Whether you hate them or really hate them, you have to give them their due; the mock executioners who stalk around the Barbakan picking out victims do a pretty proficient job of deterring people from walking any further. So maybe it’s them, or maybe it’s because the name just doesn’t promise much; either way Warsaw’s New Town (Nowe Miasto) doesn’t see half the foot traffic of the Old Town. Positively empty at times this is one of Warsaw’s true unsung glories, and a delightful afterthought if you’ve just spent the afternoon buying useless trinkets in the Old Town to the south.
The New Town refers to the area just north of the Barbakan walls, and just because the area makes use of the word ‘new,’ don’t think for a moment that you’re in one of the city's more modern districts. This settlement took root around the 15th century, essentially catering to the overspill of people in the Old Town. Unprotected from invaders it was here that the poorer element took quarters - namely the artisans, tradesmen and other miscellaneous classes not wealthy enough to afford frilly clothes. This was directly reflected in the buildings, many of which were only converted from timber into stone as late as the 18th century. Known for its wide streets, sprinkling of churches and raft of bars the New Town was the scene of ferocious fighting during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, and while the post-war reconstruction work carried out here was not nearly as meticulous – or authentic – as in the Old Town, it still makes an interesting destination for would-be adventurers.
New Town Walking Tour
Your walk should begin at the junction of ul. Nowomiejska and ul. Podwale at the gates of the Barbakan, itself rebuilt after the war using bricks spirited from the city of Wrocław. Avoid the aforementioned hooded executioners by making a beeline for ulica Mostowa to your right. Set on a cobbled hill, Mostowa once led to Warsaw’s first bridge. Built in 1573 the wooden effort was, according to some sources anyhow, the longest in Europe at the time. This essentially became Warsaw’s link to the outside world, and the fact that the street was the first in Warsaw to be paved reflects its importance. Defending it from nasty invaders was imperative, and so it was that the Mostowa Gate was built at the bottom. Known as the Stara Prochownia (Old Gunpowder Store), the gate – originally constructed in 1581 – was first used as a fortress. Later it would function as a gunpowder store, before being turned into a dank 17th century prison. Rebuilt after the war the building has functioned as a theatre since 1965, and is known for its edgy repertoire.
While walking back in the direction you came, do take time to check out the buildings lining Mostowa. Take for example the building at number 2. Here you’ll find a plaque honouring some teenage combatants who died during the war – nothing unusual in that, so you’d think, but look closer and you’ll see the tablet was added during Stalin’s time, hence the Soviet stars in the corners. Considering the Polish contribution to the war was all but brushed over by the Kremlin this is quite a rarity. Some of the houses can also be noted for their wall mosaics, and they don’t get much better than Zofia Kowalska’s effort on the corner of number 9.