Disclosure: I visited Poznań as a guest of the Polish National Tourist Office. As always, all opinions are my own.
Before going to Poznań, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I didn’t know much about it other than it was a host city for the 2012 UEFA European Championship. It’s not like Poznań is not some tiny village in the middle of nowhere. It’s the capital of Western Poland and situated between Berlin and Warsaw.
It’s also well known for its trade fairs and hosts over 25 events in a trade fair complex that is the largest in Poland. Well known to those who care that Polagra, Europe’s largest agro-industrial show, is staged at Poznań’s trade fair complex, that is.
I was much more interested in the city’s many historical sites and buildings, so I happily roamed around the walkable and very pretty city to get better acquainted with it.
The walk started at Jordan Bridge. The little red bridge, named for Poland’s first bishop, Jordan I, connects Ostrow Tumski – the small island in the center of the Warta River where the Kingdom of Poland began – to the western Srodka district and spans the Cybina River.
While the bridge itself is not especially memorable, the view you get of the Poznan Cathedral and its distinctive twin spires certainly is. The Gothic cathedral originally dates from the 10th century, though it has been destroyed, rebuilt and remodeled numerous times. A visit to the crypt reveal remains of the pre-Romanesque and Romanesque versions of the Cathedral, a 10th-century baptismal font, and tombs where the country’s first rulers are buried.
I continued walking to the historic center of town and stopped in my tracks when I reached the Stary Rynek, or Old Market Square and saw the ornate Renaissance Town Hall. The city’s administrative offices were located there until 1939, but it is now home to the Poznań Historical Museum. Every day at noon people gather in the square to watch the mechanical goats pop out of the clock tower of the Town Hall and clash horns.
Surrounding the Old Market Square are houses with exquisite Renaissance and Baroque facades. Once the homes of Poznań’s wealthiest residents, these buildings now house restaurants, shops, and museums, including the Museum of Musical Instruments.
Not far from the Old Market Square is the Parish Church of St. Stanislaus or Fara Church as it is commonly referred. Created as a Jesuit temple in the 17th century, St. Stanislaus is known for its magnificent Baroque ornamentation. The church also has an organ that dates from 1876, and during the summer concerts are held in the church with the proceeds going towards the organ’s renovation.
Next, I walked to the Emperor’s Castle. This castle – which is technically not a castle because it’s not fortified but more of a palace – was built in 1910 for William II and was the last royal castle built in Europe. During the occupation of WWII, there were plans to turn the castle into a residence for Hitler and while many buildings and monuments from the many occupations Poznan has endured have been demolished, the castle was declared a historical monument in 1979 and today serves as a cultural center.
Finally, I made my way to Freedom Square, where the Raczyński Library is located. This public library was founded in the early 19th century by Edward Raczyński and is, of course, housed in an impressive building, but I was more impressed with the Fountain of Freedom. The eye-catching sculpture sits in the middle of the square and seems to be an architectural nod to Pyramide du Louvre. Freedom Square was also the official fan zone location during UEFA 2012, a major event that resulted in an increase in tourism to Poznań. Though the fan zone was removed after the tournament, Freedom Square, and Poznań, in general, are certainly worth a visit.
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