Historic Warsaw at a Glance

For tourists to Warsaw, the most important and visible periods of history are rather the more recent – a fact which makes Warsaw quite unique among historic European cities. While its history dates back to the late middle ages, the whole spirit of the city is dominated by the fall of the Poland’s last king in 1795, the string of uprisings against the Tsarist occupation of the 19th century, the brief period of independence after 1918 that saw the city explode into a modern capital, the devastation of the war, the brutal reprisals against the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, and the scars left by the Communist era.

No less important in Warsaw’s history, and certainly no less visible on the historical landscape of the city, are the past 20 years, which have witnessed a complete transformation of the old royal capital into something entirely new, young, vibrant and constantly moving forward. Historical purists might regret the reduction of pre-war Warsaw’s renaissance beauty to a handful of postcard-perfect streets in the city centre, but young Warsaw has come into its own in recent years, preserving its historical identity as a fond memory while boldly putting the emphasis on change. Newly constructed buildings belong unabashedly to the 21st century; local artists together with city developers are constantly looking for new ways to exploit city space; rather than removing communist-era eyesores and recreating the Warsaw of past centuries, new colourful ideas (such as art exhibits under concrete footbridges, or fluorescent sculptures scattered over scruffy lawns) make these grey spaces over anew.

Together with marks of fast-paced change, Warsaw is cluttered with monuments to its past heroes – and when it comes to heroism and sacrifice, it’s hard to outdo the Varsovians. This city has witnessed tumultuous political change countless times over the last two centuries, staged rebellion after rebellion against several occupiers, and never lost its nerve. While the Warsaw you see today is undoubtedly a city of forward-thinking youth, it is impossible to forget that its very existence is due to the bravery and sacrifice of past heroes.