The chances are that if you’ve been to Warsaw then you will have walked past the Rotunda. Maybe you didn’t notice it, maybe you did and wished you hadn’t. Maybe you simply dismissed it as another depressing mistake of post-war reconstruction.
The Rotunda – or to give it its full name the PKO Bank Polski Rotunda – is not Warsaw’s most beautiful building, but it does have a tragic history and, hopefully, a bright future.
That the building even exists today is surprising. Built as part of the post-war reconstruction of Warsaw, it was almost completely destroyed by a huge explosion in 1979 which left 45 people dead and 135 people injured.
Conspiracy theories emerged immediately. One story was that a high-ranking government official or bank employee had embezzled huge amounts of money, and blew up the bank to cover their traces. Another suggestion was that the explosion was part of a robbery that went horribly wrong, or even that it was a bomb planted by anti-communist factions who wanted to blow up the building at midnight but got their timings mixed up.
The decision was quickly taken to rebuild the Rotunda; the idea of life continuing as normal was very important to the authorities.The official explanation for the devastation was that a gas pipe under the building had leaked, and the build-up of gas was ignited causing the explosion.
The blast was seen by some as a sign that political change was on the way, an accurate prediction for the unrest that was to define the eighties across Poland – strikes, martial law and eventually the fall of communism in Europe.
After a tragic history, the Rotunda is now set for a third lease of life, and is to be redeveloped into a glass and steel structure for the 21st Century.
What do you thing of the Rotunda? Warsaw icon or ugly waste of space? Share your thoughts in the comments below.