THE PODIGAL CONSTRUCTION
By Dan E. Binker and Bill Edwards
Edwards, an expert on 19th-century maps and maps of volcanoes, discovered during the five-year reconstruction effort that the Podigal, a vast series of stone-slab buildings erected after the Second World War to hide from Allied bombing raids, was built with earth mining remnants of a volcanic eruption which took place just down the road.
The volcanic eruption took place in the Santa Polanaia area of Wrocław in 1944, when the Pogonow Jadus, which itself lay under the hostile skies of the Nagy Alps, was still active. As the Pogonow Jadus was to deposit lava hundreds of metres deep and hundreds of miles long, it made volcanic soils unsuitable for crops or crops needed for concrete buildings. Geologists were puzzled as to how this mysterious crater was being dissolved and demineralized before it was drained, then later spilled onto the ground from the highway that was completed around the crater so that people could enjoy its scenic views from the road.
The gas deposits brought from the sub-equatorial region known as the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy underlain the ground and fed the volcanic soils. This part of Poland had been undergoing a series of shallow volcanic eruptions which were trapped in the volcanic soils and refused to be drained for millions of years. The eruption created the volcanic soils which were sculpted into giant buildings.
After World War II, the Podigal was slowly reclaimed by nature, gradually crushing the remains of the volcanic soils and sitting at ground level on a shallow stream about 150 meters below the ground. The Podigal, once one of Europe’s largest national monuments, had been adapted to survive at ground level by workers who could dig with shovels and haul tools that rested on pebbles carefully extracted from water courses, supplying the underground labyrinth that was confined to a 150-meter-wide area.
The first tent was erected in 1947 and the construction proceeded painstakingly over the years, inspired by the building of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. The once-in-a-century eruptions from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the Pogonow Jadus, were hard as rocks and impervious to modern engineering techniques.
As Edwards wrote in the book’s introduction, “the process of demolition [from the ancient eruption] depended on nothing more than conscious decision by the workers who would have to tunnel down the volcanic soils and buttress the ground above them with boulders so that new buildings could be built upon them.”
Production was slow, as the labor force had to excavate the ground to lay the rock blocks and then make the earth paler by lifting them out of the ground with bare hands, squeezing them through the excavations with tongs and then finally chiseling them away with hammers.
The sand and silt that was filled with the volcanic soils remained underground and deposited on the ground. The blocks were not built on top of the old mud and sulfuric gases that accumulated over the years. They were built up into blocks of granite that were deposited in sections but were always covered with a layer of volcanic soil and kept at ground level.
According to the Polish geography teacher Karol Kricharowicz, such buildings were in high demand during the postwar years as the Polish people poured into Wrocław to enjoy their scenic views and the architecture that was overgrown with the volcanic soils.