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Nowa Huta

Most visitors to Krakow notice the inescapable Renaissance flair of the Old Town and it seems natural in that part of the city. But the Renaissance architectural inspiration can also be found in much less expected places, like the Communist Utopia town of Nowa Huta. Sixty years ago the city was under communist occupation. The Soviet rulers, keeping in line with the spirit of the times, designed a model communist town whose aim was the glorification of the working class. However, on close inspection, you realize that the town's design has less to do with Communism than with the best Renaissance principles of the "ideal city" shown in works by Piero della Francesca, Jacopo Bellini and Andrea Mantegna. The concept of the Ideal City reflected the utopia of the "civitas" cherished for centuries by utopian thinkers. The Ideal City was primarily an intellectual idea, without any reference to the existing cities, to be erected from nothing. The theme of the Ideal City, by which the Renaissance architects were hypnotized, was the display of the ruler's power and wealth. Its purpose was to become an instrument of cultural and political propaganda. The Ideal City was to be a model of ideal living and government, based on the concept of a town able to satisfy the needs of a peaceful and hardworking community. The design of the ideal city should be perfect, rational, with a regular plan. Radial streets should extend outward from a defined center of military, communal or spiritual power. Coincidentally, these were the very same principles as those which the Communists set for their cities and their communities. Nowa Huta was founded on these exact principles and it follows the very same architectural design.
 
The humanist concept of the 'ideal city' came to life around 1490 and stemmed from the new principles of perspective and the idealized tradition of Utopia. The theme of the Ideal City is one that was most studied by the Renaissance architects. One of the most impressive projects of an ideal city was made a Florentine architect Filarete who worked at the Sforza court in Milan from 1450 to 1465. Filarete imagined a city called Sforzinda, as tribute to the duke Francesco. The plan of the city was star shaped, regular and perfect. The two central points of Sforzinda were the cathedral and the castle, symbols of the civic and religious power.
          
Today's Nowa Huta, just like Piero della Francesca piantings, follows a regular design and wide avenues, lined with arcaded buildings, radiate from the central square. But the area of the present town has been historically important well before the communists arrived. It is one of the few places in Poland which was settled continuously since the Neolithic Era. Archeological research has discovered a big Celtic settlement and Poland's oldest Slavic settlements there. It was here that the Vistulans erected a burial mound in the 8th century. According to a legend, it a tomb of Wanda, daughter of Krak, the mythical founder of Krakow. In the 13th century a Cistercian monastery was built here and in the 19th century the border of today's Nowa Huta was a frontier between Austria and Russia, which explains the presence of Austro-Hungarian forts as well as one of Europe's oldest permanent airfields.
          
After the end of World War II, the Communist authorities had encountered substantial resistance to their regime from the middle-class Krakovians. A referendum showed sound disapproval for the new regime's plans and it became a major cause of embarrassment for the new government. To "correct the class imbalance", the authorities set out to build a satellite industrial town to attract people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, such as peasants and the working class, to the region. The building of Nowa Huta started in 1949 near Krakow. It was planned as a large center of heavy industry. The town was to become an ideal town for the communist propaganda and be populated mostly by industrial workers. Since the Renaissance style was generally regarded as the style most characteristic of Polish architecture, it was to become Poland's socialist national format.
 
However, in the course of incorporating the principles of socialist realism, there were quite a few deviations introduced. One of these was to more closely reflect Soviet architecture, which resulted in the majority of  works blending into one another; and finally the general acceptance of the classicist form. Today, the monumental socrealist center is considered a monument of architecture and the central square formerly known as Stalin Square has been renamed to be called Ronald Reagan Square.

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