Outside of Poland, most people were probably unaware of Rzeszow, a medium-sized city in southeastern Poland that has recently made headlines due to the outbreak of a new war in Europe.
Thousands of refugees passed through after Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Troops from the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division deployed nearby and President Joe Biden surrendered in late March.
Rzeszow is an old town, first inhabited in the 10th century and granted town rights in 1354 by Polish King Casimir III the Great.
Today, the region has a population of around 200,000 and the attributes of modernity, such as information technology and thriving aviation industries.
While it doesn’t have the flair of Krakow or the shimmer of Warsaw, the city is worth a visit if you’re in southeastern Poland.
Its two most distinctive sites are the Old Town Market Square, home to the Town Hall, and the Monument to Revolutionary Action.
The first is a large cobbled square lined with restaurants, cafes and shops. The ornate town hall was built at the end of the 16th century.
The latter, also called Monument to the Revolutionary Struggle, was erected in 1974 as a communist remembrance of the battles of the Second World War in the region.
Two stylized laurel leaves soar some 125 feet into the Polish sky, dominating a busy city intersection. A giant Nike, the goddess of victory, adorns one side of the monument, a sculpture of a soldier, worker and peasant on the other.
Despite past rumors of it being torn down due to its connection to communism, the giant keepsake survives.
Nearby, and worth a visit for fun, is one of the few circular footbridges in Europe. It crosses the busy intersection of Pilsudskiego and Grunwaldzka streets in downtown Rzeszow.
Back in the old town, take a stroll down 3 Maja Street, a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with shops and restaurants. At one end is the parish church of St. Stanislaus and St. Wojciech. Its oldest part dates from the beginning of the 15th century.
Beneath the Market Square are the Rzeszow Cellars, which stretch over 1,200 feet through 25 basements.
On Cichociemnych Square is an interesting sculpture called “Przejscie 2001”, which means “Transition 2001”. According to the artist, it symbolizes the arrival of a new era and the crossing of the border between life and death.
The square is named after elite exiled Polish Army paratroopers who were trained in Britain during World War II to operate in occupied Poland. Around the monument are plaques with the names of those deported to Auschwitz.
Rzeszow had a large Jewish population before the Holocaust, and two old synagogues are still visible.
The Old Town Synagogue was built at the turn of the 17th century and is now part of the state archives. The synagogue in the new town, burnt down by the Nazis during their retreat, has been rebuilt and is now used by associations of Polish artists.
At the edge of the Old Town, overlooking the Wislok River, is Lubomirski Castle. Built at the end of the 16th century, the complex has undergone many modifications since then.
The current version was built at the beginning of the 20th century, when it was used as a district court.
Across the river, modern Rzeszow rises, full of new apartment buildings and gleaming glass and concrete offices. Nearby are the university and a giant consumer temple, the Millennium Hall shopping mall.
Rzeszow is around nine hours drive from Grafenwoehr, or a short direct flight from London Stansted Airport. Polish airlines LOT fly there regularly. Accommodation is restricted due to the refugee situation, so check in advance if you are going.