The Old town square in Warsaw, Poland was one of the most vibrant places in central Europe before the war. Enraged by the Warsaw uprising of the Polish resistance, the German leaders struck back by destroying the city. By 1945, no buildings remained in Warsaw’s old town, and roughly two-thirds of the city’s pre-war population had perished.

Timeline of Restoration: Warsaw, Poland - Sheet1
Old town square Warsaw 1945 and 2019_©httpswarsawtour.plenprojectold-town-2, © .jpg

Yet, the city thrives today with the hustle and bustle of a metropolis: it remains as living evidence of the bloodshed and patriotism owed for restoring its magnificent architecture. Warsaw witnessed around an 84% loss to its urban architecture, with residential structures suffering losses of 72% and industrial infrastructure, historical monuments, and industrial infrastructure 90%, respectively. A population of one million were almost wiped out as a consequence of the Warsaw Uprising, leaving a few thousand people stranded in a deserted city.

The Vision Behind A New Purpose | Warsaw Poland

Timeline of Restoration: Warsaw, Poland - Sheet2
Destruction of Warsaw after uprising_ ©httpwarsawpaths.comdestruction-of-warsaw

All hope was lost for Warsaw, and its restoration seemed like an impossible dream. So how and why was it rebuilt? One vital factor was the massive flow of people intending to settle in this city. Past inhabitants and new dwellers recently displaced gathered to initiate the reconstruction process. Politics were another cause: Stalin required international recognition as he prepared for the Yalta conference, which meant a Poland with Warsaw as its capital. The National Council adopted a resolution on February 3rd, 1945, calling for the reconstruction of Warsaw.

BOS ( the Biuro Odbudowy Stolicy: Office for the Reconstruction of the Capital ) oversaw one of the most pioneering initiatives in human history. . A war-torn city’s monuments had never before been attempted to be rebuilt on such a large scale. Additionally, the choice was in stark opposition to the time’s dominant conservation approach.

An Uncommon Tactic

Timeline of Restoration: Warsaw, Poland - Sheet3
Bernardo Bellotto’s 18th century paintings as reference for reconstruction_ ©Andrzej Ring, Lech Sandzewicz

The common conservation strategy during the time was to focus on the few main historical structures while assuming the duty of restoring a town. The reconstruction of Warsaw had a plan in stark contrast to the usual approach. Professor Jan Zachwatowicz, the head of the BOS’s Department of Monumental Architecture at that time, was moved by patriotism and held onto the sentiment that a nation and its cultural monuments are one entity. His philosophy entailed the entire rebuilding of monuments. Scratch with the aid of documentation or from memory. This mostly resulted in approximate replicas. He proposed the same in this context but was allowed to follow through only to an extent.   

When Warsaw’s Old Town was added to UNESCO‘s World Cultural Heritage list in 1980, the public acknowledged the innovative and distinctive effort of the city’s revitalisation. And in 2011, the Archives of BOS were placed on the Memory of the World Register as one of the most priceless examples of human documentary history.

Naturally, the effort to rebuild only included a portion of historical reconstruction. The expanding population of new Varsovians had to be accommodated. New urban planning, new streets and new structures became a necessity. An amazing engineering feat was the construction of Taza W-Z (the East-West Route) ‘s tunnel under Castle Square. This was one of the many large-scale projects that started and finished in the immediate post-war period. The city of Warsaw’s first post-war housing development was built at an astonishingly fast pace. These were interestingly designed to resemble typical merchant homes from the 17th century.

The Rise Of Social Realism | Warsaw Poland

Timeline of Restoration: Warsaw, Poland - Sheet4
Muranow Housing Estate-Warsaw, Poland_ ©
Timeline of Restoration: Warsaw, Poland - Sheet5
Palace of Culture and Science Warsaw ©

The preliminary years permitted the architects to express artistic freedom. This continued until the official style of Social Realism was enforced in 1949. A perfect example of this style would be the Muranów housing estate (1948-1953) or the Palace of Culture and Science (1953-56). Buildings that escaped this mandate by being completed beforehand stood out as modernists. The Warsaw Housing Cooperative (WSM) Estate in Koło, designed by Helena and Szymon Syrkus, flaunted its functionalist style of the ’30s.

Meanwhile, the 1950 Moskwa Cinema resonated with a modernist flair. The BOS was dissolved in 1952 but did not stop rebuilding projects. The Royal Castle followed the same fashion of replication despite not being completed until 1974.

How on earth was such a massive logistics operation ever feasible in a nation so economically wrecked by the war?

Rebuilding Warsaw (1946) _©British Pathé.

People’s contributions to the Social Fund for the Rebuilding of the Capital served as the exclusive source of funding (SFOS). The SFOS, founded in 1945, was the sole authorised state agency funding the rehabilitation project. The organisation was disbanded in 1965. Warsaw owes its rebirth to the people of Poland with their donations and labour. The media must not be underestimated as communist propaganda. It was vital towards the initiation of the project. The reconstruction of Warsaw is a testimony to its social success. It unified people, as everyone was involved in the vision, including the social classes who used to deny participation in urban activities. 

The new Socialist capital was built over the remains of the version of Warsaw from the past. Even the buildings that outlived the war crumbled under the rise of nationalisation. This stood relevant to numerous tenant houses of the late 19th century and early 20th century, which were an element of Warsaw’s character before World War II. Dozens of 19th-century buildings, including the ones rebuilt, were demolished with the purpose of them never being repossessed by their private owners.   

Concluding as per the explanation of Majewski and Markiewicz: the communists perceived the architecture as bourgeois. The modernists saw it as a threat to a better urban environment. Meanwhile, Urban planners and architects broke free from their shackles, letting their imaginations run wild – they sought to design entire districts, disregarding the former division of title rights.


Centre, U.N.E.S.C.O.W.H. (no date) Historic Centre of Warsaw, Documents – UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Available at: (Accessed: February 6, 2023). 

McCouat, P., 2015. Bernardo Bellotto and the reconstruction of Warsaw. Journal of Art in Society.

Silke, Novak, R.L. and Lewan, W. (2023) How Warsaw was rebuilt exactly the same, Time Travel Turtle. Available at: (Accessed: February 6, 2023). 

Demshuk, A. (2021) Inventing authenticity: How the rebuilding of Warsaw’s Old Town became a model for other cities, Notes From Poland. Available at: (Accessed: February 6, 2023).