Forty-three years ago to this day, Warsaw was rocked by one of Poland’s worst ever post-war disasters when an explosion ripped through the Rotunda building in the city center.
Forty-nine people were killed and 135 were injured in the blast, with many locals quickly suspecting foul play. The investigation that followed cast the blame on a gas leak, but suspicious Varosvians were left speculating that the explosion was the result of a bomb planted by embezzling bank officials keen to throw the police off their scent.
“Although the work and competence of the committee seemed quite genuine,” wrote historian Jerzy Majewski, “the people of Warsaw, guided by their long-time experience that the authorities were ‘always lying’, did not quite believe the official report.”
Having already experienced extreme temperatures as a result of ‘the winter of the century’, according to authorities the weather had left the gas pipes running underneath severely damaged – with the water frozen in the pipes and the air vents clogged with snow, the freezing conditions had caused odorant to condense and left the pipes prone to a build-up of gas.
At 12.37 p.m., this deadly build-up finally blew; according to eye witness reports, the entire building was lifted into the air before shattering into tens of thousands of pieces.
Unsatisfied with the official explanations, rumors swirled around the capital blaming thieving bank managers and, even, anti-Communist saboteurs. In the days that followed, 2,000 aid workers and volunteers searched for survivors.
Taking six-days to clear the debris, work on rebuilding the Rotunda was conducted at breakneck pace and it was reopened in October complete with a memorial honoring those that had been killed.
First built in 1966, the Rotunda was conceived as part of the Eastern Wall, a bold architectural project that saw Marszałkowska reconstructed to include tall residential blocks and a string of department stores. Mooring this urban investment was the PKO Rotunda, a circular bank building that soon becomes a favorite meeting point on account of its ground zero location.
Whilst work on many of the other elements lagged until 1970, the Rotunda was unmasked to great fanfare in 1966. In a city still scarred and limping from the war, the Eastern Wall – and in particular the Rotunda – became an emblem of rebirth.
Fully deconstructed in 2017, the landmark was rebuilt in 2019 in a modernized, lighter form that has seen it transformed into what architects have described as being “a modern urban lounge”.