It is not exaggeration to say that Warsaw has risen from the ashes. In 1945, 85 percent of the city was destroyed beyond repair. However, you could now walk through the streets of the Old Town without realizing the carnage that occurred during the German invasion of 1939, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, and the general Warsaw Uprising a year later.
Human impact is more difficult to repair, and Warsaw has museums and monuments that provide unflinching accounts of one of Europe’s darkest periods. But there are also echoes of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the Early Modern Age, when Warsaw was the capital of Europe’s largest empire. Take the Royal Route, which winds through royal properties such as azienki Park, a miniature world of palaces and pavilions in the heart of the city, to see it.
When touring a historic city center, you’re usually looking for authentic, untouched architecture and monuments.
However, following Warsaw’s experiences in the twentieth century, the magic of this quarter is in the meticulous and faithful reconstruction completed up to 1962. After nearly nine-tenths of the city was destroyed, the Old Town’s rebirth was an incredible feat, earning it UNESCO World Heritage status.
You’d never guess that this was all just a pile of debris 70 years ago as you wind your way through alleys and passageways, past guildhalls, churches, and burgher houses.
Canon Square, a triangular plaza surrounded by tenements that once housed canons of the Warsaw Chapter, and St John’s Archcathedral, which houses the tomb of Stanisaw II Augustus, Poland’s last King, are two sights not included on the list below.
Almost all of Warsaw’s historic landmarks are located on a single axis that runs south from Castle Square for about 15 kilometers before arriving at Wilanów Palace.
Churches, parks, palaces, academic institutions, and opulent townhouses are all located along this street.
The Royal Castle at the top, azienki Palace in its stunning eponymous park, and Wilanów Palace at the southern terminus are the three residences that give the route its “royal” title.
All three are absolutely necessary, resonating with the wealth and might of the Renaissance and Baroque Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The Mannerism and Baroque castle, which served as the seat of the Polish monarchs for hundreds of years, greets visitors at the southern entrance to the Old Town.
The castle has seen two demolitions in its 700-year history, one by the Swedes in the mid-17th century and another by the Germans during WWII.
Since the 1980s, the castle has been a museum where visitors can see the apartments of 16th-century King Sigismund II Augustus and visit the House of Parliament, the birthplace of Polish democracy and the site of amendments to the Polish-Lithuanian constitution that brought unprecedented religious tolerance.
This museum commemorates the August to October 1944 Warsaw Uprising and is housed in a converted former tramway power station in the Wola district.
When you enter, you can listen to the memories of uprising participants using pre-war telephone receivers.
The Kino Palladium, a cinema showing footage collected by insurgents and screened at the Warsaw Palladium during the uprising, is one of many clever installations.
There are also replicas of the sewers used by the fighters, and ‘before and after’ photographs of the city demonstrate the ruthlessness of the German retaliation.