A Stroll through Warsaw with Marie Curie-Skłodowska
‘I went alone on a walk towards the Wisła. It has such a charm, that I cannot even begin to describe it.’ Marie Curie-Skłodowska wrote these words just two years before her death. Culture.pl wanders the streets of Warsaw in search of links to the Nobel Prize-winning scientist.
The House of Maria Skłodowska-Curie
Maria was born in Warsaw– it was here that she spent her childhood and youth, and, based on her correspondence, always happily returned to Poland’s capital. She was born and lived in a tenement house at 16 Freta Street, which now holds the Museum of Maria Skłodowska-Curie. Built in 1782 and designed by Szymon Bogumił Zug, the museum is full of Pierre and Maria’s laboratory equipment as well as memorabilia, documents and many of Maria’s personal belongings: a glasses case, an elephant figurine (a present from U.S. President Herbert Hoover), a leather handbag.
For a brief period of time, the Skłodowski family also lived on Nowolipki Street, which was later razed to the ground during World War II. A mural by Swanski (Paweł Kozłowski) is a reminder of the famous inhabitant of the district of Muranów.
The giant piece of art is located in the exact spot where the Skłodowskis’ flat used to be.
Maria, from a very young age, was fond of walks along the Wisła river. The memory of her favourite spot even appears in the scientist’s last Poland-related recollection. Two years before her death, she wrote:
I went alone on a walk towards the Wisła. [...] There is a song from Kraków that says, whoever has fallen in love with the Polish waters, will love them until death. [...] The river is so enchanting, that I cannot even begin to describe it.
Today, a statue of Skłodowska-Curie in Warsaw’s New Town, longingly looks towards the Wisła river. While visiting Skłodowska-Curie, it is worth taking a look at Warsaw’s multimedia fountains and the panorama of Praga on the opposite side of the river.
The oldest and most luxurious hotel in Warsaw, the Bristol Hotel hosted prestigious parties at the beginning of the 20th century, with notable guests such as Jan Kiepura, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, John F. Kennedy, and, of course, Maria Skłodowska-Curie, who came to Warsaw in 1913 in order to establish the first radiological laboratory. The Warsaw Scientific Society organised a banquet in honour of the double Nobel Prize-laureate, but according to Helena Szalay, the scientist’s sister, Maria was more interested in science than the ceremony:
Listening to the speeches, she would make notes and later thanked everyone for their kind words.
It wasn’t until later on that she confessed to her sister that she hadn’t actually been listening to any of the speeches, but solving elaborate mathematical equations instead, happy that she managed to solve them!
The University of Warsaw
In 1925, the daily newspaper roared about the crowds that stormed Maria Skłodowska’s guest lecture about contemporary studies on radioactivity. During her stay in Warsaw, she also met with Senate of the University of Warsaw she visited the Institute of Physics and the Staszic Palace located just next door, the home of the Warsaw Science Society, of which she was an honorary member.
It was here, in the classicist building at the intersection of Krakowskie Przedmieście and Nowy Świat, that Maria Skłodowska-Curie gave a lecture on the Radium Institute in Paris and the importance of creating such an institution in Poland. In 1997, one of the chambers in the palace was named after her. The building was erected between 1820 and 1823 on the initiative of Stanisław Staszic, based on a design by Antonio Corazzi for the Warsaw Royal Society of Friends of Learning. Today it’s the headquarters of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Maria Skłodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology
Our walk through Maria Skłodowska-Curie’s Warsaw ends here, at the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology (formerly the Radium Institute, built as the Polish equivalent to the Institut de Radium in Paris). The cornerstone for the building was set over 90 years ago, in 1925. During its official opening in 1932, Maria Skłodowska-Curie donated the Institute’s the first gram of radium. It’s worth noting, that modern cancer treatment in Poland and the world began with two major discoveries: the X-ray by Roentgen, and the elements radium and polonium by Skłodowska.
World War II and the Warsaw Uprising ended tragically for the institute: on 20th August 1944, all of the staff and patients were killed. The director, Dr. Franciszek Łukaszczyk, managed to bribe the Nazis and gain access into the burning building to save the remains of the radium – he hid it in his backpack and took it to Reguły, a town outside of Warsaw, where it would be safe.
Sources: www.warsawtour.pl, dziejeonkologii.pl, Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum, Gazeta Wyborcza; compiled by AL, Mar 2017, translated by WF, edited by NR, Apr 2017