On This Day: Warsaw’s Engineering Miracle!
On this day, fifty-three years ago, Warsaw witnessed one of the most extraordinary engineering feats in the city’s history – the rotation of an entire palace…
Set amongst the monotonous grey blocks that make up the Żelazna Brama housing estate it’s easy to miss the Lubomirski Palace (ul. Żelazna Brama 10). Yet unlike the immediate surroundings, its history is anything but drab.
Completed in 1712 for the high-rolling Radziwiłł family, it was extensively remodelled in the late 18th century, before passing through a succession of owners who utilized it for a variety of functions: during the 1830-831 November Uprising it served briefly as a field hospital, before then being transformed into a market place and apartments. At one point, a synagogue was included in the structure, reflecting the palace’s position in the heart of Jewish Warsaw.
The exciting bits mind, they’re reserved for the 20th century. Purchased by the city in 1938, the local authorities decided it was time to restore this decaying landmark to its former glory. Their timing, though, could not have been any worse – the following year it was flattened by the Luftwaffe.
Between 1947-1950 it was rebuilt to replicate its 18th century style, and a tablet added to a wall to commemorate a daring 1943 hit just outside on a tram full of Nazis. The weird stuff, however, was just about to start.
With the construction of the tower blocks in full swing, the decision was taken to move the palace so it faced Saski Park. Yes, you read that right. On March 30th, 1970, the 8,000 ton structure was lifted onto hydraulic jacks, mounted on a support structure, then rotated round courtesy of 16 steel rails.
On May 18th, 1970, the job was finally completed with the Lubomirski settled in a new position staring towards Marszałkowska. Differing sources contest the figure – some say it was rolled 70° degrees, others claim 78° – either way, it’s remembered to this day as a staggering feat of engineering.
Nowadays its home to a secretive organization called the Business Centre Club, and it’s not just its positioning that has been altered. So too has the park outside. In 1985 a monument was added to commemorate the efforts of Armia Ludowa – fighting in tandem with the Soviets, this wartime troop was commonly derided as a Red Army puppet movement, and when the Iron Curtain fell, the monument followed soon after.
Today the spot is marked by a statue of Tadeusz Kościuszko, an iconic figure both here and the States. Idolized in Poland for defeating the Russians at the 1794 Battle of Racławice, TK is equally celebrated in the US for, amongst other things, his role in the Battle of Saratoga, and his crusade against slavery. The monument, unveiled in 2010, is a precise duplicate of one standing in Washington D.C.
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