Today the Wola district is synonymous with booming business: Warsaw’s “big city” and the growth of residential investment. However, Wola hasn’t always looked like this. Its history dates back to the late 14th century, when the first mention appeared of a princely village: Wielka Wieś Wola. In Polish history, Wola appears many times and gained special fame during the era of free elections, when the nobility and knights elected new rulers for the Polish throne. This happened from the 16th and 18th centuries, from the first to the last – the tenth – royal election.
Among the Wola landscape’s most characteristic elements were windmills (młyny), hence the part of the district called Młynów and Młynarska Street, still called this today. The beginning of Wola’s modernization came with railroad construction and industrial development in this part of the city. The nineteenth century’s second half was an industrial boom, during which big metallurgical, chemical and food industries were established, and a huge number of smaller manufactories were in operation. Wola grew from its great-village status into Warsaw’s industrial heart and in 1916 was incorporated into the capital’s borders, becoming an official district.
After the Second World War, Wola was rebuilt, like the rest of the capital, and once again became the city’s industrial backbone and one of the key industrial districts in the country up through 1989. Today the district’s industrial character is almost gone, with apartments, business and service centers and museums built into former factories. What is eye-catching now is the dense cluster of skyscrapers known as Warsaw’s “big city.” Here, ultra-modern architecture contrasts with old Warsaw’s remains, aged buildings and a few small factories, which adds color to the district. Wola isn’t only its architecture and industrial spirit. It was also a place of migration for people of different religions and nationalities. Here the Jewish, Ukrainian and Karaite diasporas were most numerous. While following the places indicated on the map, you’ll certainly come across remains and traces of Wola’s rich, complex history.
Kasprzaka St. sculptures
The First Biennale of Metal Sculpture opened in September 1968. Some 35 artists from Poland and abroad were invited to participate in this artistic event. A total of 60 outdoor sculptures were created. Most were placed along Kasprzaka St. and were to be viewed in motion, with a few smaller productions located in the Gen. Józef Sowiński Park. Most sculptures were abstract and geometric in style, but the event’s signature sculpture was Władysław Dariusz Frycz’s Giraffe. Nevertheless, most works had an ultra-modern look and were realized on a large scale. Today, only 10 sculptures can be seen in Col. Pacak-Kuźmirski square (between Wolska and Kasprzaka streets), including Frycz’s Giraffe, Avant-garde by Bronislaw Kubica, Composition by Tadeusz Sieklucki, Steel Etude by Jan Jaworski. Despite the small number of remaining sculptures, they constitute Warsaw’s single public-space sculpture gallery displaying how contemporary Polish sculpture looked in the late 1960s.
Płk. Pacaka-Kuźmirskiego square
The Wola Museum
Warsaw’s first district museum was established in 1974 in a neoclassical palace (built in 1880), the Sikorski Palace (named for its owner, Aleksander Sikorski). The museum is a branch of the Museum of Warsaw. You’ll see temporary exhibitions about social and cultural events related to environmental and climate issues. In addition, the museum offers numerous educational activities and workshops.
Srebrna St. 12
MURALS and GRAFFITI:
This is the name of an inconspicuous Warsaw graffiti spot. However, it’s one of the city’s preeminent places for street art, and not only for the capital. Gandzia Bandzia was established in 1994 and has been maintained continuously to this day. On a small wall adjacent to the Wola Museum, new tags regularly appear, made by recognized teams from the “writers” community. It’s worth visiting this place regularly, for the impressive momentum and new style of the tags.
Srebrna St. 12, at the back of the Wola Museum
The Kamienico mural
The monumental Kamienico mural was created a ruined prewar tenement’s wall in 2009. Its maker is Wiktor Malinowski. The building at Waliców St. 14 had been within in the Warsaw Ghetto. A well-known Warsaw poet, Władysław Szlengel, lived there. The building was devastated by a bomb. The inscription “Kamienico” (tenement building) is made into a play on words, split into two terms to create an arrangement: “kamien” (stone) and “i co” (so what). The mural’s symbolic reference is to the tragedy of the place: the murderous liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto and the fighting in and defeat of the Warsaw Uprising.
Waliców St., 14
The Czystość jest? (Is It Clean?) mural
This was created on a wall of the Provincial Sanitary and Epidemiological Station building. It was created by the Twożywo Group (Krzysztof Sidorek, Mariusz Libel), a highly influential group in Polish art from the 1990s to the early 2000s and beyond. Characteristic features of this Żelazna St. mural are its play with typography and its geometry. Inscriptions and individual typographic signs build the whole composition. The mural was created as part of the Other City, Other Life program, which referenced the transformation processes that took place in the former Eastern Bloc. The title question about cleanliness can be read literally and also as a metaphor for the entire period of Poland’s political transformation.
Żelazna St. 79
This is a monumental street-art gallery set under an overpass at the Prymas Tysiąclecia and Marcin Kasprzak Streets’ intersection. The first murals were made in 2009 as part of the Graffiti Festival, which attracted the largest number of participants: more than 100 people over three days, from passersby and young people from nearby neighborhoods to Warsaw politicians. The mural was also inspired by the Dalai Lama receiving Honorary Citizenship from the City of Warsaw. Its unveiling took place a few days before the Tibetan leader’s arrival in Poland. Every year since then, new works inspired by Tibet have been created in the gallery.
Free Tibet roundabout at the Prymas Tysiąclecia Ave. and Marcin Kasprzak St. intersection
PUBLIC SPACE and PARKS:
This is the youngest of Warsaw’s squares, opened in May 2016. It is nestled among high-rises of glass, aluminum and steel. It is a kind of enclave in the heart of Warsaw’s “big city.” And despite its surroundings, it’s a public square. In its contemporary form, it offers attractive small-park architecture, greenery and park furniture. Moreover, it’s an engaging place all year round due to various lively activities: concerts, screenings, art exhibitions.
Daszyńskiego roundabout, entrance from Prosta St.
Also known as Moczydlowa górka, it was created from 1962 to 1970 on what had been a garbage dump and clay pit. The first design work was begun by Alina Scholtz, a significant landscape architect in Warsaw and Poland. The park is in the Koło neighborhood and occupies 20 hectares between Deotymy, Górczewska, Prymasa Tysiąclecia and Czorsztyńska Streets. Within the park are four clean ponds where you can fish in the summer. The park’s value is in its diversity of terrain and vegetation. Playgrounds and outdoor gyms are located within it. This is one of Wola’s more scenic parks.
The Koło Forest
This park and forest area was being developed by the 1920s. The forest was created in the Rudawka River valley and on marshes and floodplains that once surrounded it. Two unique modernist housing estates are located next to Lasek na Kole: the TOR Estate (from the 1930s) and the BGK Building and Housing Exhibition Estate. When going for a walk in the park it’s a good idea to start from Obozowa St. In the park, look for ruins in the forest; these are remains of colony buildings that were part of the wartime KL Warschau camp. The park is an interesting combination of planned and wild greenery.
Edward Szymański Park
Established in 1974, its architects were Kazimierz Kozlowski and Jakub Krzeczkowski. It’s adjacent to the Moczydło Park and the Gen. Józef Sowiński Park. It underwent extensive modernization and today is an attractive recreation area with a network of alleys, a promenade with an artificial river, bridges, fountains and overlooks. In addition, a pond has been formed here. You can also use new bike paths and a 1.5-kilometer rollerblade track with a cushioned surface. There’s also a roller-skating rink with a synthetic surface that’s used for launching model planes. From Elekcyjna St. you encounter a monument to the park’s patron, Edward Szymański, a left-wing poet and journalist associated with Wola.
Between Górczewska and Wolska St.
Gen. Józef Sowiński Park
Established in 1936 at the initiative of the Society of Friends of Wola on the grounds of Reduta Wolska (site of battles in the 1831 November Uprising) and the former Merenholtz clay and brickworks. Among the city’s largest newly created parks. Its designers were Zygmunt Hellwig and Kazimierz Kozlowski. A year after opening, a monument to General Sowiński, created by Tadeusz Breyer, was unveiled. In 1964, the park was enlarged and an amphitheater with more than 2,000 seats was built, which was covered with a tent roof on four masts in 2000. Concerts and festivals are held here. The park borders the Orthodox Cemetery and the grounds of the Saint John Klimak Orthodox Church.
PLACES OF CULTURE AND ACTIVITY:
Wolskie Centrum Kultury (WCK)
This is one of Wola’s intriguing places of cultural and social activity. Its headquarters is at Działdowska St. 6, but WCK includes as many as fourteen locations in the district. Among these are the Community House on Obozowa 85, the Open Colony on Górczewska 15, the Polish-Ukrainian Center Wolska and a Youth Club at Wolska 46/48. WCK conducts a wide range of artistic and cultural activities, and is active in the field of social integration, runs a workshop and a community garden and keeps bees.
STREET SPORT ON WOLA:
The Skate Park in Młynów on Żytnia St. and the KSS SkatePark at Elekcyjna 19 are some of Wola’s largest skateparks, where you can ride skateboards and rollerblades and can BMX. These spots are worth checking out. However, if you prefer more physical effort instead of doing stunts, check out the street workout at Ulrychów in Powstańców Warszawy Park.