Cieszyn of the Two Nations
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Today's Friendship Bridge functioned for centuries as the Long Bridge. Photo: BlackMediaHouse/Adobe Stock Photo
The Other School

Cieszyn of the Two Nations

Beata Mońka, Marcin Mońka

Time moves slowly here in the town of Cieszyn, Poland. Lovers kiss on the Friendship Bridge; tourists ask locals where to find the best fried cheese, or the rotunda from the twenty-złoty bill. And the name itself just makes you smile—at least if you’re a Polish speaker, for whom it sounds like the verb “to cheer.”

In the Old Market, a small city square on the main street downtown, a Madonna and Child gaze down from a modestly high plinth. The sculpture isn’t a spectacular one, so it’s easy to miss—all the more so as the square can be jammed with cars. But don’t despair if you miss this local attraction because the statue is only a copy anyway. To see the original, you have to visit the Museum of Cieszyn Silesia—and it’s worth your while. It was long thought that the sculpture dated back to the nineteenth century. However, during conservation work in 2000, it turned out that under the layers of paint, there was an outstanding Gothic piece that was created in the Prague studio of Piotr Parler, a builder, architect, and sculptor. Over the years, the figure of the Madonna and Child was painted over many times. At one point it was covered in gold, and both figures gained gold-plated crowns. To get to the original, they had to take off more than thirty layers of polychrome. The precious original was taken to the museum, while a copy—a painted version, with gold elements—can be seen in the Old Market.

Exploring Cieszyn is like ripping away layers that have become stuck together, creating a diverse texture. Some come off faster, others cling on—you’re never certain whether you’ve reached a gold-plated polychrome, or the Gothic original.

The Wandering Border

Life in Cieszyn is slow, and staying here helps you become, for at least a day, a flaneur, a master of loitering. It allows you to discover various places, wandering with no goal or plan. The town of slightly more than thirty thousand (more than fifty thousand if you include

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The City of Alchemists
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Giuseppe Arcimboldo,"Rudolf II as Wertumnus" 1591, Skokloster (photo: public domain)
Dreams and Visions

The City of Alchemists

Maciej Świetlik

The maps from the time of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor situate Prague in the symbolic heart of Europe. Surrounded by artists and scholars, the ruler tried to unite the disintegrating world with the help of alchemy.

In 1583, Rudolf II Habsburg moved the capital of the Holy Roman Empire from the Hofburg in Vienna to Prague’s Hradčany. Despite the plague, the inhabitants of Prague enthusiastically welcomed the retinue of their king. The twenty thousand victims that the plague claimed in that crucial year made up a third of the city’s population. The relocation of the court coincided with the carnival, when the population could indulge all the whims of the body. Eros and Death performed in a joint procession in honor of the new ruler. Is it possible to imagine a better prelude to a reign in which Prague would become a great laboratory for studying the nature of life and searching for the elixir of immortality?

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