Sunday, October 19, 2014

Black Madonna: Jasna Gora, Poland

Black Madonna: Our Lady of Czestochowa

The image is sometimes called Our Lady of Jasna Gora after the name of the monastery site in which it has been kept for six centuries. Joan Carroll Cruz relates the following 'miracle story' regarding the selection of this site:
St. Ladislaus determined to save the image from the repeated invasions of the Tartars by taking it to the more secure city of Opala, his birthplace. This journey took him through Czestochowa, where he decided to rest for the night. During this brief pause in their journey, the image was taken to Jasna Gora meaning (Bright Hill"). There it was placed in a small wooden church named for the Assumption. The following morning, after the portrait was carefully replaced in its wagon, the horses refused to move. Accepting this as a heavenly sign that the portrait was to remain in Czestochowa, St. Ladislaus had the image solemnly returned to the Church of the Assumption.
the Black Madonna and (possibly) King John Casimir and Father Augustyn Kordecki
The Holy Icon of the Black Madonna is a particular focus of worship for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians and is considered miraculous. It is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland and, is the most important sites of the worship. It has for centuries been the heart of pilgrimage in Poland.

Legend has it that an attempt was made to steal the painting in 1430 but it became so heavy it was impossible to lift it. In frustration the thieves slashed the canvas with a knife making two cuts on the virgin's face which oozed blood. The marks are still visible today.

At one point Poland almost disappeared from the map. During Poland's turbulent history Swedes, Germans, and Russians have all overpowered the Polish nation but throughout, their faith has remained strong and the Virgin has always been there for them.

We were in the center of hundreds of people praying there, and the beauty was that, neither were we bothering them in their prayer, nor were they bothered by our presence. We could just walk around silently admiring the hundred years of history. Absolutely beautiful! How I wish our temples could be more organised and disciplined like this.

The miracle for which the Black Madonna of Częstochowa is most famous occurred in 1655, when Swedish troops were about to invade Częstochowa. A group of Polish soldiers prayed fervently before the icon for deliverance, and the enemy retreated. In 1656, King John Casimir declared Our Lady of Częstochowa "Queen of Poland" and made the city the spiritual capital of the nation.

The Virgin again came to the aid of her people in 1920, when the Soviet Russian Red Army gathered on the banks of the Vistula River, preparing to attack Warsaw. The citizens and soldiers fervently prayed to Our Lady of Częstochowa, and on September 15, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, she appeared in the clouds above Warsaw. The Russians were defeated in a series of battles later dubbed the "Miracle at the Vistula."

During Nazi occupation, Hilter prohibited pilgrimages to Jasna Góra, but many still secretly made the journey. In 1945, after Poland was liberated, half a million pilgrims journeyed to Częstochowa to express their gratitude. On September 8, 1946, 1.5 million people gathered at the shrine to rededicate the entire nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. During the Cold War, Jasna Góra was a center of anti-Communist resistance.

In the main part of the shrine, the walls are completely covered with Rosaries, pure silver and pure gold hearts, Rosaries made of amber (the worth of all of those amber Rosaries are about $2 million), as well as crutches and canes. All of these things were left because of the healings that have taken place in front of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa. These things were left by devotees who had experienced the Black Madonna's power.

The main Nave of the Basilica

 The Baroque Basilica interiors: really stunning!

                See the interiors of Jasna Gora: beautiful  frescos and paintings.

There have been reports for centuries of miraculous events such as spontaneous healings occurring to those who made a pilgrimage to the portrait. It gets its name "Black Madonna" from the soot residue that discolors the painting. The soot is the result of centuries of votive lights and candles burning in front of the painting. With the fall of communism in Poland, pilgrimages to the Black Madonna have increased dramatically.
Here too they keep changing the dress of Mother every day.

                                                           The Sundials
Europe, as you would see is full of Churches and Museums, good roads, good transport, and excellent cafe's. The architecture too seems to be more or less the same. However, nothing can beat our country, which is very different in every aspect, the variety of food, the various cultures/customs of different regions, different religions and different languages. 
The exteriors of Jasna Gora: they have acres of beautiful garden

Outside they have a huge altar built from where open air masses are celebrated to the crowds gathered there on certain festival days.
This picture of a huge bell in the compound, has lots and lots of coins(cents, euros etc.) and totally unguarded, yet you don't see anybody stealing: this is Poland for you, a country filled with honest and hard working people, who at the same time know how to have fun too.

I have decided to write about all the places visited by us, for it would help me remember them. It is natural to forget, when we see so many places together, and with all of them looking similar.

Happy Diwali!!!

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Brief Stop Over In Poznan: Poland

On Our Way to Warsaw we stopped for a while in this beautiful town called Poznan

                                                          A nice sunny day, everyone having a good time, eating, drinking or shopping. Crowds slowly gathering near the clock

The window opens as the bell starts ringing

Two goats come out, Two men appear with trumpets near the tower and start playing some music
Two angry goats ram each other's head for about 12 times, and go back and as the window closes the two men again appear near the tower and play the trumpet. And that is the end.
Locals too were there with their kids, the little school children all look up in amazement as the men play the trumpets near the tower and the goats emerge through the small window. 
As with all other places this place too was bombed and they have been rebuilt to look the same as they were before the bombing

Ice cream or Lody (Polish) is very popular in Poland
A beautiful boutique selling wedding gowns

Our first stop in Poland was: Poznan
We were in the Old Market.
The biggest attraction of the Old Market is the Town Hall. This excellent example of Renaissance architecture was raised between 1550-60 on the site of a previous Gothic style house belonging to one of the city's high officials in the XIII century (the foundations can be seen in the basement).
The principal architect of the new Town Hall was Jan Baptist Quadro.
The Town Hall has not always stood proud as it does today. The Swedish invasion of Poland destroyed it and it had to be rebuilt in 1782-84 as one of the tasks of the Commission of New Order.
WWII damaged the building to a large extent. Today the Town Hall stands rebuilt and renovated (a few years ago), once again a splendid example of Renaissance architecture for all to admire.
A point of attraction of the central tower is the clock, to be precise the strange mechanism that opens up every day at noon presenting two goats who butt each other for a minute or two then retire into the clock for another day.
We arrived here about 15 minutes before 12, to witness this event.There were tourists as well as the locals: everyone, enjoying their lunch and drinks at the local restaurants, waiting for the clock to strike 12. There were school children too with their teachers all soaking up the warm sun, on a bright yet chilly day. We just had stop over there for maybe 1 and a half hour.

The creator of the clock and the mechanism was Bartlomiej Wolff who constructed it in 1551 by order of city council. With the clock and the goats comes a legend of the city...One evening in 1551 the clock master Bartlomiej Wollf finally decided to present the city council and the citizens of Poznan with his new work of art - the commissioned tower clock. For the special opening ceremony all the nobles were invited as well as the city fathers and citizens. Unfortunately the meat that was being cooked in the kitchen for the ceremonial supper fell into the fire and was burnt completely!
The assistant chef was told to find new meat immediately as the supper was just about to begin. But it was late and all the butchers were closed and there was no
place in the whole of Old Poznan to buy any meat.
Disaster loomed for all the kitchen staff, then at the last moment the young assistant saw two goats frolicking around in a green pasture nearby. He grabbed them and ran to the kitchen.
The goats understood what was happening and did not wanted to end up in the pot so they ran from the kitchen, climbed the stairs and jumped out of a window right onto the building work on the Town Hall and to the high clock tower.
When the Voivode (Warlord) saw his dinner on the top of the tower prancing about and generally feeling pleased with themselves he began to laugh, and so did the nobles around him along with the townsfolk and city fathers.
The chef was relieved that everything had turned well and everyone was in a good humour. The lack of meat at the feast was overlooked and the Voivode ordered a mechanism built to remind everyone of the funny event.
And today the 12 o'clock opening of the clock tower and the two goats always draws a crowd.

From here we proceed to Warsaw. We stopped here as it was on our way and we were in time to watch this show. Timing is perfect, as far as these tours are concerned. One must also admire the punctuality of the people who travel with these tours.

Watch this video here or in Youtube.

I hope you enjoyed the short trip with me to Poznan.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Warsaw: Poland, A City That Rose Like A Phoenix!

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page" - Saint Augustine

Warsaw – the capital of Poland.
This amazing city is full of contrasts, question marks and surprises. It is bound excite and inspire you. It is indeed a city, full of astonishing contrasts and it never ceases to amaze people, with its magnitude of dimensions and themes, which are there to be discovered, absorbed and understood by the inquisitive.
The weather was bright and sunny, with just a slight chill in the air: perfect for touring the city.
We were shown a few places from our coach and later we were left near the Royal Castle to do some sight seeing and shopping on our own. (Although there are many shops selling Amber, the local guide showed us where we could by without being cheated).
We passed by some important monuments and also stopped at a few interesting ones.
Some of the places where we stopped were: Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, Fryderyk Chopin Monument, and Krakowskie Przedmieści, also known as the Royal route,
Krakowskie Przedmieście Royal Avenue constitutes the northernmost part of Warsaw's Royal Route, and links the Old Town and Royal Castle (at Castle Square) with some of the most notable institutions in Warsaw, including – proceeding southward – the Presidential Palace, Warsaw University, and the Polish Academy of Sciences headquartered in the Staszic Palace. The immediate southward extension of Krakowskie Przedmieście along the Royal Route is ulica Nowy Świat (New World Street)

Warsaw is a big city, and I feel what I saw was just a glimpse, but never the less you are invited to come along with me and see some places visited by me in Warsaw:
The Ghetto Uprising
The monument to the heroes who died during the Ghetto Uprising in 1943 The monument features an inscription in Polish, Yiddish, as well as Hebrew which reads: 'The Jewish People in honour of its fighters and martyrs'.
In an ironic quirk, the stone cladding on the monument was originally ordered from Sweden by Hitler for a victory arch.

The back side of the memorial depicts a line of Jewish prisoners marching to a certain death in the concentration camps.
The Warsaw Uprising is an exceptional chapter in the city’s history - one that is both heroic and tragic. The monument commemorates the thousands of heroes of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising who gave their lives for their homeland, having fought against the occupiers for 63 days under woefully uneven odds. It is a two-part monument. The first part presents the fighters as they crawl out from under a bridge support, while the second part shows them entering the canal system. An entryway into the canal system used to escape from the Germans was located on Plac Krasińskich.
Warsaw is also a city that very deeply demonstrates its memory of the most painful events of the Polish . Remembering the people who have lost their lives fighting for their country.

Commemorative plaques and monuments, honoring victims of Nazi and Russian persecution, can be seen almost on every street or a square.

Golden Terraces shopping center/ Mall :
Many famous world companies have their offices and shops here. For visitors in search for entertainment there is the first Polish Hard Rock Cafe, Jazzarium Arwarium jazz club, modern cinema with 8 screens. The commercial center of the complex with the area of 63,500 square meters hosts more than 200 shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. It is said, that at night the golden lights of the Terraces are seen even outside the Polish capital. And  remember, the city is not small. The cost of implementation of the project was estimated at $250 million.
It has attracted prestigious tenants including Central Europe's first Hard Rock Cafe restaurant, famous for displaying music mementos including Bono's and John Lennon's guitars.
Its design, crisscrossed by various levels, stairs and passages, gives the impression of the complex being suspended in the air. The lightness is enhanced by its open structure. Placing the colorful mechanisms of the escalators behind glass panels was a great idea. The roof is more than a masterpiece of engineering: it is a work of art.

The shopping center has a sophisticated glass roof that consists of thousands of separate glass elements and extends in the form of a wave over the roof .
The shape and style of the undulating glass roof was inspired by the tree canopies in Warsaw's historic parks.

The Palace of Culture and Science is the highest building in Poland. It has over 3,000 rooms.
The big attraction is a large terrace on the 30th floor of the Palace.It was built between 1952 and 1955; it was a "gift of the Soviet people to the Polish nation", offered by Joseph Stalin himself. The architect was Lew Rudniew.

The Palace has a post office, cinema, swimming pool, museums, libraries and theaters. The palace is one of the largest conference facilities in Warsaw, comfortably accommodating more than 4,500 participants at a time, at dozens of meetings and training conferences annually.
The big attraction for tourists and residents is the 'trzydziestka', a large terrace on the 30th floor of the Palace (at a height of 114 m), where you can admire the gorgeous panorama of Warsaw. On New Year’s Eve, 2000, the Palace of Culture and Science unveiled the second largest clock in Europe: its four discs are each 6 m in diameter, and it is highest clock tower in the world.
However, the people here really hate this building, for it is a sad reminder to them of the Soviet dominance over Poland. Many wish that, this monster of a building would somehow disappear. A common joke is that it offers the best view of the city – the only place from which you don't have to see the building itself.
We just saw it from outside, somehow didn't feel like wasting money to see something so hated by the people of Poland. The guides never get tired of expressing their hatred for this awful building.

Here in Warsaw it is a bit sad to see the historic, baroque and neoclassical buildings meet solid houses from the 50s, shoddy constructions of 70s and glass office buildings of modern time.

 Some areas are very good too with large, clean parks.  This is Warsaw early in the morning. Poland is really a clean country. Their roads are all so wide: it is really nice to see such wide roads everywhere.

 Krasinski palace – National Library, the most beautiful Baroque building in Warsaw.

A visit to the art nouveau Chopin Monument, next to the Botanical Garden is not to be missed. Set in the midst of a rose garden it was erected in 1926, the work of acclaimed sculptor Wacław Szymankowski. As part of the Nazi brutalization of Warsaw it was dynamited by Germans on May 31, 1940. The following day an unknown patriot had placed a placard on the smoldering ruin declaring: ‘I don’t know who destroyed me, but I know why; so I don’t play the funeral march for your leader’.
 A plaster-cast of the original model allowed the statue to be rebuilt and a reconstruction was unveiled in 1958. This Statue depicts the composer sitting under a willow tree seeking inspiration from nature. The stylized willow over Chopin’s seated figure echoes a pianist’s hand and fingers.

You can listen to Chopin’s compositions for free at this self playing bench, not only in this park but many other parks too.
                          Look at the colors of the buildings they are so soothing to the eyes.
The Royal Castle Square: 
Warsaw’s striking Old Town may look like it dates back several centuries but the old town has barely reached middle age. The painstakingly rebuilt area was awarded a listing on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1980.
Walking through the Royal Castle, you have to remind yourself constantly that most of it was reconstructed between 1971 and 1984. The castle is located on a plateau overlooking the Vistula River.
 From the early 17th until the late 18th century, this was the seat of the Polish kings. It subsequently housed the parliament and is now a museum displaying tapestries, period furniture, funerary portraits and collections of porcelain and other decorative arts.
The narrow cobbled street

Behind me is the Vistula River, Polish Wisła.
Feeling quite pleased with my Amber, which I purchased there. Poland is famous for its Amber.
Baltic Amber: which is Polish gold is everywhere in this city and it's an excellent buy. You’ll find everything from simple amber beaded necklaces to lamps, furniture, and all sorts of collectible items brilliantly crafted by the country’s artisans.
Even if you have zero interest in buying amber, you’ll find yourself fascinated by Baltic Amber, which is fossilized tree resin (not sap) that dates from 44 million years ago. The most valuable pieces have extinct insects and plants inside of them which you can see in the exhibitions through magnifying glasses.
Baltic Amber actually comes in a range of colors, from a smoky white to almost black and of course, the yellow-orange-brown color most associated with it. There are uncommon colors as well including red, green and a blue which is very rare.
In Poland, when you buy amber, you will always be given a Certificate of Authenticity, even for a tiny piece. So don't forget to buy some Amber when you are in Poland.

All over Europe one can find locks of various sizes on the railings of bridges ( this is not a bridge, but here too one can find locks: some superstition)
Everything blue here from my top to the beautifully painted blue wall.

The Old Town was reconstructed from original plans and paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries - it's hard to believe it's just a half a century old when you stroll its quaint cobbled streets : amazing!

St. Anne's Church near the Royal Castle Square

The view of the wide roads of Warsaw from the Castle.

 The Royal Castle Square:
This monument (column of King Zygmunt) is a great spot to relax for a while. You get a view of all the activity in the area..shops, cafe's etc., and indulge in some people watching. A good place to rest your tired feet, after walking and exploring the various narrow cobbled streets, shopping, and eating. 

This huge clock tower of 60 m in height designed in the sixteenth century, has always been a symbol of the Polish capital and source of inspiration for the architects of other buildings in Warsaw.
Krakowskie Przedmieście, in Warsaw (literal English meaning: "Kraków Suburb"; until the 19th century, also known by the French rendering, "Faubourg de Cracovie") is one of the most impressive and prestigious streets of Poland's capital.
It is the northernmost part of the Royal Route, and links the Old Town and Royal Castle with some of the most notable institutions in Warsaw, including — proceeding southward — the Presidential Palace, Warsaw University, and the Polish Academy of Sciences (headquartered in the Staszic Palace).

In accordance with Fryderyk Chopin's will, after his death his heart was removed, placed in an urn, and brought by his sister to Warsaw, where it was deposited inside a pillar in the Holy Cross Church on Krakowskie Przedmieście.
You can get the idea of what Warsaw looked like back then from a famous scene in the Pianist, when Adrian Brody (playing Wladyslaw Szpilan) emerges from his final hide-out and looks at completely ruined Warsaw stretching for miles.
Surviving architects after the war searched for old photographs, plans and documents in an attempt to ensure an exact reconstruction of the Old Town.

No wonder, Warsaw  is a phoenix, a city that rose like a phoenix from the ashes and all because of its hard working people. If interested see this video:

Next I will take you to tour Krawkow with me. Are you ready or are you already tired?