Maria Skłodowska-Curie’s Warsaw
Maria Skłodowska-Curie was an eminent Polish scientist who discovered the radioactive elements polonium and radium and was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize. Before she settled permanently in France, Warsaw was her home. It was here that Maria spent her childhood, went to school, and discovered her passion for science. Learn about the places in Warsaw connected to the Nobel prize winner and the fascinating stories associated with them. Discover that behind the statuesque Marie Skłodowska-Curie was a girl whose character was shaped by the times in which she lived.
Birthplace – the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum of the Polish Chemical Society
It was here that Maria Skłodowska was born on 7 November 1867. At the time, the building housed a girls’ boarding school run by Maria’s mother Bronisława. The scientist’s father, Władysław Skłodowski, was a well-known teacher of mathematics and physics in Warsaw. A year after Maria’s birth, he was given a position as sub-inspector at an all-male grammar school and the family relocated.
Today, the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum is at 16 Freta Street. Go inside to see documents, personal belongings and laboratory equipment that once belonged to the scientist.
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Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
It is one of the oldest churches in Warsaw and the site of Maria’s baptism. The act of this sacrament has been preserved to this day. Maria, called Mania at home, was the apple of her eldest sister Zofia’s eye. She maintained contact with her other three siblings throughout her life.
The Church of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary was built at the beginning of the 15th century, according to legend, on the site of a pagan temple. One hundred years later, a distinctive Gothic tower was built, next to which is a terrace with a picturesque view of the Vistula and the right bank of the city.
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Vistula Escarpment and the Skłodowska Monument
The Vistula escarpment was one of young Maria’s favourite places for walks. She went there on her last visit to Warsaw in 1932. In the second half of the 19th century, the area below the escarpment was densely built up and the two banks of the Vistula were connected by the newly built Alexandria Bridge, known as the Kierbedzia Bridge. Today, the landscape as seen from the escarpment is completely different. Now, there is the Multimedia Fountain Park along with beaches, bars, and the Vistula boulevards. Maria Skłodowska-Curie still admires the view, though from a monument which stands at the top of the escarpment near the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
St. Jacek’s Church (Dominican Fathers)
Maria received her First Holy Communion in this church. The building has a very interesting history. The 18th-century church was built outside the city walls for the Dominican Fathers. During the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, a field hospital was set up here. Disregarding this, the Germans bombed the church, killing more than 1,000 people including the wounded and hospital staff. The church was rebuilt in 1968.
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Central Agricultural Library
The Museum of Industry and Agriculture, an educational and scientific research institution, was once located here.
A physics laboratory was set up in an outbuilding at the back of the building, where Maria – thanks to the kindness of her cousin who was in charge of the institution – was able to carry out experiments. In those years it was hard for a woman to start a career in science.
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The Bristol is one of Warsaw’s two most famous hotels. It was here that great politicians and artists stayed, and it was here that in 1913, in the Raspberry Room, a banquet was given in honour of Maria, who had just won the Nobel Prize. During the speeches, Maria scribbled in a notebook all the time. It turned out that she was not listening to the praise but was solving a mathematical task.
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Jan Twardowski Square
Between Karowa Street and the Church of the Nuns of the Visitation, stood the building of the Third Female Government Gymnasium, which the teenage Maria Skłodowska attended. Maria’s parents placed great importance on their children’s education and, in addition to their daily lessons at school, they also received a solid dose of knowledge at home. For example, in the evenings, their father read foreign literature to them in the original. As a result, Maria was fluent in five languages and graduated from secondary school at the age of 16 with excellent results.
University of Warsaw
Maria Skłodowska-Curie appeared at the University of Warsaw for the inauguration of the academic year 1921/1922 and in 1925 when she visited the Institute of Physics. During this second visit, crowds tried to get into the hall to hear her lecture on radioactivity research. The University of Warsaw tried to persuade the Nobel Prize winner to take up the Chair of Experimental Physics, but she refused. However, she maintained contact with the university.
Maria was a role model for many women who chose a career in science at the turn of the 20th century and had to fight stereotypical views about women. Interestingly, Maria was one of the first women to obtain a driving licence.
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Saxon Garden and Piłsudskiego Square (Formerly Saxon Square)
Maria passed Saxon Garden almost every day on her way to school. The meticulously maintained greenery, the mineral water pump room, the summer theatre, and the Saxon palace, enclosing the garden from the east, meant that it was the place to see and be seen in Warsaw. The garden looks different today than it did when Maria was young. Indeed, it was destroyed during the Second World War and the Saxon Palace was blown up by the Nazis. All that remains of the palace building is a fragment of the arcade where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was before the war.
Boys Gymnasium No. 2 was located at the former address Nowolipki 11/15. This is where Władysław Skłodowski and his family settled when he started work as a sub-inspector at the school. To bolster the household budget, he also ran a boys’ hostel there. It was there that Maria spent her early childhood.
The Skłodowski family moved several times over the next few years, only to return later to an apartment near the gymnasium.
Until the outbreak of the Second World War, the palace housed Warsaw City Hall. In 1925, Maria was awarded the Diploma of Honorary Citizen of Warsaw here. After, a banquet was held in her honour. The palace was damaged during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and was demolished after the end of the war. Today’s edifice is the result of a rebuild in the 1990s.
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Warsaw University of Technology
Go inside this historic building and find the statue of Maria Skłodowska-Curie by Maksymilian Biskupski. In 1925, when the scientist visited the institution, the professors received her with great honours, and a year later the Faculty of Physics awarded her an honorary doctorate.
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“In 1912 I had the opportunity to co-found a radiological laboratory in Warsaw with the Scientific Society there. I was entrusted with its management. Although I could not leave France and return to Poland, I readily agreed to take charge of organising research at the new facility,” Maria wrote in her autobiography. Opened in 1913, the Warsaw Radiological Laboratory was the first facility of its kind in Poland. The institution functioned with great success until the outbreak of the Second World War. Today, the tenement building houses the Mathematical Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences. A plaque on the façade provides information about the site’s past.
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Radium Institute (Maria Skłodowska-Curie Oncology Institute)
The first Radium Institute was established in Paris in 1914 and a second, twin institute was opened in Warsaw in 1932, two years before Skłodowska-Curie’s death. For research purposes, Maria donated 1 gram of radium, which she bought with funds received from the American Polish community. Today, there is an Oncology Centre on the site, while a tree planted by the Nobel Prize winner still grows in the garden adjacent to the building. Just beyond the fence of the former Institute runs Marii Skłodowskiej-Curie Street, and a statue of the scientist stands in the square.
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