National Geographic : 1932 Apr
POLAND, LAND OF THE WHITE EAGLE BY MELVILLE BELL GROSVENOR URING her century and a quarter of complete eclipse, when her next door neighbors, who had torn her to pieces, sought to smother her national character with rifles and soldiers, Krakow, ancient capital, kept alight the fierce flame of Poland's independence. But this Polish tragedy, in the chapter written since the World War, has a happy ending, for the Nation is on Europe's map once again.* The symbol of Polish patriotism is that combination fortress, palace, and cathedral, the Wawel, which, like an immense spiked helmet, caps the crest of a hill at a wide bend in the winding river Wisla. Contain ing the Westminster Abbey and the former White House of Poland, this picturesque pile is the pride of every Pole (see Color Plate I). When the Austrians descended on Kra kow in 1795, one of the stewards in charge of the Wawel hurriedly ordered workmen to cover the magnificent marble staircases with wood and to plaster up many of the ornamental fireplaces and arched colon nades of the palace. During succeeding years, while Austrian soldiers were quar tered in the royal apartments and cavalry horses were stabled in other parts of the building, it fell into a state of sad repair. Finally, Polish patriots in 1905 were per mitted to purchase the property and pre sent it to the Austrian Emperor as a Polish Museum ! Reconstruction, delayed by the World War, is nearly finished to-day and the camouflaged glories hidden for so long have now been disclosed to the revering eyes of Polish pilgrims as they were in the days of Krakow's splendor. Of no less esteem to the Pole is the Ca thedral of the Wawel, a rambling struc ture whose exterior is a strange blending of Gothic, Renaissance, and baroque art, with a tall, cross-tipped clock tower domi nating the castle skyline. High on one of the lesser stubby steeples, a huge white eagle spreads its wings. This defiant bird appears prominently as a shield on most public buildings and monuments * See, also, "Struggling Poland," by Maynard Owen Williams; "Devastated Poland," by Fred erick Walcott, and "Partitioned Poland," by Wil liam Joseph Showalter, in the NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE for August, 1926; May, 1917, and January, 1915, respectively. everywhere throughout the country and is the central motif of the national flag and crest. It is the symbol of Poland's highest order of merit, and has given its name to the Nation, Land of the White Eagle. In the Wawel Cathedral was held in former days the splendid ceremony of the coronation of the Kings of Poland. Poland elected her rulers and, to avoid the embarrassment of a kingdom with no crowned head, it was customary not to con sider a deceased sovereign's reign at an end until after his burial. As elections some times were prolonged by political debate and even open conflict, this important func tion of burial was often delayed; but, no matter, Poland was not without a king ! KOSCIUSZKO, WHO FOUGHT FOR AMERICA, LIES BURIED IN THE WAWEL The Cathedral is a shrine to the Poles not only for its intimate associations with their past rulers, but because here lie Poland's national heroes. In the gloomy crypt rests John Sobieski, that gallant general who led a valiant Polish army against the Turk and gave him a terrible drubbing before the walls of hard-pressed Vienna in 1683, thus with one decisive victory stemming the in vasion of Europe by a Moslem horde. Near by lies Kosciuszko, who fought so brilliantly for the cause of American inde pendence that Washington made him adju tant and Congress honored him with Amer ican citizenship, a pension, landed estates, and a commission as brigadier general. He is a national hero to Poland because he led his countrymen in their last desperate stand against the overwhelming armies of Prus sia and Russia, who with Austria later di vided her lands among themselves. Adam Mickiewicz, Poland's poet pa triot, also rests in this hallowed shrine (see Color Plate VI). The Wawel was the nucleus of Kra k6w's stone wall of defense. It formed the apex of the giant cornucopia whose outline the ramparts resembled. Now, where deep moats and towering walls once stood, a park is the playground of youngsters. A commonplace trolley ambles through the narrow portal of the Florian, last of the city gates, and skirts close to the Rondel, a spade-shaped fort which bristles with pepper-box pinnacles.