, upon marrying Jadwiga and receiving the Polish crown. The paintings that he has commissioned are unique because they mix the Western and Orthodox style.

You can see there both scenes from the Holy Bible and some noble men.

The paintings cover not only the walls but also the pillars.

The gallery was meant to be a special place for the king himself.

Even though they are 600 years old, the paintings are in a really good shape.

The Chapel is, to my surprise, full of light. The gothic windows behind the main altar are narrow but high.

Next to the king's gallery, the windows are larger, allowing to see the inner courtyard.

I hope that you have enjoyed this tour of the Lublin Castle. I must admit that I was truely impressed by these Ruthenian paintings in the Holy Trinity Chappel - the brightness of the colours, the precision of the shapes, the amazing mix of Western style and Eastern mysticism. If I would be asked to propose a new Polish entry for the UNESCO Tentative list this would for sure be one of my first suggestions. What is your view about it?