Twelve months have passed since the moment of my departure from Poland and my heart was filled with warmth as I viewed the exhibition “Discover Poland” at the Cultural Center. It showed the beauty, history, culture, and economic accomplishments of Poland.
We were able to see the cities of Poland. It is important to mention that many Polish cities are older than the country itself. According to Alexandrian geographer Claudius Ptolemy, the town of Calisia existed in the second century, and the country of Poland began to form in the 10th century. In later years, large cities formed at the initiative of powerful magnates, like Zamość shown on the first picture with its renaissance town hall. The next photograph is the Church of Peace in Jaworze. It is hard to believe that this building formed from wood and clay in the gothic style has a baroque interior. From southeast, we move north. We can admire the harbor in Szczecin, the modern business center, as well as remember the past in the ramparts of King Chrobry. It is impossible not to stop in Malbork, the fortified stronghold of the Teutonic knights. The capitals – old Krakow and the present Warsaw, hold a separate chapter in the history of Poland’s cities. Then, there is Lodź which quickly developed in the late 19th and early 20th century with its many examples of Art Nouveau in architecture. Next was Poznań, popular for its inter-national commerce. Then there was Wroclaw, a city of many cultures. A statement made about the royal city of Kraków says that if “the homeland disappeared, in its monuments one can see the kaleidoscope of Polish history, changes, ways of thinking, and human achievements across the centuries”. It is hard to disagree, looking at the Main Square of the Old City, Sukiennice, and Wawel – the royal castle overlooking Vistula River. Additional pieces of Krakow presented in the colorful pictures are Kazimierz quarters, which was the center of activity at the heart of Krakow for seven centuries. The Jews formed spiritual and economical cultures here contributing to the Polish culture. Currently, the Festival of Jewish Culture – Kazimierz brings back its old charm.
From south, we move to central Poland – to Warsaw, the youngest capital of Europe (1573). The cradle of Warsaw is the Old Town formed around 1300. Among major European cities, Warsaw holds seventh place in terms of population and landmass. The landscape of the city changes day-to-day bringing joy to the hearts of many Poles. But there are places that do not change like the Lazienki – one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe, and Wilanowski Palace. This concluded the part of the exhibition devoted to Polish cities.
The presentation of famous Poles began with the photograph of Pope John Paul II. It is impossible to name all those represented, so I will mention only a few: Maria Skłodowska-Curie, Frederick Chopin, Ignacy Paderewski, Joseph Piłsudski, Pola Negri, Stanisław Wyspiański, Czesław Miłosz, Andrzej Wajda… The list goes on.
From the world of knowledge, culture, and art we move to the Biebrzanski National Park. Next our sight is caught by willow trees in the Mazowsze region, which stand tall next to streams and roads. After that is the Bialowiejski Wilderness with one the oldest and the greatest populations of aurochs (an ancient breed of wild buffalo) in Europe.
In the last phase of the exhibition are photographs showing events in time having significance to the future of our country. The year 1989 brought freedom to Poland and democracy. The deliberations at the “Round Table” shown on the next picture represent a historical, political, and economical compromise. First free election of the Parliament, Senate, and the election of the new government with Tadeusz Mazowiecki as the leader, all became a reality. In 1990 began the reforms of Leszek Balcerowicz aimed at lowering hyperinflation, restructuring of the market, and privatization. Dramatic political restructuring took place, a system of many parties was created, and citizen rights and self-governance were implemented. The Polish eagle regained its crown. These changes led to Poland regaining its sovereignty. The specific moment is captures in the picture showing Ryszard Kaczorowski handing over the symbols of leadership to President Lech Wałęsa in 1990. The next important historic moment is the entrance of Poland into NATO and the signing of the accessibility act by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Bronislaw Geremka. The next photographs show US Presidents’ visits to Poland and Polish presidents visiting the US. The exhibition concludes with a photo of the most significant event of 2004 – Poland joining the European Union. The whole exhibition, beautifully displayed at the Cultural Center, was greatly enriched by musical pieces performed by Wanda Sobieski and Agnieszka Duda-Bieniek.
If the organizers of this exhibition Poland-USA Promotion had the goal of “…introducing modern Poland to Americans – its beauty, history, culture, and economic accomplishments”…, I believe it was met. I visited the ex-hibition several times and each time there were many guests present. We congratulate Irena Jarocka this inspiration and we thank her for the memories of Poland.
“And so please allow me – before I leave, to look from here at Kraków, at the Kraków in which each stone and brick are so dear to me – and look from here at Poland”-leaving I thought…
Translated by Monika Glazar