Sunday, 15 May 2011

Inside Filtry

Well, it's one o'clock in the morning, and after six and half (yes!) hours of queueing, Eddie and I were finally let in through the gate and into Filtry - Warsaw's water treatment plant. A legendary place; well worth the wait to get in. Filtry. My father lived on ul. Filtrowa (lit. 'Water-filters Street') before the war; his family lives there to this day. This 30-hectare site, beautifully built and laid out, dominates the south-west fringes of central Warsaw.

The late-19th C. urban infrastructure project was initiated by Warsaw's Tsarist mayor, Socrates Starynkiewicz (a man who spoke no Polish) and carried out by an Englishman William Lindley and his son (also William Lindley). Hence Pl. Starynkiewicza and ul. Lindleya that link the waterworks to Al. Jerozolimskie.

Below and above left: interior and exterior view of the water tower and chimney in the middle of the symmetrical frontage of the waterworks, along ul. Koszykowa.

High-quality brickwork is one of the main characteristics of the waterworks. Our guide (who did an excellent job - taking groups of 40-50 people around the facility all night long) told us that Lindley was criticised at the time for choosing such expensive bricks - 125 years and two world wars later, he was proved right. Also, by spending big money on covering the filter beds with brick arches, he kept them from freezing in winter and being overrun by algae in summer. Pinching kopeks was not an option - today's public procurement managers would do well to learn from Starynkiewicz and Lindley.

Above: the shot that rewarded a six and half hour wait. Inside the slow-filtration beds. Quite something. Not normally lit, the filter beds are dark except when guided tours visit. It's worth remembering that this is a working production facility, rather than a museum; opportunities to visit are few and far between.

And on we go, to the early '30s fast-filtration building (above), the interior of which (below) looks like it could have been part of the set for the Coen Brother's Hudsucker Proxy.

If any of my Warsaw-based readers noticed a funny taste in their coffee this morning, it may have had something to do with Eddie tampering with the control panel (below).

(To put your mind at rest, this part of the filters is now only for show; a new facility was opened last year) The filters have had large amounts of money spent on renovating the historic parts - the site is applying for UNESCO World Heritage status - while at the same time the new facility below continues to do the work. The new building is architecturally consistent with the rest of the site; inside, however, it's boring though reassuringly antiseptic (below).

The tour ended at 02:15. There were still new groups entering the waterworks after us, so the guides must have had a hell of a day. There must also have been scenes of angry disappointment as the queue a hundred or so people back from us who were shut out as the filters closed were told they'd waited several hours in vain.

It is possible to visit the filters outside of Noc Muzeów; unfortunately for foreign visitors, details of how to get in are only in Polish on the Warsaw water authority's website. It is definitely worth visiting - even if it means a long wait. But better to line up a free-of-charge invite to visit the filters (every Saturday in July and August from 9:00am); smaller groups, longer tours.

For Eddie and me, Noc Muzeów ended with a night bus home; we arrived just before 4am as it was beginning to get light. Panie Hrabio! Już dnieje! As we waited for the N83 to arrive (a useful bus, linking the central station to Trombity), we gazed at the Palace of Culture (left). While Moni and her friends had managed to clock up five attractions in one night starting later and finishing earlier, we did only one - but it was worth it. For Polish readers, here's TVN Warszawa's round-up of Noc Muzeów 2011.

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