Street spirit: From Chopin to WWII, Poland’s shortest street has an intriguingly long history
Hidden in a corner a few moments away from Warsaw’s historic Old Town, one unassuming street holds the unusual claim to fame as Poland’s shortest street, with a fascinating history including serving as an inspiration for a work by Chopin.
Located in Warsaw’s New Town, ulica Samborska (Samborska Street) is 22 metres long, 2.7 metres wide and doesn’t have a single building registered on it.
Outlined in 1770-1771, two decades before the area was included within the administrative district of Warsaw, the street was named after the Samborski family of burghers who owned the land surrounding it.
Although never a major street and never serving as a throughfare for vehicles, it was once much longer, at a length of 100 metres at the end of the 18th century and led down to Rybaki street and a private beach which was later built by two brothers of the Kozłowski family.
At the time, the New Town was a poor district, where there were only a few houses, some of them still wooden, and a hospital set up by the Mazowiecki clan, which in 1821, was turned into a house for the elderly.
In 1852, a register of houses in Warsaw showed that five families lived on Samborska street.
One of its more notable episodes includes one involving Chopin. According to local legend, while a student at the Academy of Music, the young pianist wanted to compose a new waltz and took a walk in the New Town and Samborska street while thinking about ideas.
It is believed that the shortness of the street and the fast walk down it offered the final inspiration and resulted in the Waltz in D-flat major, Op.64 No.10, popularly known as the “Minute Waltz”.
As the New Town began to expand and new townhouses were built, including on Samborska street, it is thought the exit onto Rybaki street was closed off and the street shortened to half its original size, down to 50 metres, but it still had buildings, with local sources from the interwar period showing that a bell factory was located on the street.
Everything was changed by WWII when heavy fighting took place in close vicinity of the street.
The Germans occupied the nearby Polish Security Printing Works which was an important point for those fighting for the freedom of Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, as it represented the independence of the young Polish state being able to print its own banknotes and documents.
During the Uprising, workers of the Polish Security Printing Works managed to take the building from the Germans and afterwards, for a month, with the help of the Polish Home Army, defended it.
The barricades were set up nearby at the intersection of Samborska street and Przyrynek street.
The Germans attacked the building from the street and from the air, destroying the entire area.
The last photograph of Samborska street, taken in 1945, shows burnt out roofs and ruined buildings. Gradually the ruins were demolished and it was at this time that Samborska street was shortened to 22 metres.
In the 1960s, apartment blocks and a school were built around the street, enclosing it between them and the uncared for and overgrown Samborska disappeared from city plans of Warsaw.
It was not until 2010, almost half a century after its disappearance from the map of Warsaw, that Samborska had its street status restored by the then mayor of central Warsaw.
Wanting to restore its historic status as well as its title as Poland’s shortest street , a commemorative plaque was put up to tell the little street’s unusual story.