| SIGHTSEEING TOUR OF NORTHERN POLAND
Part 3 - Pomerania, Warmia and Mazury, lakes and castles
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Let's visit some of the great castles and cathedrals of Pomerania, Warmia and Mazury - Bytow, Frombork, Lidzbark, Malbork, Nidzica, Olsztyn, Swieta Lipka. The great Polish astronomer and mathematician carried out his revolutionary work at several of them.
Pomerania - Pomorze in Polish - is the area along the Baltic coast west of the Vistula River. It has been inhabited by Slavic people, closely related to Poles for thousands of years. However, the western part became colonized by German settlers and came under the rule of the princes of Brandenburg in the 16th century. A large part of the population resisted germanization, in particular the Kashuby (Kaszuby) who still today speak their own dialect. The eastern part, closer to the Vistula valley remained under Polish control until the partition of Poland at the end of the 18thC, then returned to Poland after World War I. After World War II the entire region returned to Poland. Along the Baltic coast it is mostly flat, inland is hilly with many lakes and forests.
Driving from Toruń to Gdansk it is worth making a detour through this pretty and peaceful country. Of particular interest is Bytów at the heart of the Kashuby region.
The entire coast of Pomerania is lined with white sand beaches and summer resorts, the most popular are those along the 34km long Hel peninsula, close to the modern port city of Gdynia. A spectacular feature is Słowiński National Park with many miles of sand dunes which are gradually being blown inland by the prevailing winds. They reach a height up to 120m (400 feet), see photos . They may be reached from the fishing village and resort of Łeba, drive to the end of the road then hire an electric cart, horse carriage or bicycles.
The Teutonic Knights came here after the Crusades and built many castles in Warmia and Mazury during the 14th and 15th centuries. Most of them are structures of red brick. The largest is Malbork, the capital of the Order. It actually consists of two castles and adjacent buildings surrounded by fortifications, most of which still exist. Inside there is a museum with many artifacts and a great collection of amber jewelery and figures. You may visit either with a group or by yourself. If you want to take pictures, buy a special ticket.
The Polish Bishops of Warmia also built fortified cathedrals and castles. North of Malbork you may visit the fortified cathedral of Frombork standing on a hill above the town. It is here that the astronomer and mathematician Nicolas Copernicus completed his work "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" which demonstrated mathematically that the earth, and the other planets, revolve around the sun. He died here shortly afterwards, in 1543. Almost a hundred years later Galileo built a telescope and was excommunicated for proving that Copernicus' theory was true!
Olsztyn is a the capital of the Warmia and Mazury region and serves as a convenient startng point for exploring this extensive lake region with many summer resorts and great opportunities for kayaking and sailing. There are several interesting medieval buildings and churches in the town. Its castle, also belonging to the Warmia Bishops, was also a place were Copernicus did some of his work. In the museum of this castle you can see some of his instruments and original drawings.
On your way back from Olsztyn to Warsaw you pass the site of two major battles that both changed history. At Grunwald (Tannenberg in German) the combined forces of Poland and Lithuania dealt a crushing blow to the Teutonic Knights in 1410 and stopped their territorial expansion. 500 years later, in August 1914 the German army crushed the Russians, who never recovered. This disaster lead directly to the Russian Revolution. There is a small museum at the site.
See photos of places discussed above.
How to get there. If you don't want to drive a car, you can go by train or by bus.
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Map of Tour.
Detail maps for all Poland, including city plans.
LISTED PLACES for detailed information.
Last update February 2004