The most significant place to visit in central Poland, outside Warsaw, is Częstochowa (pronounced CHEN-stoh-hoava). The ancient, fortified, Pauline monastery Jasna Góra is the site of Poland's most venerated holy icon - the so-called Black Madonna - which is visited by over a million pilgrims every year, many coming from far continents. Legend says it was painted by St. Luke and traveled from Jerusalem to Constantinople, then to
Belz Castle in what today is Ukraine, arriving in Czestochowa about 1400. Recent historical studies indicate that it was probably painted in some monastery in the Balkans around 1200. Regardless of origin it was installed in the monastery of Jasna Góra in 1382. It is painted on a 1 3/8" thick wood base 48"x 25" (122.2 x 82.2 x 3.5 cms). The black color of the faces of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child in this icon (and many similar icons of the same age throughout Europe) is due to the discoloration of the ancient tempera paint by the smoke of votive candles over hundreds of years.
The original monastery was established in 1382 by Pauline monks from Hungary on the 900ft (293m.) high hill. The construction of the present gothic Chapel of the Virgin Mary commenced in 1482. The baroque Basilica was built in the late 17th. century. The fortress walls were built in the early 17th. century. The fortified monastery withstood many attacks over the years. The most famous was the siege by the Swedes in 1655. The succesful defense by 250 monks and soldiers against an army of 3,000
was considered a miracle and lead to the expulsion of the entire Swedish army from Poland. As a result King John Casimir proclaimed the Virgin Mary Protector and Queen of Poland.
Częstochowa is 138 miles (220 km) from Warsaw, and frequent diect trains take 3 hours, so it is possible to make a day excursion from Warsaw. Or Częstochowa may be included in a tour to Cracow.
Łódź (pronounced woodge) is the second largest city in Poland. In the 19th and early 20th centuries it was the center for Poland's booming textile industry. Many of the elaborate houses of the textile barons may be seen today, many built in the Art Nouveau style. The largest, that of Izrael Poznanski, is now the Historical Museum. Before World War II Łódź had the second largest Jewish population of any city in Europe (approximately 300,000). Virtually all were transported to death camps by the Nazis.
Łódź has been the center of the Polsh film industry since the 1960s. Renowned directors such as Polanski, Wajda and Kieslowski are all graduates of the Lódz Film School. The Museum of Cinematography is located in another of the textile barons' palaces.
Łódź is 82 miles (130km) form Warsaw. Frequent trains to the station Łódź Fabryczna take 2 hours
Just a few miles north of Łódź you should visit Tum to see the best preserved Romanesque church in Poland. It was built in 1161 and still maintains the original style in spite of various remodeling over the centuries. Remarkably well preserved is the frescoe in the west apse that was painted in 1161.
When passing through the small town of Kielce, stop to see the Bishop's palace, an excellent example of a 17th. century Baroque town house with lovely decorated rooms. Today it is a branch of the National Museum.
Unless you have a car, you can take a taxi from Kielce to see the Holy Cross Abbey. Perched on one of the peaks of the ancient Holy Cross mountains in the Góry Swiętokrzyskie National Park, it was built in the 12th. century. It contains numerous paintings and frescoes from the 15th and 18th centuries. In fine weather you will have glorious views of the forest clad mountain range. During World War II partisan groups of the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) succesfully held out against the German army from 1942 to 1945.
Note. Most maps do not show the road up to the mnastery. The approach road goes up the mountain from the village Huta Nowa on road #753. The radio tower is visible from far away.
About 35 km (20 miles) north of the Holy Cross National Park, on road #746 there is a Cistercian Abbey
Wąchock. Built in the 13th century it has both Romanesque and Gothic features. There are numerous well preserved frescoes.
One of the most charming towns in central Poland is Kazimierz Dolny, described on the
south Poland tour page.
This town was very rich in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it was the center for trading in grain from the rich Podlasie farmalands. From here it was shipped down the river to Warsaw and Gdansk. That is why there are so many richly decorated merchants' homes. It is a good place to stop for a meal because there are several good restaurants in, or close to, the Market Square.
Unless you rent a car, or join an escorted tour, the best way to get to Kazimierz Dolny is take one of the frequent trains to Puławy (2 hours from Warsaw). From the station it is a 15 minute taxi ride.
In good weather you can take the ferry across the river Vistula to see the extensive ruins of the Janowiec Castle which belonged for centuries the Prince Lubomirski family, at the same time you may enjoy a great view of the picturesque town itself.
Continue to Part 2 - Day excursions from Warsaw.
Return to top of page.