Nowa Huta: From industrial town to a living museum
Nowa Huta is the easternmost part of Krakow. It is more a historic term than an administrative district. Although almost 30 percent of the city?s 750,000 inhabitants live there, you often hear: ?I?ve never been to Nowa Huta? from people who have lived in Krakow for several years. How come? Well, just read this short text.
The idea of Nowa Huta came to life following the 1947decision by the Polish communist authorities to build one of Europe?s biggest steelworks near Krakow. However, the occasion presented the opportunity to achieve a couple of other goals as well.
Communist authorities would attempt the construction of the ?ideal city? to house the several thousand members of the factory staff and make it a showcase of socialist realism, the official art of the Soviet Union.
It was designated as a separate town to weaken Krakow?s resistance to the plans of the new rulers of Poland. The working-class people that were to live and work there were expected to act as a balance against a middle-class not keen on accepting communism.
Tadeusz Ptaszycki became the head of a team responsible for planning the living space for100,000 people. He was given a huge budget and a site suitable for building a new city from scratch.
From an urbanistic point of view, the work of Ptaszycki?s team was strongly influenced by renaissance city planning. The junction of five major streets, the heart of Nowa Huta is pl. Centralny (Central Square), now comically named after Ronald Reagan. Town hall was also originally planned for this spot, but was no longer needed when Nowa Huta became a part of Krakow in 1951.
The 50?s architecture bears a resemblance to 15th Century palaces. The most impressive examples are two large office buildings belonging to the steel factory on the town?s eastern outskirts.
They are massive and have renaissance-inspired attics similar to those of the Sukkiennice in Krakow?s Old Town. They contrast strangely with the huge chimney stacks of the factory in the background.
After Stalin?s death, socialist realism lost its appeal in the soviet block countries. Architects were permitted the inspiration of western modernism in their works and this also had its effect on the appearance of Nowa Huta.
In 1960, the population reached the planned 100,000. However, demand for new flats was still high. Large blocks with ten or more stories were built as a solution. The district grew until it reached Krakow.
Of course, the main reason for its growth was the constant expansion of the steelworks named after Lenin, begun in 1954. Its initial production was planned as 1 million tons, but as Polish industry required more raw steel, it grew to a peak of 7 million tons in the 70?s. At that time, about 40,000 people worked for the giant company. The steelworks polluted the air and the Wisla River on a massive scale. People?s health was endangered, and the historic buildings of Krakow were devastated by acid rain.
Even though many Nowa Huta inhabitants were working or studying in other parts of the city and the steelworks? employees commuted each day, the district was still stigmatized.
The stereotype of its being the most dangerous and boring place on Earth is still popular. To some extent, its continuing reputation may be an aftermath of using factory workers to breakup student demonstrations in the times of the PRL (People?s Republic of Poland).
Some Nowa Huta people really miss the times of communism, as their work was welcomed and well paid.
Even so, the steelworks was one of the most important centers of opposition in the PRL. Strikes were common in the seventies. Soon, Solidarity became a major force among the workers.
Conflicts between the authorities and the people were also caused by issues connected with religion. Nowa Huta was planned as an ideal communist (religion-free) city, but as time passed, more and more churches sprang up. These often served as meeting places for dissidents. The collapse of communism in Poland saw the name of Lenin being erased from the steelworks? official name. It was replaced by Tadeusz Sendzimir, a Polish inventor.
The statue of the USSR?s founder was removed from the pl. Centralny and bought by a Swedish millionaire. The 7-ton monument, erected in 1973, survived a bomb attack in 1979, which left him with a heel injury.
As the financial situation of the factory worsened, its staff was constantly reduced. It is now owned by the world?s largest steel producer, Mittal Steel Company, and employs about 10,000 people. Parts of the complex have been sold to other companies.
Retired workers are angry. First, they built the megalithic plant, and then they worked there for many years. They thought they had done all that for their country.
Nowadays, Nowa Huta inhabitants are no different than people living in any other part of Krakow. The public transportation system connects the district to the center of the city very well, though it does still take at least half an hour to get there. In the past five years, Polish media has become more interested in the history of Nowa Huta.
The district has become host to many guided tours. The museum of Nowa Huta is located near the heart of the district at Osiedle Sloneczne 16. The best way to enjoy the climate in this part of Krakow is to walk through its quarters and parks.
Especially in spring, it becomes obvious that it is one of the greenest places in the city. There are no castles or gothic churches, but Nowa Huta has its history and its totally unique architecture.