Central and Eastern Europe, Tourism

Gniezno cradle of Poland

By Beata Bruggeman-Sekowska

Did you know that Gniezno was the first capital city of Poland followed by Cracow and then finally Warsaw? Did you know that it is believed that in Gniezno the baptism of Poland took place? Did you know that here coronations took place and that Gniezno is situated on 7 hills like Rome?

Gniezno is located in central-western Poland, in the Greater Poland voivodship, 48 km northeast of Poznan. Gniezno was believed to have been the first capital of Poland from the beginning of the Polish state in 966. The baptism of Mieszko I, Poland’s first monarch, in 966 is considered the beginning until 1039, when Krakow became the new capital, followed by Warsaw. To this day, Gniezno is the headquarters of the Catholic Church in Poland.

The name Gniezno is said to come from the Polish word “gniazdo” (nest). A Legend says that three brothers went hunting together. Since each of them followed a different prey they eventually traveled in different directions. Rus went to the east, Čech headed to the west to settle on the Říp Mountain, while Lech traveled north. While hunting, Lech followed his arrow and faced a fierce, white eagle protecting its nest.  Seeing the eagle and the the red colour of the sunset he decided to settle there. He named his settlement Gniezno (In Polish  gniazdo – ‘nest’) and adopted the White Eagle as his coat of arms.  The white eagle remains a symbol of Poland to this day, and the colors of the eagle and the sunset are presented in Poland’s coat of arms, as well as its flag, with a white stripe on top for the eagle, and a red stripe on the bottom for the sunset.

Around AD 940 Gniezno became one of the main fortresses of the early Piast rulers. It is believed that it is here ( some other historians mention Poznan ) the Baptism of Poland (in Polish: Chrzest Polski), and the personal baptism of Mieszko I the first ruler of the future Polish state took place on 14 April 966.

It is here that the Congress of Gniezno took place in the year 1000 AD. During the Congress, Bolesław I the Brave, Duke of Poland, received Holy Roman Emperor Otto III. The emperor and the Polish duke celebrated the foundation of the Polish ecclesiastical province (archbishopric) in Gniezno.

Gniezno was destroyed by the Teutonic Knights in 1331. It was hit by fires in 1515 and 1613 and later the Swedes invaded it during the Polish-Swedish Wars in 1656 and 1707. As a result, the city lost its prominent position in the country. The crisis lasted until the end of the 18th century, when Gniezno became the capital of Gniezno Province.

As a result of the Second Partition of Poland in 1793, Gniezno became part of the Kingdom of Prussia. In 1919, thanks to the Greater Poland Uprising and the Treaty of Versailles, Gniezno was added back to Poland. Gniezno was occupied by German troops on September 11, 1939 during World War II and on January 21, 1945, the city was taken over by the Red Army.

Gniezno cathedral ©communications-unlimited.nl

Gniezno is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gniezno, the country’s oldest archdiocese, founded in 1000, and its archbishop is the primate of Poland, making the city the country’s ecclesiastical capital. The red brick Gothic Cathedral/ The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary  is a National historic monument. It was the site of the coronation of  Polish monarchs between 1000 and 1300AD. Five of Poland’s earliest kings were crowned in Gniezno.  In 1025, Bolesław Chrobry was crowned as the first Polish king followed by Mieszko II, Boleslaus the Bold, Przemysł II and Wenceslaus II of Bohemia.

Gniezno cathedral ©communications-unlimited.nl

Throughout its long and tragic history, the building stayed mostly intact, making it one of the oldest and most precious sacral monuments in Poland. When in Gniezno you have to see tomb of Saint Adalbert (in Polish, Wojciech) and the 12th century Gniezno doors. Gniezno doors are one of the most important works of Romanesque art in Poland. They show scenes from the life of St. Adalbert. His remains were purchased for their weight in gold and brought back to and enshrined in the cathedral. St Adalbert set off from Gniezno to convert the Baltic Prussians to Christianity. Hie died a martyr’s death.

Gniezno cathedral ©communications-unlimited.nl

When in Gniezno do not forget to stroll in beautiful old town, whose square is full of good restaurants and cafes. Have also a walk around the Jelonek lake. You can also visit:

  • The Franciscan Church and St. John the Baptist’s Church 
  • The Old Town Hall with the Wielkopolska Insurgent House 
  • Abandoned 19th century historic Gniezno Train Yard. You can see there railway buildings – including some  from the 1900s, some built by the Germans during the war.
  • Museum of Antiques of Technology Culture
  • The former Prussian barracks 
Author: Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska is an award-winning international journalist, TV correspondent, author, chief editor of international journalism centre, Central and Eastern Europe Centre, board member and a sworn translator. She was born in Warsaw, Poland and has also Armenian blood and roots in Lvov, which is part of Ukraine. She has been living in Heerlen, the Netherlands since 2005.

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