Architecture of Szczecin
Szczecin – a city of world-class architecture
Szczecin is not only a city of water and greenery but also of interesting and intriguing architecture, which is often world class. Talented designers have worked here, and a large proportion of what they created is preserved in impeccable shape. It is worth knowing that the blocks of tenement houses erected in the 19th and 20th centuries are incomparable to any others in Poland. It is here the elegant villa districts were built even before 1945, and their creation was inspired by the modern concept of city-gardens. The huge Central Cemetery is the city's pride. Due to incredibly designed greenery and stylish statues it can be called the Garden of the Dead. Szczecin appears to have a rarely encountered aspect: the newer the architecture, the better it is. Let us then walk along the route of the last several centuries.
Mieczysław Karłowicz Philharmonic, Małopolska St.
It became an architectural icon in Szczecin, Poland, and across the whole world, the moment it was finished. The number of prizes and merits its design and building has so far received is indeed astonishing. The elegant structure of the building, finished in 2014, intrigues with its ambiguity: one may associate it with an iceberg, but it also discretely draws upon the peaks of medieval city tenement houses. Connoisseurs claim that the perfectly arranged, spacious interior is even better than the building itself.
Centre of Dialogue "Przełomy", Solidarności Sq.
Visitors don't often realize that when they walk across the square opposite the Philharmonic they are actually in a museum of Szczecin's contemporary history. A novel edifice of the Centre of Dialogue "Przemiany", finished in 2015, is almost entirely hidden underground, and its roof constitutes a slanted square which has turned out to be an exquisite public space. It is mostly cherished by roller skaters, skateboarders and cyclists. Additionally, the square is a perfect venue for various celebrations and demonstrations. This building has also gained critics' approval and has been awarded various prizes.
Church of the Holy Family in Szczecin, Królowej Korony Polskiej St.
A raw, cubic building, elegant proportions, monumentalism – the church erected in 1931 (initially of the Holy Cross) is one of the pinnacles of the German Modernism. The temple, inspired by both industrial architecture and medieval Gothic churches, has not aged a bit and is probably the most interesting 20th-century church in Poland. The author of the design, Adolph Tshesmachera, placed tall, slender arcades by the church's entrance, which gives the building the effect of monumentalism. The interior with dominating arches made of reinforced concrete, will literally take your breath away.
At first glance, a group of monumental buildings, situated on the banks of The River Oder, seems to be more proper for a metropolis rather than a mid-size city such as Szczecin. The representative district, which nowadays is called the Chrobry Embankment, was created at the beginning of the 20th century in the grounds of an old fortress. By the Oder River, along 500 metres, there are: the Neo-Renaissance building of Voivodship Office with two tall towers (former seat of Szczecin's Regierungsbezirk), the eclectic building of the National Museum (former City Museum) and two side by side buildings of the Maritime Academy (formerly the Insurance Institution and Directorate for Customs) which draw upon the Baroque and the Renaissance.
Sacred Heart Church, Zwycięstwa Sq.
This is a very important design for the German architecture – it turns out that, finished in 1919, the Sacred Heart Church in Szczecin (a former garrison church) was one of the first public buildings in Germany made of reinforced concrete. The building connects technology, very modern at the time, with an evident conservatism of the structure itself – one might observe a reference to Romanesque architecture and elements which are a prelude to Modernism.
"Ewa"- BULK Elevator, Hryniewieckiego St.
Its heavy structure in the shape of an upside down letter is one of the symbols of Szczecin – for many years it was even on the plate of the TVP Szczecin channel. When several years ago it was to be demolished due to its bad technical condition, Szczecin’s citizens raised many protests against the idea. The cereal elevator tank, finished in 1936, was at the time a feat of engineering art. Before it was built, 10,600 poles were fixed in the ground, since the concrete building was designed for a difficult, wetland terrain. It might be hard to believe that 182 thousand bags of concrete were used to erect it. The capacity of the 64-metre-high elevator is 50 thousand tonnes of cereal. Storing grain was, however, only one of its many functions - in this elevator of modern design, cereal was loaded and unloaded, it was weighed, dried and fumigated in order to eliminate pests. Interestingly, the elevator's structure was cast in parts therefore it is not uniform. Thanks to the expansion joints, when a loaded part of the building minimally sinks, the other one does not intercept its load. It helps to prevent dangerous tensions.
Squares like stars
There are two types of street networks in Szczecin’s downtown. In the surroundings of Krzywoustego Street, the streets usually intersect at right angles and the blocks are square. This system is probably inspired by the New York urban planning. A bit further, in the surroundings of Piłsudskiego Street, star squares are dominant. The old Polish legend has it that the squares were designed by a French city planner, the author of a thorough redevelopment of Paris in the times of the Second French Empire, Georges Eugène Haussmann. It's balderdash, of course, but Parisian inspirations are indeed visible in Szczecin. Grunwaldzki Square, with eight streets branching off, is surely a reference to Place Charles de Gaulle (also called Square of the Star) in Paris, where twelve streets branch off.
Szczecin's astrologists, Małgorzata and Edward Gardasiewicz noticed that the three main star squares of Szczecin look like a reflection of the Orion Constellation. According to them, the system refers to Giza, where Ancient Egyptians built pyramids. Since the Orion Constellation was devoted to one of the most important Egyptian gods, Osiris, the arrangement - of the three pyramids against each other and the Nile was supposed to reflect the system of three stars of the Orion Belt in regard to the Nile. Szczecin's astrologists claim that the case is the same in Szczecin. Sprzymierzonych Square would be the star called Mintaka, Odrodzenia Square - the star Alnilam and the Grunwaldzki Square - the star Alnitak. Additionally, the Oder River would be the Milky Way (and the Nile). The city's authorities have decided that this funny, though incredibly bold hypothesis, has marketing potential and in 2015 plaques were placed in each of the three squares to inform which star is reflected in which of them.
Church of Our Lady of Częstochowa, Orawska St.
Where else in the world would you find a temple in an old water tower?
This incredible building in the Pomorzany district is a true architectural curiosity. The squat, brick tower has existed since 1863. The eclectic structure suggests it was inspired by early Christian, Byzantine and even Romanesque architecture. The traditional form, however, was home to a modern function - there was an enormous water tank inside. After World War II, this interesting monument to industrial architecture started to become dilapidated and faced the danger of demolition. Fortunately, the decision was made to turn it into a temple. The work began in 1985 and lasted until 1997. Its designer was an architect from Szczecin, Witold Jarzynka. The main structure was enlarged with four wings containing two chapels, an anteroom and a vestry, which made the building's outline resemble a Greek cross. The biggest design issue was the brick pole sticking out in the middle of the building, which was an umbrella-like support for the roof. However, Witold Jarzynka found a creative solution – the roof was supported on a structure resembling an inner dome made of metal cap strips, and the pole could be dismantled. Another interesting fact is that the heating system is in the floor, where hot air moves in ducts. It was how Ancient Greeks heated their houses. The stairs and the square outside the church are used for outdoor masses.
Tenement houses, Bohaterów Getta Warszawskiego St.
New Orleans? No, it isn't. However, the astonishing openwork balconies of the 19th-century tenement houses might have been inspired by the American city. Szczecin prides itself in thousands of intricately decorated 19th and 20th-century tenement houses, whose facades not only have glamourous balconies but also thousands of different themes. There are gods, people, flora as well as tools and entire tableaux.
Red City Hall, Batorego Sq.
It looks like a Gothic castle from afar, but is in fact an office building disguised in a historical costume. The so-called Red Town Hall, finished in 1879, used to be the seat of magistracy and now it houses the Maritime Office. It is a beautiful example of the Neogothic style that was very popular in Germany in the 19th century - it is full of pointed arches, balconies, bay windows, sleek little towers and ceramic coats of arms. The entrance is decorated with statues of men, which are an allegory of craft, fishing, trade and science.
Defence and propaganda are the two features of the historic city gates.
The Port Gate and the Royal Gate were built in the 1720s when the Prussians made Szczecin a tremendous bastion fortress. Their role was to protect the entrance to the city but also to praise the might of Prussia and its king. It is therefore easy to understand that they nearly drip with Baroque style, stone sculpture ornaments. Among others, there is ancient weaponry, the king's monogram, personifications of fame, Famas, playing the trumpets, crowns and tens of others perfectly sculptured themes.
Orła Białego Fountain, Orła Białego Sq.
This building's aim was propaganda as well – an eagle with its wings spread was supposed to symbolize the ruler protecting his subjects. The Baroque Orła Białego Fountain, which sits in the Square of the same name, is only a few years younger. It used to be the end of the city pipeline.
The architecturally sophisticated fountain is made of sandstone and its lower basin has a shape of a clover. In the middle, there is a four-sided stem with niches where mascarons scare passers-by, and on its top there is a dynamically presented eagle. Water gushed both from the bird's beak and the mascarons' mouths.
Palace of Pomeranian States' Sejm Staromłyńska St.
Over the entrance one can see an impressive nine-field Duchy of Pomerania coat of arms, held by the two so-called savage men.
The Palace of Pomeranian States' Sejm from 1729, which today is one of the seats of the National Museum in Szczecin, is a good example of northern, classicising Baroque.
One's attention is captured mostly by the meticulously restored tympanum with the Prussian king's coat of arms and sculptures of females symbolising wisdom and justice.
Pomeranian Dukes Castle, Korsarzy St.
Unlike many other castles where a museum silence is omnipresent, the castle of Szczecin is "alive" – there is a cinema, an opera house and tourist information. Additionally, there are exhibition galleries, two restaurants and the Registry Office. The castle is also one of the seats of the Marshal’s Office and a home for other institutions. The castle's history begins in 1346, when Duke Barnim III started erecting his new headquarters. His successors expanded the initially modest building called "The Stone House". The castle's glory days were the second part of the 16th century when, thanks to Prince Johann Friedrich, it became an impressive Renaissance residence. We know that between 1571 and 1582 an Italian architect, Wilhelm Zachariasz, was involved in its restoration. In 1619 a new, fifth wing of the castle was ready – the museum (mint) wing. In Prussian times the castle was used as a barracks and offices and its state deteriorated. On August 17th, 1944, during an allied raid, the monument burnt down – the ceilings, vaults and roofs collapsed and the castle's furnishings were destroyed. Its state was so miserable that in 1955 the Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture in Warsaw suggested taking down one of its parts. However, the dangerous idea was dropped and the decades of reconstruction brought the castle to its old glory. The castle looks far better now than it did before the fire because the restorers were able to bring back its look from the times of its magnificence. Artists' concerts, many of them world-class, often take place in the castle's courtyards. From the viewing gallery in the Bell Tower one can see the panorama of the city and the port. On the Clock Tower, there is a Baroque clock from 1693 with a grotesque face on its board which is also decorated with images of Swedish lions, griffins and a duke's court jester. The eyes of the face on the board follow the clock's hand, and the open mouth shows the date. Interestingly, every quarter of an hour two bells of different sizes from above the clock toll. In the north wing there is the castle's St. Otto's chapel with the original vault and double matroneums where concerts take place. It is nowadays called the Chamber of Duke Bogislaw X.
The Duke's Stable Rycerska St.
The Duke's Stable, still standing today, was built in the 17th century. It is one of the few monuments in Szczecin which is of timber construction. The skeleton of such a building is made of wooden beams, and the space between them is filled with a mixture of clay and sawdust, oats or chaff.
The clay can be thrown on stakes or braids made of osier or reed. We know that there was a fodder warehouse upstairs and a stable itself and a riding arena downstairs. It is worth mentioning a crane extending on the outside of the building's face, which was used to pull the fodder upstairs, as well as a Renaissance gate which used to be in the castle.
14th and 15th centuries
Szczecin is on the European Route of Gothic Brick. The route covers the cities of the old Hanseatic League and passes through Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Among the Gothic buildings in Szczecin, special attention should be paid to three churches which are fairly close to each other.
Saints Peter and Paul Church, św. Piotra i Pawła Sq.
This small church from the 15th century is in the exact sport where the first church in Szczecin was built in 1124 to celebrate Pomerania's baptism and Otto from Bamberg's mission.
The building changed significantly with the passing centuries. When the temple was rebuilt after the destructions of Brandenburgian siege in 1677, the three-nave arrangement was substituted by one nave and the vault was replaced by a wooden ceiling.
It is worth having a close look at it. In the ceiling's plafond there are three paintings by Ernst Eichler from the beginning of the 18th century. In the first one, the artist depicted a horrifying scene of the end of the world with Christ on the throne. The second painting is Christ on the throne and a vision from the Book of Ezekiel, where four winged characters with lion's, eagle's, ox's and human heads are mentioned. The heads have circles with eyes and there are flames flaring from among them. The third painting depicts the Eucharistic adoration on Mount Sinai. Baroque tomb stones are preserved in the side chapels. The most interesting things, though, can be found outside – in the wall's niches there are ceramic heads from the time of the church's erection. They are surely countenances of Szczecin citizens from the past. Each face is different – there are females and bearded men of a fierce look; some of the faces are pretty, some common. Seeing those is a must. Currently the church belongs to a Polish-Catholic parish.
St. James's Cathedral, Świętego Jakuba St.
It is hard to miss when you are in Szczecin – not only is it the biggest church in the city, but it is also the second highest church in Poland. The history of the temple begins in 1187, when a church, most probably wooden, was erected. A hundred years later it was replaced by a Gothic building, which was then restored numerous times. It is worth mentioning that in the first part of the 15th century, a great master builder Henryk Brunsberg was involved in the temple's restoration – it is to him who the church owes the decorative texture of the southern facade. Interestingly, the church used to have two towers, but in 1456 wind blew one of them down. The restoration was prolonged until the beginning of 16th century, when the church only had one tower left. In 1677, during the Brandenburgian siege of the city, the church burnt down, but was promptly rebuilt. In 1894 the tower got a new spire. In 1944, during a raid, the church burnt down and was in ruins for many years. Some even considered its demolition. Another idea was to keep the burnt walls as a "permanent ruin" and arrange an amphitheatre there. The temple was rebuilt as late as in the 1970s. Nearly nothing from the temple's furnishings has lasted. Miraculously, a sculpture of St. James survived intact. The triptych in the presbytery is a compilation of bas-reliefs from medieval altars in Chojno, Mieszkowice and Żukowo. Above it, there is a late Gothic crucifix in the shape of the Tree of Life, which comes from Usedom. The Duke's Chapel is protected by a bar with griffins and in its top part there is stained glass with the Duchy of Pomerania coat of arms. It is here the remains of the Pomeranian duchies and dukes were buried in 1995. In 2008, the spire was restored to the tower, since it had been destroyed during the last World War. Now the tower is 110 metres high, which makes Szczecin Cathedral the second highest church in Poland (after the Basilica in Licheń). Lifts have been placed in the tower. The panorama of the city, the port, Dębie Lake and the Bukowe Mountains can be appreciated from the viewing gallery. It is noteworthy that the famous German composer, Carl Loewe (1796–1869) was the church's organist for many years
Church of St. John the Evangelist, Świętego Ducha St.
Unlike all typical churches, this one has no tower...
This beautiful Gothic temple was initially part of a Franciscan monastery. Its construction started at the beginning of the 14th century and lasted until the following one. The building looks like other medieval Franciscan churches: it has no tower (only a ridge turret), the main body is a hall, and the presbytery is slightly elongated. Interestingly, the seven-sided outline of the apse reflects the shape of the holy sepulchre in Jerusalem. There are fragments of Gothic polychromies remaining in the church. One of them depicts a squire holding Szczecin's coat of arms. You can also see a sculpture depicting what is surely a church builder and a tomb stone from the end of the 14th century. The furnishings of the recently beautifully restored temple is contemporary, apart from Baroque organs. An unbelievable discovery was made during the roof's restoration: it turned out that the beams of the roofing are original. They date back to 1368 and there are still carpenter's marks on them