Warsaw and Krakow

click on images for full-size:

Palace of Science, Warsaw

New construction, Warsaw

An Old Town square, Warsaw

I preferred Warsaw to Krakow. To some people this automatically disqualifies me from writing about places today. "You're going to Poland," said an architecturally knowledgeable friend, "I've always wanted to visit and photograph Krakow." A Polish university student from Lublin said to us on a bus, "I don't like Warsaw; it's too cosmopolitan."

Here's the case they would make against my preference: Krakow is beautiful, a living testimony to a long and significant past, the symbol of its nation, a city not overly scarred by war or recent development, a place with a strong identity self-consciously affirmed by its citizens and agreed on by the nation as a whole, and crowned by UNESCO as a world treasure of tradition.

On the other hand, Warsaw was mostly destroyed by the Nazis, then loaded with Stalinist kitsch, and is now sprouting Euro-pomo skyscrapers.

Krakow has an Old Town that is real; Warsaw has an Old Town reconstructed from the ruins according to old images.

That reconstruction was then a heroic assertion of national memory and Polish will to survive, but now it has become a theme park full of tourists.