On August 16th 1868, on the 100th anniversary of forming the Bar Confederation by Polish magnates in Rapperswil by Lake Zurich, an impressive monument in the form of a column was unveiled, called the Bar Column, the Polish Column of Liberty or, in short, the Polish Column. It was founded by count Władysław Plater, Polish émigré, founder of the Polish National Museum opened two years later on the castle in Rapperswil
The history of the column, strictly connected with the history of the Polish Museum, marks 150 years of coexistence of two cultures and Rapperswil, the name of the town, has become the synonym of Polish and Swiss friendship.
Why a Polish monument in Switzerland?
Three partitions conducted by Prussia, Russia and Austria in the late 18th century (1772, 1793 and 1795) ended for 123 years the existence of Polish state, the state with many centuries of history and rich national culture. For the entire period of this bondage, the Poles did not cease to seek independence, which they regained as late as in the year 1918. Uprisings organised in the meantime resulted in the wave of emigrants fleeing the country, mainly to France and Switzerland. In the exile, they continued their vivid political and cultural activity for the liberation of the country.
Switzerland as a place of exile for Polish emigrants
“Helvetians’ heart is not ice nor stone although not much land, they will keep the grain of liberty. And it will bloom…”
Antoni Górski, Polish insurrectionist and emigrant
For Polish political elites and intelligentsia, 19th century Switzerland had the power of attraction – mainly due to its traditional liberal attitude towards political emigrants. Confederation authorities would not only efficiently protect the right of asylum for political refugees, but many times, they would consciously “not notice” their political activity and would intervene only in the striking cases of violation of Swiss law and the rule of neutrality by the emigrants. Apart from the policy of considerable tolerance of Swiss authorities towards Polish patriots, one of the reasons for their lively activity in the homeland of Wilhelm Tell was constituted by very favourable attitude of Swiss society and their understanding of the Polish case and the situation of Polish emigrants. The November Uprising (1830/31) reverberated in Switzerland, resulting in manifests of solidarity with the Polish nation and in giving its representatives a helping hand. What gained even more attention of the Helvetians was the January Uprising (1863/64). Swiss press expressed solidarity with Polish insurrectionists, presenting comprehensive and frequent accounts on the situation of insurrectionists. Pro-Polish committees flourishing in the majority of cantons undertook the activities supporting Polish militants. They were collecting clothes, medicines, money and weapons for the insurrectionists and sending volunteers to support Polish fighters. Gottfried Keller (1819-1890), renowned writer and the First Official Secretary of the Canton of Zurich, was the soul and driving force of this action supporting the fighting nation as he had got involved in the situation of the Poles already in his childhood.
Count Władysław Eweryst Broel-Plater – founder of the monument
The most active Polish patriot continuing in Switzerland vivid activity for the liberation of the country was count Władysław Broel-Plater (1806-1889), insurrectionist of the November Uprising (1830/31), initially emigration activist in France and since 1844 residing in Switzerland, in Kilchberg near Zurich. For his dedication to Polish national interest and for promoting the Polish case – in particular during the January Uprising – he was awarded in the country of the Helvetians with the unofficial title of the “ambassador of Poland in captivity”. He was the one who, together with Swiss writer Gottfried Keller, founded Central Swiss Committee of Support for the Poles with its seat in Zurich, constituting one of the elements of the wide-scale international support action and supporting within the framework of its mission the January Uprising. From Plater’s initiative and with his financial support, the Committee was for eighteen months publishing the magazine “Der Weisse Adler” devoted to the case of regaining the independence by Poland in the German language version. During Traugutt’s dictatorship, Plater became formal agent of the insurrectionist National Government in Switzerland. Also after the fall of the Uprising, count Plater used to undertake multidirectional activities in favour of the Polish interest. They include the idea born and realised in the year 1868 to construct a Polish monument in the Helvetian land. The upcoming 100th anniversary of forming the Bar Confederation became a stimulus for the entire undertaking.
On Plater’s idea of erecting the monument in Switzerland on the 100th anniversary of the Bar Confederation
“Inexhaustible Polish spirit, with 100 years of bloodthirsty fight against the violence oppressing them, addresses God’s and world’s justice from the free land of the Helvetians”
The idea of erecting the monument in the year 1868 undertaken by count Władysław Plater constituted a perfect occasion to remind the world in a very suggestive way about the existence of Poland which, in spite of being erased from the map of Europe – is alive and fighting. 100th anniversary of forming the Bar Confederation constituted for Bar and his contemporaries a special occasion from the point of view of the tradition of independence. The Bar Confederation was addressed mainly towards Russian domination over the Republic, protecting the endangered sovereignty of the state and former rights and marked in their eyes – through its mythologization by the Romantic prophet poets, the beginning of the fight of the Polish nation for the lost freedom and constituted the example for all future uprisings. The 100th anniversary of forming the Bar Confederation was thus strictly connected with the century of Poles fighting for independence. For this reason, on one of the plates situated on the foot of the monument, the year 1868 constituted only the opening of the list of dates marking the most important moments in the history of Polish national liberation struggles. Then, such inscriptions in the French language followed:
Constitution 3rd May 1791
Kościuszko Uprising 24th March 1794
Creation Polish Legions in Italy 20th January 1797
Greater Poland Uprising 3rd November 1806
Defence of the Duchy of Warsaw 1809
General Confederation of the Kingdom of Poland 28th June 1812
November Uprising 29th November 1830
Cracow Uprising 22 Février 1846
Greater Poland Uprising 20 Mars 1848
January Uprising 22 Janvier 1863
Symbolism of the form of the monument
The erected monument was given the shape of a column finished with a capital referring to the Corinthian order, placed on a high base with square cross-section. It was performed from black marble with distinctive strands. On top of the column, the figure of an eagle with outstretched wings was cast in bronze. Its lower part was ornamented with gold-plated panoplia. The base of the column was decorated with four plates. From the East, a white marble relief of the coat of arms of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. From the South, the most important dates of Polish national liberation struggles were embossed (previously enumerated in details). Two last plates included the text by poet Kornel Ujejski, also already quoted, in Polish, German, French and Latin: “Inexhaustible Polish spirit, with the 100 years of bloodthirsty fight against the violence oppressing them addresses God’s and world’s justice from the free land of Helvetians”.
Choosing the shape of the monument was not coincidental.
Erecting monuments in the form of a column constitutes one of the most widespread ways of commemorating distinguished figures or glorious events, dating back to the ancient times. In those times, in ancient Rome, the columns had been erected in order to commemorate military victories of two Caesars: Trajan and Mark Aurelius.
In the 19th century, erecting columns as monuments even became a trend, to which officially contributed Napoleon I by erecting a monumental Great Army Column on the Vendôme square in Paris.
The fame and high status as a monument was achieved by the column thanks to its symbolism. As an important load bearing element of the structure, the column became the expression of such values as power, stability and durability, but also courage and non-submission. At the same time, by marking with its structure architectural vertical lines (usually connecting horizontal line of the ground with the space elevated upwards), the column embodies the idea of loftiness, hope and life. Optimistic in its message, the symbolic form of a soaring column as monument of the glory of Polish freedom and independence struggles gains particularly suggestive meaning while juxtaposed with another, not less popular motive of that times – the topos of a broken column, usually serving the lamenting function, where it symbolized death and interrupted life.
The eagle placed on the top of the Rapperswil monument should in particular be connected with the coat of arms of the Republic. White eagle – a divine bird symbolizing power and strength – had been used as identification by the first rulers of Poland from the first quarter of the 13th century. White eagle constituted the key element of the coat of arms of the Polish state for the centuries that followed and serves this function until today, so it was used as the most distinct symbol of Poland. At the same time, with its widespread wings, it was becoming the symbol of Poland struggling for its freedom and independence, expressing hope for the future liberation of the homeland.
Julius Stadler – monument designer
Swiss architect Julius Stadler was the author of the Column’s design. Plater’s decision to delegate him to perform the design was carefully thought-out. Stadler was a mature architect, enjoying the esteem in his local environment and famous also for his activity as lecturer at the faculty of architecture of prestigious polytechnic institute (Eidgenössische polytechnische Schule) in Zurich (today ETH). His career began in 1855, when in the newly established school he was employed as teacher of architectural drawing and received the post of the assistant of Gottfried Semper, one of the most famous architects of the 19th century. In 1871, after many years of his academic work and with extensive experience on the post of lecturer and head of graphic collections of the university, he received the title of professor and was nominated Semper’s successor with the instruction to conduct classes on style, ornamentation and composition. He resigned from these last lectures in 1884, taking landscape drawing classes, which he conducted until his retirement in the autumn of 1893.
Louis Wethli – performer of the monument design
The column designed by Julius Stadler was performed by Louis Wethli (1842-1914), sculptor from Zurich. This artist, young at the time, but already having (after premature death of his father) his own workshop, was probably recommended to Plater by Stadler himself. They both must have met during Wethli’s studies at the technical university in Zurich (1860-64), where Stadler conducted lectures. The fact of making an appropriate choice by Plater is proved not only by high artistic level of the marble relief including the coat of arms of the First Republic (currently the only element from the initial Bar column from the year 1868), but also huge esteem that Louis Wethli gained after performing this work both in Switzerland as well as beyond its borders. Specializing in various materials and offering a wide range of services, he used to send the works from his atelier to Germany, France, Russia, England, but also to America, Brazil, Egypt, Syria, India or China. Nowadays his name is associated mainly with numerous historical tombstones, whose romantic and naturalistic style with a strong tone of symbolism is still shaping current landscape of many cemeteries in Zurich and Basel.
“Ujejski brought a very beautiful and even precious ensign, which first used to fly on the ship in which we were heading towards Rapperswil, then it was carried next to the Swiss one, when we were in a ceremonial procession to the place where the monument can be found”
H. Schmitt, Letters to his wife 1845-1880
Ceremonial unveiling of the Bar Column in Rapperswil took place on August 16th 1868 and was carried out “in an even more noble way than the organizers could have expected”. That Sunday, the mess was first said (even before noon) by a Polish priest in the nearby O.F.M. Capuchins church. In the afternoon, a special ship docked in the Rapperswil harbour, decorated with Polish and Swiss flags, bringing from Zurich the group of ca. 300 visitors (Poles coming from the homeland as well as delegates representing Bohemia, Hungary, Germany). The harbour as well as the entire town were decorated with ensigns, flowers and the inscriptions: “Willkommen” and “Noch ist Polen nicht verloren“. Persons getting out of the ship were welcomed by cheers and joyful cries of the crowds who arrived to the boulevard – local inhabitants as well as the representatives of local and canton authorities and numerous Swiss associations. The press estimated the number of participants of the ceremony for several thousand people. At 4.00 p.m., a procession was formed, which went through decorated streets of the town, heading towards Lindenhof, to find themselves by the veiled column. The unveiling ceremony began with the “Polish anthem” performed by men’s chorus from Rapperswil accompanied by the orchestra. At the sound of salute cannon salvos, the cover fell from the monument, removed by six girls dressed in white and girded with red and purple ribbons – national colours of Poland and Switzerland. At the foot of the column, the following speakers took the floor: count Władysław Plater, representative of Rapperswil town authorities C. A. Helbing, president of the Gallen Saxer canton, Anatol de la Forge on behalf of the Franco-Polish Committee, professor of the Technical University in Zurich, famous German emigrant Gottfried Kinkel, Kornel Ujejski. The ceremony was finished with a gala dinner in the “Pod Łabędziem” hotel, where ca. 500 people took part in the feast. The banquet hall was decorated with flags of numerous European countries and of the United States. This is where the speeches were continued and telegrams and congratulation letters sent on this occasion from all different corners of Europe were read. They included among others telegrams from many Polish organizations of French intelligentsia and politicians: Victor Hugo, Lazare Carnot, Eugene Pelletan, Jules Favre, Edgar Quinet, Hungarian general Klapko from Pest, Bohemian organizations from Prague, Jewish communities from Berlin, British organizations from London. The presentation by Karl Walder from Zurich gained particular attention and small political perturbations were caused by the declaration of American consul Charles A. Page, who referred to Kościuszko and Pułaski, assuring American support for the Poles fighting (consternation due to good relationships between Petersburg and Washington).
Dr. Theodor Curti (1848-1914) - mayor of Rapperswil and a member of the Swiss federal parliament, a great friend of the Polish Museum in Rapperswil and Count Władysław Plater.
International context – echo in the press
Monument inauguration ceremony, prepared with panache, was widely described in the newspapers of all cantons of Confederation as well as in foreign press. Apart from the representatives of Polish and Swiss press, the following journalists came from abroad: Henri Martin, Pietro Matti from “Gazzetta del Popolo”, Anatol de la Forge from the editor’s office of the Paris magazine “Siecle”. The speeches of politicians as well as the content of the letters read were meticulously reported. The event was not only of artistic character – it received, according to Plater’s intentions, strong political reverberation on an international scale and became the international expression of support and sympathy for Polish struggle for freedom. Detailed accounts from the opening ceremony were published in all major Swiss magazines as well as in local newspapers.
Changes in the location of the Column (1870-1952)
Locating the column at the end of a linden alley turned out to be unfavourable. It survived there only two years. On June 24th 1870, violent storm damaged the monument. The eagle, which was destroyed, as well as marble trunk of the column, were replaced with an iron cast. These elements were cast in the local Carl Aeppli’s workshop. At the same time, some minor modifications of the monument’s look were introduced. The globe was placed under the eagle’s feet with the engraved contour of the borders of Poland, invisible for the viewer, as well as convex inscription POLONIA. The panoplia, originally ornamenting lower part of the column trunk, were replaced by three heads of lions holding in their mouth connected laurel garlands. Column capital, previously performed according to the Corinthian order, was replaced by the capital referring to the Egyptian head with the motive of stylized papyrus and palm leaves. It was performed, similarly to the new column base, from limestone (originating from the Alps), marble base was preserved. Searching for a safer place for the monument, the column was moved to the court of the castle – the seat of Polish National Museum opened in 1870.
After the Second World War, when the museum was taken over by Polish communist authorities and the Swiss ordered its eviction, the castle went
under the control of the International Castle Research Institute, it was decided to restore its original medieval character. This resulted in the decision to remove the Bar Column from the castle court (1953). Thürlemann construction company from Rapperswil was responsible for disassembling the column.
It was moved to the slope of the castle hill, where it remained, squeezed among tall trees, between the Hirschpark area and the Powder Tower (Pulverturm). Unprofessional disassembly, insufficient knowledge of the column structure and assembling method of its subsequent parts resulted in cracks which quickly appeared in the lower part of the column trunk.
The Polish-Swiss Society of Friends of the Polish Museum in Rapperswil, established in 1954, put all its efforts into relocating the column into an appropriate place. It was performed in 1968 – on the 200th anniversary of the Bar Confederation and the 100th anniversary of its erection. Architect Zdzisław Pręgowski, curator of the Polish Museum, was the author of the design for column relocation and developing the area surrounding it.
Restoration works were limited to the base: partially present new granite plates (Ticino granite) with the inscription on the base are by Ernst Ghenzi from Uznach (two plates with the words by Kornel Ujejski quoted above in the Polish and English language version as well as one plate where, instead of including the dates of Polish fights for freedom, the words MAGNA RES LIBERTAS [Liberty is a great thing] were engraved). Column unveiling ceremony in its current location took place on May 4th 1969.
In the years 1992/94, next restoration of the column was undertaken. It included disassembling and installing the entire monument again as well as replacing the lower part of the column base which had been seriously damaged. Last restoration works were performed in 2008 in connection with the 140th anniversary of the creation of the column. They were performed by a team of fine arts conservators under the supervision of Dr. Janusz Smaza, Ph.D., from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and financed at the request of the Society for the Protection of Monuments (TOnZ) by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland.
"The monument erected here will be somehow the point of our concentration… Henryk Schmitt
These Polish words by Henryk Schmitt turned out to constitute a prophecy. The Bar Column became the point with symbolical meaning on the map of Polish emigration, concentrating not only national ceremonies, but also all activities uniting the Poles in their homeland and in exile. 150 years of the column being present on the Rapperswil hill preserve the description of the experience of the entire generation of Poles, thanks to which the foundation for easier understanding is formed. Its history constitutes the synthesis of shared experience and fate. The column, commonly called by the citizens of Rapperswil the Column of Freedom, has also become a symbol for the Swiss. It constitutes a proof of tolerance and human-oriented attitude of Helvetians who would take under their wings the exiles expelled from the nest of their homeland. This visible sign of solidarity with the oppressed nation reminds about basic values of each society – freedom and democracy.
The column has become favourite landmark for tourists visiting Rapperswil. Photos of the column used to appear on postcards sent to friends and family and now, shady benches surrounding the column are chosen not only by tourists visiting the town and its surroundings, but the eagle reaching high up to the sky also shares romantic spells of the ones in love.
The holy mass next to the Polish Freedom Column by Rapperswil Castle, opened the conference "Magna Res Libertas – Poland on the road to independence on 20th June 2018.
A jubilee medal for the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Polish Museum in Rapperswil
Collector's coin POLISH MUSEUM IN RAPPERSWIL
Curators of the exhibition:
Monika Jastrzębiec Czepielewska
Graphic design and exhibition arrangement:
Monika Jastrzębiec Czepielewska
Translation agency JUNIQUE