Things I Love About Poland #05: History is Everywhere!
This is the fifth installment in my series of articles called "Things I Love About Poland," in which I discuss differences between Poland and the USA. In this article, I talk about Poland's old-world character and wonderful museums.
The USA is dollar rich but history poor
The United States is a very young country, with only 235 years of history as a nation and only about 520 years since Europeans began to settle the area. Compared to any country in Europe, we have very little history to speak of.
But even with the history we do have, there are very few places where you can see it with your own eyes. Everywhere you look, there are new homes, modern office buildings and skyscrapers. If a building is 100 years old, it is considered to be very old. :-)
Not so in Poland!
While it's difficult to say exactly how old Poland is, the first historically documented ruler of Poland accepted Christianity in 966 C.E., over 1000 years ago. Many Polish cities have well-preserved "old towns," with buildings that are hundreds of years old. In Cracow, the Collegium Maius on the Jagellonian University campus dates back to the 15th century and the Church of St. Adalbert on the main square, dates back to the 11th century!
The old town isn't some faraway place that you might visit on vacation, like the Gettysburg Battlefield or Mount Rushmore. People live, work and have fun in the old town on a daily basis. The nicest clubs and restaurants are invariably located there.
In Cracow, concerts and other big events are constantly taking place on the main market square, right in the heart of the old town. You can go to concerts or wedding receptions in Wawel Castle and regular church services are still held in St. Mary's Basilica. These relics of history are a part of normal life.
Poland is also home to some of the finest museums I have ever visited. In the USA, our museums may be housed in architecturally modern buildings, but the contents are still from an older era. While most exhibits are interesting, they're often not very engaging because the displays are usually set up in visually constraining roped-off rectangular glass cases.
My favorite is Schindler's Factory. Each room is a completely different experience. One moment you're in a train station with the sound of trains and soldiers talking. The next, you're in a large hall dedicated to the Nazi regime, complete with a swastika-tiled floor. Later, you walk into someone's kitchen, a half-cut ham sitting on the counter.
In each of these areas there are things to interact with, including videos and computers. There is so much additional information to learn and things to explore, it's simply not possible to take it all in in a single visit.
History is alive in Poland!
When walking the streets of the old town or visiting one of Poland's fantastic museums, you get the impression that all of Poland's history -- both great and terrible -- has only just occurred.
Have you visited historical sites or museums in Poland? What do you think? Leave a comment!