• An Imagined Ottoman City in Istanbul

    Sundus Al-Bayati
    Jan 12, 2022

    Sundus Al-Bayati is the 2019 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    A Detour and a Different Kind of Reconstruction in Istanbul

    Hello from Istanbul, a city I didn’t think I’d visit in the course of my fellowship travel. The city wasn’t wiped out in any war in recent history that dramatically altered its appearance, like Berlin or Warsaw. People visit Istanbul to revel in the persistence of history at the site of three great empires. The Istanbul panorama, a landscape of hills dotted with domes and minarets straddling the sea elicits a sense of timelessness. This isn’t to say there hasn’t been conflict or destruction in Istanbul’s history. In my investigation of war and its consequences on how cities develop and grow, I’ve come to recognize the processes of globalization as another powerful force that damages the historic and social character of cities. What might have survived the air raids and bombs gets destroyed later to make room for a new mall or luxury housing. Istanbul’s accelerating development has mostly been the product of planned destruction that is associated with profit-led urban renewal projects. Some might remember news from Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square in 2013 where protests broke out against the government’s plans to raise Gezi Park to make room for a commercial development and a new mall. Taksim Square is one example of many neoliberal market-driven urban transformation projects that have been shaping the historical city since the 1980s. But there are other reasons why I find myself in Istanbul, a combination of the ongoing global pandemic, an economic crisis, and visa limitation for an Iraqi passport holder like myself.

    After Warsaw, I had planned to visit Beirut to explore the effects of the Lebanese civil war on the city. As I followed the news of the recent economic crisis in Lebanon and growing political instability, it was becoming clear that I needed an alternative plan. I settled on Nicosia, Cyprus. Nicosia, divided in the middle by the UN-buffer zone, would be a good alternative to Beirut as an example of a city divided by civil conflict. I’d like to share with you, if you indulge me, my visa experience with the Cyprus embassy in Berlin, to illuminate a small part of what it means to be a passport holder of a Third World country when traveling for research or academic scholarship. For all my friends and readers who are holders of US or European passports, unlike you, I cannot travel to a country for tourism without undergoing a lengthy visa process with indeterminate outcomes. With three months in the EU, I thought I had plenty of time to work out my visa with the Cyprus embassy. 

    Initial correspondence with the Cyprus Embassy in Berlin seemed encouraging and that they were willing to work with me. The embassy asked me how long I plan to stay, for what purpose, to send copies of my passport, green card, fellowship information, and reservations for flights and accommodations. I convinced them to schedule my appointment a month before I needed to leave the EU instead of the two weeks they suggested. Once I got in touch, I didn’t hear anything for almost two weeks, and then I got an email asking me again for the purpose of my travel and to describe in detail my “meetings, appointments, and specific schedule of my time there.” I referred them to my fellowship letter and website and explained again that this is a self-directed project and I didn’t have any “appointments” with any institutions. I am two weeks away from needing to leave Warsaw at that point. When they finally called me to set up a visa appointment, they added two conditions: first, I can only receive a third of the time I requested to stay in Cyprus as they are not convinced that I need to be in Cyprus for that long to “just look at buildings.” Second, I needed to show them nonrefundable tickets for my accommodation in Cyprus before they approve my visa. This process was extremely discouraging and uncertain. I had to let go of Cyprus for now and think of something else. So I headed to Istanbul.

    In Istanbul, I’ve become aware of a different kind of reconstruction that is not the result of war, one that is driven by power, political hegemony and efforts to restructure Turkish national identity through the city’s symbols and iconic urban images. These new projects, led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), translate its ideological and political agenda into the urban form with a host of flagship projects transforming the historical narrative of the city as much as its future development. Similar to the way Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his government adopted modernist architecture as the language of the new Republic in a determinate effort to detach from Ottoman culture and symbols in the urban space, the AKP seeks to resurrect Turkey’s Ottoman and Islamic past by building a large numbers of mosques in a Neo-Ottoman style and converting existing historical churches into mosques, most prominent of which is the Hagia Sophia which was reclassified as a mosque in July 2020. 


    Taksim Square against the Forces of Urban Transformation

    Taksim Square holds symbolic significance as the heart of Istanbul. The site, where the Republic Monument celebrates the beginnings of the Turkish Republic, has historically been the place of political expression and demonstrations (Figure 1). In 2013, people rushed to Taksim Square to protest against an extensive development project by Istanbul Municipality to restructure the square and the adjacent Gezi Park. The plan proposed removing one of the few remaining green spaces in the city and replacing it with a shopping mall that carried the façade of a former 19th-century military barracks building from the Ottoman era. The protests were a testament to the growing dissatisfaction of Istanbul residents with an increasingly authoritarian government and its neoliberal economic policies that have transformed their city since the ascension of the AKP and its founder, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to power in the early 2000s. The development project would transform Taksim Square and Gezi Park from an open public space that allows for political expression to another space that prioritizes a consumerist-based experience, right next to the biggest commercial street in Istanbul, Istiklal Caddesi.  

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    Figure 1. Republic Monument and Taksim Mosque in the back


    The urban transformation plan of Taksim, while heavily driven by prospects of economic gains, underlines the motivations by the AKP government to chip away at the legacy of the Turkish Republic and solidify its own ideological presence in the most iconic part of Istanbul.1 The project also included the controversial addition of a mosque in a typically secular urban space in Istanbul. This part of the plan came to fruition with the construction of Taksim Mosque, which was inaugurated this year by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In addition, the old Ataturk Cultural Center, an iconic cultural institution from Turkey’s modern age, which stood there since 1969, was also part of the reform of Taksim Square. It was demolished in 2018 after a decade of neglect. The reconstruction replicates the façade of the original building but aims to surpass it. 

    In the middle of the square, the Republic Monument commemorates the formation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who is depicted in the sculpture as both a military commander and a political leader. East of the monument stood the old Ataturk Cultural Center, an iconic modernist building completed in 1969 as a cultural and educational space that comprised an opera house and concert hall, among other cultural activities. The old Ataturk Cultural Center’s modern façade and progressive cultural programming became a symbol of Ataturk’s vision of Turkey as a modern state with a new secular identity that broke with the religious rule of the Ottoman Empire.2 Symbols of the Republic permeate Taksim Square and explain why it has been the target of redevelopment projects by the AKP government that seeks to significantly reconstruct its image to display president Erdogan’s own vision of Turkey, a return to the grandeur and Islamism of the Ottoman Empire. The current Ataturk Cultural center in Taksim Square is a new construction that was completed in October of this year (Figure 2–4). To the surprise of many, the façade of the new building looks almost the same. This is partly because the new building was designed by Murat Tabanlioglu, the son of the architect who designed the original building. 

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    Figure 2–4. The New Ataturk Cultural Center


    At the other end of Taksim Square and across from the Republic Monument and the new Ataturk Cultural Center, stands one of President Erdogan’s mega-projects and triumphant symbols of his presidency, the new Taksim Mosque (Figure 5–11). The mosque opened this year, in the same week that marked the eighth anniversary of Gezi Park protests. The project was part of the redevelopment plan that sparked the protests in 2013 as it purposefully altered the secular identity of the square and reinforced Erdogan’s image of a religious Turkey. More importantly, the mosque ensures that Erdogan leaves his own legacy in Taksim. The massive size of the mosque dominates the existing landmarks of Taksim from the Republic Monument and the Ataturk Cultural Center to the Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church. 

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    Figure 5–11. The new Taksim Mosque


    Urban Renewal in Two Istanbul Neighborhoods: Tarlabasi and Balat

    Running along Taksim Square is the Tarlabasi thoroughfare, which I walked by a couple of times and noticed the glaring contrast between new shiny luxury and crumbling apartment buildings. The Tarlabasi neighborhood houses primarily low-income Kurdish residents, Syrian refugees, and Romani communities. Tarlabasi is an example of prevalent state-led urban renewal projects of dilapidated areas of high real estate value, often without regards to the underprivileged communities that are displaced in the process. The neighborhood has been the target of aggressive government “regeneration” projects to boost the Turkish economy.3 In 2005, law No. 5366 was passed, which gives municipal governments power to seize run-down but valuable land for redevelopment with the premise of protecting the historical character of these derelict buildings4 (Figure 12–16). One example of such development in Tarlabasi is the Taksim 360 project, a luxury residential and office complex, which began in 2010 with the eviction of residents and demolition of buildings and it is still under construction today (Figure 17–23). It’s hard to miss the stark contrast between the freshly built luxury apartments of Taksim 360 and heaps of trash at the front of decaying buildings just one street over. The project’s website is especially tone-deaf to the realities of the area in their description of the project as a lifestyle. The logo reads “you are at the center of this 360-degree lifestyle.” 

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    Figure 12–16. Rundown and Renovated Tarlabasi buildings


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    Figure 17–23. Taksim 360 project in Tarlabasi


    Balat is another historical neighborhood in Istanbul that was the subject of controversial urban revitalization projects (Figure 24–38). Balat was historically considered the "Jewish Quarter” of Istanbul but was also home to different ethnic and religious groups including Armenian and Greek Orthodox peoples. By the 1940s, most Jewish, Greek, and Armenian residents left the neighborhood and immigrants from Anatolia moved to the area in large numbers to work in the emerging industries that developed there.5 During the 1980s, government-led urban regeneration projects sought to revitalize historical areas like Balat, that have become dilapidated due to industrialization and overcrowded conditions. These projects included removing industries and destroying historical buildings in the process, which led to the decline of the neighborhood.6 Between 1997 and 2008, Balat underwent a more positive urban transformation project led by UNESCO and Fatih Municipality, among other non-profit organizations. The project prioritized preserving the historic character of the neighborhood by restoring local architecture and renovating decrepit buildings. 

    At the same time, Balat was experiencing a second type of urban transformation that was more market-driven and focused on transforming the neighborhood into a tourist destination. The second plan sought to undo some of the work from the first phase of transformation by demolishing rehabilitated buildings and constructing new ones that match the local architecture of Istanbul but doesn’t historically reflect what actually stood there.7 While parts of the project were halted by a court order in 2012, as the area is historically protected, for-profit piecemeal transformation projects, empowered by Law 5366 that disregards the social and economic implications of urban transformation projects, has given private development companies a lot of power in shaping the neighborhood. Walking around Balat, it is easy to see the forces of gentrification working their way through the neighborhood. New coffee shops and restaurants adorn the ground level of derelict and sometimes empty buildings. The street level and the top levels seem to inhabit two different dimensions. English signs to restaurants and cafés are clear indications that these places are targeting the tourist crowds. People still go to Balat for its historic streets and colorful houses. It’s a shame that soon this historical place will be reconstructed to be “instagrammable” at the expense of local residents and their buildings. 

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    Figure 24–38. Balat neighborhood


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    Figure 39–40. Kirmizi Kilise, Fener Greek Boy’s High School, built in 1881


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    Figure 41. Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, 13th-century Byzantine palace



    A New Mosque on the Hill

    It wasn’t until a couple of days of being in Istanbul, absorbing its panorama of domes and minarets, had passed did I notice how odd the mosque on the Asian side looked. It looked different from the other ones. Perhaps it stood out more because it was the only mosque of its size on that side of Istanbul but for all I knew, it could have been another mosque from the Ottoman period dating back to 16th or 17th century. It sure looked like it. I didn’t know then that I was looking at the biggest symbol of President Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s regime, only completed in 2019 (Figure 42–66). The Camlica Mosque, built in a Neo-Ottoman style to resemble the 17th-century Blue Mosque on the European side, is a physical embodiment of Erdogan’s continuous molding of Turkish national identity as both Ottoman and Muslim. As the patron of this great mosque, Erdogan is a modern day Sultan and Turkey, his empire. Not only is the mosque located on the highest hill in Istanbul, Camlica Hill, but its massive structure, which can accommodate 63,000 people, makes it visible from all around Istanbul. Camlica Mosque is one of many hundreds of mosques that are popping up all over Istanbul and Turkey without input from communities whether they are needed or not. When I entered the mosque, I was quickly directed by the male guard to walk towards the periphery, that is the women’s section. I told him I am just interested in seeing the mosque and wanted to look up at the dome but he insisted that I leave the “men’s” section, which is the heart of the mosque and observe from the side. This is the only mosque where I have experienced this. Reluctantly, but slowly, I walked to the women’s section and snapped my photos along the way. 

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    Figure 42–66. Camlica Mosque


    1 Fuhrmann, Malte. "Taksim Square and the Struggle to Rule Istanbul’s Past." "Taksim Square and the Struggle to Rule Istanbul’s Past" in Critique & Humanism 46 (2016), 163–190, 2016.

    2 Ibid

    3 Arıcan, Alize. "Care in Tarlabaşı amidst Heightened Inequalities, Urban Transformation and Coronavirus." Radical Housing Journal, December 6, 2020. https://radicalhousingjournal.org/2020/care-in-tarlabasi-amidst-heightened-inequalities-urban-transformation-and-coronavirus/.

    4 Arıcan, Alize. “Behind the Scaffolding: Manipulations of Time, Delays, and Power in Tarlabaşı, Istanbul.” City & Society 32, no. 3 (2020): 482–507.

    5 AYSEV DENEÇ, Evren. “The Re-Production of the Historical Center of i̇stanbul in 2000s: A Critical Account on Two Projects in Fener - Balat.” METU JOURNAL OF THE FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE, 2014.

    6 Mutman, Demet, and Hulya Turgut. “Colliding Urban Transformation Process: The Case of Historical Peninsula, Istanbul.” International Journal of Architectural Research: ArchNet-IJAR 12, no. 1 (2018): 164.

    7 AYSEV DENEÇ, Evren. “The Re-Production of the Historical Center of i̇stanbul in 2000s: A Critical Account on Two Projects in Fener - Balat.” METU JOURNAL OF THE FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE, 2014.

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  • Architectural Reproduction vs. Reconstruction in Postwar Warsaw

    Sundus Al-Bayati
    Dec 1, 2021

    Sundus Al-Bayati is the 2019 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    Destruction of architecture by a conquering power has often been performed as an act of cultural cleansing. To intentionally destroy a city is to deprive it of cultural and historical continuity, erasing its character and damaging its people’s sense of belonging. In recent memory, the images of ISIS destroying ancient sites and monuments in Palmyra, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, have proliferated in the public consciousness. ISIS published chilling photos of explosives they planted in the 2000-year-old temple of Baal Shamin in preparation for the spectacle of its doom. The Nazis in Warsaw, like ISIS, used the purposeful destruction of architecture as a weapon to annihilate Polish civilization. The Nazis thought that by razing the architecture of Warsaw, they would strip the Polish people of their historical and cultural identity, which equaled reducing them to uncivilized, second-class citizens that were meant to serve the superior German occupiers. The Nazis carried out this process of deconstructing Warsaw’s architectural heritage in a methodical and purposeful manner.

    When I mentioned that I was going to Warsaw to anybody from Europe, they suggested I “go to Krakow.” I understood that the reasons behind this lack of enthusiasm about Warsaw would be very much related to my topic of interest: the consequences of war on how the city looks. The historic center of Warsaw, which was reduced to rubble in 1944, is a facsimile construction that was completed in the 1950s. It was largely rebuilt according to how the city looked like in the 18th-century paintings of Italian Renaissance artist Bernando Bellotto, known as Canaletto. Visitors to Warsaw’s Old Town come across plaques displaying Bellotto’s paintings of the building in question standing in front of the actual reconstruction (Figure 1).  Reconstructing the historical quarter of Warsaw based on a representation of the city in art, one that portrays a nostalgic view of the past, emphasizes the symbolic importance of Old Town for national identity. However, its authenticity as a historical reconstruction has been widely questioned.

    Figure 1-Carmelite Church

    Figure 1. Carmelite Church, 1780 Warsaw, next to a painting of the Church by Bernardo Bellotto. This particular church, however, managed to survive the war unscathed.


    From Berlin, I took a six-and-a-half-hour train ride to Warsaw. As I stepped out of Warszawa Centralna train station, a celebrated modernist building completed in 1975 (Figure 2), I was welcomed by one of Warsaw’s most controversial landmarks, an infamous product of Stalinist architecture, the Palace of Culture (Figure 3). In the following days, shrouded by overcast and gray skies, Warsaw, with its freestanding Soviet-era housing blocks, looked dreary and visually uninteresting (Figure 4–5). Of course, this is one view of Warsaw. There is a sense in Warsaw that the city is still in the process of becoming.

    Figure 2-Warszawa Centralna

    Figure 2. Warszawa Centralna Train Station.


    Figure 3-Palace of the Culture

    Figure 3. Palace of Culture


    Figure 4- Housing blocks

    Figure 5- Housing blocks

    Figure 4–5. Modernist Housing Estates, Osiedle za Żelazną Bramą, 1970, Warsaw


    Warsaw is unique among other cities destroyed during World War II. The destruction of the city wasn’t only the result of fighting. It was a methodical process of destruction guided by a prewar Nazi German urban plan to dismantle the Polish city and construct a Nazi model city in its place. In 1939, the Pabst plan envisioned the annihilation of the Polish city and its people of 1.3 million inhabitants to make room for a new provisional German town of 130,000 Germans.1 Warsaw’s Jewish population were the first group targeted to achieve this extreme reduction in population size. Around 400,000 Jewish people were forced into the small area of the Jewish Ghetto and lived in overcrowded and dreadful conditions.  Next, Poles were to be relocated to labor camps across the Vistula River to serve as slave laborers for the new German town. Stanislaw Jankowski, a Polish architect who was involved in the first years of reconstruction in Warsaw, expands on the unusual Pabst Plan:

    “This is probably the only document in history that did not even attempt to justify destruction by arguing military necessities. On the contrary, it ordered the destruction of an entire city with the exception of military installations. The order was carried out with precision. A special staff composed of experts and scientific advisers was in charge of the operation. Warsaw was divided into areas for destruction. Corner houses were numbered. On selected buildings and statues special inscriptions were made indicating the proposed date of demolition. Special detachments known as demolition and annihilation squads proceeded to destroy the deserted city- house by house, street by street.”2

    The tactical demolition of Warsaw delineated in the Pabst plan was transformed by two retaliatory episodes of destruction. In 1943, the Ghetto Uprising broke out to resist deporting the remaining Jews to extermination camps after 320,000 Jews were sent to the gas chambers of Treblinka in 1942. The uprising ended with the burning of the Ghetto and everyone inside it followed by a leveling of any structure that remained. A year later, the Polish underground resistance organized the Warsaw Uprising to reclaim Warsaw from German occupation. Tragically, the Soviet army, which was supposed to advance to Warsaw to defeat Germany, stopped at the other side of the Vistula River, allowing the Nazi army to extinguish the uprising and unleash the final blow of destruction of Warsaw in retaliation. In 1944, over 85% of Warsaw was in ruins.3

    The Old Town has historically been the most representative and celebrated image of the city’s identity (Figure 6–11). The historic center of Warsaw, developed between the 13th  and 20th centuries, is a vibrant place bustling with tourists, locals, and kids on school field trips. The Old Town, distinguished by its colorful facades and winding streets, was the economic and political center of Warsaw in the 16th and 17th centuries when it became the seat of Polish kings and the meeting place of the Sejms. This historical period is significant for the Polish nation, which ceased to exist as an independent state from 1795 to 1918 with the Third Partition of Poland. The urban and spatial character of the Old Town was a testament to the prosperity of the Polish state. It is because of its status as a cherished symbol of Polish culture and statehood that Warsaw’s historic center was intentionally targeted for erasure by Adolf Hitler. By destroying Warsaw, Hitler wanted to eradicate any historical record of Polish culture (Figure 12).

    Figure 6-Krakowskie Przedmiescie

    Figure 7-Krakowskie Przedmiescie

    Figure 8-Krakowskie Przedmiescie

    Figure 6–8. Krakowskie Przedmieście, prominent street constituted part of Warsaw’s Royal Route


    Figure 9- Old Town

    Figure 10- Old Town

    Figure 11- Old Town

    Figure 9–11. Reconstructed Old Town Warsaw


    Figure 12-Old Town destroyed

    Figure 12. Marketplace in Old Town, after the war


    The reconstruction of Warsaw, and specifically the Old Town, was seen as a symbolic resurrection of Poland and the inextinguishable spirit of its people to reclaim their city and therefore, their national identity. The Old Town of Warsaw was rebuilt exactly as it was, relying mainly on representations of the city in art and other forms of documentation that took place secretly under German Occupation. Some modifications to the original buildings were made to ameliorate prewar conditions, like eliminating sections of tenement housing and widening courtyards in what were dense and overcrowded housing estates. The replicas might resemble the old architecture on the outside but their interiors were often of modern construction. Reconstruction debates concluded that it was more important to recreate the very image of Warsaw the Fuhrer meant to annihilate in order to give people back what was taken from them. While the reconstruction of Old Town might stem from a nostalgic vision of Warsaw, it is celebrated as an extensive and faithful reconstruction of a historic center, which earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980.

    Much of the chaotic and haphazard character of the urban fabric of Warsaw is attributed to the rapid development of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century that triggered a massive population growth (Figure 13). Warsaw was under Russian rule until 1918, which not only prevented the expansion of the city outwards to accommodate the population increase, but did not instate regulations and policies to deal with urban growth.4 Plans to reshape Warsaw to improve its urban conditions have been in the works since 1918 when Poland regained its independence and continued during the period of World War II. Stanislaw Jankowski, who was an SOE agent, a Polish resistance fighter, and an architect, discusses secret town planning and architectural studies that took place in Warsaw during the German Occupation. Jankowski’s account sheds some light on the preemptive efforts of the planning department of the Warsaw Municipal Council, the Faculty of Architecture of Warsaw Technical University, the Studio of Architecture and Town Planning, and others to secretly prepare plans for Warsaw’s reconstruction after liberation and to document the city’s historical monuments should they get destroyed. These efforts by Polish architects and planners facilitated the process of rebuilding after the war and were an example of the Polish resistance against cultural and historical annihilation perpetrated by the Nazis. Jankowski elaborates on the secret planning efforts:

    “This conspiratorial town-planning activity, carried out in conditions of terror unleashed by the Gestapo, implied awareness that planning itself constituted a form of struggle against the invader, and it also expressed the need for continuing professional work and for making preparations for new tasks that were to come.”5

    Figure 13-Styles

    Figure 13. A clash of architectural styles, Warsaw


    Representations of Warsaw in Polish Art

    Bernardo Bellotto’s paintings of Warsaw (Figures 14–16) are the most well-known representations of the city in its prosperous era and became crucial blueprints for rebuilding the historic quarter after the war. Bellotto, who became a court painter to the king of Poland in 1768, executed accurate cityscapes of buildings and squares of the historic center of Warsaw. Even if Bellotto’s depictions are known to be embellished for artistic purposes, the survival of these paintings proved crucial in recreating the image of Warsaw’s golden age that was intentionally wiped out during the war.

    Figure 14-Bernardo Bellotto, View of Warsaw, Church of Holly Cross

    Figure 14. Bernardo Bellotto, Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, 1778. Photo: Royal Castle in Warsaw.


    Figure 15-Bernardo Bellotto, Miodowa Street

    Figure 15. Bernardo Bellotto, Miodowa Street, 1777. Photo: Royal Castle in Warsaw.



    Figure 16. Bernardo Bellotto, Carmelite Church in Warsaw, 1780. Photo: Royal Castle in Warsaw.


    Figure 17-Marcin Zaleski ,Plac Teatralny

    Figure 17. Marcin Zaleski , Plac Teatralny, 1838. Photo: Museum of Warsaw


    Figure 18-Nowy Swiat

    Figure 18. Władysław_Podkowiński, Nowy Świat Street on a Summer Day, 1892. Nowy Swiat Photo: National Museum of Warsaw. Nowy Swiat is a major historic street in Warsaw and part of the Royal Route. It was one of the first to be rebuilt after the war.

    In 1905, Witold Wojtkiewicz sketched the uprising that took place in Warsaw as part of the larger revolution in Poland that began in Lodz (Figures 19–20). Across Poland, workers went on strike to demand better working and living conditions, as well as more rights and political freedom. In Witold Wojtkiewicz’s expressionist sketches, Warsaw’s Old Town is the stage where this revolution unfolds connecting the spatial and urban landscape of the city with a distinct Polish resistance similar to representations of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising in the city (Figure 21).

    Figure 19-Witold_Wojtkiewicz_-_Manifestacja_1905

    Figure 20-Witold_Wojtkiewicz_manifestacja_uliczna_-1905-

    Figures 19–20. Witold Wojtkiewicz, Street Demonstration, 1905. Photos: www.wikipedia.org


    Figure 21-The Warsaw Uprising - a mural by Jarosław Fabis

    Figure 21. The Warsaw Uprising, A Mural by Jarosław Fabis, 2016. Photo: Warsaw Uprising Museum.


    Life amidst the ruins was a reality for the many Varsovians that returned to Warsaw after the war despite the city’s unlivable conditions. Warsaw’s rubble landscapes permeated the cultural consciousness and the work of Polish artists. Although the depictions of Warsaw’s ruins were more of a documentation of its alien state after the war than a contemplative fascination with ruins typical of ruins painting.

    Figure 22-Antoni Lyzwanski, Warsaw Exodus 1945

    Figure 22. Antoni Lyzwanski, Warsaw Exodus, 1945. Photo: www.owzpap.org


    Figure 23-antoni teslar, pigeons on Bugaj Street

    Figure 23. Antoni Teslar, Pigeons on Bugaj Street, 1952. Photo: Museum of Warsaw


    Figure 24-Jan Wisniewski, A View of Ruined Warsaw from Praga, 1945

    Figure 24. Jan Wisniewski, A View of Ruined Warsaw from Praga, 1945. Photo: Museum of Warsaw


    Figure 25-W. Chmielewski, Ruins of the Capuchin Church at ul. Miodowa,1947

    Figure 25. W. Chmielewski, Ruins of the Capuchin Church at ul. Miodowa, 1947. Photo: Museum of Warsaw.


    A month after the war ended, the Office for the Reconstruction of the City was established in Warsaw to begin the process of rebuilding. Planners, architects, and politicians argued over whether to rebuild the city as it was or to treat the ruined urban fabric as a tabula rasa to introduce new urban developments and architectural styles. The two paintings by Antoni Teslar in Figure 26 and 27 depict the primary approaches of postwar reconstruction in Warsaw: the historical facsimile reconstruction of Old Town, and the introduction of modern urban planning and architecture. Teslar’s painting in Figure 27 shows the reconstruction of the iconic Marszałkowska Residential District (MDM), the socialist realist residential complex that housed workers (Figure 28–30). The monumental and decorated housing blocks were the inspiration for Stalinallee in Berlin. Similarly, the construction of Constitution Square was meant to host parades and public demonstrations.6 The MDM complex was a major urban planning project that was noted for retaining the 18th century star-shaped urban fabric of the site, perhaps situating the Stalinist “foreign” architecture in an inherently Polish urban landscape, thus eliciting a sense of a cultural continuity.

    Figure 26-antoni teslar

    Figure 26. Antoni Teslar, Reconstruction of Warsaw (Old Town), 1952. Photo: www.artinfo.pl


    Figure 27-antoni teslar, MDM, 1952

    Figure 27. Antoni Teslar, Reconstruction of Warsaw (Marszałkowska Residential District), 1952. Photo: www.artinfo.pl


    Figure 28-MDM

    Figure 29-MDM

    Figure 30-MDM

    Figure 28–30. Marszałkowska Residential District and Constitution Square, Warsaw


    During the reconstruction years, the image of heroic Varsovians rebuilding their city was one that the Communist government exploited in its propaganda art to strengthen its own ideological and political power in Poland. Figures 31–33 show examples of these images produced around that time. Figure 31, 32 reads “the whole nation is building its capital.” The Mermaid of Warsaw is in the background in Figure 31, which is a historical municipal symbol dating to the 14th century. Figure 33 reads, “We are building Warsaw with a joint effort. We are building people’s Warsaw.”

    Figure 31-Propoganda, Poster with Mermaid, Wiktor Gorka, 1954

    Figure 31. Wiktor Gorka, Propaganda Poster, 1954. Photo: Museum of Warsaw



    Figure 32. Propaganda Poster, Wydawnictwo Artytyczno Graficzne, 1953. Photo: www.antykwariatwaw.pl


    Figure 33-Witold Chmielewski

    Figure 33. Left: unknown author, 1948. Right: Witold Chmielewski, T. Tomaszewski, 1955. Photo: Museum of Warsaw


    After Socialist Realism became the official style of art in People’s Republic of Poland, Wojciech Fangor painted this allegorical scene of Polish construction workers working together to rebuild Warsaw (Figure 34), connecting once again the Communist cause with the rebuilding of the Polish capital. 

    Figure 34-Wojciech Fangor, Murarze, 1950

    Figure 34. Wojciech Fangor, Murarze, 1950. Photo: Museum of Warsaw


    Edward Dwurnki’s painting of the Warsaw cityscape is a bit satirical in its description of Warsaw’s urban identity. The painting, as the title suggests, shows the construction of Warszawa Centralna railway station surrounded by a showcase of Warsaw’s most famous and controversial architectural gestures that transformed the character of the city, and soon to be joined by the modern innovative design of the station. The view tilts up to encompass as much of Warsaw’s urban landmarks as possible, all the result of postwar reconstruction. On the left, a foreshortened and squat Palace of Culture, the most dominating figure in the composition, as well as in Warsaw’s urban landscape. In the center-right, a notable modernist building, the Rotunda (PKO), is shown with its iconic jagged roof. Five years after this painting was completed, the Rotunda was destroyed by an explosion due to a gas leak. The Rotunda was completely rebuilt a couple of times, so that little of the original building remains. In the background, Warsaw’s major thoroughfares are depicted with forceful lines connecting the center of Warsaw with the eastern Praga district.

    Figure 35-Edward Dwurnki, Construction of the Central Railway Station

    Figure 35. Edward Dwurnki, Construction of the Central Railway Station, 1974. Photo: Museum of Warsaw.


    I did go to Krakow and I can confirm it is a more pleasant city to visit than Warsaw. After all, Krakow was spared the destruction that Warsaw suffered and survived the war almost untouched. Seeing the glaring differences between Warsaw and Krakow, two Polish cities that met different fates, one starts to grasp the lasting effects of war on the urban character of cities.

    Figure 36-St Mary Basilica

    Figure 36. St’ Mary Basilica, Krakow, a prominent example of Polish Gothic architecture.


    Figure 37-St Mary Basilica,Interior

    Figure 37. St’ Mary Basilica, Krakow. View of the polychrome interior murals.




    1 Diefendorf, Jeffry M., and Stanislaw Jankowski. “Warsaw: Destruction, Secret Town Planning, 1939–44, and Postwar Reconstruction.” Essay. In Rebuilding Europe's Bombed Cities, 96. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990.

    2 Ibid, 94.

    3 Bevan, Robert. The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War. London: Reaktion Books, 2016.

    4 Lupienko , Aleksander. “Reading Warsaw’s Complicated Urban Fabric.” In City as Organism, New Visions for Urban Life 1, Vol. 1. Rome, Italy, n.d., 2015.

    5 Diefendorf, Jeffry M., and Stanislaw Jankowski. “Warsaw: Destruction, Secret Town Planning, 1939–44, and Postwar Reconstruction .” Essay. In Rebuilding Europe's Bombed Cities, 96. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990.

    6 Dydek, Maria. “The Architectural Heritage of Socialist Realism in Warsaw.” The Uncomfortable Significance of Socialist Heritage, 2013.

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