Symbols of Warsaw: Palace of Culture and Science

Dominating the city skyline, the fearsome Palace of Culture (PKiN) towers at just over 231 meters (758 feet) in height – making it the tallest and largest structure in Poland. Commissioned by Stalin as a ‘gift from the Soviet people,’ it was originally interpreted as a reminder from Moscow that Big Brother really was watching. To this day it still stirs mixed feelings from locals and architecture buffs, and the collapse of communism even saw calls to demolish it. Designed by Soviet architect Lev Rudnyev (also responsible for Lomonosov University in Moscow), it is a fabulous example of socialist era architecture and also incorporates several more traditional styles.

Built using an estimated 40 million bricks and housing 3,288 rooms, the vast Palace can allegedly be seen from a distance of 30 km (20 miles). Originally intended to serve as the Communist party HQ, the multi-purpose building currently houses museums, restaurants, theaters, conference halls, offices etc. Four 6.3-metre (21 feet) clock faces were added to the top of the building ahead of the millennium celebrations in 2000. This briefly made the building the tallest clock tower in the world. Visitors should pencil in a visit to the viewing platform on the 30th floor.

Construction started in 1952 and lasted until 1955. A gift from the Soviet Union to the people of Poland, the tower was constructed, using Soviet plans, almost entirely by 3500 workers from the Soviet Union, of whom 16 died in accidents during the construction. The Soviets were housed at a new suburban complex at Poland’s expense, complete with its own cinema, food court, community center and swimming pool.

Described by Richard Feynman, the prominent American physicist, as “the craziest monstrosity on land”, in 2005 it was listed on the historic buildings list and now is protected by law.

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