If Poland isn’t, in your minds, a country associated with stunning beauty and points of magnificent nature, you might have been wrong and if you decided to check it, you would be pleasantly surprised. The Polish longest and largest river flows along the most beautiful and significant historical spots. Here and there along the Vistula rise the ruins of medieval strongholds, some of which have been restored. Let me say this: If it`s Friday, it must be Poland. And Friday is the beginning of the weekend so I am taking you on an imaginary cruise on the Vistula River. Are you ready? I promise you won`t be disappointed.
2017 is the Year of the Vistula. The longest and largest river in Poland is also a waterway of great importance to the nations of Central and Eastern Europe. More than 85 percent of the river’s drainage basin, however, lies in Polish territory. It flows generally from south to north through the mountains and foothills of southern Poland and across the lowland areas of the great North European Plain, ending in a delta estuary that enters the Baltic Sea near the port of Gdańsk. It`s passing several large Polish cities along its way, including the most beautiful European medieval town of Cracow (according to a recent poll of the “Which? Travel” magazine’s readers) which was early capital of the country, Sandomierz known for its Old Town, which is a major tourist attraction, Warsaw the current capital and largest city of Poland, The Ducal Capital City of Płock which some historians claim of to be the first historical capital of Poland from 1079 until 1138. Also medieval town of Toruń, one of the oldest cities in Poland, having been established in 1233 by the Teutonic Knights, which was considered the most modern cultural and technological centre in Medieval Europe. Toruń is the birthplace of Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus who “moved the earth and stopped the sun”. The Vistula River is passing also Bydgoszcz, an architecturally rich city, with neo-gothic, neo-baroque, neo-classicist, modernist and Art Nouveau styles present, for which it earned a nickname “Little Berlin”. The notable granaries on Mill Island and along the riverside belong to one of the most recognized timber-framed landmarks in Poland. Next is Grudziądz, where is also a unique fortification complex of river bank granaries on the right bank of the Vistula River. Another city is Tczew, known for an important railway junction with a classification yard dating to the Prussian Eastern Railway, and also for its attractive old town and the Vistula Bridge, or Bridge of Tczew, damaged during WWII. The Vistula River empties into the Vistula Lagoon or directly into the Gdańsk Bay of the Baltic Sea. Gdańsk is one of the most beautiful cities both in Poland and Europe, called “The Pearl of the North”. So The Vistula flows along the most important historical spots and Poland`s and Europe`s most beautiful towns and cities.
A considerable role in the turbulent history of Poland and international water course
The Vistula is deeply rooted in the Polish tradition, being a subject of particular reverence to the Polish nation. It played a considerable role in the turbulent history of the country. Over many centuries, Poland was a large and flourishing kingdom. In its less fortunate period (1772–1795) it was partitioned between three powerful neighbours and incorporated into Austria, Prussia (later Germany) and Russia. From 1795 to 1918, when Poland did not exist as an independent country, the Vistula flowed through the Austrian partition with Cracow, and the Russian partition with Warsaw, down to the Prussian (later German) partition with Toruń and Gdańsk, being in fact an international water course. In 1918, Poland regained its independence, while Gdańsk (Danzig) was given the status of a free town. During WWII (1939–1945), the Vistula basin was under both German and Soviet occupation.
The Polish September campaign included battles over control of the mouth of the Vistula, and of the city of Gdańsk, so close to the river delta. During the Invasion of Poland (1939), after the initial battles in Pomerelia, the remains of the Polish Army of Pomerania withdrew to the southern bank of the Vistula. After defending Toruń for several days, the army withdrew further south under pressure of the overall strained strategic situation, and took part in the main battle of Bzura.
The Auschwitz complex of concentration camps was located on the Vistula, at the confluence of the Vistula and the Soła rivers. Ashes of murdered Auschwitz victims were dumped into the river.
During WWII prisoners of war from the Nazi Stalag XX-B camp were assigned to cut ice blocks from the River Vistula. The ice would then be transported by truck to the local beer houses.
The 1944 Warsaw Uprising was planned with the expectation that the Soviet forces, who had arrived in the course of their offensive and were waiting on the other side of the Vistula River in full force, would help in the battle for Warsaw. However the Soviets let down the Poles, stopping their advance at the Vistula and branding the insurgents as criminals in radio broadcasts. In early 1945 the Red Army crossed the Vistula and drove the German Wehrmacht back past the Oder river in Germany in the Vistula–Oder Offensive. And this was not the first time the Soviet Russia invaded Poland.
“The miracle on the Vistula”
Among the most momentous events of twentieth-century history is the defeat of the Communist Red Army in the Battle of Warsaw in the summer of 1920, commonly known as “the miracle on the Vistula”.
History isn’t just what’s happened. It’s also what happened in the context of what might have occurred. Although largely unknown in the West, much was at stake during the Polish-Soviet War. The conflict determined whether Poland would remain free and whether Europe would be exposed to Bolshevik revolution. The conflict was a potential turning point, and one that could have a profound impact on subsequent events.
The Polish-Soviet War started in February 1919. The Russians had an army of more than 5 million men and had assembled 70 divisions for Operation Vistula, while the Polish Army, with less than a million men, could field only 20 divisions to stop them. The war was perhaps the last of its kind, involving a rich mixture of cavalry and tanks, lance and machine gun, of hardened professionals and untested civilians.
In the summer of 1920, Russia seemed poised to take over Europe. Newly victorious in the Russian Civil War, but convinced that the capitalists were bent on strangling the cradle of Communism, the Bolsheviks looked for salvation. The new Soviet state was a mess, following a brutal civil war, and the best way of ensuring its survival appeared to be to export the revolution to Germany, itself economically ruined by defeat in WWI, racked by internal political dissension, and now engulfed in civil strife between Communist revolutionaries and proto-fascist freikorps paramilitaries.
The Red Army was approaching Warsaw, and both sides knew that the ensuing battle would determine the outcome of the war. But it was more than a territorial squabble. It was a clash of ideologies: Christianity vs. atheism, individual liberty vs. state control. Lenin believed that by destroying Poland, he would create a Red Bridge to Europe — particularly Germany — which he was certain was ripe for Communist revolution.
If only the Red Army’s bayonets could install a Bolshevik regime in Berlin, then the two most powerful states in Central and Eastern Europe would be united in a Communist monolith. And from there, perhaps Communism would spread to Italy, France, Hungary and beyond. Could Marx’s prediction of world revolution finally be at hand? Unfortunately for Lenin and Trotsky, an obstacle stood in their way. It was called Poland.
Despite the significance of the battle, Poland stood alone. Western powers sent diplomats and advisors, not troops, and Bolshevik agitators in western countries organized a near total boycott of military supplies.
By inflicting a clear-cut, overwhelming military defeat on the Red Army, the Poles not only prevented the Soviets from physically invading Europe, but destroyed their aura of invincibility, and hence, the intoxicating appeal of inevitability.
The Poles called their victory, the “Miracle on the Vistula.”
Natural beauty of the Vistula
The Vistula is one of the last wild waterways in Europe. The most amazing thing is the sheer unspoilt beauty of the river. There are the Poland`s most beautiful buildings standing on the river banks but the history of the country has had a bearing on information about historical river floods. The river is both natural and beautiful.
Warsaw is where modern urban landscape meets the natural beauty of the Vistula river
There are a number of sandy beaches to lay back and spend some good time with friends.
At night, when the lights of the Poniatowski bridge illuminate the river, “Temat Rzeka” – a venue on the bank of the Vistula – has one of the most atmospheric locations in the city. This chic bar, which opened three years ago as part of an effort to develop the already popular beach has a wooden decking area with sun loungers that runs regular club nights, as well as family events during the day and film screenings every Wednesday. It’s similar to “Cud nad Wisłą”, another beach bar on the opposite bank, which has been around since 2010; a venue with seating made from wooden pallets and a combination of club nights, performances and social events during the day. Further up the river you’ll find another city beach bar in the form of “La Playa”, a tropical club which hosts Latin nights to go with your cocktail. During the day you’re welcome to hang out on the beach and play badminton, volleyball or frisbee. Beyond the Gdański bridge, you’ll find “Boogaloo Beach Bar”. Like “Temat Rzeka”, it opened in 2013, creating a new party spot on the Żoliborz beach, with a Caribbean grill and regular reggae and dancehall parties.
See you there!
By Agata Szostkowska
Photos: Michał Stanisławski
© Copyright www.communications-unlimited.nl, 2017. All rights reserved.
Westerplatte is a peninsula in Gdańsk, Poland, located on the Baltic Sea coast mouth of the Dead Vistula (one of the Vistula delta estuaries). It is famous for the Battle of Westerplatte, which was the first clash between Polish and German forces during the Invasion of Poland and thus the first battle of the European theatre of WWII.
Gdańsk lies at the mouth of the Motława River, connected to the Leniwka, a branch in the delta of the nearby Vistula River, which drains 60 percent of Poland and connects Gdańsk with the Polish capital, Warsaw. Together with the nearby port of Gdynia, Gdańsk is also an important industrial center. In the late Middle Ages it was an important seaport and shipbuilding town, and in the 14th and 15th centuries a member of the Hanseatic League
Kazimierz Dolny is located on the eastern bank of the Vistula, at the edge of historical Lublin Upland extending further east from Małopolska Upland to the west. It owes its picturesque location to the Lesser Polish Gorge of the Vistula.
Cracow being situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region dates back to the 7th century. Cited as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, as well as one of the most unique destinations in the world, its extensive cultural heritage across the epochs of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture includes the Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle on the banks of the Vistula river.
Toruń is one of the oldest cities in Poland, having been established in 1233 by the Teutonic Knights. Over centuries, it was the home for people of diverse backgrounds and religions. At one point, the city was considered the most modern cultural and technological centre in Medieval Europe. From 1264 until 1411 Toruń was part of the Hanseatic League and by the 17th century it was one of the elite trading points, which greatly affected the city’s architecture ranging from Brick Gothic to Mannerism and Baroque.
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It stands on the Vistula River in east-central Poland. Once described as Paris of the East, Warsaw was believed to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world until World War II.