Beautiful hand-drawn maps reveal Warsaw as it looked over 100 years ago
Priceless maps that show Warsaw as it was over 100 years ago in unprecedented detail have been published online by Warsaw City Hall.
The hand-drawn colour street plans are so precise that the shape of each building can be discerned and individual trees can be seen.
The 1:2500 scale plans are considered among the greatest works of world cartography and urban surveying and pieces of art in their own right.
Only Frankfurt and Hamburg could boast maps of such quality and detail and the turn of the 20th century.
Today, they are a priceless source of information on the city’s street plan before the cataclysm of World War Two and post-war planning changed the layout of the city’s streets irrecoverably.
“Due to their accuracy, detail and precise measurements, they are a high-class cartographic study, but at the same time an exceptional work of art,” Warsaw City Hall wrote.
The maps show the city in the period from 1896 to 1906 and the several dozen that have been posted online are part of the over 7,000 sheets that make up the Lindley Plans.
They were drawn up from 1876 to 1915 for the ambitious water supply and waste management system introduced by Warsaw mayor Sokrates Starynkiewicz.
The modern and innovative water system was designed by English engineer William Lindley and completed by his oldest son William Heerlein Lindley. The system was a technical marvel and continues to serve Warsaw today.
The Lindley family also designed water supply and sewage systems in other cities, including Łódź, Budapest, Bucharest, Vienna, Prague, Moscow and Lwów.
In order to build the network of pipes and sewers, precise measurements and maps of the city were needed.
The cross that tops out the Evangelist church on Małachowskiego square in the centre of Warsaw was selected as the geodesic starting point.
From there, Polish surveyors took their instruments and measured the whole of Warsaw’s street network, measuring a staggering 187.4 km.
The plans show the street names in Cyrillic script with buildings marked as public or private, often with the towner’s name. The maps also mark whether a building is made of wood or brick Later updates can be seen such as the outline for the National Museum on Jerozolimskie avenue and train lines.
The plans miraculously survived the upheavals of the last century. In 1915, the retreating Russians took them away with them, but they came back to Warsaw as part of the Treaty of Riga following the Polish-Bolshevik war.
In 1944 they left the capital together with what could be saved from the National Museum. Since 1955, they have been the property of the State Archive in Warsaw.
Before being posted online, the Warsaw Land Survey and Cadastral Office made scans and digitally stitched them together so that they could be overlaid onto City Hall’s map service at Map of Warsaw - Office of Surveying and Cadastre (BGiK) (um.warszawa.pl).
To see the maps, visitors should head to the link, then on the left-hand panel and click on ‘Historical Map’, then in the top right corner click on ‘aerial photos’ where a whole list of aps from different times are available.
The Lindley maps are grouped together in the years 1896-1906, 1897, 1897-1901 and 1900-1901. The best are available in the 1897-1901 view.