Warsaw’s love affair with skyscrapers can be traced back to the 1930s and the erection of the Prudential Insurance Building. Completed in 1933 at a height of 61 metres, the New York-style structure became the city’s first skyscraper. With the advent of WWII its height lent it immense strategic importance. When the 1944 Warsaw Uprising broke out it became a primary target for Poland’s Home Army, and was captured on the first day of battle – for the first time in five years the Polish flag flew over the city. The Germans launched a series of fierce strikes to win it back, and although shells gutted the building, its steel skeleton refused to topple. Patched up after the war the Prudential building became the communist era Hotel Warszawa. The building still stands today although it is currently being redeveloped by the Likus Group into a luxury hotel which is supposed to boast the highest restaurant in Warsaw.
Following the war Warsaw’s rush to rebuild saw the construction of what has become the defining icon of the city.
The highest clock tower in the world was added to the structure and unveiled on January 1, 2001 and visitors should pencil in a visit to the viewing platform on the 30th floor. The revamped elevators take just 20 seconds to transport you to the wind-blasted viewing level, and the panoramic views are awesome.
A forest of skyscrapers have sprung up around the Palace, including the InterContinental hotel. On the 44th floor the three-legged hotel boasts the highest swimming pool in the country. Directly opposite stands the Warsaw Marriott. A simple glass structure, the 140-metre hotel was the stage for Alain Robert’s first appearance in Eastern Europe. Otherwise known as the French spiderman, Robert scaled the 41-storey hotel with his bare hands, cheered on by a crowd of thousands. The Panorama Bar on the 40th floor offers a liquid way to view the city. The beer is among the most expensive in the city, but when you compare that to what PKiN charges it becomes something of a bargain: beer, view, no wind, and no hollering school children. More recently President Barack Obama called the Marriott home during his 2011 visit to the city.
Along the same street are two more buildings of note: the giant Novotel (originally known as the Forum or by its nickname Dollar Towers during communist times) became the first high-class hotel to be built in post-war Poland when it was completed in 1974. Now owned by the Accor hotel group, it underwent a €30 million refit in 2005 which resulted in the structure going from yellow to grey.
The Millennium Tower further down the road is also one to watch. Formerly known as the Reform Plaza, the 112-metre office complex was the brainchild of Turkish entrepreneur Vahap Toy. The same man hit headlines some years back with a six billion dollar plan to transform the tiny town of Biała Podlaska by building an international airport, formula 1 racetrack and a replica of the Eiffel Tower. His Warsaw building reflects his eccentricity; an imposing blue and white building, it has been likened by critics to a portaloo. The tower is the source of thousands of juicy rumours, all of them too libellous for print.
Another skyscraper with an interesting history is the Blue Tower, a.k.a. the Peugeot Tower on pl. Bankowy. Once the site of Warsaw’s largest synagogue and dynamited by the Nazis, an urban myth was circulated that a rabbi placed a curse on the ground that no building would ever take its place. In a supernatural twist, the Blue Tower took over three decades to complete, allegedly only after a more forgiving rabbi removed the curse.
Finished in 1999, the Warsaw Trade Tower stands on the horizon like a tall, mutant pencil. Measuring 208 metres the tube-like structure boasts some of the fastest elevators on the continent and ranks as the second tallest building in the city.
But for the best lift ride in Warsaw check into the Westin Hotel. A glass elevator shoots up and down the 90-metre scraper, giving excellent views of the immediate area.