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Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw – Pałac Kultury i Nauki w Warszawie Posted by on Apr 20, 2011 in Culture, Places to visit

Don’t let the name fool you – this is not the cultural hub of Warsaw. That said, however long you’re in the city for this is a must-see to experience Soviet Warsaw. For all the aggressive westernization that has overcome Warsaw, the four decades of communism have yet to be completely erased from the face of Warsaw… You couldn’t miss this hulking giant of a landmark if you tried. Soaring 231 meters into the sky the building remains the tallest in Poland, in spite of recent competition from its high-rise neighbors.

Originally commissioned by Stalin as a ‘gift from the Soviet people’ the structure actually takes its inspiration from the capitalist world, namely the Empire State Building, but, believe it or not, was specifically designed to include influences from all of Poland’s architectural styles. Stalin had sent a secret delegation to New York to learn both about the building and American construction methods, though the outbreak of WWII meant that it wasn’t until 1952 that his architects were able to commence putting their knowledge into practice. Lev Rudynev, the brains behind the equally monstrous Lomonosov University in Moscow, was put in the charge of the design, and set about making the building into one of the most notorious examples of Socialist Realist architecture in the world. Over 5,000 workers were ferried in from the Soviet states and housed in a purpose-built village in Jelonki, west Warsaw, where they were effectively cut off from the outside world. Working around the clock, it took them just three years to complete the Palace. In all 16 died during the construction, though despite the Olympian efforts of the laborers Stalin never lived to see his pet project completed.

Built using an estimated 40 million bricks and housing 3,288 rooms the Palace’s purpose was to serve as not just party headquarters but also ‘the people’s castle’, with invitations to the annual New Year’s Eve Ball issued to the best workers in socialist Poland. Regardless of this the building became an object of hatred and a stain on the skyline; like the imperialist Nevsky Cathedral that once stood on pl. Piłsudskiego, the palace was seen as no more than a symbol of Russian hegemony. Viewed from a distance – apparently it can be spotted from 30km away – the palace appears a faceless monolith. Viewed closely several intricate details appear in focus. Under Stalin’s orders architects travelled around Poland’s key cultural sights, from Wawel to Zamość, observing Polish architectural traditions, courtyards and motifs.

Once inside the ground floor becomes a maze of halls and corridors, with chambers named after Eastern icons – Yuri Gagarin, Marie Skłodowska-Curie (a famous communist sympathizer) etc. Brass chandeliers hang over clacking parquet flooring, secret lifts lie hidden around and allegorical socialist reliefs take inspiration from ancient mythology – it’s easy to imagine Bond snooping around planting listening devices. Several conference rooms still hold original translators booths, complete with huge dials and buttons. The crowning glory of the ground floor is the Sala Kongresowa, a decadent red theatre space apparently inspired by La Scala. Holding 2,880 its original use was to host party conferences, though through the years it became better known as a concert venue – hosting acts as diverse as the Rolling Stones in 1967, to the Chippendales in 2006.

 

Given that the building boasts over 3300 rooms there is not a lot to see, unless you’re into conference facilities, so visitors are best directed to the terrace on the 30th floor. To get there you’ll need to buy a ticket for 20zł, when you will then be shepherded into an old-style lift, in which you will be escorted by a lovely lift attendant who has probably been doing the job since the building opened.

Admission for the viewing level is 20/15zł. Group ticket for more than 10 people 12zł per person.

Definitely worth stopping by, at least to see the views.

Till next time…! Do następnego razu…!


 

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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.


Comments:

  1. Bartek:

    Hi Kasia,

    Again, a very interesting article! Even though I’m native to polish culture!

    Hey, but what’s that thing with the stretch between Wawel and Zamość containing key cultural sights 🙂 ?