“Let’s go to Bielany”

Autor: dr Joanna Angiel    

“Let’s go to Bielany”

Virtually every European capital has its forest for their inhabitants’ recreation and fun. Paris has the Boulogne Forest, Vienna has the Viennese Forest, and Warsaw has the Bielany Forest. Since the 17th century it was a place to have fun during Pentecost in May. There are several versions of the genesis of folk celebrations at Bielany. One of them says that they started in 1673, when the painting of St Boniface was ceremoniously moved from the Warsaw Collegiate to the Camaldolese Church. The painting came down the Vistula River in a decorated barge, and King Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki with his entourage waited for it on the Bielany riverbank. The monks used to maintain the procession traditions in Bielany, but in time it transformed into a jovial wonder and folkloric fun in the open air.

In 1766 King Stanisław August organised a great show at Bielany. At the time, stairs with gates from the Vistula side and avenues and squares were created in the forest. The king sailed on the Vistula to Bielany on a beautiful, richly decorated boat as did municipal councilors. A beautiful girl dressed up as Vistula awaited the king on the riverbank. A welcoming salute came from cannons placed on boats. An impressive feast began followed by raucous revelry.

From Warsaw to Bielany one walked or took various forms of transport. The Bielańska Street coming off the Theatre Square and going towards Solidarności Avenue is part of the old route, which led to Bielany. One could also get there by the Vistula River on various boats and barges. Since 1871 people sailed to Bielany on the Vistula using boats run by Maurycy Falans and Stanisław Górnicki, his competition. A boat journey was a special attraction in those days, and also even after the war, and so it was always jammed with people. But lots of fun by the Vistula and in the forest rewarded everything.

Even in the 1950s and 1960s one traveled to Bielany for the May festivities.

And how is it today? Tradition is disappearing as is sailing on the Vistula. Today, nobody sails on the Vistula or drives to Bielany for the Pentecost in May. Will the tradition associated with this place and travel on the Vistula disappear? Can an excursion to the Bielany Forest be interesting today in an era of a different lifestyle and different recreational activities? If we sail to Bielany on the Vistula and from there we will look at the beautiful sweeping view of the Bielany Forest and the post-Camaldolese monastery in that forest, located on Vistula’s high escarpment (previously the Polkowa Hill), then the answer is simple. And when we enter the grounds of the old monastery we have additional surprises waiting for us there, such as the monks’ hermitage.

The project ‘Protecting the habitats of priority bird species of the Vistula Valley under conditions of intensive pressure of the Warsaw agglomeration’ (wislawarszawska.pl) has received a grant from the Financial Instrument for the Environment (LIFE+) and from the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management.