Silesian Rome? Polish City Nicknames Based on Foreign Cities
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Polish City Nicknames Based on Foreign Cities, Panorama of modern-day Warsaw, photo: Robert Neuman / Forum, center, #000000, warszawa_panorama_forum.jpg
Did you know that Poland has its own Venice, Vienna and Paris? That’s because some Polish cities have nicknames based on foreign cities. Culture.pl explains where these nicknames come from and how these Polish towns compare to their foreign namesakes.
The Paris of the North
We start off with Poland’s capital and biggest city. In the Interwar period, Warsaw gained the nickname ‘Paris of the North’ because the Polish city – located farther to the north than Paris – was considered equally as beautiful and charming as the French metropolis. Warsaw had developed greatly between 1918 (when Poland regained its independence after the partitions) and the outbreak of World War II. It had outstanding architectural monuments, like the modernist Prudential skyscraper standing in today’s 9 Powstańców Warszawy Square, which tastefully complemented the city’s numerous historical buildings.
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Before 1939, Warsaw had a one-of-a-kind ambience. Back then, visitors from foreign countries called it ‘The Paris of the North.’ The city enchanted with its architecture, bustled with life and impressed with its dynamic development […]
From the description of the 2014 book ‘Warszawa: Perła Północy’ at wydawnictwo.pwn.pl, trans. MK
Sadly, about 85% of the Polish capital’s buildings were destroyed in World War II. The city was rebuilt, but in a way that gave it a modern look. As a result most of Warsaw’s pre-war charm was lost and its old nickname ‘Paris of the North’ became obsolete. Nevertheless, this nickname is still remembered and used in certain contexts, for example, in texts describing the history of Warsaw.
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It’s worth adding that there is a second ‘Paris of the North’ in Poland. The city of Szczecin has the same nickname as Warsaw used to have before the war. In the 19th century, Szczecin’s architectural layout was modernised to resemble the layout of Paris, hence this second reference to the French capital.
The Polish Carcassonne
The next Polish city on our list, Paczków, also has a nickname referencing a city in France. Located in south-west Poland, Paczków is often called ‘The Polish Carcassonne.’
Carcassonne is an immensely picturesque town in the region of Occitanie, well-known for its outstanding mediaeval monuments. They include the fully-preserved city walls that encircle an ancient part of the city known as Cité de Carcassonne
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Paczków also has impressive historical city walls dating back to the Middle Ages. They’ve made it to our times in a form that has barely changed since their reconstruction in the 16th century.
The city walls that in certain places are 7 metres high are especially impressive. Thanks to them, Paczków is called the Polish Carcassonne. They are over 1200 metres long. […] 19 of their original 24 towers remain intact. The towers vary strongly – some of them are as high as the walls – others are much higher.
From ‘Paczków - Polskie Carcassonne’, an article at turystyka.wp.pl, trans. MK
Fortunately, Paczków wasn’t damaged in either world war, and apart from the aforementioned city walls it has plenty of other architectural monuments. These include a Renaissance city hall with a magnificent tower, the intriguing fortified St. John the Evangelist's Church dating back to the 14th century, and historical tenement houses.
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The Venice of the North
Not far from Paczków, about 60 kilometres to the north, lies the city of Wrocław which is sometimes called ‘The Venice of the North’ due to its large number of watercourses, islands and bridges.
The Polish city is located on the River Odra and four smaller rivers which flow into the Odra within the city limits. Also, the city’s old moat and numerous canals are filled with water:
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[…] Water is almost everywhere in Wrocław. First of all there’s the Odra, but there are also canals here, as well as the Odra’s tributaries Oława, Ślęza, Widawa, Bystrzyca, dozens of smaller and larger creeks, streams, plenty of drainage ditches, and of course the City Moat.
From ‘Wenecja północy. Ile mamy mostów we Wrocławiu?’, an article at gazetawroclawska.pl, trans. MK
Due to its abundance of watercourses, Wrocław has over 20 islands and over a hundred bridges, many of which are historical constructions constituting tourist attractions. Just visiting the bridges alone can be a highly rewarding experience as described in our The Bridges of Wrocław: A Virtual Walk Across the Venice of the North article. Apart from intriguing bridges, Wrocław also has a picturesque old town. Historical architecture is another thing, apart from the abundance of watercourses, that Wrocław shares with Venice.
Interestingly, there’s another ‘Venice of the North’ in Poland. The nickname is sometimes also applied to Gdańsk, which lies on the Baltic coast. Like the Italian city, Gdańsk lies on the sea and has plenty of watercourses within its area.
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The Padua of the North
Near Venice lies the city of Padua, which is linked to the Polish city of Zamość, often referred to as ‘The Padua of the North.’ Zamość, which certainly lies further north than Padua, is compared to the Italian city because both towns are said to have similar historical architecture.
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Zamość was founded in 1580 by the Polish nobleman Jan Zamoyski, who had earlier studied law and liberal arts in Padua. Encountering Renaissance ideas in Italy is believed to have prompted him to create an ‘ideal city’ or a city that would be both functional and beautiful.
The task of designing Zamość was given to the Italian architect Bernardo Morando, who hailed either from Padua or Venice – historian’s aren’t sure which of the two was his hometown. He devised a harmonious, grid-based urban layout which became the basis for Renaissance architecture reminiscent of his home region. The original design of Zamość (or the city’s present-day old town) has made it to our times basically unscathed and constitutes a major tourist attraction. Among the city’s best-known sights is the impressive city hall which dates back to 1591 and sports mannerist and baroque elements added in later years.
In 1935, the Italian journalist and writer Arnaldo Frateili visited Zamość and became enchanted with the town. He expressed his appreciation for the Polish city in a text titled Piccola Padova Del Nord (The Small Padua of the North), published in the Italian periodical La Tribuna in March that year. Here’s an excerpt:
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I’m under the impression that I’ve arrived in Padua or Vicenza; a very intriguing impression as I’m very far away from those places. […] This isn’t Padua but it’s something very similar. It seems to be a part of Italy, lying on the plain between the Vistula and Bug rivers […]
The Silesian Rome
Nysa is yet another Polish town whose nickname is based on an Italian city. Nysa lies in the region of Lower Silesia and is often dubbed ‘The Silesian Rome.’ This nickname references the fact that Nysa used to be considered equally as beautiful as Rome, and that it served as the capital of the bishop’s duchy of Nysa – a small, historical state ruled by Catholic bishops. As the capital of a state ruled by bishops, Nysa was somewhat similar to Rome, within the limits of which lies the Vatican City State ruled by the bishop of Rome, more commonly known as the Pope of the Catholic Church.
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By the 16th century, Nysa was already considered a pearl of Silesian architecture. As the capital of the bishop’s duchy, it stood out due to its ‘panorama of a hundred towers’, clearly visible from the neighbouring hills of the Sudeckie Foothills. This panorama – the towers of the numerous churches and the city hall, the towers of the city walls – earned Nysa the pseudonym ‘the Silesian Rome’.
From ‘Nysa – “Śląski Rzym”’, an article at nasza.nysa.pl, trans. MK
Sadly, during World War II about 70 percent of Nysa’s buildings were destroyed and the city lost much of its pre-war charm. But you can still find plenty of interesting architectural monuments in Nysa, such as the Triton Fountain raised in 1701. This beautiful baroque fountain standing in the corner of Bracka and Celna Streets was modelled after Rome’s famous Triton Fountain from circa 1637 and is another element, apart from historical analogies, that links Nysa to the Italian capital.
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It’s worth adding that another Polish town, Sandomierz, is sometimes called ‘Little Rome.’ That’s because the picturesque Sandomierz, like the Italian capital, is located on seven hills.
Here’s another Polish city nicknamed after a European capital. The city of Bydgoszcz in central Poland is sometimes referred to as ‘Little Berlin.’ After the partitions of Poland, Bydgoszcz became part of Prussia and was subject to strong German influences. In the 19th century, the Prussians developed the city in a way that would make it similar to Berlin:
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The architecture of Bydgoszcz was designed by the same people that designed Berlin – that’s why the name ‘Klein Berlin’ (Little Berlin) quickly appeared. This was due to the Art Nouveau and eclectic tenement houses that were built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in the city centre. New neighbourhoods were created, with beautiful villas and houses, similar to those in Berlin’s districts of Pankow and Charlottenburg.
From ‘Od Bydgoszczy do Brombergu. I z Powrotem do Bydgoszczy’, an article at bydgoszcz.wyborcza.pl, trans. MK
Also, in Bydgoszcz you can find the Łuczniczka (Archer) monument, which stands in Jan Kochanowski Park. This bronze figure of a woman shooting a bow, designed by German sculptor Ferdinand Lepcke, has been one of city’s best-known symbols since it was put up in 1910. A copy of the monument can be found at Berlin’s Museum Island, further linking Bydgoszcz to the German capital.
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Polish Theatre edifice in Bielsko-Biała, photo: Jerzy Ochoński / PAP
Moving on to another foreign capital, ‘Little Vienna’ is how the city of Bielsko-Biała in southern Poland is often called. Bielsko-Biała used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and as such it developed in a style reminiscent of that state’s capital – Vienna:
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Nearby the castle, there’s the post office edifice with its characteristic dome modelled after Austrian buildings. Right next to it, there’s the city’s flagship cultural institution, the Polish Theatre, built – naturally – according to a design by a Viennese architect (Emil von Förster). Even St. Nicholas Church, whose over 60-metre-high tower stands out from the background of the grey sky, was built according to a design made by Leopold Bauer who was active in Vienna.
From ‘Bielsko-Biała – “Atrakcje Małego Wiednia”’, an article at podroze.onet.pl, trans. MK
Also, Bielsko-Biała’s historical villas and tenement houses are said to be suggestive of Viennese architecture. It’s worth adding that the nickname ‘Little Vienna’ is also sometimes used to describe another Polish town – Cieszyn. The reasons for this are basically the same as in the case of Bielsko-Biała.
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The Polish Manchester
The last Polish city on our list is Łódź, whose nickname is ‘The Polish Manchester.’ Like the English city, Łódź was historically a textile manufacturing hub. In the 19th century, both cities experienced great growth, attracting new citizens with employment opportunities resulting from from industrialisation. Similarly, in the 20th century, both cities were faced with the decline of their traditional industrial roles and had to reinvent themselves:
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Known as the ‘Polish Manchester’, Łódź (pronounced Woodge) has had a significant change in recent years. Much like Manchester, it was once an industrial powerhouse of the 19th century […] With the recent transformation that has hit Łódź over the years, the area has been given a new lease of life. Old and rundown textile mills have been turned into small villages with hotels, boutiques, restaurants and al-fresco bars.
From ‘Exploring Lodz, the “Polish Manchester”’, an article at faroutmagazine.co.uk
Today’s Łódź attracts with its rich cultural, trade and entertainment attractions. You can find a number of outstanding architectural monuments, like the 19th-century palace of the wealthy manufacturer Izrael Poznański. This impressive eclectic palace, recently renovated, is the seat of the Museum of the City of Łódź where you can get in touch with the history and culture of ‘The Polish Manchester.’ Another noteworthy element of Łódź architecture is the beautiful Art Nouveau tenement houses standing along Piotrkowska Street.
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That’s all the Polish city nicknames we’ve got in store for you. If you’d like to find out more about Polish cities, check out our A Poster Lover’s Map Of Polish Cities article.
Written by Marek Kępa, Sep 2020