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Krakow's Nowa Huta - where communist utopia borders on historic treasures. 

Nowa Huta was conceived in the late 1940s, under the ruthless communist rule of Poland, as an ideal 'proletarian city' tied to a brand-new giant steelworks next to Krakow. Now it constitutes Krakow's easternmost 18th district – XVIII Dzielnica – the city’s largest, with area of 7,226 hectares and some 62,000 inhabitants. Besides relics of the Soviet-era architecture Nowa Huta can boasts a number of worthwhile sites, from the prehistoric Mound of Wanda (Kopiec Wandy) to the 13th-century Cistercian Monastery of Mogila to futuristic churches of the late 20th century.

Nowa Huta translates as New Steelworks or New Foundry.

 

Traces of communist utopia in Nowa Huta

Plac Centralny /Central Square/ was meant as the hub of the visionary socialist city of Nowa Huta where wide radial avenues meet, with concentric layers of public spaces and housing estates called osiedle. The project has remained half-finished, construction of the eastern half of the town canceled in the mid 1950s, so to the south Plac Centralny square still opens to vast green fields. Otherwise it’s semi-circled by massive buildings in the style of Socialist Realism. Their architects declared inspiration from Poland’s monumental architecture of the Renaissance (a deviation from the Soviet neoclassical orthodoxy) but it doesn’t show much. The former prominent feature of Plac Centralny, a giant bronze statue of Lenin (he had lived in Krakow from 1912 to 1914) that used to dominate the square’s northern side in the years 1973 through 1989, has been removed and sold to Sweden.

Wide Aleja Solidarnosci – Solidarity Avenue, formerly Lenin Avenue – links Plac Centralny with the vast industrial wasteland of mammoth steelworks complex, now ArcelorMittal Poland, named after Lenin in 1954 and in 1990 renamed after Tadeusz Sendzimir, a Polish-American successful inventor and industrialist. The street, intended as ‘the axis of labor’ in Nowa Huta’s original town planning, ends at a grandiose office building of the management called Centrum Administracyjne (Administration Center). An unintentional parody of the Renaissance palatial architecture, the massive structure nicknamed ‘Vatican’ and ‘Palace of Doges’ was completed in 1955.

 

Nowa Huta’s other Soviet-era landmarks

Osiedle Wandy and Osiedle Willowe. 
Nowa Huta’s oldest districts were built between 1949 and 1951 on both sides of today’s Mierzwy Street, two blocks east of Plac Centralny square, as residential areas in a vein of a garden city, Soviet style. The new town’s very first building, a block of flats at 14 Os. Wandy, was completed on June 23, 1949.

Teatr Ludowy theater at 34 Osiedle Teatralne 
Theater building of 1955 is one of less disagreeable examples of the pseudo-classicism typical for the Soviet architecture of the mid 20th century.

Stefan Zeromski Hospital at Sieroszewskiego street 
Nowa Huta’s Municipal Hospital was built between 1951 and 1954 as a complex of 17 buildings. Its main edifice represents Socialist Realism mimicking Baroque palatial architecture.

Swit Cinema at 10 Osiedle Teatralne and Swiatowid Cinema 
The twins of former movie houses, opened in 1956 and 1958 respectively, exemplify the standard Stalinist architectural preference for classicism.

Historic monuments in Nowa Huta

Wanda Mound (Kopiec Wandy)

The ancient earthwork, 14 meters high and about 50 meters in diameter, is one of Krakow’s two prehistoric barrows. Its origins remain a mystery but most historians date it to the 8th century. Legend has it that the mound was erected over the grave of a mythical Krakow princess, Wanda, who threw herself to Wisla river to avoid marriage with a German prince. The Mound of Wanda is situated on the edge of the Nowa Huta steelworks, some three kilometers east of Plac Centralny square.

Cistercian Monastery in Mogila

The monastery is one Poland’s most valued. It dates back to 1222 when the then Krakow bishop gave the village of Mogila (now part of Nowa Huta) to the Cistercian monks. The originally Gothic complex, with the Renaissance additions, was given a baroque facelift in the 18th century (fortunately its Gothic cloister has survived). The monastery’s church of St. Venceslas and the Assumption of Our Lady (Kosciol Sw. Waclawa i Wniebowziecia NMP) was built between 1266 and 1350 as a hybrid of the Romanesque and Gothic architecture. In 1780 it acquired a baroque facade and then baroque interior in 1790. The church can boast outstanding works of art. – the Renaissance frescos of circa 1530, plus the Gothic polyptych of 1514 and the15th-century Gothic crucifix. The Renaissance Palace of Abbots dates from 1569. The Cistercian Monastery of Mogila is situated at Klasztorna street, some two kilometers southeast of Nowa Huta’s Plac Centralny square. 

Church of St Bartholomew (Kosciol Sw. Bartlomieja) 

The Mogila village parish church was built of timber in 1466. It stands at Klasztorna street, close to the Cistercian Monastery. The church boasts three aisles, a rare feature for the Polish wooden architecture. Its side chapels date from the late 18th century together with the Baroque interior decoration of the nave. 

Krakow's municipality promotes a thematic route that links most of Nowa Huta's places of interest. 

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