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Last Updated: Friday, 22 July 2005, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Poles tolerate Stalinist palace
Warsaw's Palace of Culture and Science was a gift from Stalin

Warsaw's Stalin-era skyscraper, the Palace of Culture and Science, is 50 years old on Friday.

But the gift from Josef Stalin to then communist Poland is also one of the country's most controversial buildings, the BBC's Adam Easton reports.

It was a gift that nobody wanted. For decades it was hated because it was the symbol of Soviet domination of the country.

It was designed by Russian architect Lev Rudniev in classic socialist realist style. Inside, it is full of marble and ornate chandeliers, but outside its stone-clad walls are home to dozens of statues of muscle-bound worker heroes with chiselled cheekbones clutching enormous hammers.

It is certainly not to everyone's taste.

"The Palace of Culture is not handsome. It's very ugly," says Warsaw's chief architect Michal Borowski, who has his office in the building.

"But it is here and it's a part of our city. You could ask is Warsaw a nice city? No, Warsaw is not a very nice city. But it is an interesting city."

Concert greats

In 1952, Russian workers were brought in to build the palace. There were so many, Polish workers had to build a makeshift "friendship" settlement of wooden cottages to house them.

We don't remember the communist times, it's only a building. Maybe it's a symbol of communism but we don't see it that way
Young Warsaw resident

A 3.3-hectare area of war-torn Warsaw was cleared to make way for the structure which contains 40 million bricks. It was completed in lightning speed and handed over to the people on 22 July, 1955.

Inside its 43 storeys there are 3,200 rooms. It was here the communists used to hold their party congresses. But it was also home to a swimming pool, a theatre, a museum and a 2,800-seat concert hall.

Over the years, stars like Marlene Dietrich, Ella Fitzgerald and a youthful Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones performed there.

Despite the recent addition of modern skyscrapers nearby, it still dominates the city skyline. Its outline can be seen from 15km (nine miles) away.

Culture Palace
Opened: 22 July 1955
Height: 231 metres to spire tip
Contains 40 million bricks
Took three years to complete
3,288 rooms on 43 floors
16 Russians died during construction

When communism collapsed in 1989, many Varsovians thought the palace should too. That is exactly what happened in the popular Polish film Rozmowy kontrolowane (Controlled Conversations) when the main character pulled the flush of a toilet in the palace.

But attitudes have softened in the last 15 years. The political symbolism has faded. Most of the city's inhabitants, like Michal Borowski, grew up with it.

"When I was very, very young I used to go there. I learnt to play table tennis; I learnt swimming, even dancing there. During Christmas holidays thousands of children used to go there and get small gifts like three oranges, which were rare at that time," Mr Borowski said.

Mr Borowski wants to develop the area around the palace and plans to construct a modern art museum, a music theatre, shops and apartment blocks.

Sentimental value

In fact, many of the capital's younger residents - too young to remember communism - actually like it.

"It's got some sentimental value for me because my university courses used to be here. It's got a certain style. I don't like walls of glass. It's a Warsaw landmark so I think it should stay," said one.

"I like it. The architecture is funny. You don't see this style anymore. We don't remember the communist times, it's only a building. Maybe it's a symbol of communism but we don't see it that way," said another.

"I think it now has a position similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It's a part of the city and it should stay. It reminds me of the Empire State Building. So, if it's used in New York, why not Warsaw?" said another woman.

Country profile: Poland
20 Jul 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Poland
12 Apr 05 |  Country profiles

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