Sunday, 25 November 2012

Płock by night, Płock by day

To Płock to address yet another conference on Public-Private Partnerships. Having been most impressed by Toruń, I was keen to take a look around Płock, a historic city (pop. 125,000) which served as Poland's capital from 1079 to 1138. Situated on the Vistula, half-way from Warsaw (110km downstream ) to Toruń (100km upstream), the city benefits from its location, atop a steep and high escarpment looking down across the river.

After the day's work, time to take a stroll. I was last here in 2005 or '06 (pre-blogging days, anyhow), again at a conference, held in the building below, the town hall (ratusz), which dates back to the 1820s, and was the seat of the Polish insurgents' final parliament during the 1831 Uprising against Russia. If the style looks familiar, it is because it was designed by Jakub Kubicki, who was also responsible for the Belweder palace.

Below: looking down ul. Tumska towards the river, with two of the city's landmarks - to the right, the Castle of the Dukes of Masovia (Zamek książąt mazowieckich), built in the 14th C. as a Gothic fortification and topped off in the 18th C. with a Baroque upper tower and dome. To the right, the basilica cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Masovia, built in 1140.

Below: St. Bartholemew's church, built in 1356, rebuilt in the Baroque style, with a separate bell tower within the grounds. Like the cathedral and castle, the church overlooks the Vistula escarpment.

Below: the church, in daylight hours. Before leaving Płock for Warsaw, I take time to see more of the town. Behind the church, the ground falls away 40m in a dramatically steep slope towards the river bank.

Left: looking into a courtyard on ul. Tadeusza Kościuszki; a composition of wrought iron, plastered and unplastered brickwork and the Renaissance towers of the cathedral on the horizon.

Below: social housing (domy komunalne) overlooking ul. Mostowa in Płock. Note solid buttressing to keep the walls from sliding down the escarpment.

Below: we go down to the river, across a wide, sandy beach. The city's perched on that high escarpment to the right - and here I must mention the four-star Hotel Tumski where I stayed, an excellent location; my room on the third floor had a Most excellent view over the river. When I awoke on Friday morning, the view was misty (the Lindisfarne song Fog on the Tyne sprang to mind).

Below: looking across to the east. Across the Vistula, a granary, a small shipyard. On this side of the river, the molo (or pier) is just visible across the foreshore to the left. And in the far distance, the old bridge across the Vistula, still in use. Having such a splendid riverbank right under the historic city centre makes Płock more attractive to tourists. The waves are lapping at the shore, seagulls cry overhead.

Below: the bridge carries both roadway and a single railway track. Although the new bridge, a few km down stream, now opens the town up to road traffic much better than in the past, the lack of proper rail links is noticeable. I drove to Płock for lack of a good public transport alternative. The train journey from Jeziorki would have taken just under four hours, via W-wa Zachodnia and Kutno, an unnecessarily roundabout journey. The city needs a new rail link to Warsaw via Modlin airport, and here I wish the marshal of the Mazowsze province, Adam Struzik (who hails from Płock) good luck with his scheme to build such a rail link.

Below: Małachowianka, Poland's oldest school, dating back to 1180. The building is currently undergoing an extensive facelift, paid for out of EU funds. Famous alumni include Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland's first premier after communism (indeed first non-communist premier in all Central and Eastern Europe), Ignacy Mościcki, Poland's president from 1926 to 1939, and Jan Zumbach, leader of the legendary 303 Squadron. All would have gone to school via this historic front door.

Below: if you've not been to Płock, you may think of it this way, a communist-era monument to some communist in some nondescript square, not far from the gigantic petrochemical works. Indeed, this is statue to another local boy, Władysław Broniewski, who churned out panegyrics to Stalin. The statue is by Kazimierz Gustaw Zemła. And their stories tell of the complexity of Polish history. Broniewski fought against the Bolsheviks in 1920, winning a Virtuti Militari. He was arrested by the NKVD in Łwów in 1940 and held in the Lublyanka prison in Moscow, and sent to the Gulag, getting out of the USSR with Ander's army. And yet he returned to Poland to give praise to Stalin... Zemła taught at Warsaw's Fine Arts Academy, and authored communist-era monuments such as the one to the Silesian Uprising (which as a child I thought was of three grand pianos standing on their ends, with the shrouds left on). Yet after the downfall of communism, Zemła also gave us nine statues of Pope John Paul II and one to the heroes of the battle of Monte Cassino. Broniewski drank himself to death in 1962, unable to reconcile the contradictions in his life. Zemła is still alive (born in 1931).

So - there we are. Płock is Most certainly a historic city, Most certainly worth a visit.

This time last year:
Warning ahead of railway timetable change

This time two years ago:
London notes

This time three years ago:
Silent and Unseen - in your bookshops now

This time four years ago:
Frustrated by ul. Puławska - rat-run absurdity

This time five years ago:
Some thoughts on recycling

1 comment:

Gordon Hawley said...

Wonderful photos as usual.

Thank you.