Hidden Architectural Treasures by Poland's Seaside
default, The power plant in Żarnowiec, photo: Łukasz Dejnarowicz / Forum, center, #000000, elektrownia_jadrowa_zarnowiec_forum.jpg
People say the Polish sea is always cold and that it often rains, leaving traditional sunbathing for the most steadfast and persevering. Instead of complaining about the unfavourable weather, why not explore some unexpected relics during your seaside holiday? The Polish coast has an abundance of interesting and unique historical treasures to visit.
Located on Lake Długie in Kashubia, this place will appeal to lovers of secrets and enigmas. The stone circles and barrows were most likely created between the 1st and 3rd century CE. Although archaeologists found human remains here, indicating that the stone circles were laid out as a cemetery, legends persist to this day that the arrangement served as an astronomical calendar, a place used for mysterious worship or the practice of magic. Some are convinced that the composition of the boulders in the Kashubian Forest was constructed by aliens. Apparently, the place is endowed with exceptional energy.
The archaeological reserve named Stone Circles, located only 40km from Gdańsk in Węsiory, is not the only place of this sort in Kashubia. At the beginning of our era, Goths and Gepids often came to these lands – these stone compositions are probably a souvenir from their presence.
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One of the historic bridges in Tczew, photo: Renata Dąbrowska / AG
Due to its location, Tczew has long played a significant role in the infrastructure network – once it was a vital junction on the route connecting Berlin with East Prussia. Today, it has an important place in the connections between Warsaw and the Tri-City area, being one of the largest railway junctions in Pomerania, serving both passenger commutes as well as the movement of freight. The importance of this city located on the Vistula River was why it was equipped with numerous bridges in the mid-19th century.
The most famous and most valuable of them is a bridge built in the 1850s, designed by the famous German engineer Carl Lentz. At the time of its opening, it was the longest bridge in Europe at 837.3 metres long. A characteristic element of its steel truss structure are the neo-Gothic turrets strengthening and supporting it (four of them have survived till today). Due to the widening of the riverbend and the construction of levees, the bridge was expanded. The present construction of the bridge consists of 12 spans of various types. Just as fascinating is the Tczew railway bridge built in the 1890s, also featuring a steel truss structure.
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Discover the history of Kashubia
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Muzeum Piśmiennictwa i Muzyki Kaszubsko-Pomorskiej - Pałac Przebendowskich i Keyserlingków, Wejherowo, fot. Witold Skrzypczak/Reporter/East News
Although Kashubian culture is still very much alive, it is little known in the rest of Poland. At the carefully restored 19th-century neo-Gothic Przebendowski and Keyserling Palace in Wejherowo, you can learn more about the Kashubians, who are known for being very attached to their traditions. The museum, which has been operating for half a century, gathers not only folk costumes, musical instruments and Kashubian works of art, but also cultural documents – recordings, manuscripts, newspapers, and translations of literature into the Kashubian language.
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The Cistercian abbey in Pelplin
The Cistercians in Pelplin probably settled there in the 13th century; at the end of that century, a brick monastery stood there as evidence of their presence. In the following centuries, the abbey grew, especially in the second half of the 15th century when the convent was experiencing prosperity. It was then that a large Gothic basilica was built, whose mediaeval walls are filled with elements from various eras (the 16th-century transept vaults or the six-story high main altar from the mid-17th century are particularly valuable). Despite numerous reconstructions, the monastery still has a mediaeval spatial arrangement with a cloistered courtyard.
In 2014, a decree issued by the President of Poland bestowed on the former Cistercian cathedral complex at Pelplin the prestigious title of being a Monument of History, thus officially becoming one of the most valuable monuments in the culture of Poland. So far, 107 objects and urban development concepts have been recognised as historical monuments on this prestigious list.
Pelplin hides another treasure: the Diocesan Museum is home to the only copy of the Gutenberg Bible in Poland. It’s the oldest printed book in the world with only 48 copies having survived to this day.
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Fisherman's House, Władysławowo, photo: Wojciech Wójcik / AG
Known for its popular seaside resorts, Władysławowo is more associated with waffle booths than with architecture worth seeing. Meanwhile, in the city you can find two quite modern yet noteworthy relics. The first is the Fisherman's House, today the seat of City Hall. Built between 1953 and 1956 according to a design by Jerzy Zaręba, it’s an example of a variation of this type of socialist-realist architecture, whose aim was to refer to local traditions as well as regional styles from the past. That is why the Fisherman's House resembles the Renaissance buildings of the Polish town: it has arcades, a grand staircase, a gable roof and a clock tower similar to the town hall’s one.
The second relic of modern architecture in Władysławowo is the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, erected between 1959 and 1961, namely at a time when state authorities did not allow the construction of sacred buildings. The designers of the church, Szczepan Baum and Andrzej Kulesza, gave it simple modernist forms. The sanctum has a tent-like shape crowned with a bell in between what resembles callipers on the sloping roof. The architects focussed on the clarity of form and the play of planes and proportions, not on decorativeness. That is why the church has a flat facade pierced by small round holes and a minimalist decor, whose most expressive element is the stained glass windows. Less than 30 years after its construction, the church was entered in 1987 into the Register of Historic Monuments.
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Witkacy from Słupsk
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The White Granary, Museum of Central Pomerania in Słupsk, photo: Marek Bazak / East News
Witkacy is probably one of Poland’s most adored artists – his turbulent life, expressive character as well as visionary work enthral to this day. Few people know that the largest collection of the artist’s trend-defying work is found in Słupsk. Since 2019, a historic post-industrial building known as The White Granary is home to the only permanent monographic exhibition devoted to Witkacy in Poland. You can view here not only his paintings, drawings and graphics, but also letters, postcards, original photographic prints, first editions of books, and all kinds of archives.
The White Granary belongs to the complex of buildings in which the Museum of Central Pomerania presents its collections.
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The collegiate church in Stargard is a little-known relic of Gothic architecture in Poland. It’s certainly worth seeing, because few churches built in Poland have been so strongly inspired by Gothic cathedrals – it contains all of what were then considered their most essential architectural elements. The Stargard basilica – the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary Queen of the World – was built at the end of the 13th century; the main body of the church was completed around the year 1400, but it was later expanded several times over, thanks to which it today includes a number of pieces from subsequent stylistic periods, such as Baroque altars, an 18th-century vault in one of the chapels, and a neo-Gothic pulpit from the 19th century. Despite the passage of time, you can still find many mediaeval details in this monumental, soaring edifice, such as recessed portals and ceramic fittings in the window frames.
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An imperfect future
When the construction of a nuclear power plant began in Żarnowiec in 1982, the investment was the pride and hope of the Polish power industry. Two power units and several hundred accompanying buildings were to be built on 70 hectares of land here. The first block was to be launched in 1991, the second a year later. But two key events interrupted these plans: the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and then Poland’s political transformation after 1989. To this day around Lake Żarnowiec, you can see the unfinished buildings and concrete remains of the planned investment.
In the same town, you also have the opportunity to visit a more ‘traditional’ relic – a Gothic monastery, whose construction began at the end of the 13th century when Żarnowiec belonged to the Cistercian order based in Oliwa Abbey in Gdańsk. The monastery and church in Żarnowiec were built for Cistercian nuns. At the end of the 16th century, the buildings were taken over by a female order of Benedictines who have remained there to this day.
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A mediaeval little town
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The city hall in Trzebiatów, photo: Jerzy Ochoński / PAP
Having had city rights since 1277, Trzebiatów is located less than 10 km from the Baltic coast. By the Middle Ages, the city was a bustling trade centre. And it was from those times that the town has retained its checkerboard urban layout, with its partially preserved defensive walls and moat. It’s one of only a few places left in Poland where you can see today how cities were planned in the 13th and 14th centuries. A soaring Gothic church tower hovers over Trzebiatów; additional constructions built during the Middle Ages include a tower and three brick chapels. From later eras, yet still noteworthy are the classical town hall on the Market Square and the palace, which is today home to the Trzebiatów Cultural Centre.
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An abandoned town
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For some, visiting relics can be a bore – an emotionless event. However, all is not lost, because near the Baltic coast you can also find attractions for lovers of more exciting escapades. For this, you can visit Kłomino – an abandoned settlement hidden in the forest, in which some of the buildings exist from times when the secret city, never included in maps, was a military base. The first houses were built here by Germans in the 1930s – at first, they were a military garrison, and during the Second World War, a prisoner-of-war camp. After 1945, the area was taken over by Soviet troops, who were stationed there until 1992. After they left, the crumbling blocks made of large slab and other urban buildings remained. Up to 5000 people once lived in Kłomino; today, there are just a dozen or so. As time passes, the abandoned buildings are being ever more engulfed by the forest, which once acted as effective protection against unauthorised persons attempting to reach the city.
Originally written in Polish, June 2020, translated by Agnes Dudek, July 2020
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