Rzeszow (Rzeszów), the capital of the Subcarpathian Voivodeship, combines a small-town charm with its role as the economic and cultural center of south-eastern Poland. Life is good in Rzeszow of the Aviation Valley, the largest industrial technological cluster in Poland that concentrates more than 130 companies connected to the aviation industry. It also acts as the research and training base for aviation industry specialists. The Valley produces, among other things, S-70i Black Hawk helicopters as well as engines for F-16 airplanes.
A modern Galician "village"
Despite this, the province capital doesn't resemble a large metropolis. Its historical center is reminiscent of a village in Galicia, something from a different era. The oldest monument is the 15th Century Parish Church of St. Stanislaus and Wojciech, with a Gothic chancel and three Renaissance headstones belonging to old Rzeszow families, the former owners of the town. In the afternoon, streaks of light filtered through the stained-glass windows on the opposite wall create bas-relief images of the dead with their colorful reflections.
History of Rzeszow
In the 17th Century, Rzeszow fell in the powerful hands of the aristocratic Lubomirski family. Wanting to add more grandeur to their estate, the new caretakers recruited the best architects, including Tylman van Gameren (1632-1706), a Pole of Dutch origin and a creator of many palaces and churches, as well as members of Italy’s Bellotti family, famous architects who worked in Poland in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The heart of Rzeszow lies in its cobbled town square, surrounded by 19th Century houses, with a fountain in the center and a neo-gothic town hall at the western frontage. Although the square burned down thirteen times, and suffered from invasion and plundering, it has always resurrected in the same spot. Over the ages, it got 3-4 meters deeper. This is where one of Rzeszow’s most unique attractions is. It's an underground route connecting cellars between old townhouses, allowing visitors to see the city from a completely different perspective.
Cellars and a marketplace
Back in the day, Rzeszow’s main square was above all a market place. Already in the 14th Century, vendors started hollowing out the cellars. Some were used to store goods, others were used as shops, studios and as a shelter during times of conflict and catastrophes. The soft loess surfaces were easy to penetrate by even the most simple of tools, such as a shovel or hoe. Wooden constructions reinforced cellars that had already been completed, hewn stones or bricks. In the 18th Century, Rzeszow had over 300 cellars on four different levels. Many of the cellars were used to store ash to clean crockery, wood tar (a substance used to treat skin conditions), honey, wax, propolis, bee putty and a range of other products.
Over time, the vendors moved above ground and the foundation, pockmarked like a Swiss cheese, started to settle and lose its stability. In order to pre-empt the collapse of the construction, sand filled most of the cellars or they had cement poured into them. Fortunately, 25 cellars were preserved and they connect through corridors as part of the Underground Tourist Route, which spans 396 meters and has a maximum depth of 10 meters.
Some cellars left
For safety reasons, walls and vaults were layered over with brick. Some places have kept their original Gothic brick dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries. They contain grooves fashioned by brick makers, which make them more resilient. Loess-surfaced flooring were placed along the lengths of the routes. Blackened walls in one of the cellars are most likely the work of the great fire that engulfed the square in 1842. Gothic doors topped with pointed arches, stone windows and a small fragment of cross-ribbed vaults is all that remains of a 15th or 16th Century building that used to stand on the square. It is astounding to think that today we are able to admire it several meters below its foundation.
The tourist trail has many elements connected to Rzeszow’s rich history along crafts for which the town was famous. Knight’s armor, weapons, clay pots, carpenter tools in addition to, ancient home appliance tools. These include an iron fueled by coal, mangles, quern-stones, butter-churns and spinning wheels. Among the items found during restoration of the cellars is a century old piece of grey soap and a bottle of Hungarian Tokaj wine. There are also stocks and prangers, which once stood in Rzeszow’s main square.