There are places able to grab and hold our heart for a while, or forever. When it comes to Switzerland, one of those places, at least for myself, is Rapperswil, also known as Rosenstadt (City of Roses) thanks to its three rose gardens that have about 15.000 plants of 600 different kinds of roses.
Rapperswil is located on the east shore of Lake Zurich and it belongs to the canton of St. Gallen. Legend says that Rapperswil was founded by Duke of Altendorf. According to the legend, the Duke crossed the lake with his dogs to hunt deer and he was accompanied by his wife. The Duchess took pity on the animals and pleaded her husband to call off the hunt. Then it is said that a doe has come and she placed her head in the Duchess lap as the sign of gratitude. The Duke was very moved by this scene. He took it as a sign from God and decided to build a castle on the very spot. Even today, the deer park stands within the castle ground as a reminder of this story.
In the meanwhile, the castle was turned into a Polish museum and holds the documents of the harmonious relationship and cooperation between Poland and Switzerland and their mutual beliefs, as it’s expressed on the Polish Column of Freedom in the front of the castle - MAGNA RES LIBERTAS (Freedom Above All).
Both the exterior and interior of the castle are well preserved. I had a chance to see the exhibition of baroque art, consisting mainly of Polish religious artworks, Polish nobility silk belts and earliest Meissen porcelain figures. There is also a room of Polish folklore, filled with beautiful costumes and peasant’s crafts.
One of the castle’s towers is turned into some sort of a symbolic martyr chapel, dedicated to Saint Maximillian Kolbe, also known as Apostle of Consecration to Mary. He was a Polish Franciscan friar who volunteered to die instead of another man in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz. During the Second World War, Kolbe provided shelter for refugees, including Jews whom he hid from Nazis. He was arrested by the Gestapo, imprisoned and later transferred to Auschwitz. Few months later, a man from Kolbe's barrack vanished, prompting the camp commander to pick ten men to be starved to death in order to set an example and prevent further escape attempts. There Kolbe volunteered and offered his life for the life of another man, namely the life of Franciszek Gajowniczek who was a Polish army sergeant. Anyway, after three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others were still alive. Finally he was executed with an injection of carbolic acid (phenol). Gajowniczek was released from Auschwitz after spending five years, five months and nine days in the camp. He was still alive and present when Pope John Paul II canonized Kolbe on October 10th, 1982.
The mentioned chapel is very creepy as it should be, considering the story and symbolism that it represents. The space is small and gloomy. There is barely any light and that light reflects and makes red shades on the walls.
In another room is a collection of Polish art, more precisely paintings, prints and maps. There is also a room dedicated to the Polish fight for freedom and independence.
I love old architecture very much, castles especially. Therefore I entered every single room and I have found something interesting in almost every corner. I’ve also climbed to the top of the highest tower.
I strongly suggest visiting this castle if you happened to come to Rapperswil. The castle is open most of the time, except in the winter period. I was there on the very end of a summer, escaping mid season and crowd.
What I love about Rapperswil is the unique ability to experience another space and time so to say. The old part of the city looks almost untouched. If I was to see a 13th century lady gazing from a window or a knight on a horse I wouldn’t be surprised. That much this place is still authentic.
I’ve also visited one church.
And I had a long ride on the lake in a small wooden boat, accompanied by a pair of swans. They were so gracious and lovely.
My boat has taken me to an island, placed right across Rapperswil, and I enjoyed in the view while sitting in a small restaurant and drinking an apple juice.
The day was sunny and beautiful. My heart was filled with many impressions and emotions. I almost had feeling of being home. Right there I already knew that I will come back to that place again and again.