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The Warsaw Voice » Other » August 13, 2008
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History Gets a Facelift
August 13, 2008   
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Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, one of Warsaw's most historic thoroughfares, officially reopened July 13 after a painstaking facelift that took two years and cost zl.86 million.

Once an obstacle course for anyone venturing down its uneven, cracked and narrow sidewalks packed with parked cars, the street has been redesigned as a semi-pedestrian mall.

Varsovians came out in droves for the opening celebrations. Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz officiated, local history buffs were out in force, and students from the nearby Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music played the music of their illustrious namesake, who lived here at No. 5 between 1827 and 1830 and whose heart is preserved a few doors down in the baroque Holy Cross Church, opposite the main campus of the University of Warsaw.

The facelift is the handiwork of Krzysztof Domaradzki's Dawos studio. The architects relied heavily on historical sources, especially the photographic precision of paintings depicting Warsaw by Bernardo Belotto (1720-1780), better known as Canaletto, the court painter for Poland's last king Stanisław August Poniatowski (1732-1798).

Before Domaradzki and his team got on the case, guides on sightseeing tours along the Royal Route had to appeal to their charges' imagination when lauding the street's erstwhile splendor.

Now, it boasts a granite road surface and wide sand-granite sidewalks redolent of its 18th-century glory. The architects have paid the same attention to detail on lamp posts, litter boxes, benches and even flower pots.

There are still a couple of finishing touches that need adding. The street has to be made wheelchair friendly, a glazed cafe and an underground exhibition hall near Hoover Square are not quite ready, and some of the granite paving, especially near the university, needs a few greasy patches removed. And, as Krakowskie Przedmieście is relatively light on cafes, restaurants and stores, compared with Nowy Świat Street, City Hall is drafting a bill that would give preferential rentals to the kind of businesses it wants to see there.

The Krakowskie Przedmieście renovations are not without their critics, however. Some complain about the absence of bicycle paths; others say the new bus shelters are too modern, and still others grouch about the lack of captions on the backlit "Canaletto cubes," which let visitors compare the street as it is now with the artist's paintings.

The Royal Route is closed to vehicular traffic on weekends until the end of September.

Krakowskie Przedmieście Street is the first leg of the so-called Royal Route that runs between the Royal Castle and Wilanów Palace, the onetime summer residence of King Jan III Sobieski (1629-1696). Krakowskie Przedmieście connects the Royal Palace with Nowy Świat Street. The route then continues along Ujazdowskie Avenue, Belwederska Street and Sobieskiego Street to arrive at Wilanów.

Krakowskie Przedmieście is one of the oldest streets in Warsaw, having started out as a trade route in the 15th century. During the 17th century, palaces and manor houses started sprouting up along what had by then become the major artery of the new Polish capital. By the end of the 19th century, the street was lined with impressive baroque and classical palaces, churches and tenement buildings. The early 20th century saw the erection of large commercial buildings like the Bristol Hotel. Today, the street is a potpourri of monuments and historic buildings and is a strong tourist drawcard. The Presidential Palace, the University of Warsaw, the Fine Arts Academy, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and some of the country's most famous churches have a Krakowskie Przedmieście address.

Magdalena Błaszczyk

Krakowskie Przedmieście St. Renovation By Numbers
1.2 km length, 2-year project duration, zl.86 million total cost, 3 granite varieties (yellow from China, red from Sweden and gray from Strzegom in southwest Poland), 150 street lamps, 110 begonia and geranium pot plants, 74 trees planted
4 Canaletto painting "display cubes"
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