Polish Architecture

Polish Architecture

Architecture in Poland.

One of the ways in which the culture and traditions of a country can be best understood is through its architecture and Poland's vast array of building styles certainly speaks volumes about its fascinating history.

Poland's religious architecture communicates much about the different ethnicities and faiths of people who have called the country home over the centuries. Until the World War II, Jewish synagogues were common place across the nation, playing an active role in the life of the community in villages, towns and cities.

The war ravished many of these beautiful, ornate buildings with most looted and destroyed during the conflict. Only a handful of synagogues remain in their original condition in Poland, while a number have been lovingly restored.

Must-see examples are the synagogues of Tykocin (north east Poland) and Wlodawa (east Poland, on the banks of the River Bug) as well as the Krakow suburb of Kazimierz which is home to seven restored synagogues.

Krakow is an architectural dream, with its historic old town and medieval cobbled streets. Some of the finest religious buildings can be found here, such as asymmetrical, twin-towered Mariacki Church. The church is a classic Romanesque Gothic creation and is considered by many as Poland's most picturesque religious building.

Polish Baroque architecture is embodied in the Church of Sts Peter and Paul in Krakow - a construction closely modelled on the Gesu Church in Rome and the Bernardine monestry of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, which can be found a few miles south west of the city centre.

Other sites of note outside Krakow include St Mary's Church in Gdansk, a Baltic Gothic style building believed to be the world's largest brick basilica and Gniezno Cathedral, which for centuries served as the seat of the country's archbishops. Rustic villages in the east of Poland, such as Kruszyniany (close to the border with Belarus) and nearby Bohoniki are home to 'Tatar' Mosques, constructed by local Tatar communities in the seventeenth century.

The timber building techniques that are evident defy the time in which they were built and the luxurious oriental carpets inside gain regular admiration from visitors. Proof that Poland's religious architecture isn't only a thing of the past can be found back in Krakow, where contemporary church of Arka Pana (meaning Ark of the Lord) is located in the suburb of Nowa Huta. Wojciech Pietrzyk's bold, ark-shaped building is an interesting contrast to the city's classical designs.

Town Hall, Poznan

Town Hall (Ratusz), Stary Rynek Square, Old Town, Poznan

Wroclaw Poland

Wroclaw - European Capital of Culture 2016

As far as iconic buildings go, many would cite the Palace of Culture in Warsaw as being the country's most famous. The 42-storey, Art Deco tower was built between 1952 and 1955 and is a monument to Stalinist ideology. One thing is for sure, those seeing it for the first time during Euro 2012 won't be short of an opinion of what they think of it. Residents and visitors to Warsaw are divided on either loving or hating the palace, which stands 231m high and is the tallest building in Poland and the eighth tallest building in the European Union.

Another thing that is apparent from the moment you touch down in Poland is the country's industrial past and present. Mining, steel and iron manufacturing and textile have all played a massive role in its development and many urban horizons are still defined by power stations, factories and mills. Industry is changing though and fewer people in Poland are employed in 'traditional', primary industries, compared with three or four decades ago. As a result many former industrial buildings are being renovated to house new developments.

Nowhere better represents this than 'Manufaktura' - a vast shopping, museum and leisure complex located in the north west of Lodz, Poland's 'second city'. Manufaktura is located within huge red-brick factories and warehouses that were used for one of the biggest textile operations of the 19th century and run by entrepreneur Izrael Poznanski. Attractions on-site include the Eksperymentarium (Science Museum), Muzeum Fabryki (Factory Museum) and Cinema City Multiplex. Lodz' Art Museum can also be found in another of Poznanski's former factory buildings on the south side of Manufaktura.

If you are looking for Poland's most attractive street, then a strong contender must be Ulica Dluga, in the heart of downtown Gdansk. The colourful shopping street, with its wonderfully restored and brightly painted town houses have all the hallmarks of buildings you would expect to find in old town Prague and Amsterdam's canal sides.

Poznan's main shopping street, called Polwiejska, has similar charm and character, with its shops found in traditional buildings with a funky, modern twist. Poznan's old brewery was redeveloped in 2003 and has become one of the country's best shopping centres (called Stary Browar Sklep).

For sheer opulence, Polish visitors must certainly be directed in the direction of Wawel (on Krakow's left bank). The walled complex, situated near the Vistula River is home to one of the most striking royal residences in Europe - the Royal Castle. The gothic construction incorporates state rooms, royal private apartments and exhibitions open to the public. Also on the Wawel outcrop is a 13th century cathedral.

Wroclaw has been selected as a European Capital of Culture in 2016 and its buildings surely served in the city securing this prestigious award. The Centennial Hall, built between 1911-1913, is the work of architect Max Berg as is noted for its impressive, concrete-stage roof. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. Wroclaw's historic 14th century brick-gothic City Hall is another architectural marvel here along with and the Wroclaw Water Tower (situated in the district of Krzyki) and the post-modernist Arkady Complex, which opened in 2007.

Wawel, Castle, Krakow, Poland.

Wawel Castle, Krakow - one of the most striking royal residences in Europe

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