a8 June 2014

Warsaw Old Town is... new

Warsaw Old Town

One of the many interesting things about UNESCO listed Warsaw Old Town is that in fact... it's very new! It was built in 1950's on the ruins of real old town that existed there before World War II. During World War II Warsaw together with its Old Town was almost completely demolished. Old Town was destroyed in more than 85%. Some estimates mention even 90%. So it was pretty much ruins.

Most of the damage to the city was done during and after Warsaw Uprising which took place from 1st August to 3rd October 1944. I should explain why Warsaw Uprising started in the first place. 1944 was time when German forces were already loosing on all fronts - from the west Allies were slowly making their way (after landing in Normandy in June 1944) and from the east came Soviet army and in summer they got pretty close to Warsaw. It was obvious that Germans wouldn't hold Warsaw for long. However, Polish leaders and generals knew that if Soviets would liberate Warsaw, it would also mean that Poland would be politically dependent on the USSR, i.e. that it will be forced to become communist country (it happened eventually). Poles also hoped that if they would free the city on their own, they would be able to set up democratic government.

Unfortunately that battle couldn't be won - German forces were too strong, were well trained and well equipped (they even used tanks during the fights). Polish forces consisted mainly of students and scouts many of whom didn't have any weapon or even uniform. And very little battle experience. But due to dedication and maybe desperation to liberate the country the battle still lasted 2 months.

As a form of punishment Hitler together with Himmler ordered their troops to raze the city as an example to other nations what could happen if they would follow Poles.

Below you will find orders they gave:

"The city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth and serve only as a transport station for the Wehrmacht. No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation." - Himmler

"Warsaw has to be pacified, that is, razed to the ground." - Hitler 

And nazis soldiers did so. Unfortunately, complete demolition of the city wasn't the only price Poles paid for Warsaw Uprising - 150.000 to 200.000 civilians were killed, 700.000 were expelled from the city, 10.000 Polish soldiers died, next 5.000 were missing in action and 20.000 were wounded. Finally a lot of Polish heritage was stolen (and never returned to Poland).

After the war Polish architects and archeologists began work to restore the city from ashes. And year by year they worked on this plan. In mid 1950's first part of this plan was finished with about 96 houses, cathedral and mid-walls being reconstructed. It's interesting to note that Royal Palace (Red Building on the right of photo below) was rebuilt much later - in 1970's and 1980's!

The effort was awarded in 1980, with Warsaw Old Town being placed on the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites as "an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century."

So Warsaw Old Town might be new, might be small or not that pretty as in other cities but its story is worth visiting it. So if you will ever come to Warsaw, make sure to pay a visit there! And think about sacrifice of those people who died trying to liberate my country.

Daily photo - Warsaw Old Town

The story wouldn't be complete without a photo. Below image shows Warsaw Old Town during golden hour.
Sunset in Warsaw

Finally some EXIF info:
Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK III (read my review here)
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/11.0
Exposure time: 1/30 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 7
E.V. Step: 1.0
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: no
Technique: HDR, tone-mapping, luminosity masking
Software: Magic Lantern, Photomatix Pro 5 (Contrast Optimizer), Lightroom 5.4, Photoshop CC, Topaz Clarity

Where was this photo taken:

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