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The Warsaw Voice » Other » April 16, 2008
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Nations Within a Nation
April 16, 2008   
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Many of the buildings that house foreign diplomatic posts in Warsaw today were once the property of Polish noblemen and aristocrats. Today they not only serve as embassies and consulates, but are also well preserved heritage sites that are an intrinsic part of the city's architectural history.

New British embassy
The foundation stone for the new British embassy building was laid on April 4. During the ceremony, ambassador Ric Todd said that this was an important symbol of Britain's desire to build good relations with Poland and the Polish people, as well as a sign of its respect for Poland and Poles.

The new building will be constructed in the vicinity of the Royal Łazienki Park on Kawalerii Street. British company Tony Fretton Architects has designed the embassy. The shape of the two-story building will be reminiscent of a medal podium. It will have a double facade; the outer layer will be made out of glass panes, and the internal one will have windows placed between a structure of pillars and beams. A fine bronze-colored aluminum finish will give the glass facade a unique appearance. The ground floor will house the visa and consular sections. There will also be an area for public activities and cultural events organized by the embassy. The first and second floors will serve as administrative areas. The building is designed in such a way so as to be as energy efficient as possible, the architects say. Thanks to two internal courtyards and wide glass vitrines, the office areas will be well lit with natural light. Large rooftop terraces will feature wide and lush hedges. The building will blend into the surroundings and fit well with the city's modern architecture.

The first plans for the new embassy building appeared five years ago. Initially, the building was to be constructed on Bagatela Street next to Warsaw's Belvedere Palace, the former residence of the president of Poland, and the Prime Minister's Office. However, after a terrorist attack on the British embassy in Istanbul in 2003, the government in London radically tightened security requirements for British embassies worldwide, and the Bagatela Street lot could not guarantee such security. The new embassy is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2009.

Aristocratic claims
Frequent embassy relocations in Warsaw in recent years have been largely due to restitution claims made by previous owners of these properties rather than reasons of convenience. For centuries in the past, many of the buildings that currently house diplomatic posts belonged to Polish nobility and aristocracy.

U.S. embassy
In recent times, restitution claims have affected the Serbian embassy and the Iranian and Finnish posts, but the planned relocation of the U.S. embassy on Piękna Street has attracted the most attention.

The land on which the U.S. embassy building stands today used to belong to Dutchess Róża Światopełk-Czetwertyńska, nee Radziwiłł. She also owned a 19th-century palace that was once located on the site. In the first few years after World War II, Polish Radio rented the property from her. However, several years later, under a decree by Poland's communist leader at the time, Bolesław Bierut, the land was nationalized, much as other properties in the capital. In 1956, Poland's communist government signed an agreement with the United States under which the U.S. administration was provided with the land and palace for an 80-year lease, with the option of extending it for another 20 years. Additionally, the U.S. administration was given permission to demolish the historic Czetwertyński Palace after the Polish communist government coerced the capital's chief architect into changing the palace's status from a "heritage" to "non-heritage" facility. The palace was demolished in 1963, and the current American embassy building was constructed in its place.

Belgian embassy
Where the Belgian embassy is located today, a manor house belonging to the respected Ossoliński family stood in the early 17th century. In 1714, the property was bought by Grand Crown Marshal Józef Wandali Mniszych, who built a palace there. The late-Baroque palace comprised the main section of the building and two side wings. Around 1760 the palace was rebuilt to Pierre Ricaud de Tirregaille's design. Its subsequent owners were the Poniatowskis and Potockis, two powerful Polish noble families. The latter family sold it in 1805 to Prussian civil servant Friedrich Wilhelm Mosqa, who renovated the building and built a concert hall within it. The building housed the Harmonia Music Society and was used as a puppet theater and a French theater. In 1829 Piotr Steinkeller bought the palace to house the Society of Merchants. That same year the building was remodeled in the Classicist style. The side wings renovated in the 18th and 19th centuries were given a typical tenement house appearance. The main part of the palace hosted the society until 1939. During the Nazi occupation, it housed a hospital whose staff were actively involved in the resistance movement. Destroyed during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the palace was rebuilt in 1960.

Lithuanian embassy
Where the Lithuanian embassy is today there was formerly a garden pavilion built by Szymon Bogumił Zug, most likely at the end of the 18th century. This was a small eight-sided rotunda covered with a dome and crowned with a globe. When Jan Sokołowski, a former court counselor and commissioner of Cracow province, owned the property, the rotunda was expanded to include side buildings. This was how a neo-Gothic villa was created to Antonio Corazzi's design. After Sokołowski's death in 1855, the palace was sold. For many years it housed a prestigious clinic for women run by Dr. Ropowicz and Dr. Bernard. From 1879 the property was owned by Jan Bagniewski, and from 1882 by landowner Ludwik Jaroszyński, who started to modernize the palace but did not complete his plans due to an economic crisis at the time. Industrialist Henryk Marconi, son of a well-known architect, bought the property at an auction in 1884. Marconi's heirs retained the property after his death in 1921. It survived World War II in good condition and after the war was used as the headquarters of the Polish Workers' Party. Later it housed the embassy of North Korea for many years.

Serbian embassy
The Serbian embassy is headquartered in a small palace that was built for Stanisław Śleszyński in 1826 in Classicist style with a beautiful Ionic portico to Antonio Corazzi's design. The owner of this small palace, a former army captain, became famous for establishing a public garden in this area in 1827. Today, what remains of this entertainment and recreation facility is a garden with terraces and a fountain on Chopina Street. The park, called the Swiss Valley, was there until the outbreak of World War II. Polish and foreign orchestras gave concerts in a special hall; there was also a café and a restaurant, and in winter a skating rink and carnival events on ice were organized in the park. The palace stayed with the Śleszyński family until 1852, after which it often changed hands. Destroyed during WW II, it was rebuilt in 1947-48 to a design by Helena and Szymon Syrkus.

Swiss embassy
The palace which now houses the Swiss ambassador's residence was designed by Leander Marconi in 1865 in the Italian Renaissance style. Originally built for Warsaw industrialist Wilhelm Rau, the palace changed owners several times. In 1906, it was bought by a Polish aristocratic family. In the second half of the interwar period, the palace was rented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The building went up in flames during World War II in 1944. During 1948-1949 the villa was rebuilt and remodeled to a design by Szymon Syrkus and Hans Schmidt.

Italian embassy
The Italian embassy is housed in a palace that was built in 1881-1883 to architect Witold Lanci's design. Until 1922 it was home to the family of well-known Warsaw tanners. Karol Jan Szlenkier, the palace founder, was a generous patron of the arts, and he built his residence sparing no expense.

After Szlenkier's death in 1900 the palace remained with his widow and children. Over time, the family grew and the estate became markedly smaller after being divided among family members.

Due to the Szlenkier family's financial problems after World War I, some of the palace areas were rented out. In 1922, some of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare offices were housed in the palace. However, the rental was unprofitable and the palace was eventually sold. The Italian mission-which had been left without a headquarters due to a shortage of buildings in Warsaw after World War I took an interest in it. The mission moved into the palace in 1922. At the time, Italy was represented in Poland by a mission that was not formally transformed into an embassy until 1929. During WW II, the palace was badly damaged twice: by German bombing at the beginning of the war in September 1939, and during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Under Nazi occupation, the Italian diplomatic post was manned by Mario Di Stefano and counselor Guido Soro. In March 1940, the German government forced them to leave Warsaw. After they left, the Szlenkier palace was left in the care of the caretaker and probably the porter and driver.

In 1945 the Italian embassy took over the building. It was rebuilt over the next two years. In 1964-1965 the building was again remodeled and totally renovated, resulting in a significant change of appearance from the 19th-century structure.

French embassy
Work to build the French embassy at 1 Piękna St. started after General de Gaulle laid the foundation stone on Sept. 11, 1967. Designed by Bernard Zehrfuss, Henry Bernard and Guillaume Gillet, the building officially opened on July 14, 1971. Thirty years later a decision was made to comprehensively renovate the building. In 2001, a large-scale project-unprecedented in Poland at the time-got under way to remove building's asbestos insulation. Other renovation works started on March 23, 2003, under the guidance of architect Jean Philippe Pargade and his assistant Roman Gal. The project was completed in October 2004. On Nov. 21, 2004, the embassy moved to the new building where it remains headquartered until this day.

Israeli embassy
The Israeli diplomatic post in Poland was established in 1948 after Israel proclaimed its independence. Initially, the post had the status of a diplomatic mission and in 1962 it became an embassy. The Israeli diplomatic post is one of the best guarded in Warsaw, due to terrorist attacks on Israeli embassies throughout the world. For security reasons, every visit to the embassy or the consulate has to be arranged in detail by telephone. One cannot bring to meetings at the embassy items that are not required for the meeting, especially items such as briefcases or backpacks, or even electronic equipment such as laptops, palmtops, photographic cameras or video cameras.

Joanna Matysiak

Belgian Embassy, 34 Senatorska St., 00-095 Warsaw
French Embassy, 17 Puławska St., 02-515 Warsaw
Lithuanian Embassy, 5 Jana Chrystiana Szucha Ave., 00-580 Warsaw
U.S. Embassy, 29/31 Ujazdowskie Ave.,00-540 Warsaw
Swiss Embassy, 27 Ujazdowskie Ave.,00-540 Warsaw
Italian Embassy, 6 Dąbrowskiego Sq., 00-055 Warsaw
Serbian Embassy, 25 Ujazdowskie Ave., 00-540 Warsaw
Israeli Embassy, 24. Krzywickiego St., 02-078 Warsaw
UK Embassy, 1 Róż Ave., 00-556 Warsaw
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