Warszawa - Religious Necropolis Complex in Powązki, Warszawa
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Warszawa - Religious Necropolis Complex in Powązki

Warszawa

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The history of the religious cemeteries in Powązki begins in 1790, when a part of the jurydyka (an independent private settlement located near the city) of the Szymanowski family was allocated for the purposes of building a Catholic cemetery there. As time went by, other cemeteries began to appear in its vicinity: the Evangelical-Augsburg (Lutheran) cemetery in 1792, the Reformed (Calvinist) cemetery in 1792, the Jewish cemetery in 1806 and two Muslim cemeteries (Caucasian in 1838 and Tatar in 1867). From the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, in view of the gradual extension of the burial area, a densely built-up cemetery complex was created, occupying approx. 88 hectares.

The Powązki Roman Catholic cemetery, also known as the Old Powązki is considered to be one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe. Notable features of this necropolis include the church of St Charles of Borromeo and the catacombs designed by Dominic Merlini, the royal architect under King Stanisław August. During the 19th century, the church was redesigned in the neo-Renaissance style according to the designs drawn up by Józef Pius Dziekoński. The oldest part of the cemetery which survives to this day (burial plots 1-18) was built on a rectangular plan. The catacombs rebuilt after their destruction during the World War II, are designed as an arcaded gallery, opening towards the north and incorporating a wall with a series of niches. Behind the rear wall of the catacombs lies the Alley of Honour, whose history dates back to 1925, when the grave of Władysław Stanisław Reymont was built.

The Jewish Cemetery, which was extended on a number of occasions, is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world. It is distinguished by the presence of separate burial plots for Orthodox Jews as well as the separation of the graves of men and women. This division is still apparent owing to the diversity of forms and decorations of the gravestones. The older (Orthodox) part of the cemetery is occupied by traditional sandstone matzevot as well as the ohalim – tombs erected for rabbis and tzadikim, bearing resemblance to small, simple houses. In the newer (reformed) part of the Jewish cemetery there are gravestones designed according to the then-current trends in sepulchral art. Figural motifs are also present among their decorations, although the faces of the figures are never shown, being either obscured or turning away from the viewer so that they cannot be seen.

The Augsburg Lutheran and Calvinist Cemeteries were established to the south of the Jewish necropolis, on lands leased from banker Karol Schulz. The Lutheran necropolis was designed by Szymon Bogumił Zug, an eminent architect of the Classicist period. The necropolis is characterised by a transparent layout, facilitating unobstructed access to the graves; trees growing along the main alley emphasise the axial arrangement of the composition. It was probably the first cemetery in Poland which featured a truly comprehensive design. The Calvinist cemetery has a similar layout. The cemeteries are positioned adjacent to each other, which makes it possible to compare the forms of the gravestones erected for Lutherans and Calvinists.

The Muslim Tatar Cemetery, apart from Bohoniki and Kruszyniany, is one of three historic Tatar cemeteries in Poland which are still in use. The cemetery features a dozen-odd traditional graves originating from the 2nd half of the 19th century, marked by stones positioned in the spots where the head and the feet of the deceased are located. Headstones are covered by inscriptions and verses from the Qur'an in Russian, Turkish, Persian and Arabic. The Muslim Caucasian Cemetery is the only one of its kind in Poland. Unfortunately, the graves on the Caucasian cemetery have not survived. The reasons for this was that they were all earthen graves, modest and unable to resist the passage of time. The only attention-grabbing feature are the sandstone grave columns from 1857.

The historic necropolis complex containing the graves of both Christians, Jews and Muslims is a truly unique phenomenon – indeed, there are very few sites anywhere in Europe which could be compared to the Powązki cemetery in this regard. Common burial places of people of different faiths, living and working in a single urban environment, constitutes the evidence of the multicultural and tolerant character of the city of Warsaw. For the Poles, the complex performs the function of a pantheon of Polish culture, science and politics. The two-hundred-year-old necropolis is also a highly unusual museum of sepulchral art, a sui generis gallery of sculpture, documenting the history of development of the fine arts from the beginning of the 19th century. The cemetery was also the site of armed clashes during the Polish struggle for independence (including both the uprisings of the 19th century and the Warsaw Uprising) as well as of numerous manifestations of a patriotic nature. Participation in the funerals of eminent persons was meant not only as a sign of respect for their achievements, but also as a manifestation of the longing for independence, the adherence to the principles of freedom and the desire to implement them in practice.

During World War II the cemeteries were bombed, which led to the irretrievable loss of many headstones, tombs and utility buildings. The cemetery archives have burned down. On the Jewish cemetery, the Germans blew up the synagogue. After the war ended, the years of neglect have also taken their toll. This state of affairs was finally put to an end when, in 1974, Jerzy Waldorff established the Social Committee for the Care of the Old Powązki Cemetery, allowing hundreds of gravestones to be restored.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: 1790 - 1867
  • Form of protection: history monument
  • Address: Powązkowska 1/1, Warszawa
  • Location: Voivodeship mazowieckie, district Warszawa, commune Warszawa
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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