Friday, May 21, 2010

City of Poznan

The city of Poznan was the first capital of the emerging Polish state in the 10th century and it is second only to Warsaw as a financial center of the modern Polish state.

Many of my Polish ancestors reported that they came from Posen. That could have meant the city of Poznan, or it could have referred to the area around Poznan. Once again, I was in search of the oldest areas of the city; parts of the city my ancestors might have visited or might have even lived.

The heart of the old city is Old Market Square. The city's Town Hall is on the square and it is surrounded by colorfully painted townhouses. Once the residences of the city’s elite, most of the ground floors are now banks, cafés and shops with upper floors divided into apartments. The Town Hall is considered to be one of Europe’s finest municipal buildings (according to my guidebook), designed by an Italian architect and built between 1550-60. The square is very large and mostly open with the perimeters filled with café tables under colorful umbrellas.

It is said that 1,000 years ago, St Adalbert gave a sermon at the top of a hill in Poznan before he started on his campaign to evangelize the Prussians. Now called St. Adalbert’s hill, it is crowned by two Catholic churches. The small Gothic-styled Church of St. Adalbert faces the Church of St. Joseph across a small plaza. Both churches date to the 1600’s.

Adjoining the Church of St. Joseph was a walled cemetery. It would be like finding a needle in a haystack, but I walked through the cemetery hoping to find some family names. I didn’t find any, but I did find the graves of two people with the surname of Roche, my uncle’s name. The inscriptions were in German, not Polish. My aunt tells me that the name Roche is Irish. We have no idea how it was that two Irishmen speaking German were buried in an old cemetery in Poland.

I didn’t find any evidence of any of my family members in Poznan, but I was able to experience parts of the city. Some of them might have lived in Poznan, maybe they lived in nearby towns and might have visited the bigger city. But I enjoyed visiting Poznan. It’s an attractive and prosperous city and a very pleasant place to sit at a café table and watch the bustle of city life.