Updated: Jul 30, 2019
Last May, Wanderous Affair's editor-in-chief, Emily Fata, had the pleasure of exploring the small historic town of Kazimierz Dolny. Thanks to an incredible local tour guide, beautiful weather, and a plethora of intriguing attractions, this is a must-see place in Poland for locals and tourists alike.
Last May, I had the pleasure of exploring the small town of Kazimierz Dolny, located in the central part of eastern Poland, on the eastern bank of the Vistula (Wisła) river. This beautiful and history-rich town experienced its greatest prosperity the sixteenth century, and it continued into the first half of the seventeenth century due to the trade in grain conducted along the adjacent river.
Though we made a day trip out of it while staying in Radom, I found online that there are a lot of day trips (including planned excursions) departing from Poland's capital city of Warsaw.
Visiting Kazimierz Dolny in mid-spring was definitely an ideal time to do so; the weather was warm without yet becoming uncomfortably hot and there was not a large number of tourists milling about. We did not have to make reservations to sit on one of the café patios in the main town square (rynek główny), fight crowds in their lovely little outdoor markets, or wait in long lines for our last-minute tour booking (which we really enjoyed embarking on, with the company Eko Busik Kazimierz Dolny — their website is in Polish, but they do have daily English-speaking tours available).
Thanks to their thorough sixty-minute tour, we were able to discover some of the most incredible spots that Kazimierz has to offer. These are just a handful of my favourites:
The Jewish Cemetery
Located off of Czerniawy Street is one of the most sombre locations in all of Kazimierz, as it is the place where the town's dark history cannot be forgotten. Over the centuries, the town was home to a large Jewish population, particularly in the decades leading up to World War II, when as much as half of the population was Jewish. When visiting today, you can find very little of the community that once was; indeed, three thousand Jews of Kazimierz Dolny were murdered by the Germans in the Second World War. Today, there is supposedly not a single individual of Jewish faith permanently residing in the town.
During the War, this Jewish cemetery — dating back to 1851 — was completely devastated by the Nazis, along with the much older cemetery in the town. The majority of the graves found here date between 1880 and 1930, with the very last burial taking place in 1942, before the graveyard's destruction. Furthering this sense of attempted annihilation, a Judenrat (Jewish counsel) was established in the town, and Nazis forced local Jews to perform forced labor, including paving roads with the matzevot (gravestones) of their loved ones.
The location of the cemetery also served as an execution site for both Jewish and Christian inhabitants, though the exact number of victims who perished at this spot is still unknown.
Now, you can have a quiet moment to visit what remains of the hillside cemetery, which is overtaken by forest and wildflowers. Despite the traumatic events that this space had once experienced, a clustering of gravestones still stand against the barbarities of time, heads turned toward the towering monument formed from over six hundred pieces of tombstones that were destroyed (pictured above). The jagged fissure separating one half of the monument from the other is a testament to the Jews' broken history in Kazimierz Dolny, the break that they experienced due to the inhumanity the world faced not very long ago.
While you are there, be sure to place a pebble or stone on the top of the matzevot still standing, a silent sign of respect for those who had their final resting place desecrated, as it is the Jewish custom to indicate that you have visited the grave.
Though our tour bus did not stop at Stara Chata (in English, "Old Cottage"), the vehicle slowed as we neared the driveway leading up to it. At this time, our tour guide shared some fascinating facts about this picturesque seventeenth century building.
Beneath a moss-covered thatched roof, one can spot a wooden plaque carved with the protruding lettering "STARA CHATA XVII-XVIIIw" against brickwork reminiscent of the Early Modern Period of European history. This sign is a mere assumption of its date of construction, a judgment based off of the construction technique of the building; the exact date of construction unfortunately remains unknown.
The cottage once belonged to the Kobiałek family, home to its first known ancestor Kobiałko, the well-known creator of the Wawel monument in Kraków. After many generations, this gem wound up in the hands of descendant Janusz Niezabitowski in the twentieth century. Thanks to a great deal of care and family efforts, this glimpse into Poland's rich history has survived to this day.
The next time I return to Stara Chata, I would love to wander around its interior and discover more of its undoubtedly vibrant history.
Wąwóz Korzeniowy Dół (Kazimierz Dolny, Poland)
Eliciting thoughts of the Woodland Realm (or 'Mirkwood') in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series, Wąwóz Korzeniowy Dół is a truly magnificent feat of nature. It is accessible by hiking and biking trails, and is just one of a handful of various gorges close to the city centre; the remarkable pathway of sorts was formed by water erosion over hundreds of years, creating a winding walkway through the middle of the forest.
While wandering through the gorge (which only takes about 20 minutes or so to make it to the end and back), explorers of this lush area can immerse themselves in a Tolkien-esque landscape by taking in the protruding roots, lush vegetation, and warm sunlight filtering through the canopy of leaves and branches stretched overhead.
Because we travelled in May, a time where there is thankfully not a large influx of vacationers (as there would likely be in the middle of summer), we were able to enjoy a stroll through the leafy gorge without having to push through throngs of people seeking to enjoy the same location. In fact, most of our walk through Wąwóz Korzeniowy Dół was completely uninterrupted by tourists. We only saw the occasional person or small group of people meandering through in the opposite direction.
Old Buildings and Houses of Kazimierz
Ending the tour, we looped back to Rynek Główny, the town's main square where we initially began the tour, by driving through a collection of ultra narrow side streets to take in the more historical homes of Kazimierz.
These houses were just lovely. With their cottage-like fronts, in addition to being surrounded by both nature and history, was enough for me to understand the appeal of living in Kazimierz. Each abode that our little tour bus passed drew me into into its uniquely enticing architecture and evident structural integrity.
Rynki Główny i Mały
Once we arrived back at our starting point — Rynek Główny, the town's main square — we disembarked from the tour bus, thanked the guides, and set off to explore the beautiful rynek (town square) by foot. There truly is a great deal to see (and eat!) in this area; the history surrounding you knocks you right off of your feet.
Feeling peckish after an hour-long tour, we paused our exploration shortly to enjoy a drink at a small café on their outdoor patio. Along with our beverages (of course, I ordered a hot chocolate thanks to my addiction to European hot cocoa), we nibbled at beautiful rooster bread. This is sold on the streets by Piekarnia Sarzyński, a famous bakery in the main square that has been baking these incredible creations (pictured on the right) for over a hundred years. The rooster, known as the Kazimierski Kogut, are hand-woven and baked every day just as they have been for over a century, still using the best quality ingredients... something you can definitely taste!
After our bellies were filled, we took off to browse the market stalls set up in the Rynek Główny, where I picked up souvenirs here and there to take back home with me. They had everything from magnets and shot glasses, to stuffed animals and figurines, to oil paintings and sand art. Wandering from stand to stand is truly a sensory overload, and one cannot help but admire each and every piece being displayed before you. Thankfully, most vendors spoke English, and for those that did not, I utilized my best friend and her cousin's translation skills on my behalf.
Moving into the small square, Rynek Mały, is seamless as one makes their way south between the shop-lined street. This second square was also filled with various vendors, but with wares that had me swooning and whipping out my wallet in anticipation.
Here, I found a seemingly endless supply of antiques, books, and handmade jewellery for sale. We happily picked through each of the vendors' items, purchasing something for ourselves or for our family back home every now and then. Each step in this astounding town, and the new scenery I took in with each foot forward, made me fall more and more in love with this place. By the time we were done wandering around both Rynki, I found that I would be leaving Kazimierz very reluctantly.
In the short afternoon that I spent in Kazimierz Dolny, it absolutely captivated my heart. Enjoying small glimpses into the town's life, including its attractions, natural beauty, history, and long-standing architecture have all contributed to my unwavering desire to return here... Even a year after having visited.
To read more of our posts on Poland, click here.