• August 1, 2014
  • 97

Stroll around streets in Vilnius: Memory of Kościuszko is kept alive

We have visited Adam Mickiewicz and Józef Ignacy Kraszewski streets on Žvėrynas, now we go to the city centre. We have seen Joachim Lelewel street and today we go to the street named after Tadeusz Kościuszko who is a Polish national hero and whose life is an example of patriotism, courage, honesty, modesty and love of freedom.

Tadeusz Kościuszko street begins behind an iron bridge over Vilnia River built in 1893 by engineer Julian Januszewski. The street runs along Neris to the St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church. A former rowing marine is situated on the banks of the river on the left side of the street. The Vilnius Rowing Association was located here in the period between the two world wars and a rowing base in the Soviet times. The building visible behind the marine is a prewar Military Court. Today it houses offices and departments.

Slushko Palace is situated further on the very bank of Vilnia River. According to the housing census from 1790 there were 32 palaces. Slushko Palace was one of the most beautiful among them all. It was built by the governor of the Połock Voivodeship Dominik Słuszka in 1690-1694. The style of the building resembles Polish fortified castles. The palace had a baroque pediment, was lavishly built and decorated with exquisite marbles from Italy, mouldings and paintings of distinguished artists. One of its rooms had a glass ceiling with a built-in aquarium with rare specimens of fish. Currently this famous monument is run-down and its appearance is horrible. In the neighbourhood of the building there was a cultural centre, currently turned into a Department of Musical Academy.

A papal nunciature is situated further down the street (28 Kościuszko street). In the 19th century from this place to the Platers’ Palace (36 Kościuszko street) where today Embassies of Denmark and Netherlands are located, there was the “China” garden with trendy at that time restaurant Bohla. The name “China” was used probably because of the rooms in the Palace which were decorated with hand painted Chinese canvas wallpaper. Villas, wooden and brick houses were built here in the second half of the 19th century.

The building, where nunciature is now located, was built in the 1930s by the town’s authorities and served as magistrate with a social club for the employees of the Vilnius Magistrate. There were two tennis courts (currently built-up area), a marina with kayaks, ballroom where banquets and concerts were held. During the second world war it housed a German cultural society and in the Soviet times the Association of Artist and Designers of the Lithuanian SSR. Since 1993 after reconstruction and constructing two new buildings near the Villa by “Budimex” the former magistrate is now the location of a papal nunciature. Pope John Paul II lived here during the pilgrimage to Lithuania.

Behind the nunciature there is the prewar house of Zenon and Olga Orłowski. It was designed in 1888 by Julian Januszewski in Neo-Renaissance style with symbolic sculptures – “harvest” and “fishing”. Zenon Orłowski was a professor and a Dean at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Białystok (Branch in Vilnius), the Head of the first University Clinic of Internal Diseases which was situated in the St. Jame’s Hospital. Now there is an office. A place in the neighbourhood of the Orłowski’s house is remembered in the history of Vilnius because of an event described by professor Stanisław Lorentz, who before the second world war was a conservator of monuments in Vilnius and Navahrudak, the Head of the Department of Art in the Voivodeship Office in Vilnius and who took part in that event and wrote about it in his book “Vilnian Albums” (Albumy Wileńskie):

When I was the Head of the Department of Art a solemn event took place, in March 1929 a handful of soil was taken from under a 20 years old elm in Antakalnis on Kościuszko street, in a garden called “China” at the beginning of the 19th century. Tradition has it that Mickiewicz used to sit under the elm and look at the villa. The soil in an urn was transported to Paris to be put under the Mickiewicz monument built by Bourdelle. In the place of the old elm a new elm was planted in the 1990s. There is a plate commemorating this event, Vilnian journalist and columnist Jerzy Surwiło was the originator of this idea. Now this place borders on the nunciature.

Behind the Orłowski’s house there was the house of priest Szyksznel, owners of the next one were Urniaż family who run a shop there. In 1940 a fire station was built in that place. Behind the shop there was another Antakalnis palace owned by the Pac family. In 1826 in the place of the old palace a new building was constructed, designed by Russian architect Stasov, the Platers’ Palace. Stasov designed also the Governor’s Palace (currently Presidential Palace, 1 Daukanto street) which was built during the same period. This building survived the second world war. During the war here were the headquarters of the German commandant in Vilnius, later of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKWD) and of the commander of the 3th Belorussian Front, general Ivan Chernyakovsky.

On 17th July 1944 general Aleksander Krzyżanowski, alias ‘Wolf’, the commandant of the Home Army in the Vilnius region was invited here for talks. When he entered the palace he was insidiously disarmed and arrested. Then he was taken to Moscow. In the Soviet Lithuania it was the location of the Society of Friendship and Cultural Cooperation with foreign countries, where the Lithuanian department of the Polish-Soviet Friendship Society functioned. Currently the palace is the seat of the Danish and Dutch Embassies. Across the street there were prewar blocks of flats where Vilnius office workers lived. Today there are residential houses. Nearby the building there is the National M. K. Čiurlionis School of Art.

Further down the street there was sports ground of the legion’s 6th infantry regiment with grand stands, rifle-range and a ski jump. ‘Dynamo’ stadium was located here after the second world war. Currently it also serves as a sports facility. Behind it there are two long buildings, former imperial barracks. After the war some of the rooms were transformed into boarding school. Now some part is occupied by offices, some by the district police station, but a large space still is not used. When we turn left an asphalt road will lead us to the Kalnai Park (lit. Park of Hills) where festival called Song Celebration and other events took place. Further, there is the Bleak Hill with the three white crosses which are one of the most famous Vilnius symbols. After descending from the hill we will find another bridge over Vilnia River. In the vicinity, in the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences (1 Žygimantų street) an exhibition “Documents of the Kościuszko Uprising” is open. It is devoted to the 220th anniversary of the uprising. Valuable documents from the library collections, portraits of the leaders of the uprising and mementos of Tadeusz Kościuszko are presented.

Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko was born on 4th February 1746 in the village Merechevschina near Kosova. The Kościuszkos held the Polish Roch III coat-of-arms. When Kościuszko was 9 he began attending Piarist College in Lyubeshiv. In 1765 he enrolled in the Corps of Cadets. He graduated from the school with a rank of a Captain. In 1769 he moved to Paris where he studied military engineering among other things. Five years spent in the pre-revolutionary France have had a considerable impact on his political and social beliefs. He came back to Poland in 1774, a year later moved again to Paris. There he learnt of the war in America. He set his foot on the American ground in 1776. Thank to recommendation letters he was appointed a colonel of engineers in the Continental Army. He took part in the American War of Independence firstly as a colonel, later as a major general.

He was the creator of military fortifications Saragota and West Point. The supreme commander George Washington call the West Point Fortress: “Key of America”. Tadeusz Kościuszko for two years (1778-1780) was the leader of over two thousand men, who often have no bread and no shoes, and fortified this dangerous wasteland so well that the English did not even try to lay siege to the fortress. Historians stated that “Colonel Kościuszko won because of his exquisite craftsmanship”. Today West Point is the famous Military Academy in the United States. In 1794 Kościuszko came back to Poland and involved in political activity.

When in 1793 the Second Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was declared, Kościuszko started working on a plan of a national uprising. In 1794 he received the title of Commander-in-Chief of Polish-Lithuanian forces fighting against the Russian and Prussian occupation. This movement was called Kościuszko uprising, it lasted from March to November 1794 and encompassed almost the whole country. Despite of heroic fight the uprising ended up with the defeat of Poles. After the Third Partition Poland disappeared from the map of Europe. Kościuszko was then taken prisoner by Russian troops. When he regain his freedom Kościuszko went to United States for a short time and came back to Europe. He died on 15th October 1817 in Solothurn in Switzerland. Remains of Kościuszko were brought to Kraków and put to rest in the royal tombs of the Wawel Cathedral. The urn with the heart of Kościuszko was brought to Poland only in 1927 – it was placed in the former Royal Chapel of the Royal Castle in Warsaw. He was a general and the Supreme Commander of the National Armed Force.

Respect for the hero

The name Tadeusz Kościuszko is respected throughout the world. Mount Kościuszko is the highest mount in Australia. Kościuszko Island is an island in the Alexander Archipelago of southeastern Alaska. His monument is placed in the garden named after him in the West Point Military Academy. There is also a monument located directly opposite White House in Washington D.C. There are other Kościuszko monuments in Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Cleveland. One of the most famous monuments is the equestrian statue standing at the top of the Bastion of Ladislaus IV designed by Leonardo Marconi.

Translated by Maciej Jóźwiak within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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