Situated around 50 km west of Warsaw, the small town of Sochaczew offers several attractions, first of all the Narrow Gauge Museum, the largest museum of this kind in this part of Europe. In the surroundings of Sochaczew, you can visit some attractive places, including the birthplace of composer Frederic Chopin in Zelazowa Wola, Niepokalanow (known as a Mazovian Czestochowa) and the village of Brochow with its Gothic-Renaissance basilica.
Walking through Sochaczew you should see the ruins of the castle of the Mazovian princes, standing on the top of a hill in the very middle of the town. The castle is a remarkable sight, particularly at night thanks to the illuminations. At the foot of the hill, at the edge of Sochaczew, there is an outdoor amphitheatre with a concert hall. It serves as the venue for numerous open-air cultural events. Apart from that, you will want to take a look at the fine edifice of the Music School, built in the 19th century. It is set amongst a lovely park area with a large pond. If you are of an active disposition the town has a stadium, a swimming pool and a skating rink.
There is a museum in Sochaczew that tells the story of the Great Battle of Bzura (September 1939). The Museum of Narrow-Gauge Railway, a very well known one, boasts an extensive collection of magnificent antique trains. During the summer months, a narrow-gauge train runs on the original 18 km route, taking the passengers to Wilcze Tulowskie. From there you can enter the Kampinoska Forest, which provides wonderful hiking opportunities.
The town of Sochaczew lies in the western part of Mazovian Voivodship, on the Lowicko-Blonska Plane, some 50 km west of Warsaw, 60 km from Plock and about 70 km from Lodz. It is situated at 80 m above sea level, close to Puszcza Kampinoska and Puszcza Bolimowska. As many as three rivers flow nearby – the Bzura, the Utrata (flowing into the Bzura right in Sochaczew) and the Pisia. Approximately 40,000 inhabitants live in a total area of 2613 ha.
Sochaczew, located on the Warsaw–Poznan road (no. 2), is a busy transport junction of national and international importance.
The very beginnings of Sochaczew are not exactly known, but what we do know for certain is that it is one of the oldest Polish towns, serving as a seat of castellany as early as 1221.
In the 13th century, the town was a seat and a family residence of Masovian princes. Because of this it became an important administrative and political centre as well as a defensive stronghold. King Boleslaw Krzywousty’s visit and death here in 1138, and the defence against the Lithuanian-Russian raid in 1286 are just two facts from the history of the town that confirm its early importance. Sochaczew gained its town charter in 1368.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, the town flourished, and was at the peak of its development, both economically and in terms of culture. After it had been incorporated to Poland in 1476, King Kazimierz Jagiellonczyk expanded the privileges for the townspeople, making it possible for Sochaczew to become a recognised centre for cloth production.
In the mid-17th century a number of misfortunes befell Sochaczew. It was totally destroyed by the Polish-Swedish war and then by the invasion of Rakoczy, Prince of Transylvania. The town had no time to recover before a new series of catastrophes came along: fires, plagues and damage caused by the Great Northern War at the beginning of the 18th century. In the period from the Swedish Deluge to the First Partition of Poland Sochaczew was merely a centre of small trade and a location for country parliaments. It was also at that time that the town came to be a significant Jewish centre; in 1765 Jews accounted for more than half of the population. Following the establishment of the Congress Kingdom in 1815, restoration work was undertaken to repair damage from military actions.
The First World War did untold damage to the town. As a result of fierce fighting between December 1914 and July 1915 many houses and historic sites were ruined, including churches, the town hall, and the railway station.
In the interwar era, Sochaczew grew and prospered well. Industry in and around the town revived and many municipal facilities as well as public buildings were erected during this period. However, after the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, the town became a scene of heavy fighting and was largely destroyed once again. The Nazis murdered all the Jews from Sochaczew, who accounted for almost a quarter of the town’s population. Afterwards the town was rebuilt once more.