Krakow

Nowa Huta

09 Jun 2016

The bastard child of a devastated post WWII Poland, the huge Socialist Realist suburb of Nowa Huta is the direct antithesis of everything cuddly Kraków is. Gargoyles and tourists? Not here. The Orwellian settlement of Nowa Huta is one of only two entirely pre-planned socialist realist cities ever built (the other being Magnitogorsk in Russia’s Ural Mountains), and one of the finest examples of deliberate social engineering in the world.

Funded by the Soviet Union, Nowa Huta swallowed up a huge swathe of ideal agricultural land, and the ancient village of Kościelniki (as well as parts of Mogiła and Krzesławice) in an attempt to create an in-your-face proletarian opponent to intellectual, artsy-fartsy, fairytale Kraków. The decision to build NH was rubber stamped on May 17, 1947 and over the next few years construction of a model city for 100,000 people sprung up at breakneck speed. Built to impress, Nowa Huta featured wide, tree-lined avenues, parks, lakes and the officially sanctioned architectural style of the time - Socialist Realism. Nowa Huta’s architects strove to construct the ideal city, with ironic inspiration coming from the neighbourhood blocks built in 1920s New York (that despicable western metropolis). Careful planning was key, and the suburb was designed with ‘efficient mutual control' in mind: wide streets would prevent the spread of fire and the profusion of trees would easily soak up a nuclear blast, while the layout was such that the city could easily be turned into a fortress if it came under attack.

It was a massive task, with volunteer workers flocking from across Poland to take part in this bold project. Feats of personal sacrifice were rife and encouraged with one man, Piotr Ożański, publicly credited with laying an stupendous 33,000 bricks in one single day. For the workers life was tough; many were still sleeping in tents when the first winter arrived, and crime was rampant. Legends abounded of bodies being buried in foundations, and night was positively dangerous in a country still reeling from the chaos of world war. Finally, on June 23, 1949, work on the first block of flats began - today a plaque found on ul. Mierzwy 14 commemorates the event.

Somewhat sadly perhaps, the Utopian dream that was Nowa Huta was never fully realised. A fearsome town hall in the style of the renaissance halls found across Poland was never built, nor was the theatre building across from it and the ornamental architectural details planned for the monumental buildings of Plac Centralny were never added. However what was completed is very much worth the trip for intrepid tourists willing to teleport themselves into a completely different reality far from the cobbled kitsch of Kraków; it’s as easy as a tramride.

Associated Venues

Szpeje

 Os. Centrum E 1 (PRL Museum)
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Located in Nowa Huta's
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