Paris 2012 —The Polish Library of Paris – A Hidden Jewel of Polish Culture and History, Only A Short Walking Distance From The Notre Dame Cathedral


 By Frank J. Dmuchowski                                                                                       

Paris is a beautiful city which has always drawn Poles and Americans, whether as permanent residents or as visitors. Part of the reason  is historical and another  is that Paris fits the ideal of what a city should be— with pleasant places to walk, wonderful places to see, culture, museums, parks, restaurants and bistros to linger and to simply watch the world go by. Paris offers each of us an emotional and intellectual connection that seems to draw us ever nearer as time passes by.

A part of that connection is the special places which we remember and are always wishing to return to on another visit. One of those places for my wife and myself is The Polish Library of Paris—(Biblioteka Polska w Paryżu). It is located on the charming Ile-St. Louis just behind the Notre Dame Cathedral less than a 10 minute walk away. To get there you simply go to the back of the cathedral and walk across the bridge Pont Saint-Louis. If you are going to Paris this year I would like to suggest to you The Polish Library of Paris as a special place to visit.

Once on the Ile Saint- Louis you might choose to sit at a small restaurant or café to linger over a coffee or tea. Perhaps have a small lunch or dinner served by very pleasant waiters.  From here you can see Notre Dame Cathedral from her magnificent back view with all of the flying buttresses. This is a remarkable view which few take the time to see, let alone realize is there. In a nice sort of way you can avoid the crush of the tourists and the noise of the city. For a few minutes you can retreat to the quiet and calm of this barely known oasis in the very heart of Paris.

This small island also has a deep connection to the Polish experience of the 19th century.  Here you can experience that same deep connection by visiting The Polish Library of Paris which is located at 6 Quai d’Orleans. This museum and library has a wonderful collection of archives as well as two galleries each respectively dedicated to the composer Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) and the great Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855). Linking the two galleries is a magnificent salon with many 19th century paintings and other artificats. The main salon gives you the feel of experiencing what Poles of the 19th century would have experienced in such an environment. Together these three rooms evoke a deeper connection to one’s Polish roots

The Polish Library of Paris and Its Founding in 1838

One of the roles that Paris has played for Poles is that it has often become the home of Polish émigrés after significant events such as the November  Uprising of 1830-31 ( Powstanie Listopodawe)  or the January Uprising of 1863 ( Powstanie Stczyniowe). It became a place where Poles could congregate to continue their new lives as exiles, as well as to preserve and grow their culture. It also became the home of political movements whose purpose was to continue to pursue the dreams of a free and independent Poland.

In 1832 there was a mass emigration of Poles as a consequence of the failed November uprising of 1831. Émigrés to Paris at that time included the composer Fryderyk Chopin and the poet Adam Mickiewicz among others.  It was not only the artists who were drawn here but also Polish patriots including military and political leaders such as Prince Adam Czartoryski (1774-1860), who became the de facto leader of Poland-in- Exile. A major center of Polish activity was the Hotel Lambert which is also located on the Ile Saint-Louis —unfortunately it is no longer owned by Poles. However nearby is The Polish Library of Paris which was founded in 1838 and it is still very much Polish.

In 1832 Polish émigrés founded the Polish Literary Society (Towarzystwo Literackie Polskie).  Its purpose was to serve the Polish Nation through the preservation of documents and records that were tied to Polish civilization. In 1838 the Polish Literary Society founded The Polish Library. This was done at the initiative of Adam Mickiewicz, and the Polish statesman and author Prince Adam Czartoryski, as well as many other notable Poles.

Interestingly, the American Revolutionary War hero General Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) was also one of those who advocated for this library. General Lafayette was well known and well respected by the Polish émigré community as a result of his connections with the American Revolutionary War and Polish independence heroes Generals Kazimierz Pulaski and Tadeusz Kościuszko as well as his support for Polish causes.

The Polish Library of Paris has been at its current location of 6 Quai d’Orleans, Ile Saint-Louis since 1858. The building in which it is housed is a magnificent 17th century mansion which was purchased due to the generosity of a number of Polish exiles.

The Collections of the Library

Two of the library’s permanent galleries are dedicated respectively to the poet Adam Mickiewicz and the composer Fryderyk Chopin. It is here that you will come as close as possible to experiencing who they were in Paris — where they composed some of their greatest works. Here you will see a plaster mold of the hand of Chopin and view copies of some of the original writing of the Polish national epic poem Pan Tadeusz in the hand of its creator Adam Mickiewicz. There are many more artifacts dedicated to these two giants of Polish literary and music.

The museum also has a gallery dedicated to Bolesław Biegas (1877-1954) the Polish sculptor, painter and writer. His sculptures were often compared to those of Rodin.

The library houses the archives of the Polish emigration of the 19th century. One of the most significant is the archive of the Polish Diet of 1831 which includes the act of deposing the Russian czar Nicolas from the throne of the  Russian- occupied part of Poland. It also has the first three volumes of Nicolas Copernicus’ greatest work “The Revolution of Celestial Spheres”.

The library also houses an extensive collection of letters, sculptures, paintings, literary works, maps etc. All are an important aspect of Polish history and culture. Consequently it is also a well respected center for research by historians and other researchers.

Celebrating the 180th Anniversary of the Founding of the Polish Literary Society in Paris

2012 is the 180th anniversary of the founding of the Polish Literary Society in 1832. During this year there will be a number of events and exhibitions commemorating the founding. These events will be conducted at the Polish Library in Paris. You may want to get in touch with the library when you are in Paris to find out about lectures, recitals etc. The phone number in Paris for more information on events and hours is: 01 55 42 83 83. Their web site is As a side point the name of the library in French is: Bibliotheque Polonaise de Paris.

Conclusion and Thank You to Pani Elżbieta Karwat

       One of the endearing memories that one has of any place you visit, is thoughtfulness and hospitality that is shown to you by others. In the instance of The Polish Library of Paris we would like to extend our deep appreciation to Pani Elżbieta Karwat who is a volunteer docent. On the September 2011 day that we were visiting, she was seated at a desk in the main salon where she greeted visitors and answered their question. She obviously had a deep love of Polish history and for the library. She graciously took the time to answer all of our questions as well as mentioning many interesting aspects of the Chopin and Mickiewicz galleries, the main salon etc.

So it is not only because of the wonderful collection of the Polish Library of Paris, it’s convenient location on the beautiful Ile Saint-Louis just behind Notre Dame, but also because of the enthusiasm and hospitality of Pani Elżbieta Karwat which encourages my wife Zofia and I to invite all of you to share in this wonderful jewel of Polish culture in the very heart of Paris.





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