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Paris, Istanbul … and Rome: Tracing the Footsteps of Great Polish People in Rome

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

nother place where I tried to find Polish traces during my recent journey to Italy, was Rome. In this aspect, the first people who should be mentioned are three Polish Romantics: Juliusz Słowacki, Cyprian Kamil Norwid and Adam Mickiewicz.

Juliusz Słowacki arrived in Rome on February 22, 1836, as part of his journey to the East. Like many other travellers of his time, Słowacki sought to immerse himself in the cultural legacy of the Italian capital. During his stay, he resided at the Hotel Babuino, situated on Via del Babuino 165. Today, a commemorative plaque adorns the hotel, preserving the memory of Słowacki's presence.

Cyprian Kamil Norwid, another prominent figure of Polish Romanticism, also found himself drawn to Rome's artistic grandeur. His visit to St. Peter's Basilica left an indelible mark on his artistic sensibilities. Norwid was captivated by the magnificent dome that adorns the basilica, a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. A plaque commemorating his stay in Rome is located not far from Via del Babuino on Via Sistina 123, where he lived for some time.

In contrast to the educational and artistic pursuits of Słowacki and Norwid, the stay of another Polish Romantic in Rome took on a different nature. Adam Mickiewicz, a revered poet and political activist, arrived in Rome with a political mission in mind. His presence in the city was intricately linked to his involvement in the fight for independence, not only for Poland but also for Italy. Mickiewicz's time in Rome was centred around the creation of a Polish legion, which aimed to support the Italians in their struggle for independence from Austrian rule. By aligning the Polish cause with the Italian fight against their oppressors, Mickiewicz sought to unite the forces battling against common foes. The struggle of the Italians against the Austrians resonated deeply with the Polish fight for independence, as Austria was one of the invaders occupying Poland during that time. A plaque commemorating this event is located on Via del Pozzetto number 113.

When discussing Polish traces in Rome, it would be remiss not to mention the significant influence of Henryk Sienkiewicz, the renowned Polish writer, and Nobel Prize laureate. Sienkiewicz's connection to Rome is particularly evident through three notable locations associated with his life and work. One such place is the small church of Quo Vadis, located at the end of Via Appia Antica. Inside the church we can find Sienkiewicz’s bust.

The name of the church is derived from a legendary encounter between Jesus Christ and Saint Peter. According to the legend, Christ appeared to Saint Peter at this very spot, prompting Peter to ask, "Quo vadis, Domine?" (Where are you going, Lord?). Sienkiewicz, captivated by the significance of this legend and inspired by the atmosphere of the place, was compelled to write the novel "Quo Vadis." The novel garnered widespread acclaim, earning Sienkiewicz the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905.

Apart from the church of Quo Vadis, there are two more locations in Rome associated with Sienkiewicz. For instance, the seated Sienkiewicz can be found in Villa Borghese in front of the museum of contemporary art. Once again, we will find his mark on the wall of the English Hotel, which proudly commemorates his stay in Rome in 1893.

As visitors explore the city of Rome, they can encounter the presence of another Polish writer, Czesław Miłosz, whose poem “Campo di Fiori” can be found printed on the wall in the square of the same title famous for its statue of Giordano Bruno.

Another significant Polish figure whose traces can be discovered in Rome is Marshal Józef Piłsudski, a revered statesman and military leader. As a testament to his esteemed role in Polish history, the city of Rome chose to honour him by naming an entire street after him: Viale Maresciallo Piłsudski. At the end of Viale Maresciallo Piłsudski, at the entrance to Villa Gloria, one can find a bust dedicated to Marshal Piłsudski. This sculpture serves as a visual representation of his presence in Rome and a reminder of his legacy.

Oh, and of course, let's not forget about one Pole, probably the most famous in all of Italy, that is John Paul II, whose statue stands in the square in front of one of the most important transport hubs in Rome, Roma Termini.

And some interesting facts: did you know that there is a street of Poles in Rome (Via dei Polacchi)? And another one: Caffe Greco, one of the oldest coffee shops in Rome, was a meeting centre for Poles who met there to discuss, among other things, the issue of Polish independence. There you can find portraits of Czesław Miłosz and Adam Mickiewicz.

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