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Should We Restore Heritage -
or Shouldn’t We?

This item was written by Małgorzata Lombarowicz, a Gimnazjum teacher from Warsaw.

After the unsuccessful Warsaw Uprising the Nazis decided to blow up the whole city. By Hitler’s order it was supposed to be levelled, never to rise again. But the very first day after liberation people came back: it was freezing cold, no electricity, no water, no heating... There was only freedom and the willingness to live in their beloved home city.

During World War II many European towns and cities were, more or less, destroyed by the Nazis. When people returned home they had to decide what to do with the ruined buildings.

One idea was to start building a new town from scratch. As Warsaw lay in ruins (which can be seen in the picture) a totally new architectural plan for the centre of Warsaw started to take shape.

The picture above shows what happens when the concept of preserving the previous appearance of a district is abandoned. The Palace of Culture and Science (in the background) was built in a socialist realist style, and more recently "Marks & Spencer" (in the foreground) a modern fashion shop has been added. (The picture was taken from the window of the British Council in Warsaw)

The other idea was to rebuild all architectural monuments and historical buildings constituting national heritage as a symbol of the invincible city which, although once levelled, rose from the ashes. Varsovians removed the rubble from the city and the whole nation contributed to rebuilding the historical part of their capital to reinstate the previous look.

Coventry Cathedral is a fine example of the preservation of wartime ruins for posterity as a monument but on the other hand a completely new modernist cathedral was controversially built alongside. If you follow the link to the website about Coventry Cathedral, you will find the reasons behind that decision and you'll see the monument and the new cathedral.

Discussion points:

  • Give the pros and cons of each approach to handling destroyed heritage
  • What do you think were the reasons behind the different approaches?
  • Since the war some aspects of heritage were rebuilt in Poland (e.g. Warsaw), others allowed to decay (e.g. many country manors). Heritage is always controversial. What is the approach to heritage in your town? Prepare a display or presentation, perhaps using family photos or postcards (as here) to illustrate the issues involved
  • What do you think should be done with Ground Zero - the World Trade Center site:
  • it should be reconstructed to the same design
  • parts of it should be left as a memorial to the event
  • something completely new should be built
  • any other?

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