When my friends and family learned I was traveling to Poland, I was repeatedly told to travel to Kraków and not Warsaw. When I asked why, they explained to me that since Warsaw was almost completely rebuilt after WWII, it was not “authentic.” The word “authenticity” made me wonder: what exactly makes a city authentic? Is it the people and culture that makes a city authentic, or is it the history exuded by centuries old buildings? Warsaw and Kraków have an interesting relationship in terms of authenticity. Kraków has roots dating back to the 7th century and was the original capital of Poland. Warsaw, however, dates only back to the 14th century and it wasn’t until 1596 that the city became the new capital of Poland. Seven centuries older than Warsaw, Kraków is also often deemed more “authentic,” because it emerged virtually unscathed from the bombings of WWII. On the other hand, almost 85% of the buildings in Warsaw were razed to the ground towards the end of WWII. However, after WWII an initiative was formed to restore Warsaw’s Old Town (the 17th and 18th century city center) to its original condition. The results were so well done that United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added Old Town to the World Heritage List.1 Today, when you walk across Old Town it is hard to believe that the building are actually less than fifty years old.
Can you tell what is old and what is new? Guess which pictures were taken in Kraków and which were taken in Warsaw.
1. Wilson, Neil, Tom Parkinson, and Richard Watkins. Poland. China: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd, 2005.