Tuesday : An Exploration of Piotrków Trybunalski

The morning breakfast at the Mercure at Piotrków Trybunalski, not really quite brand standard in some ways, but still plenty of choice. Primarily there was an absence of rolls and an abundance of hard bread (by design rather than stale), but I won’t moan….. There was a friendly server who seemed unreasonably jolly so early on in the morning, but that’s definitely a good thing.

I think that’s sufficiently healthy as a breakfast.

In the evening, this is the Salt and Pepper restaurant, on the top floor of the hotel.

The outside of the Mercure hotel, my room was the one with the highest balcony on the right-hand side, looking towards the city centre. A really very pleasant room and although there’s a limited amount you can do on a balcony on a cold March day, it did offer extensive views of the city.

I’m very pro-cyclist, even though I find cycling to be far too much like hard work, but this arrangement was quite confusing in places as they kept switching the cycling and pedestrians lanes around to keep everyone on their guard.

I can’t find out anything more about this, but it’s noting the formation of the 416 infantry regiment.

Earlier today, the international media reported that there had been a massacre by Russian troops that has been discovered after they have withdrawn from parts of Ukraine. Discussion of that isn’t particularly relevant on this blog, but it is prescient here because this is the memorial to those who died in the Katyn massacre in April and May 1940.

The Soviets murdered around 22,000 Polish military officers and those seen as the elite in society, such as academics, doctors, priests and community leaders. Many of these were killed in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, with thousands of the bodies dumped in the Katyn forests. Around half of Poland’s officer corps were executed, decimating their military base, part of the Soviet plan to demoralise the country. Recognised as a war crime, but for a long time denied by the Russians, before they accepted responsibility and then just blamed Stalin. This massacre is absolutely not forgotten in Poland, there’s plenty more about it at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katyn_massacre.

The old town is mostly pedestrianised, and also very quiet, something that I’ll return to shortly.

The old market square. I’d add that I was there during the late morning, this is the quietest that I’ve ever seen the historic part of any major town or city.

The same square, with the heritage evident through the architecture and atmosphere.

I initially thought that this was the outline of a former church, but it’s actually the former town hall.

More outline of the former town hall building. I only found out about this later on, but there’s a live webcam of the square at https://go.toya.net.pl/25/13763/44441376341/play should anyone want to see how quiet (or perhaps busy) it is.

A plaque from 1978, marking the 400th anniversary of the creation of the Crown Tribunal in the city. In short, this was established as before that date the Crown had tended to deal with cases directly, but they were getting swamped by the volume, so they set up this institution. Incidentally, the name of the city was just Piotrkow until after the Second World War, the second part of its name was added in recognition of it being the home of this historic institution.

I don’t know what this column is, sometimes there are Roland Columns in town squares across the former Holy Roman Emperor lands, sometimes Marian columns depicting the Virgin Mary as in cities such as Prague.

This is the rather beautiful Ulica Stanisława Konarskiego, one of the oldest streets in the city and it dates from the thirteenth century. The church at the end of the street is Sanktuarium Matki Bożej Trybunalskiej.

The street visible at the rear of the previous photo, this is Ulica Pijarska.

Another busy main street in the old town area, important perhaps as it shows the difference between the renovated buildings and those which haven’t yet been touched up. This was replicated in a number of the streets in this part of the city.

Posted without comment, readers can just use their own imagination.

The River Strawa, now much reduced in width, which flows through the city, a tributary of the River Luciąża.

A stone marking when the country’s Parliament met in the city in 1468, primarily to discuss how to pay for troops during the Thirteen Years War with the Teutonic Order. It’s quite an important piece of history for the country, it’s the first Assembly of the Kingdom of Poland where deputies who had been elected at land assemblies was held.

A rather lovely bench and I’m not sure who the figures are, but probably Kazimierz IV Jagiellończyk and Elżbieta Rakuszanka.

I’ve grouped these photos together as they are all within the former Jewish ghetto and there’s a map here. This was the first ghetto established in the occupied German territories during the Second World War, a forerunner of the horrors which would unfold across the continent.

Nearly half of the city’s population before the Second World War was Jewish (that’s a disputed figure, but seems to be the most common one), with only a relatively small number surviving the conflict and many of those in turn left the area, primarily for Israel. What is noticeable here is that the area is still, in the most part, desolate. Huge gaps between buildings, obvious missing structures and they’ve seemingly never been replaced. There’s a lot of EU money coming into this city judging from signage, but this area remains in quite a state.

As for the city itself, the future looks hopeful. It’s a major distribution hub for Poland give its central location and there is clear investment, not just from the EU, but from businesses, hotels, restaurants and with new office buildings. The population is rising slowly and so I imagine that at some time this central area will get attention and modernisation. At the moment, it feels barren and soulless and I encountered nearly no-one whilst walking around these streets. I’ve never encountered a town which feels so hollow in what was once its central core, but the hustle and bustle has shifted instead a little to the west.

The Great Synagogue in the city, originally constructed between 1791 and 1793 following the designs of David Friedlander. It’s rumoured, but unlikely, that Napoleon himself visited the building when his armies were withdrawing from Russia, but it’s known that some of his senior generals did visit. The Russians themselves wrecked the building in 1914 claiming that it was being used to support the Germans. The Nazis of course thought it was within their right to smash the repaired building up and it was effectively entirely destroyed. A replacement building was constructed between 1964 and 1967 to be used as a public library and recently the structure has been restored again. It’s had an unhappy and difficult history, I can’t imagine those people who funded the initial building could ever have imagined its fate.

Within the former ghetto is Muzeum w Piotrkowie Trybunalskim, the city’s main museum. It was the only building that I could find that was open to visitors, there is a beer museum in the city which is currently closed and most historic structures are either temporarily or permanently closed. The tourist information, which might have been able to offer advice on what was actually open, was itself closed.

The museum was locked when I tried to go in, I don’t think they expected many visitors. A caretaker came over and said that it’d be open soon, and someone came over immediately to unlock the museum. It’s the former Royal Castle, originally constructed between 1511 and 1519, to be used by the royal court. The courtiers lived on the ground floor, whilst the King himself would have lived on the first floor. It was destroyed by the Swedish in the seventeenth century and there were plans to demolish the derelict ruins in the late nineteenth century, but those annoyed by the destruction of heritage won the argument and the main structure survived. It was used by the military during the First World War, but was then transferred to the Polish Sightseeing Society, who turned it into a museum which opened on 15 October 1922.

It cost about 80p to get in and it’s situated over three floors, with the ground floor having this interesting model of how the town looked.

A recreated traditional room, showing what life might have been like for the rural worker.

There were history boards around this central display, mostly about the historic Parliaments that were held here and the other administrative functions. That tested my Polish no end and was ultimately beyond me, but unfortunately, there were no English translations here.

This room had a particularly interesting exhibition on Polish prisoners of war in Northern Norway during the Second World War, which was fortunately (for me) fully translated into English. At the end of war, there were 3,300 civilians left remaining in Norway, with 1,000 staying in the country which was a surprisingly high number to me. I liked this provincial museum, although I’m not entirely sure that I went away with a greater knowledge of the city than when I went in.

The outside of the museum, the city is fortunate that this castle has survived, it’s probably the most important non-religious building that is left standing.

St. James’s Church, the oldest in the city, founded originally in the twelfth century, although much changed since.

Since 2019, St. James’s is now a minor basilica because of its importance. Although the tower of the church was used as a watchtower during the Second World War, the building was fortunate not to have been that damaged.

And I’m going to drift off into another one of my asides here. The church was locked and the nearest I could get was poking my camera through to get this photo. The Catholic Church is in freefall in Poland, another recent article from a couple of weeks ago about this is in the Wall Street Journal. The matter was also addressed recently in the Catholic newspaper, the Tablet, and I can’t see the church recovering from this, it’ll be like in Ireland where it becomes increasingly irrelevant. I tried to visit three catholic churches in the city, they were all locked up. I don’t claim they should open for tourists, but they’re not even bothering to open up outside of services for locals. Anyone wanting the support of the local church, or somewhere to pray quietly, is turned away and it’s not clear to me why they need to lock these buildings at all during the day.

I walked back across the main square to see if it had become much busier. It hadn’t.

The tomb of the unknown soldier.

A building in the town centre which is either about to be modernised or is just netted to prevent anything else falling off it.

No particular reason for this photo, I just liked the tree.

I mentioned earlier about how quiet much of the town was. However, the cemetery complex here is enormous and there are several separate areas for different religions, all covering a substantial amount of space. There was a street leading to the cemetery which had shops and stalls selling flowers and everything else that anyone could need to adorn the graves of loved ones. There were multiple services taking place during the day, with more people milling around the cemetery than there were shopping. It felt all quite odd, but this all covers a substantial amount of land space to the north of the city.

This was also odd, I went into Rendez Vous for lunch and stood by the entrance which seemed a sensible place to wait to be seated. A staff member came by and said hello and then walked off and didn’t come back. I’m not sure if he thought I fancied just standing there for fun, but I walked out and gave up trying to work it out. It might have been a situation where you just seated yourself, but regardless, it’s rare for me to be surprised by the inhospitable welcome (albeit I’m sure by mistake) of anywhere in Poland.

So, instead I went to Restauracja Sakkara, something of a mix between Arabic food and pizza in an informal setting. The welcome here was immediate and friendly, it was a laid-back environment although quite quiet for a lunchtime. I went for a lager as I had never expected them to have a decadent assortment of craft beers. Indeed, nowhere in the city met my requirements for craft beer if I’m being entirely honest.

This was, for me, a rare ordering process which was 90% in Polish and only 10% in English, although that was aided by the really engaging staff member who was pro-active and ensured I didn’t have to strain my Polish in asking for anything too difficult. In the pot at the rear (next to the garlic sauce) is marinara sauce which I’ve seen sneered at when it’s served with pizza, I suspect because it’s seen as uncouth to dip pizza in what is effectively a posh tomato sauce. But since this sauce is already on the pizza, I reject such complaints as I’ve decided it’s the height of culture to have pizza with extra marinara sauce. I accept this is another one of my irrelevant ramblings though. As for the rest of the pizza, it was suitably filling and tasty, I’m becoming quite keen on olives on pizzas.

And back to the hotel for my belated welcome drink (since the Mercure kindly gave me a welcome gift of a beer the previous day, I saved this), which is the Cornelius IPA and Whisky from Browar Cornelius. The denizens of Untappd are rarely wrong, but they are here, there is no way this beer should be so poorly rated. I’m not claiming that it should win prizes at the Warsaw Beer Festival, but I thought it had an air of decadence about it, although I accept that the IPA likely just has flavouring to make it taste of whisky rather than anything genuine. But, I don’t much like whisky, so perhaps my palate isn’t sophisticated enough to understand it.

As for the city itself, I liked it, although it felt quite a distance behind many other locations in Poland in terms of its development, and I hope the locals wouldn’t be annoyed at my writing that. Much of my focus during the day was in the former ghetto area of the city, which is also where Piotrków Trybunalski grew up and where its historic squares are. I hope that in future decades the damaged and ruined buildings can be replaced or restored, with people starting to live and work once again in this area. It felt a little like a memorial to the past, which isn’t what the city needs here.

There isn’t a great deal for tourists in the city, although there’s likely more in the summer when the tourist information office opens and the beer museum, at least that’s something. The city’s main museum is open all year, and they’re clearly working towards having more English translations, but I’m not sure that even given all of this that there’s enough to bring tourists in. When I looked on TripAdvisor of things to do, four of the top ten things to do in Piotrków Trybunalski were cemeteries, that’s not an ideal situation for any location by any measures.

There’s some work on showing via signage where the historic buildings are in the city, but few of them are open and the situation with the churches nearly all being closed is disappointing for those wanting solace and those wanting to understand the city’s heritage. Tourist trails are being created, but there’s a limited amount of modern restaurants and no craft beer bars of note. I’m not sure what the future for Piotrków Trybunalski will be, it’s clearly growing economically, but it seems to me to be heavily under-populated and it’ll be intriguing to see what happens to it over the next couple of decades.