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1999 Photographs from Poznan | Panoramic Photograph | Poland Site Index | Home
Initially, I thought I set aside too much time for Poznan. I had quickly seen the center of the city yesterday afternoon and early this morning. It was now time to travel a bit farther afield and away from the commercial heart of Poznan. My walk took me east to an island situated in the middle of the Warta River. The buildings and the small churches on the island and the opposite bank are some of the earliest Gothic structures and settlements of region.
Reaching the cathedral on Ostrów Island, I was amazed by the quality of the stone patterning at the exterior forecourt of the building. The scale, color and texture of the stones made the design highly appealing. The bricks of the church also form a unique pattern. Some bricks are glazed, others are matted and no two are exactly alike since each was produced by hand. The cathedral's overall form is a monolith composed of many small parts. Design embellishments occur mainly at the entrance where a pattern of glazed and matte surfaced bricks surrounds the entrance doors. The churches on the opposite bank of the Warta are much smaller in scale but no less interesting. The church of St John of Jerusalem (Kosciól Sw Jana Jeromzolimskiego) was constructed in the 12th century with various additions creating the present-day asymetrical side aisle building.
Crossing back over the river, I decided to go north towards some of the city's less known sites. It was well worth the walk. Situated at the top of a hill on an unassuming site is a memorial to the Poznan Army, commemorating the force which held the Nazis at bay for over 2 weeks. Angular polished steel spikes rise up from the ground against an overshadowing and more powerful group of black granite obelisks. On first site, the composition looks like chaos. Below this collision is a horizontal concrete roof plane with an opening to the sky allowing light to fall on a central marker. The rear wall of the structure contains the names of the many other cities which were besieged during World War II.
The memorial is impressive in it's design by directly conveying the intended meaning: the efforts of the shining silver swords against an overpowering evil. The use of materials and forms is both heavy and light at once. It is a simple concept and it is executed very well. The design is obviously intended for large gatherings since its open design could easily accommodate overflow crowds. Weather protection for dignitaries and honorees is provided by the horizontal canopy.
Walking around the memorial, I thought of Poland's recent past and how heavily it must weigh on the present. Having your country overrun can not be so easy to forget. Should such events be remembered or eventually forgotten? Examining the memorial's construction shows that it has not been fully tended. Granite coping and cladding stones along the rear walkway are either damaged or missing. Salt staining can be seen on the concrete wall of city names, evidence of a weatherproofing failure. Even concrete can not stand forever if it is left totally unattended. How well will Poland care for its more recent memories?
Walking farther past the memorial leads to one of Poznan's largest city parks, the Citadel. The entrance is marked by a grand staircase leading to a large rough stone obelisk. On the slopes to either side of the staircase are the grave sites of Russian, British, American and Polish soldiers and prisoners killed during the first and second World Wars. Again, the cemetery is a vivid reminder of Poland's resent past even though most of the graves belong to outsiders. The layout of each section of the cemetery varies greatly. Russian graves are marked by low dark stone markers with a single red star. The markers are dispersed among the trees in a relatively informal manner. Each headstone has a portion of its base removed from contact with the ground. The day I saw it, the stones appeared to hover above a bed of fallen leaves. The English graves are more formally planned and the whiteness of the stones gives a distinct separation from the natural surroundings. Headstones are grouped singly or in pairs. A few groupings of three markers can also be found. What is the significance of these numbers? I do not know.
Moving uphill from the English graves is a large rectangular box clad in white stone, resting at the top of an informal staircase. The box has large bronze letters, "1939-1956" This box is a Russian memorial but the path and stairs leading towards it is lined with English graves. This is no ordinary stair, either. The treads are slightly long and risers are very short, requiring a slow and deliberate step to navigate. It is not possible to run past the graves and approach the main box quickly. The process of moving is slow and requires full attention. It makes you think about what is happening.
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