Szczecin - capital of West Pomerania

Szczecin the historic capital of the West Pomerania region is situated at the beginning of the estuary of the Oder River (Odra), some 65 km from the Baltic Sea. Many centuries ago this region was the ducal territory of the aristocratic Griffin dynasty and the scene of stormy history which saw the numerous incorporations of Szczecin into other countries, Sweden, Prussia and Poland. For centuries this was a land of cross roads, from Western to Eastern Europe and from Scandinavia to Southern Europe. Today Szczecin is not only the capital city of the West Pomeranian Province but is also the major city of the whole Pomerania Euroregion. It has become the centre of trade and industry, education and culture and a place with a developing tourist industry. Although the old image of the city has greatly changed it still enchants visitors with its charming places of interest and secession architecture which in itself is an invitation to explore and see more of the city.

Follow the red line

As you walk through the city you may notice a broken red line running along the pavement, the meaning of which is a mystery to many people. In fact this is a special way of marking the tourist route that can lead you to the most important sights in Szczecin. During a walk that may last a few hours you can visit the Old Market and see its most spectacular sights. The route starts near the main railway station (Dworzec Główny PKP) and leads us around forty two landmarks. Many people visiting the city will without doubt appreciate the help of this special route map, which is 'printed' in Polish, English and German. A must-see tourist destination is the Dukes of Pomerania Castle (Zamek Książąt Pomorskich), which was once the centre of the aristocratic Pomeranian Griffin dynasty. It was extensively damaged during Allied air raids in 1944 and rebuilt after the war in the Renaissance style. The castle has five wings, two courtyards and four prominent towers soaring above the panorama of the city centre. It is worthwhile stopping in the largest courtyard, below the astronomic clock that has been 'counting' time since 1693. Aficionados of older architecture styles will be delighted to see the unique City Gates dating from the 18th century and whose richly ornamented facades resemble triumphal arches. Another place worth visiting is St. Jacob's Cathedral. It dates back to the 12th century and has been rebuilt several times. Its interiors are truly impressive. There are Gothic triptychs, Baroque tombs, a baptismal font and numerous epitaphs. Below the altar is the reliquary with the relics of St. Otton. On the eastern wall is the largest stained glass window in Pomorze Zachodnie (87 sq m), depicting the Mother of the Church with the Infant, the Holy Spirit and other figures who had some part in the history of the church in the Szczecin region. In front of the Cathedral you cannot overlook the Bell called, 'The Great Bell' ('Wielki') dating from 1682. The house on the corner of Farna Street (ul. Farna) and Mariacki Square (pl. Mariackiego) is of particular interest because it is here that on 2nd May 1729 Sophie Augusta Frederica von Anhalt-Zerbst, the future Tsarina of Russia, Catherine II, was born.

Harbour city

The city of Szczecin, with its bridges, cranes and dockyards stretches along the banks of the Oder River (Odra). The seaport of Szczecin-Świnoujście as well as the shipyard, fourth in size in Europe, gives Szczecin a unique maritime character. The distinctive embankment, the so called Chrobry's Walls (Wały Chrobrego) is the emblem of the capital of West Pomerania.The Walls are 500 metre long terraces which were constructed at the initiative of Hermann Haken, who was the mayor of Szczecin at the beginning of 20th century. Wały Chrobrego are located in a very special place as they are in the proximity of the impressive architecture of the public utility buildings, the Maritime University, the National Museum and the Province Office. From here you have a splendid view extending over the right bank of the Oder, its estuary and port canals, islands and the harbour. It will come as no surprise that this is one of the most popular places for promenades for the citizens of Szczecin. It is here that the summer festival, Days of the Sea, is held. At the bottom of Chrobry's Walls is one of the most beautiful squares in Szczecin – Defenders of Westerplatte Square (Plac Obrońców Westerplatte), adorned with a huge fountain incorporated in the stone of the Walls. On the both sides of the fountain, in niches above mascarons there are two monuments. On the left is Jan z Kolna (Jan with an anchor), the legendary discoverer of America, and on the right there is Jan Wyszak (holding a ship's wheel), corsair from Szczecin, miraculously saved from Danish captivity. From here the Marine Station (Dworzec Morski) is just a short distance and we recommend a one-hour boat trip around the harbour and the entry to the shipyard, where in their gantries, 'marine giants', are under construction.

An echo of Paris on the Oder

When entering the Grunwaldzki Square (Plac Grunwaldzki), the largest square in Szczecin, it is important to know that it was built after the fashion of the Star, the l'Etiolle in Paris, the round meeting point of eight radial streets. The Parisian architect, Haussmann, is to be credited with the design of these star-like meetings points joining squares and roads in Paris. A replica, on a smaller scale of the Parisian model of a wide, plant and treelined avenue lined with contemporary art, leads from Grunwaldzki Square to the Provincial Office. You will not find the Eiffel Tower in Szczecin but we recommend a cup of coffee in "Café 22" a mere 80 metre above ground for the spectacular view of the Old and New Town.

Omnipresent greenery

Szczecin is a real paradise for those fond of walking. As much as 20 per cent of the area of the city is filled by parks and greenery. Park Kasprowicza is without doubt the most popular spot in the city. It was established in the 19th century and covers 49 ha of uneven hills. Its diverse, exotic plants attract visitors in all seasons. Here you will find shady, quiet paths as well as sunny clearings, the picturesque Rusałka Lake, lively playgrounds, a café and an open air theater. The Polish Community Work Monument (Pomnik Czynu Polaków) is definitely worth a stop. It represents three bronze eagles rising from a nest, symbolizing the three generations of Polish people who reconstructed Szczecin after the war. Jasne Błonia, a bright, verdant area of land spread out to the north of City Hall is another place that visitors should not miss. The park has been designed around the rows of plane trees at the sides of the vast lawn containing flower beds. The more than two hundred trees, which are on the Natural Monuments list, give Jasne Błonia a unique charm. In the centre of the park there is a monument to John Paul II, commemorating his visit in 1987. Visiting the Central Cemetery, one of the largest burial grounds in Europe, is also highly recommended. It is spread over more than 160 ha. On entering the grounds through the neo-romantic Main Gate from the street with a very meaningful name, 'Towards the Sun' ('Ku Słońcu') visitors will quickly notice that the cemetery resembles a park with many species of trees and shrubs, often exotic ones, such as the Serbian spruce, the Korean fir and the maidenhair tree. The Emerald Lake (Jezioro Szmaragdowe) which is outside the city, right in the heart of the Bukowa Forest (Puszcza Bukowa) captivates visitors with its magical air. Its name is derived from the colour of the water which fills the former chalk mine. Nearby from the viewing terrace there is a panorama of the lower Oder and the city of Szczecin.

Cultural Castle

Once the historic seat of the aristocratic Pomerania Griffin dynasty the castle was rebuilt after the destruction of war and now houses The Pomeranian Dukes' Castle Institute and is one of the most important centers of culture in West Pomerania. Chamber music, classical music concerts as well as choir recitals, among them, Candlelit Chamber Music Concerts and the Promenade Concerts during summertime are held in a small courtyard with the Stage Concerts held in the larger courtyard. Among the performers are ensembles and soloists from all over the world (Goran Bregovič, Vadim Brodsky, Jose Carreras, Jean-Marc Fessard, Barbara Hendricks, Konstanty Andrzej Kulka, Chuck Mangione, Valerij Oistrach, Pat Metheny, Al di Meola). The castle contains art galleries and every year some forty exhibitions, photography, history and art, are held.

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