Palace of Culture excavation reveals unmapped corridors and secret VIP rooms
Uncovered last week, it’s been revealed that a mysterious chamber underneath Warsaw’s Plac Defilad once served as a restroom and apartment for visiting dignitaries and VIPs.
The discovery was made during ongoing excavation work conducted by the city as part of a PLN 60 million project to revive the square.
Although around 160 Art Nouveau tenements that once stood on the plot survived wartime destruction, they were torn down in the years that followed to make way for Stalin’s “gift” to the people of Warsaw: the Palace of Culture and Science.
Part of the bold architectural vision included Plac Defilad, an epic square measuring 700-metres by 700-metres. It was here that Communist era parades and speeches were held, often involving tens of thousands of people.
However, since the political transformation of 1989, the square and its environs have led an unusual existence serving, among other things, as an outdoor bazaar and, briefly, the home of Cricoland, a tawdry 1990s amusement park.
Long seen as a wasted piece of prime real estate, this summer finally saw steps taken to reabsorb the area into the fabric of the city. As part of this, an ambitious investment has been undertaken that will see the planting of a hundred trees and the addition of a water feature.
Keeping in mind the area’s heritage, the surface area will also be covered by six types of stone to mark out the footprint of the former streets, courtyards and buildings that once occupied the square.
Beginning in June, the excavation work has already yielded a rich bounty of finds, among these pre-war foundations, cellars, cobbles and tram tracks.
The most intriguing find, though, was made last week when workers happened across a set of rooms close to the podium from which crowds were once addressed.
Previously unmapped, the half-flooded corridors that were discovered led to a series of murky chambers that still bore traces of human life.
Talking to the press, Renata Kuryłowicz of ZDM said: “These rooms are in a deplorable condition, but there are several elements here preserved from the times of the People's Republic of Poland: marble fittings, wallpaper, etc. There are a lot of these rooms here, probably four or five, including a kitchen and a toilet and other lounge-like rooms.”
Initially baffling those that made the discovery, historians have now asserted that these would have served as restrooms for party officials.
Necessitated by the rambling nature of many of the speeches and parades that took place at ground-level – some of which lasted up to six-hours – it was in these that Communist leaders would snatch breaks.
It’s likely that meetings were also held in these, as well as meals.
“An old electrical switchboard was also found near the podium,” said Łukasz Puchalski, director of the Municipal Roads Authority, “but we haven’t yet investigated to see if anything lies beyond.”
This would not come as a surprise. For decades, the Palace of Culture and Science has been the source of some of the capital’s most enduring urban legends.
For years, locals have speculated that a secret tunnel connected the building to the Communist Party Headquarters on Nowy Świat.
Even more luridly, others have talked about covert rail lines and, even, stashes of vodka that had initially been bought to pay the Rolling Stones when they played in Warsaw in 1967.
With work now delayed by the discoveries, the truth as to these rumours could yet finally be revealed.