The Traces of Independence

In the 18th century, Poland lost its independence during the three bouts of partitioning (in 1772, 1793, and 1795) and had its territory divided between three neighbouring powers: Russia, Prussia, and Austria. After the last partition Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for 123 years. Its fall was brought about by the continuing disadvantageous political, social, and economic changes which rendered the country incapable of reform and defence against hostile states. However, national awareness, shared identity, and a sense of sovereignty survived among Poles throughout the time of thrall. Under all three occupiers, Poles worked underground, organised armed uprisings, and cared for the retention of their language and culture. Poland only regained its independence after the conclusion of the First World War, and 11 November 1918 is considered the day of its liberation.

In Kraków, which in the wake of the division of the country became a part of the Austrian partition, the fight for independence is commemorated by numerous monuments, memorial plaques, symbolic places, and necropolises. They are the locations that define the route of the three-day independence walk. The first day starts in Oleandry, and lets you set forth from the place where the First Cadre Company set off, and to follow the paths of Marshal Józef Piłsudski and his legionnaires to finish in the Rakowicki Cemetery. A stop is provided in the Main Building of the National Museum, where the exhibition of Arms and Uniforms in Poland (Broń i Barwa w Polsce) is an opportunity to admire the militaria and memorabilia connected to Tadeusz Kościuszko, Prince Józef Poniatowski, and Józef Piłsudski, while the Gallery of Polish 19th-Century Art in the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) presents paintings relevant to independence, including works by Jan Matejko, Michał Stachowicz, and Artur Grottger. On the second day you are encouraged to take a walk in Podgórze, from where you can walk to the Main Market Square in the footsteps of Lieutenant Antoni Stawarz, and the events that transpired in Kraków on 31 October 1918. The third day is reserved for climbing the Kościuszko and Piłsudski mounds, to see picturesque panoramas of Kraków and take a moment’s reflection on the lives of the heroes fighting for independence.

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