Ciechanów is a small city of 44 000 in Northern Masovia. The city is known because of the ruins of the gothic Masovian Dukes castle and a regional brewery. It is 100 km north of Warsaw on the way from Warsaw to Gdańsk and Masurian Lakes, and is a great place for a short break.
Ciechanów is one of major regional centres for the flat agricultural region of Northern Masovia. During its golden age in 15th and 16th centuries it was one of the major towns in the weakly urbanised area. The region is one of the least developed in Poland, but a lot of positive change is visible.
Slavs settled in this region around in 6th century. A small Polish fort was build in the second half of 11th century, starting the development of modern Ciechanów. In 13th century it was a seat of local administrator (known as a castellan). Due to its location not far from the border with Prussia, conquered by Teutonic State, its military importance was growing and in late 14th century the castle was built. In 1400 Duke Janusz II of Masovia granted the city charter. The modernised castle was his second most important headquarters after Warsaw, so in late medieval period the town was flourishing. In 16th century it was rebuilt by the queen Bona Sforza as a renaissance residence. During this time Ciechanów was the administrative centre of one of Masovian Lands (Land of Ciechanów, Ziemia Ciechanowska) At its peak around 1600 it had more than 4,000 citizens making it one of the biggest towns in the weakly urbanised Masovia.
Epidemics and wars of 17th and 18th centuries heavily damaged the city reducing its population to a few hundreds. With the partitions of Poland it lost its administrative importance and became a small rural town within Russian Poland. After the construction of important railway line from Warsaw to Mława, that linked important military fortifications and industrial centres with Prussia, the city started to develop again.
Between the two World Wars it was an important cultural, educational and commercial centre for the agricultural region. A third of its population was Jewish, most of it was killed by Germans. During the Nazi times the city was incorporated into the Third Reich and plans of building a town for 100,000 German settlers were developed. Germans started by destruction of Jewish district and were able to build only a few buildings. Soviet-style urban planning was based on the Nazi plans during the communist dictatorship. The status of a regional centre was stressed after 1975, when Ciechanów became a capital of new voivodeship covering big portion of Northern Masovia. In 1999 it lost this administrative function, but it is still one of the biggest cities in the region.
People living in Ciechanów were usually born here, or in the vicinity. Younger generations under 40 should have some knowledge of English. Because the city is not a major tourist destination, visitors from abroad are rather uncommon. Also, apart from growing Ukrainian immigration, few foreigners live here.
There are three major airports fairly easily reachable from the city: Warsaw Okęcie, Warsaw Modlin and Gdańsk Lech Wałęsa. Also a smaller regional airport in Szymany near Szczytno may be considered.
Due to its location on a major railway line from Warsaw to Gdańsk, the city is well connected with both of them, as well as with Olsztyn. Many trains from Ciechanów go further south to Krakow or Katowice.
There are several buses from Ciechanów to neighbouring towns, as well as Warsaw and Płock.
Ciechanów is located on the crossroads of national routes DK 50 and DK 60 linking Łódź and Płock with Białystok. Also, due to relative proximity of national roads DK 7 and DK 10, the city is fairly easily reachable from Warsaw, Gdańsk, Olsztyn, or Toruń.
Due to the flatness of Masovia, the city is an easy destination for bikers. Unfortunatelly, the infrastructure is not well developed yet. Still, taking small local roads is a nice experience.
The city has a developed public bus network. Also taxis are available, the price from the railway station to the city centre should be €2-3 (10-12 zł) during the day. Due to the size of the city, most of the tourist attractions are easily accessible on foot, the distance from the castle to the St. Tekla parish church (the northernmost and southernmost historic site within the city centre) is 1.5 km (1 mi), or about 20 min walk. The main railway station is located about 2 km west of the city centre though.
- Gothic castle of Masovian Dukes built in late 14th and early 15th century. Since the mid-17th century it had been in ruins. A small museum and a castle tower are accessible for the visitors.
- Masovian Nobility Museum, Warszawska 61 street
- Late gothic Birth of Mary church of the St. Joseph parish (fara)
- Visitation church of the St. Tekla parish, built in 16th century by the Order of Saint Augustine
- Farska górka hillfort near the Birth of Mary church
- City hall from 19th century
- Modernist water tower near Płocka street in the south-west of the city is the most important site outside of the historic centre. It is under renovation, and will become the main part of a science museum.
- Walk in the parks along the Łydynia river
- Walk along Warszawska pedestrian street, a major axis of medieval town
- Go to one of the festivals on the castle
Start your walk in the John Paul II Square, a historic marketplace of the late medieval city. Take Wodna and Zamkowa streets to the castle. After the visit walk back and take Jana Kilińskiego street to the bridge on the Łydynia river (600 m). Along the way you will pass the Ciechan brewery. Walk in a park along the river to the Jan Henryk Dąbrowski Park. After visiting two historic churches and the hillfort, go to the Tadeusz Kościuszko Square, and from there walk along the pedestrian Warszawska street back to the John Paul II square. Along you can stop in the Masovian Nobility Museum at Warszawska 61 street. The whole walk is 3 km long and takes 40 min without stops. The total time required is from 1 hr (just short stops) to more than 3 hr (visit in two museums and churches without stops in one of restaurants, bars or shops).
Ciechanów, as well as Poland in general, is a relatively safe place. Take the usual precautions.
Although the life standard for many people is still lower than in the Western Europe, the situation is improving and it requires some time.
Also, Poles suffered a lot in last two centuries, so it is in a good tone to appreciate that, but also be aware that the topic of communist or German occupation is sensitive. It is badly seen to mix Poles with Russians too. The polarisation of political opinions is more and more visible (as it is in the whole Western World), so it is advisable to avoid hot topics before you know your interlocutor a bit.
Poles are very warm and friendly people, but showing your emotions to a stranger may be misunderstood (as it is common in post-communist countries). Often you have to break the first ice to see a smiling face. The easiest way to do it is by learning some Polish sentences and words.
During the winter time on some days a smog level may be high.
- Romanticism Museum in Opinogóra Górna – a manor 8 km east from the city centre where one of major Polish authors lived
- Kampinos National Park 80 km to the south
- Kurpie ethnographic region near Ostrołęka 80 km to the east
- Modlin – 19th century fort north of Warsaw
- Nidzica castle – built in 14th century by the Teutonic Knights
- Płock – medieval capital of Masovia 80 km to the south-west
- Pułtusk – a picturesque town 40 km south-east from the city known as the Venice of Masovia with a castle and a renaissance collegiate church.
- Masovian Village Museum in Sierpc 75 km to the west
- Warsaw 100 km to the south-east