Nowadays, the city’s historical importance is enriched with the energy of youth. With a population of around 350,000, the city has two universities, four other public schools of higher education, and many private colleges. During the academic year, the city is packed with young people studying, learning and partying on a few neighboring campuses; when they leave for summer vacation, the city suddenly becomes empty and quiet.
The most attractive district of Lublin is the beautiful OldTown, situated on the edge of the escarpment. It is reached through Cracow Gate (Brama Krakowska), which has become a symbol of the city. This part of Lublin is a maze of romantic alleys. The facades of the buildings are decorated with Mannerist and Baroque ornamentation and have splendid attics; many of them house cozy pubs or souvenir shops.
At the center of the OldTown is Market Square, with Lublin’s town hall. Here, the Crown Tribunal of the Kingdom of Poland once had its seat. In the 18th century, the town hall was rebuilt by the famous Dominik Merlini in the Neo-Classical style. The main street in Lublin, Krakowskie Przedmiescie, is now a pedestrian district lined with elegant shops.
Lublin’s most important historic building is the Chapel of the Holy Trinity. It forms part of LublinCastle, which was built in the 14th century and remodeled in the Neo-Gothic style in 19th century for use as a prison. The interior of this Catholic chapel is decorated with Byzantine frescoes painted in 1418 by Orthodox artists. The chapel is evidence of the cultural and religious variety of the Kingdom of Poland at that time, as well as proof of the influence of Eastern art and culture.
Another example of Lublin’s diversity is its Jewish heritage. The city contained a vibrant Jewish community which formed around 40% of Lublin‚s population at its peak. The community existed for centuries and was celebrated in the novels of Nobel laureate Isaac Bahsevis Singer. Before World War II, the only Jewish college of higher education in Poland was located there. In the city, one can find many traces of Jewish presence and traditions. Many Jewish citizens of Lublin died in a large concentration camp, Majdanek, established by the Nazis in 1941 on the outskirts of the city. Of the half million people who passed through Majdanek, 360,000 of them were murdered, many in mass executions. The camp has been preserved as a museum and memorial to the victims.
When I still lived in Poland, one of my foreign friends visited me. We went for a trip around Poland that ended in Lublin. In his opinion, Lublin is the best example of a Polish city – not as big and overwhelming as Warsaw, but still capturing enough to convince a foreigner to have a closer look at Poland and its history. I encourage you to discover the city for yourselves!