Order in the Streets

The Political History of Warsaw’s Public Space in the First Half of the 19th Century

by Aleksander Łupienko (Author)
©2020 Monographs 272 Pages


The book offers a wide perspective on the history of the capital of the Kingdom of Poland. The Kingdom was a small part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which passed under the rule of the Russian Tsars. The book presents the life of the streets, squares and parks, special events, the changing infrastructure and the rise of consumerism. It describes how Warsaw became a monumental capital in a short period of 1815‒1830. The main plot of the book is the political dimension of the space: publicly expressed sympathies and aversions towards politicians, rising control and Russification, acts of loyalty and anti-Russian demonstrations to regain hegemony in the early 1860s. The author reflects on the question if the modern definitions of the public space can be applied to a historic city.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Public Space
  • The Chronological Framework and Initial Assumptions
  • Sources
  • The Structure of this Work
  • 1 Definitions and Theories of Public Space
  • 1.1 Space and Place
  • 1.2 Space and Hegemonic Practices
  • 1.3 “Public”, the Public Sphere and its Political Dimension
  • 1.4 The Influence of Public Space on People
  • 1.5 The Theatricality of Public Space
  • 1.6 Urban Space in Sociological Research
  • 1.7 Monumentality and Transcendence in Public Space
  • 1.8 The Problem of Representation in Public Space
  • 1.9 Public Space in the Light of Urbanism
  • 2 A History of Urban Public Space in the West
  • 2.1 Antiquity
  • 2.2 The Middle Ages
  • 2.3 The Renaissance
  • 2.4 The Baroque
  • 2.5 France
  • 2.6 England
  • 2.7 Classicism
  • 2.8 Public Space in Warsaw before 1815
  • 3 Factors Affecting the Existence of Public Space in the Kingdom of Poland after 1815
  • 3.1 Involvement in Government and Social Participation
  • 3.2 The First Republic and the Duchy of Warsaw
  • 3.3 The Kingdom of Poland
  • 3.4 The Situation after the November Uprising
  • 3.5 Property
  • 3.6 Summing up
  • 4 New Public Spaces in Warsaw 1815–1830
  • 4.1 The Centre of Warsaw
  • 4.2 The Development of New Public Space
  • 4.3 Government Offices, Institutions and Public Buildings
  • 4.4 Legal Regulations
  • 4.5 Changes in Urban Planning and Architecture
  • 4.6 Streets
  • 4.7 Public Gardens
  • 4.8 Road Surfaces and Street Lighting
  • 4.9 How Public Space Worked
  • 4.10 Summing up
  • 5 Warsaw’s Public Space during the Time of Viceroy Paskevich
  • 5.1 The City after the November Uprising
  • 5.2 Government Departments, Institutions and Public Buildings
  • 5.3 Legal Regulations
  • 5.4 Changes in Urban Planning and Architecture
  • 5.5 Infrastructure, Street Surfaces and Lighting
  • 5.6 How Public Space Worked
  • 5.6.1 Spending Free Time
  • 5.6.2 Public Gardens
  • 5.6.3 Streets and Social Life
  • 5.6.4 Shop Windows and Signs
  • 5.6.5 Holidays and Religious Ceremonies
  • 5.6.6 Official Events
  • 5.6.7 The Control and Domination of Public Space
  • 5.7 Summing up
  • Afterword
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • List of Illustrations
  • Index of Names


Space has been the subject of research in the fields of history and the history of art since the beginning of the study of the humanities. However, over the last few decades it has enjoyed a period of such popularity that it has been termed a paradigm shift. This phenomenon surfaced above all in German works, where the concept of space and spatial awareness was to some extent pushed to the margins of the liberal arts after 1945, having been too strongly implicated in the discourse on authority and geopolitics during the National Socialist era. However, this has changed over recent years. This shift has brought with it a great many new ideas on studies of the cultural history of space, images of space as well as discourse on it, which has led to new interpretive keys, allowing historical study to draw closer to geographical study, both at the macro level (geographical imagination, regional concepts, maps and mapping), and at the local level (urban districts, placing social phenomena, spatial connexions in cities).

The subject of this book is the history of the functioning of public space in Warsaw, the capital of the Kingdom of Poland, newly-arisen after the Napoleonic Wars, a political creation of the Congress of Vienna (1815) and is a type of continuation—although in different geopolitical circumstances—of the ancient Polish state, under the aegis of the Russian Empire. The Russian Tsar, Alexander I, who is one of the heroes of this book, became, after the victory over Napoleonic France, the most powerful ruler on continental Europe, while the Kingdom of Poland, consisting of a small fragment of the ancient great Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, was a small country in the shadow of a great hegemon. This was a hegemon which—let us add—together with Prussia and Austria had participated in the destruction of the Polish-Lithuanian state at the end of the eighteenth century, which was swallowed as a result of an internal political crisis. In 1815, the tsar endowed this Kingdom with a modern liberal constitution as well as all the trappings of independence; it had its own parliament (Sejm) and an army. Warsaw, which until recently (1795) had been the seat of the Commonwealth’s kings, became the Kingdom’s capital. This capital was modernised: new seats of central government were established, road surfaces and street lighting were improved, and a number of important new institutions, such as the university, were established. This new public space began immediately to pulsate with dynamic political life. However, the existence of Tsar Alexander’s liberal “experiment” alongside the enormous Russian Empire soon became problematic. From the very beginning, Russian imperial élites saw the ←9 | 10→formally independent Kingdom of Poland as a Russian “possession” and were not reconciled to it flaunting its sovereignty, and they came into their own during the reign of Alexander’s brother and successor, Nicholas I. This conflict was reflected in the public space in Warsaw itself, about which I write in detail in this book. As a result, we can state that this space operated politically, although if we take a closer look at this issue, we can see that it was problematic.

Public Space

Yet what is this urban public space of the title? It has two different meanings: certain parts of a city and a certain mental category. Both are connected to each other but have a different character. Public space is at the same time physical, tangible space, which can be defined (though usually not precisely), and at the same time is a certain mental construct, or category, its existence laden with numerous attributes, connotating ideas from the fields of law, politics and aesthetics, but also a very vague one when it comes to drawing concrete links between it and the real world. Unlike the public domain, which denotes only immaterial “space” mediating between people and social entities in which dialogue takes place and messages are passed, urban public space is above all a discontinuous collection of places in urban centres, whose dominant feature is accessibility. Accessibility puts pressure on the community, ensuring that space, attracting the attention of various groups of people irrespective of their reasons for being there (a city’s inhabitants or visitors), takes on a first-rate importance, is perceived as a common good, and as such can also fulfil the social functions of a public domain.

If we discuss public space as a mental category, then historically this category was applied to defining those places where people could gather and where therefore it was easier to communicate, but also for one group of people to exert pressure on others, as well as to observe social life. As a concept, therefore, it is linked to openness, community (the meaning of the Latin word publicus), and also to aesthetics, representativeness and—following Ferdinand de Saussure’s comments on creating meaning in language—to everything that people associate mentally with opposition to the closed space of houses, flats and courtyards, areas enclosed by representatives of the authorities, social corporations, and institutions such as the army. These associations do not exclude this category’s broad character, but place in the front row images linked to beauty and dignity, as well as openness and community. In line with the sociological approach to space represented by the ideas of Martina Löw, space is not a physical, static ‘container’, but a dynamic network of relationships that changes diachronically and ←10 | 11→synchronically. If we accept this very general definition as inspiring for scholars of historic towns and cities, we can add to these theories the assertion that public space does not exist independently of the people, but is each time created, defined, perceived and consumed by them. It can be created by buildings, whose appearance, developed along socially-accepted lines of good taste and their location, make it possible to be described as such. Everyone agrees with this. Not everyone, however, apart from urban planners attempting to define the whole area of a town or city using precise categories, would recognise that little nooks and crannies far from the centre also belong to this space. What emerges from this is that people (inhabitants or urban authorities, creators of written sources and others) “create” public space anew, as a category or a concept, taking into account leading discourse on public space, legal definitions—as in the case of the nooks and crannies already mentioned—and the scope of forces regulating and controlling public actors, such as urban authorities.

Summing up these thoughts, we should thus look at this category as one of many accessible scholarly tools that allows us to penetrate cognitively this complex physical, social and mental construct that was a nineteenth-century city. It further allows us to look at the chaos of a city and of urban life in a more orderly way and easier to comprehend intellectually. Thanks to this, we can group various aspects of a nineteenth-century town or city, assign a rank to them, and analyse them.

The Chronological Framework and Initial Assumptions

The period covered by this analysis is 1815–1855/56. The start date is the formation of the Kingdom of Poland, also known as the Congress Kingdom after the Congress of Vienna that brought it to life, and the beginning of Alexander I’s administrations in Warsaw. The end date is the death of Nicholas I, as well as the death of his Viceroy in Warsaw, Ivan Paskevich, and the beginning of Alexander II’s great reforms. This work thus covers the period of the first two tsars’ rule in the Kingdom, hence more or less the first half of the century. As in this work I have studied the operation of public space in relatively neutral and peaceful conditions, I have ignored what happened during the Polish-Russian war, known also as the November Uprising, which took place from 1830 to 1831 and was begun by representatives of the Polish élite disagreeing with the Russians’ rejection of the Kingdom’s sovereignty. I have been more interested in everyday Warsaw, which does not mean that I have ignored the more violent events that took place during times of peace. Owing to the subject matter of this work, I have limited myself to a brief description of the effects of war with Russia.

←11 | 12→

In order for a city’s public space (in the fullest sense of the word) to exist, several conditions must be met. There has to be a state with a network of central government offices and mechanisms controlling what happens in the state. This state, integrating the citizens living within its borders, must have a material influence on what takes place in the town or city. It is obliged above all to control the spaces designated within the town as public, occasionally through the local authorities. Obviously enough, there must also be private ownership of land and buildings, as a counterweight to the public ownership of land and public buildings. In order that gatherings of people, as well as the functioning of this space, do not simply become mechanical and random, a deeper meaning and reason for such gatherings is needed. There can be different reasons: straightforward coercion, as was probably the case in ancient despotic states, where the ruler assembled his subjects for specific reasons; everyday needs, such as buyers and sellers gathering in the market places of mediaeval towns; ingrained habit, such as in sacred spaces where people assembled to worship God or gods; or mere curiosity, when people sought news that was not available in the isolation of their homes. However, in my opinion the most valid reason for people gathering was a desire to influence their fate or the authorities by coming into contact with other citizens, users of the same space. This is the political function of public space.

Given that in an expanding town or city the coordination of activities simply through physical contact in squares and streets is out of the question, a public domain also develops in the city. Put simply, this domain consists of various institutions and associations that act as intermediaries in contacts between individuals and the state. These are places where, in the words of Jürgen Habermas, “private individuals come together publicly” (see Chapter 1). For all this to develop, what is needed is the conviction of individuals that they have an influence on the state. This conviction grows with the level of democracy in public and political life, and this level is measured by the degree of participation in governance by various social groups.

Therefore, in this work I discuss the following initial conditions, or issues, for the existence of public space: 1) the regime of a given state, town or city; 2) the level of individual freedom in the widest sense of the word; 3) existing institutions and associations comprising the public domain; 4) forms of urban property ownership, and more specifically the involvement of the state in the ownership of that land, as well as forms of private property there. However, the most important issue is an analysis of the specific space at the centre of Warsaw between 1815 and 1856, along with the defining the boundaries of this centre.

←12 | 13→


I have studied the public space at the centre of Warsaw, its quality, its appearance as well as its functioning on the basis of several sources, in the first place nineteenth-century maps of the city, which allow us to establish where the city’s centre lay and how it changed over time.

Commencing with archival sources, we should note that in the surviving files of the Government Commission of Internal Affairs—key to administering the urban space (collections in the Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych)—we find above all documents for the administration of squares (lots) that belong to the city, referring furthermore to streets: their lighting, their surface and pavements, tree-planting and its regulation. In addition, there are a great many documents on clearing Jews from the streets. There are separate binders on the National Theatre, the Copernicus Monument, and the construction of the “New Descent” (Nowy Zjazd) down to the Vistula. Among the curiosities in the files are the establishment of night-time halberdiers to guard public spaces, the installation of clocks on pillars, as well as the organisation of folk dances. In addition, we find a great many files on loans for constructing masonry buildings, as well as on planning permission to refurbish wooden structures, which however is not the subject of my research.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (March)
Public architecture Social space Street demonstrations Public sphere Hegemony Urban history
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 272 pp., 14 fig. col., 10 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Aleksander Łupienko (Author)

Aleksander Łupienko works as an urban historian at the Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. His main interests include spatial and cultural history of large cities in the Central and Central-Eastern Europe: social space, architecture, monument preservation and urban planning.


Title: Order in the Streets
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
274 pages