Poznań - Historic City Complex, Poznań
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Poznań - Historic City Complex

Poznań

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For many years Poznań was regarded as the cradle of the Polish state. During the rule of the early Piast dynasty it was a major political and administrative centre, and under Przemysł II it played the role of an independent capital of a uniting country. The stronghold of Mieszko I came into being in the 10th century at Ostrów Tumski - an island located between the Warta and Cybina rivers. A pre-Romanesque, three-aisled, stone cathedral which served as the burial place for the early Piasts was built in the latter half of the 10th century (c. 968) in the settlement adjacent to the stronghold. There were several phases of construction: in 1346-1357 a brick-built basilica with two towers was raised, and by 1428 a chancel with an ambulatory and chapel had been built. In 1636-1650 the cathedral was remodelled in the Baroque style; after 1790 the frontal elevation was reworked along classicist lines. Over the centuries its elegant interiors accumulated a multitude of valuable items, but most of these were destroyed by fire during World War II. The cathedral was reconstructed in its original Gothic form after 1945, though it retained its Baroque chapels. Its highlight is a polyptych dating from 1512, brought here from Góra Śląska after the war. Other points of interest on Ostrów Tumski are the Gothic collegiate church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (founded by Bishop A. Bniński in 1442-1448, and extant in unaltered form), the Lubrański Academy (the first university college, founded in 1519), the rectory and group of canonical residences (16th-19th centuries).

The first late medieval trade centre in Poznań was Śródka, located on the right bank of the River Warta. One of the buildings raised there was the Church of St John of Jerusalem belonging to the Knights Hospitallers. This small, Romanesque, stone and brick structure was built in c. 1187 and comprehensively rebuilt in c. 1512. Neighbouring buildings include the Oratorian monastery (with the late Gothic St Margaret’s Church) and the Reformed Franciscan friary (with its Baroque Church of St Casimir). Poznań was granted a town charter (on the left bank of the Warta) under Magdeburg Law in 1253 by Przemysł I, ruler of Greater Poland. The town’s development was assured when it was awarded staple rights by Ladislaus Jagiełło in 1394. The Old Market Square - the third largest town square in Poland - constitutes the city centre. The pride of the civic authorities was the town hall designed by Giovanni Battista di Quadro and built in 1550-1560. Its characteristic features are its arcaded loggia, attic storey and sgraffito decoration, which were later complemented by the addition of a Gothic tower. The churches of the Old Town are of interest, in particular the formerly Jesuit parish church. The Church of SS Mary Magdalene and Stanislaus was the work of Tommaso Poncino (1651-1653), Fr Bartłomiej Wąsowski (1677-1686, responsible for its overall shape), and Jan Catenacci (1698-1701). Its construction took virtually half a century to complete (consecrated in 1705). It took over the role of parish church from the Gothic collegiate Church of St Mary Magdalene, which was demolished in the late 18th century in view of its poor structural condition. The homogenous interior décor, including the stuccowork and painting, was the work of K. Dankwart. Another prized building is the former Jesuit college dating from 1701-1733 (on Klasztorna Street), where Frederic Chopin gave a concert in 1828. A hill known as the Wzgórze św. Wojciecha rises to the north of the Old Town. Located on the hill are the churches of St Joseph (of the Barefoot Carmelite Friars, 1658-1687) and St Adalbert (15th century). Poznań’s historic suburbs also host a number of other churches, such as St Martin’s - a late Gothic pseudo-hall dating from 1515-1516.

Poznań continued its dynamic development until the time of the Swedish wars. When the existence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth came to an end, Poznań was a small, though sturdily fortified city. A revival in its fortunes during the latter half of the 18th century was cut short in 1793 when Greater Poland was annexed by the Prussians. In 1817 General Karl von Grolman, quartermaster-general of the Prussian army, identified Poznań as the best location to build a fortress. Work commenced in 1828 and continued into the 1860s. On the Wzgórze Winiarskie hill the Prussians constructed a citadel (formally known as Winiary Fort) in 1828-1839 along the principles of the new-Prussian system. The outer line of defences was over 3 km long, and the fort’s surface area covered around 100 hectares. In 1945 the citadel was badly damaged and later many of its component parts were rashly dismantled. The Poznań Ring, designed by J. Stübben and built in 1903-1910 in place of the demolished Prussian fortifications, represents an example of contemporary urban design.

Poznań played a vital role in maintaining the Polish national identity when the country was partitioned. The city became a vibrant centre of culture, learning and contemporary social and economic thought. On 27 December 1918 a rally held in honour of Ignacy J. Paderewski turned into a victorius insurrection encompassing all of Greater Poland. During the battles of 1945 approximately 50% of the city’s buildings were destroyed, predominantly in the Old Town. Post-war restoration work was carried out based on existing iconographic records and building surveys. The city gained recognition as a centre of industry and trade. In 1956 tragedy struck in Poznań when the city’s labourers - weary of their gradually worsening living conditions - went on strike; the army was sent to deal with demonstrators. Today a monument commemorating the Victims of June 1956 stands on Mickiewicz Square.

The historic city of Poznań represents an urban complex of outstanding historic and cultural significance which has evolved over a period of 1000 years. Its historic fabric retains architectural and urban features exemplifying each successive period and its associated events, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The harmonious stylistic diversity of the city’s built heritage bears testimony to the natural accumulation of various urban structural components which contribute to the exceptional merits of Poznań.

General information

  • Type: urban layout
  • Chronology: poł. X - XX w.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Poznań
  • Location: Voivodeship wielkopolskie, district Poznań, commune Poznań
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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