The Warsawers hate or love him, but nobody really gets past him. With its 237 meters, the Palace of Culture may not be the most beautiful, but it is still the second tallest building in Poland – even though one skyscraper after another is being built right next to it. In a way, the Palace of Culture was a “gift” of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to Poland and today, as then, there are countless museums, concert halls, cafés and even a swimming pool to discover.
No one has ever seen all of the more than 3000 rooms completely. So it’s about time to have a look at some of them. And for just a few zlotys, you can take the elevator to the 30th floor in a flash and enjoy the most beautiful view of Warsaw from a height of over 100 meters. So, come along on a trip to perhaps the most unusual Warsaw sight.
History of the Palace of Culture and Science
Risen from ruins
After the Second World War, Warsaw layed in ruins. After Polish insurgents had dared to fight courageously against the German occupiers, the city was literally razed to the ground in revenge for this. In some districts more than 97% of the buildings were destroyed! The destruction was so devastating that for a short time some politicians even considered moving the capital to Łódź and giving up Warsaw.
In a huge effort, however, the reconstruction of the city was soon started. And the new communist rulers immediately wanted to show where the journey in the new, ideal system would lead. This required large, magnificent buildings that would reflect the self-image of the new regime.
Old Building Traditions and Socialist Classicism
The renowned Soviet architect Lev Rudnev was commissioned to design a building that was to eclipse everything seen so far. Rudnev had already distinguished himself with several monumental buildings in the Soviet Union and with the main building of the Lomonosov University in Moscow he had also designed the highest building in Europe at that time. Rudnev started with a trip through Poland and visited especially old cities like Krakow, Lublin and Zamość to get inspired.
Back in Warsaw, work on the Palace of Culture began in 1952. It was started exactly on May 1, the symbolic Labour Day. And there was enough work to do: Within only three years, up to 10,000 workers worked on the construction site, including many thousands from the Soviet Union. In July 1955, the ceremonial opening took place. At that time, by the way, the Palace of Culture was only 234 meters high. Today, it measures 237 meters, thanks to an antenna from 1994 it owes the three extra meters.
The most important building of socialist Poland
From then on, the Palace of Culture was the symbol of the new, socialist Poland. It was a mixture of an administrative building, a temple of culture and leisure time and was initially called Stalin’s Palace, or officially “Palace of Culture and Science Josef Stalin”. After de-stalinization it was renamed “Palace of Culture and Science” (“Pałac Kultury i Nauki” or “PKiN” for short). It still bears this name today.
From then on, party conferences, summit meetings with representatives of other communist states, but also sensational concerts like one of the Rolling Stones in 1967 took place here. It thus became the center of the country’s politics and culture. It is architecturally significant above all because, apart from a residential complex, it is the only completely preserved building in the style of Socialist Realism in Warsaw. Incidentally, the building used to be white, but due to air pollution the color has now given way to a lighter shade of brown.
The palace of culture and science today
And what is left after all the work? Above all mockery. The Polish poet Władysław Broniewski once called the Palace of Culture a “nightmare of a drunken confectioner”. After the fall of the communist rule, suddenly no one wanted to have anything to do with the Palace of Culture. It stood symbolically like no other building in Poland for the communism and Stalinism of the early days of socialist Poland. Many wanted to remove it from the cityscape, and in 2007 there were still serious plans to tear it down. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, the building’s exterior has also changed. The Palace of Culture was given a tower clock, the highest in the world! And since 2010, it has been bathed in a colorful sea of lights at night with LED lights depending on the occasion – an impressive spectacle!
In the meantime, the Warsawers have come to terms with him and have a kind of love-hate relationship with “their” Palace of Culture. Even if the symbol of socialism is still a thorn in the side of many, nobody really wants to miss the many institutions in it. And even if more and more huge skyscrapers are being built around it – the Palace of Culture remains! That’s good, we think, because the Palace of Culture is simply a piece of Warsaw and is as much a part of the city as the Old Town or Łazienki Park.
Appearance and structure of the Palace of Culture and Science
No matter where you are in the center, you will hardly be able to overlook the Palace of Culture with its 234-meter-high tower. And when you stand in front of it, you will completely lose the overview. The main reason for this is that the central building of the Kulturpalast is the 237-meter-high skyscraper. This is framed on all four sides by large buildings and has an additional semicircular extension on its west side. I once walked around the Kulturpalast and it took me almost half an hour.
The Palace of Culture has many echoes of local building traditions, which are not so obvious to Western Europeans at first glance. Although he too followed the ideal of Socialist Classicism, Rudnev was particularly taken with the Renaissance buildings in southern Poland. He let these building traditions flow into his work. You can easily recognize this in the lower parts of the Palace of Culture, where elements of the Renaissance attics of southern Poland were taken up.
Over 3000 rooms
The Palace of Culture has 3288 rooms. They are distributed over 38 floors, which are connected by 33 elevators. The Palace of Culture is therefore something like a city within the city. There are museums, theaters, auditoriums, a huge congress hall with over 3000 seats, a gymnasium, a ballroom, a swimming pool with 500 seats – in short, everything!
Art at the Palace of Culture and Science
However, the Palace of Culture is not only interesting from an architectural point of view, but also from an artistic one. At the top of the photos you can see how much marble was used here and how beautifully individual areas such as the staircases were designed. But there is even more to discover in and around the palace of culture. I especially like the statues on the east side, which represent ideals of art and science and thus symbolize the palace of culture itself. Perhaps you will discover the most exciting statues during your visit? One of them holds a mini palace of culture in her hand, another one a book with the inscription “Marx, Engels, Lenin …”. The name Stalin was simply chiseled out after the de-stalinization.
The most exciting places in and around the Palace of Culture and Science
In the Palace of Culture and Science you can definitely spend hours without getting bored. However, only a part of the building is open to tourists. We have summarized the most exciting places for you here.
For only 20 zł (about 5 Euro) you can buy a ticket at the counter at the east entrance of the Palace of Culture. It is better to do this online beforehand, since the lines can often be long. Then take the elevator to the viewing platform on the 30th floor at breathtaking speed. From here, at 114 meters above sea level, you have a fabulous view of the city, which is one of the highlights of a visit to Warsaw, especially at sunset.
The hall in the Palace of Culture is the most important venue in Warsaw, together with the National Stadium in Praga. Important national and international artists perform here. Tickets for the events are available at the ticket office on the east side of the Palace of Culture. When you visit the Palace of Culture, just stop by and ask what events are currently taking place, as tickets are often available for the same day. By the way, the congress hall was renovated in 2014. Two companies went bankrupt and the press made fun of the fact that the palace was built in only three years, but it would take five years to renovate a single room.
Museum for the History of Evolution
As a socialist country, it was naturally important for Poland to spread the theory of evolution. Of course it was also about weakening the church. But today the situation here is completely unideological. In the exciting museum you can learn about the history of the earth and even look at real dinosaur skeletons!
The Teatr Dramatyczny is the most famous in the city. The crème de la crème of Polish actors perform here. Although the main venue is not the Palace of Culture, there are often performances here as well. If you prefer experimental plays instead of classical dramas, you should visit the Teatr Studio, which is also located in the Palace of Culture.
The puppet theater in the Palace of Culture is aimed at children and young people and reflects the rich puppet theatre tradition in Poland. So if you are on the road with children, you should definitely stop by here. And even if you don’t know Polish, that’s no problem.
Around the Palace of Culture
There is already a lot going on in the building itself, but it is also worth taking a walk around it and not only let the building itself have an effect on you, but also discover other things. To the north, for example, there is a small park.
In winter, an area of a good 1000 m² on the east side of the Kulturplast is converted into an ice rink! Then you can do your laps here in a relaxed manner with a view of the colossus!
Former Warsaw Ghetto
The border of the Warsaw Ghetto ran exactly where the Palace of Culture stands today. This place, where the Nazis committed some of their worst crimes, is today commemorated by markings in the floor, for example on the east side of the building. If you move in the northwest area of the building, you will still find a few remnants from that time, but you can also visit the famous Nożyk synagogue from 1902, which miraculously survived the war.
To the west of the Palace of Culture is the Central Station, the most important in the city, which was renovated a few years ago. In between there is a spectacular shopping center, which is connected to the station. In the Golden Terraces (Złote Tarasy) you can shop to your heart’s content, go to the cinema or visit one of the restaurants located here under the curved wave roof, which reminds a little bit of the Olympic Stadium in Munich.
Tours through the Palace of Culture
On this page* you can book an English tour focusing on the Palace of Culture and the Communist past of the city, a skip the line ticket to the terrace included!
- Bingel, Markus (Author)
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