Employing some 40,000 people in its heyday the ‘Lenin Steelworks’ were capable of producing seven million tonnes of steel annually, and boasted the largest blast furnace in Europe. Such was its reputation that Fidel Castro chose to visit the Steelworks rather than Kraków’s Rynek on one state visit to Poland. Found on the end of al. Solidarności the entrance has been given the full socialist treatment, with two concrete monstrosities built to echo the fine old buildings of Poland. You’ll hear the natives referring to this architectural masterstroke as ‘the Vatican,’ poking fun at the grandeur it was meant to emulate. Ironically, the Steelworks are even less accessible to tourists than the Vatican, so you can give up any ideas of getting past the main gates.
Nowa Huta may have been designed to be a socialist showcase city, but it soon became a hotbed of anti-communist activity and played a huge part in the Solidarity strikes of the early 1980s, preceded by the struggle for permission to build the city’s first church; though it took 28 years, The Lord’s Ark (Kościół Arka Pana) was finally consecrated in 1977. While much of NH is the product of the last half century, a true tour of the area reveals a number of treasures of much older historical value. The most epitomising example of a pre-steel age in the area has to be Wanda’s Mound a mysterious prehistoric earthwork that proves the area’s settlement predates that of Kraków’s Old Town. The quiet communities of Krzesławice and Mogiła each hide pristine examples of ancient Polish sacral architecture in the wooden churches of St. John the Baptist and St. Bartholomew. Artist Jan Matejko enjoyed Krzesławice so much he used it as an artist retreat as his preserved period manor house evidences. Mogiła meanwhile harbours one of the most cherished religious sites in Małopolska in the Cistercian Monastery and its morbidly miraculous cross. If you’ve more time to explore, a walking or cycling tour of Mogiła’s small back roads is akin to an open-air ethnographic museum, just watch out for the German shepherds behind every garden fence.
Getting to NH is a cinch thanks to a well-designed tram network. Tram 4 from Dworzec Główny (the train station stop) goes straight to Plac Centralny in about 20mins.