This is one of the main communication routes in the capital and owes its name to the Grand Marshal of the Crown, Franciszek Bieleński. The Marshal's Palace was located at the present-day crossroads of Marszałkowska and Królewska streets. The street was created as part of Stanisław August Poniatowski's huge urban project, called the Stanisłowska Axis. Marszałkowska's golden age was the turn of the 20th century, when luxury townhouses were built along the road with exclusive shops, cafes and restaurants on the ground floor. Its importance is confirmed by the fact that before the war over a dozen cinemas could be found here. During the Nazi occupation the street was renamed Marschallstrasse, but by the end of the 2nd World War, most of the buildings has been totally demolished. The rebuilding work started immediately after the war and grocer's shops opened very quickly, offering Varsovians basic food supplies. Mieczysław Fogg opened a cafe at number 119. The communist authorities decided to widen the street, which the buildings and their remains had to be demolished, including the beautiful Marconi Palace which had somehow survived the war. More demolition work was needed to prepare the way for the Palace of Culture and Science and MDM residential district.
The National Museum in Warsaw is the largest museum in Poland, dating back to the 2nd half of the 19th Century. On 20th May 1862 a bill was passed regarding public education in the Kingdom of Poland and so followed the founding of the Main School, the School of Fine Art, the Main Library and the Museum of Fine Art. At first the museum primarily collected oil paintings, which it shared with the School of Fine Art, engravings from the Government Library and paintings by foreign artists. The works of Polish painters were kept in the Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Warsaw. The first director of the museum was Justynian Karnicki.
Cyprian Lachnicki, the second director, had a major effect on the status of the museum. Thanks to his management of the museum, it gained space in the Nepros House (a historical townhouse on the corner of Senatorska and Wierzbowa Streets) where the Gallery of Paintings was opened. Because the collections were open to all, the museum quickly gained in popularity. The museum also benefitted as many people gladly lent their own collections.
There are seven permanent galleries at present, each of which is dedicated to a different period. The ground floor area has artefacts from the Mediterranean cultures and the Faras Gallery presents exhibits from early the Christian period.
The National Museum has very rich collections from the prehistoric period to modern history, from the orient, paintings by foreign artists (e.g. Dutch and French) as well as those by Polish artists from as far back as the 13th century.
The museum also organises temporary exhibitions.
Palace of Culture and Science
This is the tallest building in Poland at over 230m with 42 floors and 3288 rooms with a combined area of 123 084m2. Its consumption of electricity is equivalent to that of a small town of 30 000 inhabitants. In the year 2000 the second biggest clock in Europe, 6m in diameter, appeared near the top of the tower. The building houses offices, scientific institutions, a cinema, theatres and museums. All sorts of cultural events, concerts and exhibitions are organised here. The Youth Palace takes up some of the area which offers various activities for young and old alike - for example, theatre, art and music clubs. The last floor is home to 25 palace cats, whose job is to keep vermin under control. The cats are fed, cared for medically and sterilised as part of the Palace's budget. At the very top, one of the 10 pairs of falcons living wild in Poland have made their nests.
The PKiN (Palace of Culture and Science) was built in just 3 years and opened on 22nd July 1955. The building, which was a gift from the Russian nation, was inspired by Stalin himself and designed by famous Russian architect Lew Rudniew (architect of the Palace of Culture and Science in Riga and the Lomonsow University in Moscow). The edifice, influenced by New York sky scrapers and modern Russian architecture, was supposed to be a fusion of socialist realism, art deco and Polish historicism. Together with his team, Rudniew drew up 5 designs and at first, the Party decision-makers chose the concept of a building measuring 120 metres. However, in the end, they went for a building 67 metres taller, which, together with its spire, is just over 230 metres high. Construction officially began on 2 May 1952 and around 3500 Russian workers were employed of whom 16 were killed in accidents (according to official data).
2 days after the death of Joseph Stalin, the unfinished building was given his name. In a wave of national mourning the Warsaw authorities decided to build a monument to the dictator in the palace grounds. Fortunately, none of the projects (including a very bold design by Xawery Dunikowski) suited the tastes of the Party authorities and the plans were abolished. A few months after its opening, the palace became a favoured spot for committing suicide. The first to jump from the 30th floor was a French tourist. 7 Poles soon followed suit. To prevent a new tradition from being formed, the windows were all barred. The palace also soon became a popular feature of urban legends. In the 50s there were stories of mannequins sat in empty rooms in the palace, of a nuclear bunker in the basement, of a railway station in the palace and of secret corridors linking the palace with the Central Committee building (now the Warsaw Stock Exchange Building). Unfortunately none of these stories is true.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The idea of honouring unknown soldiers appeared in Warsaw in 1921, although the Warsaw Tomb of the unknown soldier was only erected in 1925 by the colonnade of the Saski Palace. On 2nd November 1921 the ashes of an unknown soldier, which had been ceremoniously brought from Lvov, were placed in a grave with full honours. The tomb was totally destroyed during World War II and rebuilt in 1946. It is now the only remaining part of the Saski Palace. In 2010 the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier underwent a full renovation which included the installation of some modern lighting. An eternal flame burns at the site and soldiers of the Representative Battalion of the Polish Army stand guard day and night.
This place has had its name changed 4 times in the last 200 years. In 1814 it was called Saski (Saxon) Square, but 14 years later it became Marshal Joseph Piłsudski Square. The Nazis called it Adolf Hitler Square (surprise surprise) and after the war it went back to Saski Square for just a year, which was then changed to Victory Square. Finally, since 1990, this important Warsaw landmark has returned to its former name - Marshal Joseph Piłsudski Square. The various monuments and buildings that have been built here have also had an equally turbulent history. In 1841 a monument to Poles martyred for loyalty to their monarchs was erected in memory of Army officers killed by the November revolutionaries. Less than 60 years later it had to make way for a huge Orthodox Cathedral built from 1894 to 1912 by Aleksander Newski, which was supposed to strikingly symbolise Russia's dominance of Poland. The building stood for only 12 years as it was demolished, despite many protests, in 1926. Before it was torn down, a monument to Prince Józef Poniatowski was erected but was later destroyed by the nazis. After its reconstruction the monument was placed outside the present President's Palace. During the second world war a giant 5m high letter 'V' was placed in the square to symbolise the power of the Wehrmacht. It was quickly burnt down, though, in an act of sabotage.
In the mid-90s the Józef Piłsudski Monument was unveiled near the square, but, unfortunately, the Marshall stands in a poor place - between the cars parked by the square. The City authorities are supposedly planning to move the monument to the centre of the square.
Piłsudski Square is also connected to Pope John Paul II's pilgrimages to Poland. The Pontiff celebrated mass here during his first visit to Poland in 1979 and beatified 108 Polish martyrs in 1999. After the Pope's death, the citizens of Warsaw, brought wreathes and lit candles en masse at the square. The Warsaw authorities decided to commemorate John Paul II with a monument which was erected in 2009.
Discussions about rebuilding the Saski (Saxon) Palace, which was destroyed by the nazis, on the square have been going on for years. The only part of the palace left on the square is what is now the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Saski (Saxon) Gardens
These beautiful gardens, in the very centre of Warsaw, currently cover about 15.5 hectares and are one of the oldest of their kind in Poland. The park, marked out from 1666-1671 by Tylman Van Gemeren, was part of the royal gardens surrounding the yet to be built Saski (Saxon) Palace. Before the war, the park went right up to Żelazna Brama (The Iron Gates). The present borders were set up after the war, together with the extension of Marszałkowska Street to Bankowy Square (Bank Square). Due to the numerous protests of the locals, who didn't want the park to be reduced in size, a big curve in Marszałkowska Street was built to avoid part of the park.
The oldest trees which can be seen here, survived the war and some are 250 years old.There are several sights within the park - an exceptional sun dial built in 1863, which still tells the correct time on a sunny day, a fountain designed by Henryk Marconi from 1852 as well as 25 sandstone allegorical figures presenting virtues, muses and even abstract ideas like 'intellect'. In the part directly next to Fredry Street there is a scenic lake with a water tower providing the water, which was built to a classical design by Henryk Marconi based on the famous Temple of Vesta in Tivoli. In 1965, the Saski Gardens gained a statue of Maria Konopnicka of dubious beauty. Until recently there was also a monument of Stefan Starzyński by Ludwika Nitschowa (the sculptor responsible for the Warsaw Mermaid Monument). The figure was moved in 2008 to the courtyard of primary school nr 143 and the empty plinth was left in the gardens.
In the past this area was home to palaces and residences of the aristocracy. The most important were Blanka Palace and Jabłoński Palace. A major part of the square was taken up Marywil - a huge commercial centre built thanks to the initiative of Maria Sobieska. Marywil was demolished in 1825 to make way for the Grand Theatre, which was opened in 1833. From 1854 to 1898 in the middle of the square, in front of the theatre there was a fountain decorated with figures of boys and mermaids, designed by one of the capital's greatest architects Henryk Marconi. It was taken down when the square was reconstructed due to its gradually becoming an important traffic intersection. All kinds of transportation used the square - horse-drawn carriages and trams - sometimes with great flair. Soon a tram terminal was built here. During the January uprising, Theatre Square witnessed many patriotic manifestations and in the 20s it became the favourite starting place for the 1st of May marches. Although most of the buildings were bombarded during the 2nd World War the Warsaw authorities planned a massive parade to celebrate the end of the war. The Polish Army was not stationed in Warsaw at the time, so the parade was a small affair which marched in the direction of Krakowskie Przedmieście.
Today Theatre Square is no longer a traffic intersection. In the 90s the surrounding buildings were rebuilt - Jabłoński Palace and the church of St Albert and Andrew where the Pastoral Ministry to Artists has its headquarters. The Warsaw authorities are planning an underground car park which would free the square from the many parked cars everywhere.
Three Crosses Square
In the past it had the romantic name - The Crossroads of Golden Crosses. It was a junction of roads in the direction of Ujazdów, Mokotów, Błonie and other parts of Warsaw. On the basis of these routes the Calvary Road was formed which led to the Tomb of Our Lord - now Plac Na Rozdrożu (Crossroads Square). Three gold crosses opened this prayer route, of which 2 are still there today - the third fell in 1752. In its place a monument to St John of Nepomuk was erected. It was a form of thanksgiving for the successful completion of the paving and drains of the streets. In 1815, a wooden welcoming gate was put up in honour of Tsar Alexander I. There was a plan to exchange it for a stone one in honour of the monarch, but the Tsar decided to build a church there instead. The church, later named St Alexander's, was built according to the design of Chrystian Piotr Aigner from 1818-25. The square was then named Alexander Square.
At the end of the 19th century the square was an important junction with a lot of pedestrian and tram traffic, which had been in operation since the 1860s. Due to the intense development of this part of the city, it was decided that St Alexander's Church should be enlarged. Józef Pius Dziekoński was put in charge of the work. The square, named Three Crosses in 1919, was witness to the first military parade of the German army on 5th October 1939. During the Warsaw Uprising the surrounding buildings and the centrally placed church were demolished and the square became a huge cemetery. After the war they planned to demolish what was left of the facade on the east side of the square and replace it with an amphitheatre, but the plans were never implemented. They did, however, rebuild St Alexander's Church in its original form. At present the authorities are planning an underground car-park and an underground station for the 3rd underground line.
This is without doubt one of the most interesting examples of modern architecture in the capital. With an area of 64 000 square metres and the added attraction of a botanical garden on its roof, it's really impressive. The whole collection belonging to the University Library covers an area of 40 000 m2 and the building is designed to hold as many as 5 million volumes.
From the Dobra Street side, just in front of the building, there is a 'cultural facade' which, according to the architect responsible, Marek Budzyński, is supposed to 'talk about connections with the past and the diversity of a civilisation with a Greek-Roman and Judeo-Christian source of Polish culture'. One of the building's walls was decorated with plaques with all kinds of inscriptions including a fragment of Szymanowski's Etude in B-flat minor and a quote from Jan Kochanowski's Lecture on Virtue.
The 2 level garden on the roof, designed by Irena Bajerska, deserves a separate paragraph. It was opened on 12 June 2002 and is recognised as one of the most beautiful gardens of its kind in Europe.
Zachęta National Gallery of Art
This is one of the most well-known galleries in Warsaw and an important place for fans of contemporary art with a capital A. The building, designed by Stefan Szyller, was built from 1898-1903 and in 1965 was put on the list of registered buildings. Until the 2nd World War it functioned as the headquarters of the Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts. Between the wars it was one of the most important centres for the promotion of contemporary art. It was also witness to one of the most important historical events of the period - the assassination of the President of Free Poland, Gabriel Narutowicz, who was shot dead on 16th December 1922.
When the Nazis occupied Warsaw, it was turned in to a German culture centre - Haus der Deutschen Kultur, where various events promoting Hitler's ideologies were held. The building was seriously damaged during the Warsaw Uprising, but, as opposed to other such buildings, it wasn't razed to the ground. After the war the Central Art Exhibitions Office was based here until its dissolution in 1989.
The gallery has been in operation in its current form since 1994 and the huge collection includes the most interesting works of Polish contemporary art. There are paintings, a rich collection of sculptures as well as photographs and films. Unfortunately it's impossible to see all the exhibits in one go as many pieces are included in temporary exhibitions. Interesting meetings and educational workshops for the whole family are held here, too. The gallery also offers the organisation of cultural birthday parties for kids (including creating your own work of art under the supervising eye of the gallery's experts). There is also a well stocked library with a broad collection of documents relating to the development and life of Polish Art after 1945 and a great art library which you almost want to camp out in.
This is the only Warsaw synagogue which is still used as a house of prayer. It is also an important Jewish cultural centre in Poland. Concerts, exhibitions and meetings are held here, with the participation of representatives of the Polish and foreign governments.
Construction started in 1893 and was initiated by Zalman Nożyk, a wealthy haberdashery trader. The design was said to be by Leandro Marconi although this is not confirmed. It cost 250 000 roubles to build and was financed in its entirety by Rywka and Zalman Nożyk. It was completed at the end of February 1902. The ceremonial opening of the temple which could host 600 guests - 300 women and 300 men - was on the 12th May 1902. The prewar synagogues were not normally very ornate buildings and were built at low cost in less popular areas. However, the opening of this beautiful, modern synagogue n the very centre o Grzybowa Steet, the prewar Jewish district, met with an enthusiastic response from the Jewish community. Not only were its size, acoustics and beautiful interior design praised, but also its excellent ventilation, which ?served to keep in good health those in attendance for long hours.? It was mostly rich Warsaw Jews who attended the synagogue, who had reserved seats they had paid for. The poor could use special free places, which were made available at certain times.
When the 2nd World War broke out the synagogue was totally demolished by the Nazis who turned it into a stable. In the middle of 1941, the Warsaw occupational authorities allowed the reopening of the synagogue which was on the boundaries of the Warsaw ghetto. After the liquidation of the ghetto, the synagogue was closed again. It is one of few buildings, which, despite heavy damage, was not wiped off the map during the Warsaw uprising. Its solid construction held up well during bombardments and was provisionally renovated soon after the war thanks to money raised by Jews which had survived the war. The first service after the war took place on 19th April 1945 on the anniversary of the ghetto uprising and was the first Jewish-Christian meeting for prayer, with the Warsaw Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Catholic bishop Henryk Muszyński in attendance. At the beginning of the 1990s several serious antisemitic incidents took place. The synagogue was subject to an arson attack at the end of 1997, but thanks to the speedy reaction of a passer-by and a successful intervention by the fire brigade, only the porch was burnt down.