Saturday, 26 May 2018

Birth house of Mikołaj Kopernik

Last week we have seen on the Market Square in Toruń the monument of Mikołaj Kopernik. Kopernik was the astronomer who demonstrated that, contrary to what people believed for ages, it is the Earth who turns around the Sun, not the other way round. He was born in Toruń. To be more precise - here.

As we enter, we can see the portrait of Kopernik. This haircut was quite interesting.

Kopernik was born on 19 February 1473.

He completed his university studies in Bologna. This document confirms his enrolement.

And since Kopernik was a diligent student, on 31 May 1503 he obtained a Ph.D. from the university of Ferrara. But this was not a Ph.D. in astronomy but one in canon law.

But it is of course for his astronomical work that he is best known. Ladies and gentleman, bend your head in front of the manuscript of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres).

In Toruń you can also admire the first edition of this book, printed in 1542 in Nurnberg. The church was immediately offended by the idea that Earth might be turning around the Sun. After all, Earth and humans are the most important of God's creations. In 1616 it was inscribed on the Index of Prohibited Books.

But the imagination of the scientists was already spinning like the solar system. 

Because Kopernik was obviously neither the first nor the last one to raise his eyes to the planets and stars surrounding Earth. Tycho Brache, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton are just a few of them to be commemorated in Kopernik's birth house.

One can wonder how Kopernik managed to discover all he did without all the fancy instruments that astronomers have available today. Well, he did have some tools, though none of them had megabytes of memory or Internet connection. This one is called astrolabe or armillary sphere. It was used to determine the ecliptic length and width of planets, and too measure the local time.

This one is a triquetrum. It is a parallactic instrument, used to determine the parallax of the Moon, or otherwise the angle at which the radius of the Earth ca be seen from the Moon. It was necessary to measure the distance from the Earth to the Moon and he zodiacal stars.

This piece of wood is a quadrant, used to observe the apparent way of the Sun around the celestial sphere.

Obviously, even of Kopernik would probably treat his home as his second office, this was still home. So when walking by you can see what kind of furniture people used to have in late sixteenth century ...

... or what they kitchens looked like. Though personally I doubt that Kopernik was ever here, this was the domain of servants.

But the most delightful surprise in the building was this room.

It is a reconstruction of the exhibition devoted to Kopernik in the Polish museum in Rapperswil, which we visited some years ago.

If you really want to celebrate the life work of Mikołaj Kopernik, I invite you to the Toruń planetarium. Stars are always closer than you think!

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Old Town of Toruń

We will visit today yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Poland - the medieval Old Town of Toruń.

The city plan still looks like it did centuries ago.

The heart of the Old Town is of course around the Town Hall. Next to it you will quickly notice a monument devoted to the most famous inhabitant of the city - the astronomer Mikołaj Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus).

It is not the only monument on the square. This fiddler seems to be entertaining frogs. Actually this is a personification of a legend. Centuries ago, frogs have literally invaded Toruń. There was no way to get rid of them. Until a poor lighterman came to the city, playing his woodel violin to make some money. The frogs were enchanted by his music and followed him out of the city walls into a large pond, never to return.

It is possible to climb up the clock tower of the Town Hall. Shall we? The buildings around the Market Square were the pride of the medieval merchants.

One of the sides is populated by churches. The tall tower belongs to the church of the Holy Spirit.

Toruń lies by the Vistula river.The church by the river is the basilica of Saint John the Evangelist and Saint John the Baptist (it seems to me as if there was an agreement that the church should be devoted to a Saint John but they could not reach an agreement which, so they went for both).

There is also one devoted to Saint Jacob and Saint Philip (again two!).

It is of course part of the Way to Santiago de Compostela.

In the Middle Ages the balance of powers was truck between church and the secular rulers, kings or princes. But Toruń belonged, like Malbork, to the Teutonic Knights so to some extent both the church and the secular power.

Unfortunately today the castle is in ruins.

Though one dungeon was renovated. 

Next to the ruins runs a little brook where the castle mill used to produce flour.

All medieval cities were surrounded by high walls. Toruń is not an exception.

To enter the city, visitors had to use one of the city gates.

The walls are encrusted with towers. The most famous is the leaning one. Just like in Pisa.

The day is lovely. Let's sit by the river and enjoy the sunlight before moving back to exploring Toruń.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Rozafa Castle

A few kilometers from Shkodër lies a high rock on which the Venetians have built a castle.

The Albanian legends say that it owes its name to a woman called Rozafa, who was buried alive in the foundations of the wall to ensure that they will not collapse. No matter what you think about the local civil engineering processes, they seem to work.

The castle belonged to the Venetians, the Osman Turks, the Montenegrin and Serbs. But today the proud Albanian eagle welcomes the visitors.

The castle is quite large and is officially an archaeological site.

The Rozafa castle is surrounded by wetland and two rivers. It has been under siege several times but only a few were successful and always long and difficult.

The river flow in the direction of the Shkoder lake which you can see on the horizon.

The castle itself is composed of three courtyards.

But in all honesty, you will mainly see here walls and grass.

And more walls and more grass.

Have I mentioned walls and grass?

Alright, this is not entirely fair. There are also some remainings of the castle buildings. I believe this one used to be the chapel.

And this one was certainly a watchtower.

All the artefacts from the history of the Rozafa castle are exhibited in a small museum.

The history of Rozafa is tied with the life of the national hero Skanderberg. That's why the Albanian  flag and the Albanian pride are particularly strong here.

Saturday, 5 May 2018


We have spent last year a few weeks in Montenegro. Today we will discover yet another country in the Balkans - Albania. We will start with a visit to Shkodër, one of the oldest and most historic places in the Balkan peninsula. It is also the largest city in the North of the country.

This yellow building is the Regional Council of Shkodra.

And this one is the Town Hall.

Next to the Town Hall you will find a nice city park.

The most important point in the park is the fountain. It is simple in shape but brings relief in the sunny and hot Albanian days.

Let's take now a walk through the historical part of the town.

You can see there nice classical buildings ...

...  and some cafes hidden under the trees.

As in any town you can find here monuments devoted to famous people ...

... and to war heroes.

But there are also some more modern monuments, that symbolize something difficult to catch.

Albania is basically a Muslim country, with over 60% of population professing Islam. As a natural consequence, you will find in Shkodër mosques.

The muezzin is calling the faithful for the evening prayer.

Obviously, the 30% of Christians also have their churches in the town, since religious are mingling in the Balkans since forever.

Albania is a member of United Nations, NATO, WTO, it is also a candidate country to join the European Union. But in some aspect, it is still a bit exotic and surprising. Their transport concepts surely are.