Historic Centre of Warsaw (1980)

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During the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944, more than 85% of Warsaw's historic centre was destroyed by Nazi troops. After the war, a five-year reconstruction campaign by its citizens resulted in today's meticulous restoration of the Old Town, with its churches, palaces and market-place. It is an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century. 
  • Poland 2004. City view of Warsaw. 

According to legend, Warsaw received its name from two children, Wars and Sawa. Syrenka, a mermaid from the Vistula (Wisla), predicted the founding of Warsaw to the pair, who then gave their names to the city. 

Poland 2004. City View of Warsaw.

Today her image graces the capital's coat of arms.  Since 1622, the Warsaw Coat of Arms has been rendered as a mermaid with sword and shield in hand, representing the mermaid from the River Vistula (Wisła). 

Poland 1918. Warsaw City Arms. The Little Mermaid of Warsaw.

Warsaw was founded around the turn of the 14th century by Duke Boleslaw of Mazovia, then an independent principality. In 1413 Warsaw became the regional capital. At that time its population was about 4,500. The city lay on major trade routes, benefiting from its location on the Wisla. In 1526, when the last Mazovian prince died without an heir, Warsaw was absorbed into the Polish state. The Sejm, Poland’s parliament, began meeting in Warsaw in the 1550s. In 1573, four years after Poland united with Lithuania, the nobility began choosing the king in royal elections on Warsaw’s Wola Field.
  • Poland 1918. The Syrenka (Mermaid) in the Warsaw City Arms. FEN is an abbreviation for Fenigów, an old Polish currency. The stamp is no longer valid. 

Warsaw is divided into The Old and The New Town. Although the Old Town has a history that dates back to the Middle Ages, this part of the city has been completely reconstructed from the rubble left by World War II. 

Today, however, there are no longer any signs of the tragic destruction that took place; the new "old" town has already acquired a historical patina of its own and has become the elegant, lively center of the capital. 

The reconstruction of the historic buildings has taken place partly on the basis of Bernardo Bellotto's meticulous images of Central European cities in the 18th century. Bellotto died in Warsaw in 1780. 

  • Poland 1984. View of Warsaw from the Vistula River. Painting by Bernardo Bellotto, also known as "The Second Canaletto". 

Poland 1984. View of Warsaw from the Vistula River. Painting by Bernardo Bellotto.

At the edge of The Old Town is Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square), featuring the Zygmunt Pillar, the oldest monument in Warsaw. On this high pillar is a statue of King Zygmunt (or Sigismund III) bearing a cross and a sword. It was this king who moved the capital of Poland from Krakow to Warsaw. 

Poland 1995. Souvenir sheet. Castle Square in Warsaw with the Zygmunt Pillar.

Poland 1998. King Zygmunt III Wasa, king of Sweden and Poland.

Poland 2002. The Royal Castle of Warsaw, with the Little Mermaid protecting Warsaw, and the Zygmunt Pillar in the foreground.

The Zamek Królewski (Royal Castle) was destroyed at the end of World War II by the German Wehrmacht, the interior was plundered, and the walls blown up. 

The decision to reconstruct it was only taken in 1971, and the whole castle has now been accessible to the public since 1984. All the architectural fragments remaining from the original building were integrated into the new one, which was reconstructed in the Baroque style of the early 17th century - and given a splendid 18th century interior. 

  • Poland 2002. The Royal Castle of Warsaw, with The Little Mermaid protecting Warsaw, and the Zygmunt Pillar in the background. 
During its 700-year history the castle has served as the residence of the dukes of Mazovia and the Polish kings, and later became the seat of the country's parliament. In 1791 the Constitution of 3 May was drawn up, the first constitution in Europe based on the principle of liberty. 

It became the residence of the tsars until the 19th century and from 1918 the residence of the presidents of Poland. Today the castle is a museum. 

Most of the works of art housed in the castle are from the few collections which survived Nazi occupation. Among them are views of the city in the 18th century by Bellotto, otherwise known as Canaletto (see stamp above). 

  • Poland 1991. Fragment of Matejko's painting "Constitution Day", executed 1892

Poland 1991. Fragment of Jan Matejko's painting "Constitution Day".

Warsaw has two works by the world famous Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844); the Poniatowski-statue and the statue of the astronomer Nicholas Copernicus. The former was destroyed in 1944 because of the bombings of Warsaw. The original statue has been replaced by a bronze copy, paid partly by the Danish state and partly by the municipality of Copenhagen.  

Poland 1955. Neo Classicaul Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. The statue of the astronomer Nicholas Copernicus in Warsaw.

Poland 1945. Neo Classical Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Imperforate stamp showing the military headquarters with the Poniatowski-statue.

Poland 1956. Neo Classical Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. The Poniatowski-statue in Warsaw.

The saddest period in the city's 700-year history was World War II. Over 700,000 citizens lost their lives and the city was razed to the ground. The center has been rebuilt true to its original, but most of the 1.7 million inhabitants now live in the new estates built on the outskirts of Warsaw. A sad memory of the Second World War is the monument to the Jewish Ghetto that was razed to the ground by the Nazis. On September 1, 1939, Warsaw was the target of the first German air raids on a major city. After numerous bombing and artillery attacks, the city fell to Nazi troops on September 27. Throughout the war Warsaw was the main center of a rump Polish state, although the Germans intended eventually to reduce Warsaw to a resort solely for German habitation. 

Poland 1956. Memorial card to the Heros of the Jewish Ghetto, Warsaw.

It was also the center of the Polish underground army. The Germans systematically plundered the city of art treasures, razed national monuments, and terrorized the populace in a calculated plan to annihilate Jewish and Polish identity. 

In late 1940 the Germans established a walled ghetto less than 2.6 sq km (1 sq mi) in total area and herded Jews from the city and the surrounding region into it. Over the next two and a half years hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced into the ghetto and then sent to concentration camps. In April 1943 the Jews in the ghetto staged a heroic month-long resistance. After the Nazis put down the uprising they destroyed the ghetto, killing or sending to camps all of the remaining inhabitants. Some 500,000 Warsaw-area Jews died in all. 

Poland 1956. Memorial stamp to the Heros of the Jewish Ghetto, Warsaw.

  • Poland 1956. Memorial card commemorating the Hero's of the Ghetto. The card is franked on the front side with a similar stamp, engraved by Czeslaw Slania. 

In 1985 Israel commemorated the Resistance Heros of the Warsaw Ghetto with this issue of the Zuckerman-couple, Zivia Zuckerman (1914-1918) and Yitzhak Zuckerman (1915-1981). Just have a look at their faces to sense the ordeals they went through.
  • Israel 1985. The Resistance Heros of the Warsaw Ghetto. 

Israel 1985. The Resistance Heros of the Warsaw Ghetto. The Zuckerman-couple.

But Warsaw is a city that is much more than the country's capital, the headquarters of industry and a major traffic junction. It is first and foremost the cultural centre of Poland; it is the home of the Academy of Sciences and the National Library; the International Chopin Competition is held here every five years, and the International Book Fair takes place in the city every autumn. 

Poland 1992. Frederic Chopin. Poland 1992. Henryk Sienkiwwicz. Poland 1992. Marie Curie, nee Sklodowska.

The cultural activities are reflected in some of Poland's most famous citizens of international fame: the composer Frederic Chopin, the writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, and the physicist Marie Curie (née Sklodowska), who are all closely related to Warsaw.  

On August 1, 1944, as Soviet armies neared the city, the Polish resistance rose against the Germans before finally succumbing in October with some 160,000 fatalities. After the uprising, German troops deported the remainder of the population and deliberately destroyed what remained of the city. Of the city's prewar population only 162,000 survived the war

Sources and links:

Other World Heritage Sites in Poland (on this website). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing (Poland-Section) for further information on such properties. 

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Revised 31 jul 2006  
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