One of the main streets of Poland
’s capital city Warsaw
, and at over 3.5 km in length one of the longest. Of special interest here is the stretch from around Plac Konstytucji to Plac Zbawiciela. Here you can find some fine socialist-realist
reliefs and grand Stalinist architecture from the early 1950s.
More background info:
Marszałkowska is one of the main thoroughfares of Warsaw
, running all the way from Plac Bankowy to Plac Lubelskiej, a full 2.2 miles (3.5 km). Of interest here is only the section south of Plac Defilad and the Palace of Culture and Science.
The area was almost totally destroyed in WWII
, especially during the Warsaw Uprising
of 1944. After the war a massive rebuilding programme was started, and the stretch of Marszałkowska between the Plac Defilad and the newly created Plac Konstytucij was designed as a wide boulevard for military parades and lined with show-off Stalinist-era architecture adorned with socialist-realist
artwork, in a concerted effort to make this part of the city look more Soviet. This coincided, of course, with the biggest Stalinist gift to Warsaw of them all: the Place of Culture and Science
The key element is called MDM, which is short for “Marszałkowska Dzielnica Mieszkaniowa”, meaning ‘Marszałkowska Housing District’. Designed by the architects Józef Sigalin, Stanisław Jankowski, Jan Knothe and Zygmunt Stępiński, construction started in 1950 and by 1952 the main parts of Marszałkowska around Plac Konstytucji were finished. At the time it was lauded as a great achievement.
The square didn’t exist before the war and now cuts off ul. Koszykowa and also interrupts Marszałkowska, which south of the square splits into two streets, continuing as a narrower Marszałkowska towards Plac Zbawiciela while Ludwika Waryńskiego branches off the the south-west.
As you can imagine, the socialist-realist artwork and architectural style of the area are these days not much loved by the locals, who see them as anomalous reminders of the days of Soviet domination. So it’s not surprising to find some stretches of the boulevard feeling neglected and sprayed with graffiti. But the main pieces of art seem sufficiently looked after.
What there is to see: The main thing to look out for is the ensemble of Stalinist architecture either side of Plac Konstytucji. The square itself is also a highlight. Look out for the large, trident-like street lamp poles. Shame they stand in the middle of what is now a car park.
The buildings on the northern end of the square where it meets Marszałkowska are particularly noteworthy: it is here that you find a series of fabulous bas-reliefs
that could rival Berlin
. Depicted are scenes of various workers working or city planners planning, all in the spirit of the new communist paradise.
It gets even bigger and better at the southern end of Plac Konstytucji and onwards south towards Plac Zbawiciela. The huge MDM (see above) block at either of its ends boasts oversize reliefs/statues
of various workers
, miners, bricklayers, metalworkers and so on, but also some women
, but not, as you might expect in the context of socialist equality ideals, women as tractor drivers, workers or intellectuals, but true to traditional conservative values (which are again so much more in vogue in Poland
these days) instead you see a mother with a small child and a female teacher figure. They stopped short of depicting a housewife doing the laundry, though.
The figures are well executed and surely impress through their size alone, which I reckon is roughly three times life size. So they feel quite gigantic. Personally I love such relics of idealized outlooks on a bright socialist future that so often rather jarred with a much drabber reality. It’s an almost comical dissonance. I understand people who despise them as reminders of the bad old days, but I’m glad these commie relics haven’t been dismantled or defaced. Although I did see some random graffiti at the bottom of a few of them.
South of the centre of Warsaw
, between just north of Plac Konstytucji and just north of Plac Zbawiciela, less than a mile (1.2 km) south of Plac Defilad and the Place of Culture and Science.
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: easy and free
Details: You could get a tram to Plac Konstytucji (any of the lines that go down the main stretch of Marszałkowska), but if you’re starting from anywhere near Centrum you could just as walk it all the way down Marszałkowska. That way you get the full contrast between the mix of architectural styles further north and the full-on Stalinist architecture.
All the artworks and facades of buildings are accessible for free at all times.
Time required: about half an hour should do, plus time for getting there.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
The Museum of Life under Communism
is actually housed in one of those Stalinist-era buildings with bas-reliefs, namely the one at the north-eastern corner of Plac Konstytucji. The museum also has plans of the architecture as well as photos from the time of construction. So it makes a perfect combination!
And if you liked the Stalinist styles along this boulevard, then you will surely love the grandest of all Stalinist edifices anywhere outside Moscow
: the gigantic Palace of Culture and Science
just a short walk north at Plac Defilad.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
not much around here, other than the parks to the south-east and -west. See under Warsaw
- Marszalkowska 1 - grand Stalinist boulevard
- Marszalkowska 2 - Stalinist architecture and street lights
- Marszalkowska 3 - workers relief
- Marszalkowska 4 - brick layers
- Marszalkowska 5 - city planners
- Marszalkowska 6 - big steel worker
- Marszalkowska 7 - miner
- Marszalkowska 8 - mother with minor
- Marszalkowska 9 - role cliches