Appearances can be deceptive – on first glance at the relaxed centre of Gniezno (gnyez-no), you’d never guess the huge part it played in the founding of Poland. Its Old Town, attractively renovated on the 1000th anniversary (in 2000) of the establishment of the city’s historic bishopric, is a charming collection of winding streets and colourful, slope-roofed buildings centred on a pleasant cobblestone square and the city’s famous cathedral. Its historic cathedral is well worth a visit, and it is also a great place to catch your breath after the hustle of Poznań.
It may be slow-paced now, but in its day Gniezno has been both a royal and a religious seat. It is also considered to be the cradle of the Polish state, as it was here that the various tribes of the region were first united as Poles in the 10th century. In a key development, Duke Mieszko I is thought to have been baptised here in 966, thus raising the autonomous region of Wielkopolska from obscurity to the rank of Christianised nations. Later, in 1025, Bolesław Chrobry was crowned in the local cathedral as the first Polish king.
The town has retained its status as the seat of the Church of Poland and is still the formal ecclesiastical capital, despite the fact that the archbishops are only occasional guests these days.