A controversial plan to rebuild Saski Palace has hit headlines once more after opposing politicians moved to clarify their positions. With President Andrzej Duda confirming the government’s intention to rebuild the palace on the occasion of the centenary of Poland’s independence last year, Stanisław Karczewski, the Marshall of the Senate, went a step further in March when he announced that the new building would house not just the seat of the Senate, but also a museum dedicated to the wartime destruction of Warsaw.
So far so good, right? Not so fast. The problem, and it’s a big one, is that the land isn’t the government’s to build on. Falling under the jurisdiction of opposition-controlled Warsaw, the incumbent mayor, Rafał Traszkowski, has made it clear that the city has bigger fish to fry and would not contribute to any resulting costs. With these estimated to fall between zł. 500 million and zł. 1 billion, Traszkowski has stated that Warsaw City Hall has far greater budgetary priorities. Further, Traszkowski added that unless the government nationalized the land on which the palace is to stand, then the city would have the final say on anything that might be built on the plot.
Karczewski, however, has other ideas. “We are determined to rebuild Saski Palace,” he warned, “with or without the consent of the Mayor.” While both sides have so far remained cordial in their discussions relating to the matter, an impasse appears to be approaching.
First built in 1661 for the poet Jan Andrzej Morsztyn, the building was purchased in 1713 by King Augustus II The Strong who then rechristened it Saski Palace. For a time, it became home to the Warsaw Lyceum, and it was here that the Chopin family resided in a second floor apartment. Restyled after being damaged in the 1830 November Uprising, the inter-war years saw the introduction of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Originally little more than an impromptu memorial commemorating soldiers killed in WWI and the Polish-Soviet war, the Polish General Staff soon bowed to public pressure and took the decision to create a permanent tomb honoring fallen Polish combatants.
The coffins of three unknown soldiers were exhumed from a military cemetery in Lvov and transported to Saski, and on November 2, 1925, a stirring ceremony marked the official inauguration of the tomb. By this time the palace was serving as HQ for the Polish Ministry of War, and it was here that German enigma ciphers were first cracked in 1932. Having sustained just light damage during the 1939 Siege of Warsaw, the conquering Wehrmacht soon utilized it for their own purposes. An inevitable victim of the Nazi plan to reduce Warsaw to rubble following the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the Palace was leveled with cold proficiency – only the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier survived.
Whilst a project to rebuild the palace in the decade prior to this one was abandoned following the onset of the global recession, this time round hopes have been raised anew that one of Warsaw’s iconic landmarks could rise once again.