A thousand years' legacy

The basic idea of the Polish History Museum is to present more than a thousand years of Polish history through the prism of the history of freedom. Its absence or the struggle to regain it have been important distinguishing features of Polishness - say historians working in the Polish History Museum's just-opened new building. The impressive building in Warsaw's Żoliborz district, which is one of the largest history museums in Europe, opened its doors to visitors on Friday.

The Citadel's location on the escarpment was not chosen at random. It is a great symbol of our history. Here the leaders of the January Uprising were executed, here Poles fighting for freedom, including Jozef Pilsudski and Roman Dmowski, were imprisoned, but it is also the place from which, in August 1920 Polish Army transmitted messages paralysing the communications of the Red Army during the Battle of Warsaw in August 1920 - says Polish History Museum director Robert Kostro. - Originally, the museum was to be located on the Lazienkowska Route, near the Ujazdowski Street, but today we know that this would be insufficient for the scale of the project.

Presenting more than a thousand years of Polish history requires space. Our future permanent exhibition will occupy 7300 m2. For comparison: the German Historical Museum has approx. 8,000, and the World War II Museum has about 6,000 m2.

A monumental building has been erected in Warsaw which, with an area of 44,000 square metres, will be one of the largest historical museums in Europe, similar in size to the buildings of the Vatican Museums or Madrid's Prado (by comparison, the British Museum has an area of 92 thousand square metres and the Louvre 72 thousand).

Construction work on the building, which will surely become one of the most important points on Warsaw's tourist map, began in the summer of 2018. When visiting the Citadel from the side of the Gdanski railway station and the metro station of the same name, we see a six-storey building. The main entrance is on the side of Gwardia Square and refers to the ground plan of the barracks of the Crown Guard from the end of the 18th century, the last Polish military period of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Transporter enters the museum

The main message of the museum is the millennial heritage - before the building was covered with a roof, huge cranes managed to put inside one of the largest exhibits, a black oak trunk dating to the second half of the 10th century, which is an "age-mate" of the Polish state. Other large exhibits are already associated with the 20th century: the SKOT armoured personnel carrier from the period of martial law and the infamous monument to Feliks Dzerzhinsky, whose demolition in November 1989 was one of the symbols of the dismantling of the communist system.
Visiting the exhibition on the opening day of the Museum of Polish History in the new building at Warsaw's Citadel. PAP/Paweł Supernak
- The museum offers not only the traditional temporary exhibition with which we inaugurated the facility, but also one of the largest auditoriums in Warsaw built with box-in-the-box technology, as well as educational and conference rooms," MHP spokesman Dr Michal Przeperski told TVP Weekly. - From the very first opening weekend, we will become a new place on the capital's map, offering the opportunity to spend time in the specially designed MHP Education Park. The museum thus contributes to the revival of the Warsaw Citadel, which for years lay somewhat off the main route of urban walks, and brings it closer to the city. Today, the Citadel will be a public space open to all, an attractive place for families at weekends, competing with the shopping centres where we spend so much time.

  From the first weekend in autumn, the MHP building will be open to the first visitors. The attention of those who see the building's façade for the first time will be attracted by the marble elevation, which refers to the successive layers of Polish history. On the stone slabs of Portuguese marble are reliefs alluding to the great symbols of our architecture, from the Gniezno Doors to 20th century modernism. The observation deck is also impressive, offering a panoramic view of Warsaw on both banks of the Vistula.

Poland in the six halls

The 1,400 square metre temporary exhibition hall will be the centrepiece of the museum's exhibition activities for the next two years. A permanent exhibition will open in three years. The MHP's collection already comprises 60,000 exhibits, of which more than 3,500 will be presented in the planned permanent exhibition. The area of the permanent exhibition will be many times larger than the one planned for this year's inauguration. It is to be 7.3 thousand square metres, as large as an entire football field.

Ultimately, the exhibition will consist of six stations - galleries dedicated to different historical periods - from the beginnings of the Polish state to the present. The first will present the history of mediaeval Poland up to the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty and the Act of the Union of Lublin, which was decisive for the further fate of the state. The second part is devoted to the former republic, the third to the period of the partitions and the fourth combines the account of the Poles' struggle for independence during the First World War and the building of an independent state after 1918. The last two parts tell the story of the Second World War and Poland's recent history.

- Collecting all this material would be pointless without answering the question: What story do we want to tell? Our museum is primarily about presenting more than a thousand years of Polish history through the prism of the history of freedom - adds Krzysztof Niewiadomski, who is responsible for programming the permanent exhibition. - We have built the axis of the narrative about the state and the nation around this value, showing freedom - or the lack of it - and the struggle to regain it as an important feature of Polishness.
The work of the museum team is also an arduous task to prolong the life of the collected relics. In the new building, an area of about 3000 m² has been set aside for the storage rooms and conservation workshop alone. The exhibits are constantly being acquired, including at "browse" auctions abroad and in the struggle for the recovery of cultural property seized during the war. One example is the rifle of Count Wincenty Krasinski, a true masterpiece of gunsmithing from the Napoleonic period. The weapon, looted by the Germans during the World War II, was returned to Poland thanks to the persistent efforts of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The collection contains also valuable family heirlooms, such as the uniform of General Stanislaw Maczek, donated by the granddaughter of the commander of the Polish Armoured Division. Among the museum's most interesting collections related to the World War II: A Polish Enigma, built by the Polish secret service to crack German cyphers; with earlier architectural details from the Villa Regia vasa palace. And in addition kontush belts, examples of modern goldsmith's art or ceramics, old costumes, but also relics of technology. The museum's collection also includes two conservation copies of the acts of the Warsaw Confederation and the Union of Lublin.

In addition to objects illustrating the history of the Polish state and Poles, the progress of civilisation, scientific and cultural development, we are also interested in local or family histories - adds Dr. Monika Matwiejczuk, Head of the Collections Department. - The oldest museum objects in the collection date back to the Middle Ages, while the newest ones document our modern times.

The opening of the Polish History Museum in its new building was inaugurated by the opening festival, which lasted until 1 October. During this festival, one could participate in educational activities, debates and surprise attractions. The programme also included curatorial tours of the exhibition, debates, workshops for the youngest, a visit to the viewing terrace, performances, concerts and film screenings.

- Cezary Korycki

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Polish History Museum in numbers:

60 000 objects - collections of the Polish History Museum

​​44,000 square meters - this area makes the MHP the largest museum facility in the country. It is the size of roughly 50 sports arenas
7300 square meters - this is the area allocated for the future permanent exhibition. This is more than a full-size football field
3600 objects - this is the treasure awaiting visitors as part of the future permanent exhibition
1400 square meters - this is the amount of space available for temporary exhibitions. This is more than a regulation Olympic swimming
577 is the number of people that can fit in the auditorium built in a box in the box technology. This is a unique solution, providing acoustic isolation of the auditorium from the rest of the building
322 - is the number of parking spaces for visitors.
187-that's how many years ago the Warsaw Citadel was built as a Russian fortress. Today it's a place conducive to reflecting on history and spending time together
135 is the number of seats in the comfortable cinema and theater
25 meters - is the height of the auditorium. It would fit a small passenger plane placed vertically
6 - is the number of floors. Four of which are above ground and two underground

Main photo: The opening of the Museum of Polish History in the new building at Warsaw's Citadel. PAP/Leszek Szymanski
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