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Maria Skłodowska-Curie Tour

In the Footsteps of Maria Sklodowska-Curie

Maria Skłodowska-Curie (1867- 1934) – most famous woman scientist and two-time winner of the Nobel Prize, was born in Warsaw. She was the first female professor in the history of the Sorbonne and the French government decorated her with the Legion of Honour. She is the only woman and the only person not born in France, who is buried in the Paris Panthéon. She received her first Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 together with her husband Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel, and the second one alone, eight years later, in chemistry. Nobel laureates are also her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie (a physicist and chemist like her mother) and both her sons-in-law, Frédéric Joliot- Curie and Henri Labouisse. Henri Labouisse, the husband of her younger daughter Eva and head of UNICEF, received the Nobel Peace Prize. There is no other such family of Nobel Prize winners! The life of Maria Skłodowska-Curie was closely connected with Warsaw and Paris. Her youth she spent in the Polish capital. From her studies at the Sorbonne until the end of her life she lived in France, but visited Warsaw often and there are many places in this city, which are reminiscent of her. The most important of them are the museum in the house where she was born and the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology.

Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum - the birth place of the scientist ul. Freta 16, tel. 22 831 80 92, http://muzeum.if.pw.edu.pl

Maria Skłodowska lived at this address only for a very short time. One year after her birth, the family moved to a bourgeois tenement house in Nowolipki Street. In the 1930s, a commemorative plaque was set in the wall of the house in Freta Street. It is the only biographical museum of Maria Skłodowska-Curie worldwide. The most affecting elements in the exhibition are the authentic personal items, such as her clothes, which betray her slight figure, her spectacle case, her inkwell, the little elephant given to her by Herbert Hoover, the President of the United States, or the leather bag, in which the Polish Women’s Alliance of America gave Skłodowska the money for opening the Radium Institute (now the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology) in Poland. A separate part of the exhibition presents replicas of the laboratory equipment and containers, which Maria and Pierre used (the originals are kept in the Curie Institute in Paris), and a model of their laboratory. The museum also collects mementoes of the family of the scientist. Maria Skłodowska-Curie’s entire life is recorded in photographs, many of which have not only documentary, but also artistic value.

Church of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary
Kościół Nawiedzenia NMP, ul. Przyrynek 2

This is where Maria was baptized and where she came every day as a little girl with her mother. As we know from her diary notes, she remembered the ‘mystic semi-darkness’ inside the church and its tower overlooking the bank
of the Vistula. Maria Skłodowska-Curie kept diaries all her life, thanks to which we are familiar with many of her thoughts and events in her personal life. According to tradition, the Church of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary was built in the 15th century in the place of a former pagan temple. It is one of the oldest churches in Warsaw. Since 1999, stained glass windows representing scenes in the life of the Mother of God embellish the church. Next to the church is a panorama terrace offering a view of the Vistula and right-bank Warsaw.

St. Jack Church (of the Dominican Order) Kościół św. Jacka, ul. Freta 10 

In this church, Maria received her first communion, however, as an adult she abandoned
religion. The steps leading into this baroque church in the Old Town are rather high, because
the floor is above street level. Plaques in the church walls commemorate the Warsaw insurgents.

Vistula embankment – section on Kościelna Street, near the Church of the Visitation
of the Virgin Mary

As a child, Maria liked to walk on the embankment. She came here also during her last visit in Poland. ’I went for a lonely walk to the Vistula. [...] There is a song from Cracow, which says, that the magic of the Polish waters is so great, that who has fallen in love with them once, will not forget them until death. [...] This river holds a charm for me, the essence of which I cannot even grasp.’ She wrote these words two years before she died, during a visit in Warsaw on the occasion of the opening of the Radium Institute.

Central Agricultural Library
Centralna Biblioteka Rolnicza
ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 66, www.cbr.edu.pl

In Skłodowska’s time, this building housed the Museum of Industry and Agriculture, an institution engaged
in education, science and research. It was founded thanks to donations from the sponsorships of Lubormirski,
Zamoyski, Natanson and others. It was the venue of some of the lectures of the so-called ‘Flying University’ (Uniwersytet Latający), a college for women illegal during the period of the Partitions of Poland. In its laboratory, which was located in the courtyard, Maria Skłodowska prepared for the examination at the Sorbonne and conducted her chemical experiments. Years later she confessed, that ‘had they not taught me chemical analysis so well in Warsaw [...] I would never have isolated radium.’ On the wall of the building, on the side of Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, hangs a commemorative plaque.

Polonia House (former ’Citizens’ Union’)
Dom Polonii (d. Resursa Obywatelska), ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 64

This is where Skłodowska met with professors of the Polish Chemical and Physical Societies in 1925. The newspaper Kurier Warszawski reported, that ’they spent an hour and a half over a modest cup of tea chatting about  physicochemical issues.‘ The neo-renaissance building of the Resursa, which was rebuilt after the 2nd World War, is now the seat of the Polish Community Association (Stowarzyszenie ’Wspólnota Polska’).

Bristol Hotel ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 42/44

I n 1913, in the Sala Malinowa of this particularly elegant hotel, the Warsaw Scientific Society (Towarzystwo Naukowe Warszawskie) organized a banquet in honour of the two-time Nobel Prize winner. Maria Skłodowska’s sister, Helena Szalay, described the ceremony as follows: ‘Maria, while she was listening to the many speakers, sometimes wrote something in her notebook. At the end she thanked everyone for the homage paid to her.‘ The scientist later confessed to her sister, that she had, in fact, not been listening to the speeches, but attempting to solve complicated mathematical problems. ‘And I was very pleased, because I succeeded‘ – she said proudly. The Bristol Hotel, which opened in 1901, belonged to the most exclusive hotels in Europe. Its construction was financed by a consortium
established by Ignacy Jan Paderewski. One of the hotel apartments was always reserved for him. Since its opening, the hotel was a venue of exclusive balls and receptions as well as meetings of the cream of society from cultural, artistic and political circles. Guests of the hotel were among others Jan Kiepura, who sang from a hotel balcony for his Varsovian admirers, the US presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, and, in more recent years, Tina Turner
and Woody Allen.

Square on Karowa Street

In the place where now the Bolesław Prus Monument stands, was once the 3rd Public Secondary School for Girls, from which Maria Skłodowska graduated with a gold medal.



Europejski Hotel

ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 13
opposite the Bristol Hotel

In this hotel Polish women organized a meeting with the Nobel Prize winner during her stay in the capital in 1913. The writer Maria Rodziewiczówna spoke on behalf of the inviters. They then listened to several works of Chopin and songs interpreted by the women’s quartet ‘Lutnia‘. Among the guests was also Jadwiga Sikorska, the owner of the school for girls, which Maria Skłodowska once attended. Opened in 1857, the Europejski was the first elegant hotel in Warsaw. Its apartments were fitted with gilded furniture in the style of Louis XV, with white and blue furniture in the style of Louis XVI and with Empire style furniture. On the ground floor were elegant shops and the legendary restaurant and  patisserie Lourse. The painter Józef Chełmoński had an atelier on the top floor. In the interwar period, after an alteration of the interior, it served for the organization of balls and the reception of diplomats.

Saski Garden
The park covers the area between the Królewska, Marszałkowska and Senatorska Streets and Piłsudski Square.

I n the 19th century on Saski Square, next to the Saski Palace, stood an obelisk. It was erected by order of the Tsar in honour of the Polish generals, who refused to take part in the anti-tsarist November uprising. According to a patriotic ritual among young intellectuals, one had to stand in front of the obelisk, take aim and then spit on the inscription ‘To the Poles who were faithful to their monarch‘ (‘Polakom wiernym swojemu monarsze‘). As Ewa Curie writes in her mother’s biography, ‘whoever forgot to do this when walking through the park, had to go back and fulfil the ritual.‘ Maria Skłodowska, of course, also obliged. The Saski Garden is one of the prettiest and oldest parks in Warsaw, with many different architectural elements. The water reservoir in the shape of a rotunda is a copy of the temple of Vesta in Tivoli near Rome. 21 baroque sandstone sculptures line the central avenue and at its end are a fountain and a sundial. In the Saski Garden stood once the Saski palace. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was erected under its arcades in 1925. And this fragment of the arcades with the tomb are the only remains of the palace, which was  destroyed in 1944. The tomb holds urns with earth collected from all the battlefields of the 20th century, on which Poles died a heroic death. The changing of the guard of honour takes place every day at 12 p.m.

Królewska Street, corner of Marszałkowska

I n the years 1874-1918, there was a school for girls owned by Jadwiga Sikorska on the side of the Saski Garden, which Maria Skłodowska attended. The lessons were officially held in Russian, but in secret took place in Polish. There was also a double timetable – a legal one and an illegal one with Polish history, Polish language and geography.  Whenever the Russian school authorities unexpectedly visited the school, the Polish books were hidden in a flash and on these occasions it was always Maria Skłodowska, as the top student and the one who spoke Russian best, who was
asked to answer the questions. She felt humiliated by this and it was always very stressful for her.

Jabłonowski Palace (former City Hall)
Pałac Jabłonowskich (d. Ratusz), ul. Senatorska 14/16, opposite the Grand Theatre-National Opera

From 1819 until 1939, this palace was the City Hall of Warsaw. This is from where Stefan Starzyński as President of Warsaw led the civilian defence of the city in September 1939. This is also where, in 1925, Maria Skłodowska-Curie received the Diploma of Honorary Citizen of Warsaw. During the same ceremony a foundation charter was read in preparation for the opening of the Radium Institute in the capital and in the evening, a banquet was held in the City Hall in honour of the scientist. The reconstructed building now houses financial institutions. During the archaeological
works preceding the reconstruction, the basements were uncovered. The original foundations of the tower, under a glass cover, are a touching souvenir of the original palace.

Mniszech Palace

Pałac Mniszchów, ul. Senatorska 38/40

The palace was built in the years 1714-1730 by the Grand Marshal of the Crown Józef W. Mniszech. In 1806, performance rooms designed by E.T.A. Hoffmann were opened in the building. In 1829, the palace became the seat of the Merchants’s Union (Resursa Kupiecka), which let the rooms for concerts, meetings, balls etc. In one of them a banquet was held in honour of Maria Skłodowska-Curie in 1913, after a lecture given by her in the Museum of Industry and Agriculture. Burnt during the 2nd World War, the palace was afterwards rebuilt in the neoclassical style and now houses the Belgian Embassy.


Warsaw University, ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28, www.uw.edu.pl

It is one of the largest and most important Polish universities. It was established in 1816 but it exists in its present form since 1915. It comprises several historical buildings. In 1919, the Ministry of Public Affairs  (Ministerstwo Wyznań Publicznych) proposed to Maria Skłodowska-Curie to take over the Chair of Experimental Physics. The scientist did not accept this offer, but participated in the inauguration of the academic year 1921/1922, and in 1925, she met with the University Senate and gave a lecture on the main directions of the contemporary research on radioactivity and also visited the Institute of Physics. On this occasion, the Warsaw University awarded her the title of Honorary Professor of the Faculty of Philosophy. The newspaper Kurier Warszawski reported on the crowds of people who tried to get into the lecture theatre and on how enthusiastically Curie’s lecture was received.

Staszic Palace, ul. Nowy Świat 72, www.tnw.waw.pl

D uring the interwar period, the palace housed the Warsaw Scientific Society, of which Skłodowska was an Honorary Member, as well as the French Institute. During her stay in Warsaw in 1925, she delivered a lecture here on the functioning of the Radium Institute in Paris. Her experience in the Parisian institute confirmed her conviction, that the institute in Warsaw should hold the rank of a central national institution combining medical and scientific activities.
Staszic Palace was built in the 1820’s as the seat of the Royal Society of the Friends of Science and was founded by Stanisław Staszic. Stanisław Staszic was one of the most eminent minds of the Polish Enlightenment. In 1830, the playwright and poet Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz unveiled the Nicolaus Copernicus statue in front of the palace. The building now houses institutes of the Polish Academy of Science as well as the seat of the Warsaw Scientific Society, which was re-established in 1981. In 1997, one of the rooms in the Palace was named after Maria Skłodowska-Curie.

Nowolipki Street, corner of Karmelicka

Nowolipki 11 was the address, where the seven-member Skłodowski family lived for several years before the war. (Maria was the youngest of five children). This was also where Maria’s parents offered lodgings for boys.
During the 2nd World War, Nowolipki street was part of the ghetto and shared the fate of the Jewish district, which was razed to the ground. The houses now standing on elevations were rebuilt directly on the rubble of the former buildings, but the present numbering of the houses is not the same as before the war.

Corner of Marszałkowska Street and Jerozolimskie Avenue

In this area was before the war the Warsaw- Vienna Railway station from which Maria Skłodowska left in 1891 for her studies in Paris. At the same station she got off the train every time she visited Poland. The station no longer exists. The place it once occupied is marked by a pillar, on which the distances from Warsaw to other European capitals and to the larger Polish cities are indicated. Nearby is the commuter railway station Warszawa-Śródmieście

Warsaw University of Technology

Politechnika Warszawska, plac Politechniki 1

The main building, the façade of which is decorated with neo-baroque and neorenaissance sculptures, was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century. It houses a representative Great Hall with beautiful galleries – the pride of the students and employees mof this university and appreciated alike by all those who visit the building. In 1925, Skłodowska was received here with all due ceremony by the professors of this university, and one year later the Faculty of Physics awarded her the title of doctor honoris causa. In 2005, a two-meter statue of Maria Skłodowska-Curie was unveiled in the hall of the main building. The artist, Maksymilian Biskupski, explained that he wanted to represent
Skłodowska as a woman who made difficult choices.

8 Śniadeckich Street

(former Kaliksta 8)

In this house was the first radiological laboratory in Poland, which was founded by Skłodowska in 1913 and functioned until the outbreak of the 2nd World War, as informs a memorial plaque with the inscription: ’In this building was from 1913 till 1939 a radiological laboratory of the Warsaw Scientific Society, the Honorary Director of which was Maria
Skłodowska-Curie. This plaque was installed in 1997 to celebrate the centenary of the discovery of polonium and radium and in honour of the discoverers of these elements – Maria Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie. Polish
Academy of Science, Warsaw Scientific Society.’ The building now houses the Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Science (PAN) and the Warsaw Science Laboratory.

Maria Skłodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology (former Radium Institute)

ul. Wawelska 15, www.coi.pl

Thanks to the initiative of Maria Skłodowska, a Radium  Institute was opened in Warsaw. The substantial sum of about  80.000$ came from a collection among the Polish women in  America. Skłodowska laid the foundation stone in 1925. The  ceremony took place with the participation of Stanisław Wojciechowski, the President of the Republic of Poland and
at the same time a former fellow student of Maria Skłodowska, and the ambassador of France. Seven years later, in the presence of the next President of the Republic of Poland, Ignacy Mościcki, nota bene a professor of chemistry, Skłodowska formally opened the Institute. On this occasion, she planted a tree (a gingko) and made the institution a present of a gram of radium for medical purposes. This was an exceptionally valuable gift, because in order to isolate only 0.1g of pure radium, several tons of uranium ore were required. In the year after the scientist’s death, a statue of
Maria Skłodowska-Curie – a work by Ludwika Nitschowa – was unveiled in front of the Institute and the street next to it was  named after her. The Institute is now the seat of the Society in Tribute to Maria Skłodowska-Curie (Towarzystwo Marii  Skłodowskiej-Curie w Hołdzie). Inside the building are a statue of Skłodowska by Xawery Dunikowski and a commemorative
plaque dedicated to Stanisław Łukaszczyk, the first director of the Institute, who became famous also for having hidden the radium given by Maria Skłodowska from the Nazis during the
occupation. (The oncologic hospital is now on Wawelska Street and the seat of the Institute is on 5 Roentgena Street).

Powązki Cemetery

Stare Powązki, ul. Powązkowska 14

The cemetery, which was founded in 1790, boasts monuments and medallions of great artistic value. Many eminent Poles are buried here. In the Skłodowski family tomb at Powązki Cemetery lie Maria’s parents, her sisters – Zofia, who died prematurely of typhus, Helena Szalay, Bronisława Dłuska, and her brother Józef Skłodowski as well as more distant relatives. (Section no. 164, row III, entrance through the St. Honorata gate near St. Karol Boromeusz Church).

Maria Skłodowska-Curie died on July 4, 1934 in a French clinic in Passy (in the French Alps) of leukaemia caused by the long-term contact with radioactive substances and Roentgen rays. She was first buried next to her husband
in Sceaux near Paris, the home town of Pierre Curie. In 1995, the remains of both were ceremoniously transferred to the Panthéon in Paris.