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Apr 12, 2024

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Monsters…And…Monuments

As Rome took its name from Romulus and Athens was named for Athena, so also did Warsaw get its name from a creature half-human, half-divine, in this case the son of a Vistula mermaid and the spirit of a man who drowned in the river.

Deserted by his mother and left on the river bank to die, the child of this ill-assorted pair was rescued by a fisherman’s wife from Rybaki, a village on the hill overlooking this Vistula where Warsaw now stands. When the child was seven his hair was cut, according to custom and he was given the name Warcislaw or Warsz.

Warsz was looked upon in the village with some mistrust, because of his curious parentage and he never quite felt at home there. He longed to perform some great deed, some spectacular service to the community, so that the community, out of gratitude, might take him truly to its heart.

Finally his chance came, it happened one time that a certain monster which had its home in the Vistula stole and carried off to his lair the prize oxen of Prince Czersk, whose seat was at Jazdou, not far from Rybaki. For the return of the oxen the Prince offered an award of a piece of land on a hill above the river.

Not a soul in the village dared go after the dread water monster. Not a soul except Warsz. Trapping the creature in his fishing net, Warsz forced the thief to return the oxen and to promise never to prey on the good people of Rybaki again. As a reward Warsz received the fine piece of land offered by the Prince of Czersk and also the good will of the villagers.

After that Warsz never fished in the river again, but made his living by farming. He built himself a hut, making sure, however, that its back was to the Vistula, so that in the evening as he sat smoking on his doorstep taking his ease after a day at the plough, he would not be reminded of his Vistulan origin.

And so it was that from the name of the mermaid’s son Warsz, the Polish capital of Warszawa got its name.

…The above quote is one of those author unknown pieces, but being that it is an interesting slice of folklore about our Fatherland, I thought it might interest you. Aside from that, the story of “How Warsaw got its Name” is my way of introducing to you the capital of Poland, especially since more and more Polonians are visiting Warsaw every year. Whether you do visit or not, however, here’s an interesting picture of a town that became Poland’s capital in 1596.

Warsaw was the chief city of a prosperous Polish province two hundred years before Columbus discovered America. Today, its population is estimated in excess of two million and has been referred to as Little Paris in that its broad streets are lined with inviting cafes where one may dine inside or sit on a terrace and enjoy a sip of vodka. Warsaw is a city in which is mingled the ancient and the new and the visitor is constantly reminded of Poland’s past, her traditions and her undying efforts to keep alive the memory of her heroes and patriots. During her oppressions she was forbidden to honor her celebrated dead with public demonstrations.

As a result, throughout Poland monuments have been erected to the memory of famous departed Poles — and many are found inside the Churches. The Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw which was begun in 1682 and finished in 1757, contains a unique monument dedicated to Frederick Chopin. At the bottom of the tablet securely embedded in the pillar is his heart, placed there after his death at his own wish. The inscription on the tablet reads: “To Frederick Chopin, our countryman ‘Where your treasure is there shall your heart be also’.”

Within this same Church on an adjacent pillar is a tablet dedicated to the memory of Wladyslaw Reymont, the Polish author whose book “The Peasants” won the Nobel Prize in 1924. Beneath the memorial tablet his heart is also enshrined.

Opposite the church is a monument to Mikolaj Kopernik and a short distance away at the entrance to Trebacka Street stands the monument to the famous professor, author and poet Adam Mickiewicz who is famous for his composition “Pan Tadeusz”. There is a story connected with this statue that is worth relating. Poland was under the Russian rule when it was erected and always fearful that anything of this nature might help ‘fan the flame’ of Polish nationalism, the Russians directed that absolutely no demonstrations should be made when the monument was unveiled. Thousands gathered around the veiled statue and though Henryk Sienkiewicz had a speech prepared, he did not deliver it, but silently gave the signal for the unveiling. As the statue was uncovered, there was not a word, not a sound. And then, suddenly, the dramatic silence was broken by sobs. Finally, without a spoken word or any outward demonstration of any kind, the Poles turned and noiselessly made their way back to their homes — only the tears in their eyes proving how utterly the Russians had failed in their purpose.

In Sigismund Square is a sixty foot monument erected to the memory of King Sigismund II in 1664, by his son Ladislas IV to which is also attached an interesting legend. At the top of the monument stands Sigismund holding aloft his sword in his right hand with a cross in his left. The legend said that when Sigismund lowered the sword Poland would regain her independence. On August 5, 1915, the Russians, after retreating over the bridges crossing the Vistula, blew them up. At the same time, Sigismund’s sword dropped from its position.

Overlooking the winding Vistula stands the Royal Castle which has been completely reconstructed. It is closely connected with the history of Poland and is replete with tapestries, sculptures, and busts.

One of the most interesting parts of Warsaw is the Stare Miasto (Old City), completely and authentically rebuilt from the war. In the days of old, it was the center of life witnessing many gay festivals with armed knights and fair ladies. A real picturesque and medieval part of the town.

Warsaw has many beautiful parks, the most interesting of which is Lazienki, formerly a royal park in which Poniatowski had his summer home. Close by is a monument of John Sobieski and the main entrance of the palace faces an amphitheater that is situated on an island and represents the famous ruins of Palmyra.

Just outside of Warsaw is Wilanow, the summer home of Poland’s civilian John Sobieski. It was a beautiful palace with Italian Renaissance architecture and bas-relief representing the famous Battle of Vienna. As a museum, it is continually visited. There are sculptured scenes of the walls of Vienna, of Turkish troops, of Polish soldiers that eagle’s feathers in their caps, of the famous thanksgiving service after the great victory. The park surrounding the palace contains a permanent exhibition  on contemporary Polish sculpture.

Warsaw’s primary place in the tradition of its country came in the 18th century. Here was adopted the new constitution of May 3, 1791. Here the Poles made their last stand in the fateful 1794 uprising against Russia. In Warsaw arose and from Warsaw spread the Insurrections of 1830 and 1863. The whole 19th century struggle against the Russian oppression had its heart and center in Warsaw. Remember that when you visit this great historical landmark.

    . . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .