Nowa Huta is not somewhere that many visitors to Krakow have heard of but it’s a great option for a day-trip and a fun way to escape from the crowds of tourist in the city center. The easternmost area of the city, Nowa Huta was a communist attempt at creating an industrial hub and Socialist paradise in Southern Poland.
The city itself is only one of two completely pre-planned socialist realist cities in the world. It’s a prime example of social engineering and the poured concrete architecture style of living. I really didn’t know what to expect during my visit but I left pleasantly surprised.
After World War 2 when Poland was under Soviet control the Soviets began looking for an area near Krakow that they could build into an industrial empire. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced after the war and many more were coming to major cities from the countryside. These people needed places to live, somewhere to work, and the Polish economy was thirsty for a boost.
In May of 1947, after spending a year or so looking for the ideal location to build the city, the plans for Nowa Huta were approved. Over the following few years with the help of thousands of people the city began to take shape. Housing was created for over 100,000 people and the construction didn’t even begin to slow down until the late 70s.
Design inspiration was taken from across Europe and applied to a socialist realist form of concrete architecture. The city and buildings were laid out in a grid that radiated from Plac Centralny all the way to the Lenin Steelworks on the edge of town. Back then the tree-lined streets, wide open spaces, and beautiful parks must have been incredible to see for the people after the war as well as those coming into Nowa Huta from the countryside.
The entire city was carefully planned. The streets were wide enough to prevent fires from jumping from building to building, tons of passages and arcades were added so workers to get to and from work very efficiently, and thousands of trees were planted to dampen the impact of a nuclear blast and radiation fallout. The layout of the city was also designed so that it could be easily turned into a fortress should it come under attack in the future. Everything was meticulously planned with a reason in mind so that nothing went to waste.
By 1949 the first housing block was completed but unfortunately the entirety of the socialist realist dream for Nowa Huta never came to fruition. A town hall was never built and vast areas of the city were left unfinished. However, walking through Nowa Huta is like going back to an era where large fancy buildings and an eye for detail were largely ignored. It’s interesting to visit the city today to see the contrast, or in some cases the similarity, between Krakow and other cities in Europe.
In a way I’m reminded of areas of Bratislava, and even places in Toronto, where architects seemed to forego design and architectural style and instead strived to throw up condos and apartment buildings as fast as possible. Nowa Huta is a completely unique suburb and an interesting place to spend a day walking around. Maybe the communist and socialist style of architecture isn’t appealing to you but in Nowa Huta it’s hard not to be impressed what a dedicated government was able to accomplish in so little time.
Here are a few photos and some things to see in Nowa Huta: