Aug 03

The Birthplace of Frederic Chopin (Casa natala a lui Chopin)

The birthplace of Frederic Chopin is a little manor house, known as a “dworek,” surrounded by a large natural park located right on the banks of the Utrata River. The house is situated in Zelazowa Wola, in Poland, and it has been transformed into a museum dedicated to the life and work of the great composer. This is actually a section of the Fryderyk Chopin Museum located in Warsaw.

There is this erroneous belief that Chopin was a Frenchman, but actually he was born of a French father and a Polish mother and his birthplace is located in Poland. Chopin, just like Mozart was a self-taught person who sought greatness (he had his first concert at the fragile age of eight), so it is no wonder that people dubbed him “the second Mozart.”


There is really no comparison between the two artists as each had made an enormous contribution to the development of what we now call classic music. For example, Chopin’s music seems to transpose the listeners into a different period, taking them through the Parisian salons, whereas Mozart created a much more surreal realm through his music, one which accentuates the dramatic side of the universe.

The house in which this genius of classic music was born was actually a manor which belonged to Conte Scarbek, the person who had hired Chopin’s father as a teacher for his children. The manor was one of the most beautiful ones in the region, and the 17-acre park surrounding it contributed to the natural beauty of the location.


Tourists who are actually interested in visiting the place where Chopin spent his childhood and the environment in which the artist evolved, will be pleased to learn that not much has changed. Unfortunately, the passage of time had left its mark on the house, especially since it had been left to chance. The later years of the 19th century found the house abandoned and the only thing that saved it was the growing interest of the public into retracing the origins of Chopin. Thus the manor was restored and transformed into a museum. The floorboards and the painted beams date from the the period in which Chopin dwelt there, as well as the furniture. The rooms have tall ceilings and are quite spacious.


It is true that Chopin did not spend all his life in this place. In his twenties, when the Polish Revolution broke, he decided to immigrate to Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Today, the manor-turned-museum hosts various recitals. If you happen to visit the place when such an event takes place, you will have no problem in recognizing Chopin’s music. The concerts are tributes to the great mind that had left his mark on the classical music.

Jul 23

The Museum of Occupation (Muzeul Ocupatiei)

The Museum of Occupation is dedicated to remembrance. The items on display are meant to recall the visitors how Latvia presented itself under the Nazi and Soviet occupations. The exhibitions are sectioned so as to pinpoint the totalitarian ideologies which were inflicted on the Latvians by the Soviets and the Nazis, the factors which contributed to the annihilation of the country’s economy, and the political framework on which these events occurred.

But the museum also contains valuable items which reflect the population’s struggle to overturn the totalitarian regimes, as well as their efforts to attain their freedom, which they managed to do in 1991.


In the exhibition halls where official documents are on display, one can notice papers which tell the story of Latvia’s occupation. Among these, one can read the pact that the Soviets and the Nazis signed on the 23th of August 1939 and which divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence.

Latvia has been under foreign occupation three times: the first occupation lasted from 1940 until 1941, time in which the Latvians were under Soviet domination; the second occupation (Nazi) took place from 1941 up until 1944/45, after which the Soviets reentered the country and ruled over it until 1991.


Each of these historical events is followed through documentary evidence so visitors can partially re-enact, so to speak, that troubled historical period. Another section of the Museum of Occupation is dedicated to the fight for independence and the regain of autonomy, which occurred in 1991.

The museum’s purpose is to collect and preserve any type of written or oral material evidence, official papers, photographs, or items which in any way reflect the Latvian experience during the aforementioned timeframe.

The collection is in a constant expansion in the sense that if individuals or organizations who are in possession of any materials relevant to Latvia’s history are willing to donate them to the museum, then these will be included in the collection, in the appropriate section.


More so, if there are witnesses to special events which occurred back in the day and they are willing to share their story with the posterity, the museum will videotape the account. All of the items encountered in the museum are accessible to the public mainly because the museum is interested in allowing the public to gain insight into that specific historical period.

There is a special department, the Audio-Visual Archive which contains the narratives of the people which were directly impacted by the Nazi or Soviet occupation. This includes not only eyewitnesses, but also expatriates or refugees who can give authentic testimonials about those historical events.


The Museum of Occupation has a Research Program which was initiated back in 1999 with the scope of shedding light on the period in which Latvia was under occupation. The researchers engaged in this program are both of Latvian origin and foreigners: Russians, Americans, English, etc., all contributing to portraying an objective account of that period. The discoveries are included not only in the annual publications issued by the Museum, but also in scientific journals and newspapers.

The museum is opened for visitations all year long, with the exception of national holidays. There are also specific days in which the museum is closed, but the program can be learnt from the official website of the Museum of Occupation. Depending on the time of the year in which you decide to make a visit, the museum is opened from 11:00 until 17:00 or 18:00.

Jul 05

The State Hermitage (Muzeul de Arta)

The State Hermitage, also known as the Federal Cultural Institution “State Hermitage,” is one of the greatest museam complex in Russia. The institution took form back in the 18th century (1764) when the Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, purchased from Berlin an impressive number of paintings from Eastern Europe (225 paintings of Flemish and Dutch origin).

In time, the musem expanded and increased the number of works of arts it possessed. At present, the complex consists of various buildings spread throughout Sankt Petersburg. From the 10 edifices which form the State Hermitage, 7 date from the 18th and 19th century and are cultural monuments. The Winter Palace, the Menshikov Palace, the Small Hermitage, the Old Hermitage, the New Hermitage, the Restoration and Storage Center, The Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory are but a few of the edifices under the patronage of the State Hermitage.


The Main Museum Complex, as it is obvious from the name it bears, consists of the most important and largest collections of art works. The exhibitions are held in 6 different buildings, all located in the historical center of Sankt Petersburg. The pieces on display belong to the following categories: archeology, numismatics, and various works of art (scluptures, paintings, monuments) from Western Europe, countries in the Orient, Russia, as well as pieces dating from Antiquity.

In order to comprehed the magnitute of the collections, you should know that the museum complex holds within its walls approximately 3 million items. With such a collection it is no wonder that more than 2.5 million visitors, both from Russia and from abroad had come to the State Hermitage.



If you are not yet convinced whether or not you should visit the museum, maybe a short presentation of some of the works of art that exist here might help you make the right decision. The State Hermitage has a Military Gallery, which dates from 1826, and which Carlo Rossi (the man behind the project) had dedicated to the acts of bravery of the Russian soldiers that had fought in the Napoleonic Wars (1812). The Gallery contains 332 portraits of the generals who took part in the aforementioned wars, painted by George Dawe, of British origin, in collaboration with the Russian painters Alexander Polyakov and Wilhelm Golike.


The gallery was inaugurated on the 25th of October 1826, the exact same date (but different year, naturally) when the Napoleon’s army was expulsed from Russia.

A valuable painting found here is Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna and Child, which was purchased in 1865 from Count Litta, owner of a gallery in Milan. The Count wanted to sell a considerable collection of paintings, 44 in number, but the director of the State Hermitage selected just four from the list presented to him. The total price for the works of art reached 100,000 francs and while all of the paintings are valuable, the Litta Madonna, as it became known, was the most important of them all.


The Madonna and Child (Conestabile Madonna), painted by Raphael, was added to the museum collection in 1870. The Madonna with a Flower, by Leonardo da Vinci, is on display since 1914, when the Russian population engaged in a fund-raising to gather enough money to buy the masterpiece from Maria Benois. The painting was finally acquired for the sum of 150,000 roubles – the owner, having been moved by the Russians’ detemination to add the painting to the Collection of the State Hermitage, decided to sell it at a smaller price.

But the works of art on display are numerous and all of them carry an immense value. Not only connoisseurs, but also novices in the field of fine arts will recognize their worth.