Warsaw: The Powązki Cemetery – Warsaw’s Pantheon

warsaw Powazki Cemetery

The Cemetery covers c. 43 hectares of land (almost the same as the whole Vatican). The foundation of the necropolis and raising of the Church of St. Charles Borromeo were commissioned to the royal architect Domenico Merlini. It is impossible to ascertain today either the date of the first burial or the name of the buried. The oldest part of the cemetery, close to St. Honorata’s Gate, includes the graves of e.g. co-author of the 3 May Constitution Father Hugon Kołłątaj; Lithuania’s Grand Hetman Michał Kazimierz Ogiński; as well as a symbolic grave of the poet Antoni Malczewski. In the early 19th c., next to the oldest sections, catacombs were built where social and lay activists as well as Church dignitaries were buried.

Over the first decades of the existence of the Powązki Cemetery there were no alleyways and graves were just scattered randomly. Due to the necropolis having been extended on several occasions, the numbering of the sections is very complex and one finds it hard to move around without a plan. Until the Bródno Cemetery was established in 1884, Powązki would serve as the burial place for Warsaw residents from all walks of life; with time, however, it turned into an elitist burial place. It was here that family tombs were raised by wealthy bourgeoisie, nobility and landowners, In Powązki we will also find graves of individuals of great merits for Poland, politicians, militaries, writers, scholars and scientists, actors, painters, engineers, doctors.

In 1925, when the Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Władysław Reymont died, an ‘Avenue of Notables’ was founded along the southern wall of the catacombs. It is there that illustrious writers, artists, poets, composers are buried, e.g. Maria Rodziewiczówna, Stefan Jaracz, Leopold Staff, Maria Dąbrowska, with Józef Elsner, Stanisław Moniuszko, and Bolesław Leśmian in the more recent section During WW II the Cemetery was controlled by Poland’s underground Home Army (AK), as here they had arms depot; it was also across the Cemetery that food was being smuggled into the Ghetto.

Continuing along Powązkowska Street towards the Bemowo Dirstrict, one arrives at the Powązki Military Cemetery founded in 1912. The graves here are of the soldiers killed in the 1919-21 Polish-Bolshevik War, members of the Piłusdski Legions, participants of the November and January Uprisings, soldiers who perished in the September 1939 campaign as well as the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. The traditional ceremony annually commemorating the latter is held in front of the Gloria Victis Obelisk. People have been gathering at this location for several decades now to commemorate the ‘W- Hour’ (outbreak of the Uprising); they would be here on 1 August even under Communism when the regime did not allow to commemorate the anniversary, and thus Warsaw’s residents paid their tribute in silence. The so-called ‘In the Meadow’ Section is where victims of the Communist regime murdered in prisons in 1945-56 were buried. In the recent years investigation and exhumations have been conducted there.

It is also in the Powązki Military Cemetery that several of the victims of the Presidential plane’s crash in Smolensk on 10 April 2010 have been buried; additionally, the Cemetery features the monument commemorating the tragedy. Shaped as a block of white granite broken into two sections sinking into the ground, placed on a dark surface, it is located at the outlet of Professors’ Avenue. The cemetery also contains graves of a number of illustrious Poles: e.g. the philosopher Leszek Kołakowski, the politician Bronisław Geremek; the Solidarity bard Jacek Kaczmarski; the poet Julian Tuwim; the writer Zofia Nałkowska; the musician Władysław Szpilman; the politician Jacek Kuroń, and the secret CIA agent Ryszard Kukliński. With the total area of over 244 sq m, it currently accommodates ca. 180 sections. (PAP)

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