The history of Pułtusk located in Poland is long and varied – its roots date back to the 10th century making it one of the oldest towns in the Masovia region (being Polish capital voivodeship). The town is also one of the most beautiful Polish towns, picturesquely situated on the Narew river. Its pride is the longest cobbled old town square in Europe. The serene atmosphere of its lovely surroundings, as well as its numerous monuments and relics of the past attract visitors relishing a rare combination of qualities like this. Due to its beauty and floating gondolas, it is known as “Little Polish Venice”.
The name of Pułtusk on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris
The tenement houses that surround the square are over two hundred years old however the town itself has existed since at least the 10th century. In one of houses Napoleon stayed in 1806 after a won battle with the Tsar’s army waged in the outskirts of the town. The fact that the victory was important to the French seems to be quite clear since they put the name of Pułtusk on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Initially known as Tusk
In the Middle Ages, the Pułtusk`s Castle was one of the most important defensive forts in northern Masovia against the attacks of Old Prussians and Lithuanians. According to a legend, the town initially was known as Tusk, however, after a flood that destroyed half of the city it was renamed to Pułtusk (Pół- or puł- being a Polish prefix for a half).
Pułtusk was probably first founded in 1257, but the documentary evidence preserved allows to trace its foundation back to the 1339 year when the city was granted town rights. Throughout the 15th and 17th centuries, it was one of the most important economic centres in the Masovian region.
The town was destroyed by Lithuanians in 1262 and 1324. In the 14th century Pułtusk became the official seat of Płock bishops (the Diocese of Płock having been established in 1075). The town was again burnt by Lithuanians in 1368, but following the Union of Krewo (a decisive moment in the histories of Poland and Lithuania; it marked a beginning of the four centuries of shared history between the two nations) the Lithuanian raids were stopped and the town quickly recovered. By the 15th century Pułtusk’s merchants were among the richest in Poland. The town was granted a privilege of organizing nine grand markets a year and two small markets a week. The city also gained much profit from exporting wood and grain to Gdańsk, as well as from mead and beer production. Moreover, the construction of Europe’s longest paved market square (380 meters in length) was a sign of the town’s economic success.
In 1440 an academy was founded in the town, becoming the most influential schools of higher education in the Polish Kingdom. Among its professors were Jakub Wujek (translator of the Bible into Polish) and Piotr Skarga (leading figure of the Counter-Reformation in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; due to his oratorical gifts, he has been called “the Polish Bossuet”). By 1595 there were more than 600 students, and their number reached 900 by 1696. Nowadays Pułtusk is associated with Pultusk School of Humanities, opened in 1994. This little center of powiat administration, whose population does not even amount to nineteen thousand, is now often referred to as „Oxford-upon-Narew”, and has become home to fifteen thousand students.
A glimpse of history
Around 1405, the Mayor’s House, today known as the “Polonia House” or “Polonia Castle”, was constructed. The history is very rich: big and small events took place there, dramas on a national and private scale, romances, political storms of war and peace times.
The castle, in the shape of a horseshoe, is located at the banks of the Narew river. The castle has hosted Polish king Sigismund II Vasa, Swedish King Charles II, Emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte and Russian tsars – Alexander I and Alexander II. The castle survived, among others, the wars with Teutonic Order, Swedish Deluge, partitions and two world wars. In the 17th century when the Swedish Invasion had taken place, and the castle had been devastated and partially burned. Although, the castle was rebuilt every time, its magnificent walls give every passer-by a glimpse of history. Currently the castle in Pułtusk is owned by association “Polish Community”. It`s a hotel and recreation complex. Apart from hotel services, the facility houses the Documentation Centre for Displaced Poles (Ośrodek Dokumentacji Wychodźstwa Polskiego).
One of the first public theatres in Poland
In 1449 a Gothic church was added to the city’s facilities. In the 16th century the castle was rebuilt by several renowned Italian architects, including Giovanni Battista of Venice, Bartolommeo Berrecci, and Giovanni Cini of Siena. In 1566 one of the first public theatres in Poland was established in Pułtusk. In the 16th century the town was visited by many notable individuals, such as Jan Kochanowski (the greatest Polish poet before Adam Mickiewicz, and the greatest Slavic poet prior to the 19th century), King Sigismund III (a highly controversial figure in Poland; his long reign coincided with the apex of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth’s prestige, power and economic influence, on the other hand, it was during his reign that the symptoms of decline leading to the Commonwealth’s eventual demise surfaced), and Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski (Europe’s most prominent Latin poet of the 17th century, and a renowned theoretician of poetics).
In 1530 the first Masovian printing house was opened.
The town was also a battleground in the Polish-Soviet War of 1920, at the eve of the Battle of Warsaw. In 1931 the town had some 16,800 inhabitants. As a result of the Invasion of Poland in 1939 it was incorporated into Nazi Germany. From 1941 until1945 it was known as Ostenburg.
During the German occupation approximately half of the city’s inhabitants were forcibly deported, some to concentration camps. In the battle for Pułtusk during WWII over 16,000 soldiers of the Soviet Red Army were killed. As a result of the battle approximately 85% of the city was destroyed.
The pre-Holocaust population of the Jews
There was also a strong Jewish presence in Pułtusk before the Holocaust. The first Jews settled there in the 15th century, but the community only started to flourish in the 19th century. At the start of the 19th century, only about 120 Jews lived in the city. Throughout that century, though, the Jewish population increased rapidly to nearly 7,000 in the mid-19th century. By the year 1900, around 6,000 called Pułtusk home, but the population had been decreasing because of factors such as WWI, which caused many to migrate to nearby Warsaw. Following the war, the pre-Holocaust population rose to about 7,500 accounting for roughly half of the total population of the town. On September 7th, 1939, the city became under the control of Nazi Germany. On September 27th, the Jews were forced to leave and some eventually made their way to the Soviet border. The descendants of Pułtusk Jewry are now found mainly in Israel, the United States, Canada, and Argentina.
The fragment of Pułtusk`s meteorite can be found at the London British Museum
In the middle of the market square there is the 15th century brick tower of the town hall. The tower is over 30 meters high. On its eighth level there is a viewpoint with telescopes. It presents archeological finds many of which from inside the castle grounds and ethnographic exhibits along with fragments of a meteorite which fell from the skies on January 30th, 1868. It fell in the vicinity of Pułtusk and covered the area of 127 km. In total 68,780 meteor parts were found, each weighing on average several grams. The total weigh of all the pieces was estimated at the level of 8,863 kilograms. The largest of them can be found at the London British Museum and in the Earth Museum of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) in Warsaw (Muzeum Ziemi PAN).
A plot of the novel awarded with Nobel`s Prize for Literature has been located in Pułtusk
Seven years later a fire broke out in Pułtusk and destroyed most of the town’s houses. Unfortunately, the fire consumed also valuable Pułtusk collections of books. Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, who arrived at the scene of the tragedy reported the whole event in the press and later used the report to describe the fire of Rome in his novel “Quo vadis” (having been translated into more than 50 languages; this novel contributed to Sienkiewicz’s Nobel Prize for literature in 1905).
One of the most popular weekend places
During the millennium of its existence, Pułtusk was possibly the most invaded town in Poland. Despite the extent of the destruction, especially during WWII, the town was reconstructed, and now it is one of the most recognized and admired tourist destinations in the north-eastern part of the country because to its historical and unique architecture. It is one of the most popular weekend places for the inhabitants of Warsaw.
Towards the end of December the Marketplace changes its appearance once again, becoming a huge open-air theatre for a historical spectacle „Napoleon in Pułtusk”.
Pułtusk is situated within 60 kilometers’ drive from Warsaw, on the route to Mazurian Lakes. There is still another route leading to Mazurian Lakes and to Augustowskie Lake District, going through Pułtusk: along the natural waterway formed by the Narew river. Before the river reaches the town, two kilometers off, its bed forks encompassing the Old Town and the Marketplace with the castle and the adjacent tenement houses. And that`s why Pułtusk is called “Little Polish Venice”. If you ever decided to come to Poland, Pułtusk should be on your itinerary.
Hopefully I will see you there. I would be delighted
By Agata Szostkowska
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Photos: Michał Stanisławski, Pultusk.pl, http://www.zamekpultusk.pl/galeria
Pultusk Castle: source: http://www.zamekpultusk.pl/hotel_attractions
In the middle of the market square there is the 15th century brick tower of the town hall. Photos: Michał Stanisławski
Europe’s longest paved market square (380 meters in length) was a sign of the town’s economic success. Photos: Michał Stanisławski
”Polonia’s ( Polish people living abroad) House”. Photos: Michał Stanisławski
The Regional Museum. Napoleon stayed in Pułtusk in 1806 after a won battle with the Tsar’s army waged in the outskirts of the town.The Regional Museum. Photos: Michał Stanisławski
Monument of Krzysztof Klenczon, famous Polish composer and singer, born in Pułtusk. Photos: Michał Stanisławski
The fragments of Pułtusk`s meteorite. Photos: Michał Stanisławski
The Pułtusk`s Castle derives from the Middle Ages. Photos: Michał Stanisławski
Narew river: photos, source: www.pultusk.pl