Biały Słoń

Biały Słoń

Biały Słoń (English: "White Elephant") was the campus of the Polish Astronomical and Meteorogical Observatory, located on the peak of Pop Iwan (2022 meters above sea level) in the Chornohora range of the Carpathian Mountains. This area belonged to the Second Polish Republic during the interbellum, but is now part of Ukraine. Bialy Slon, completed in the summer of 1938, was the highest-elevation permanently inhabited building in Poland pl icon [] ] .


According to Władysław Midowicz, the first and only director of the observatory, the construction of “Biały Słoń” was suggested by a group of influential Warsaw astronomers who managed to convince General Leon Berbecki, director of the influential Airborne and Antigas Defence League, to support it. General Tadeusz Kasprzycki, minister of military affairs, also backed the construction of the observatorypl icon [] ] .

Construction of this impressive building began in the summer of 1936 with an official ceremony for the placing of the cornerstone. Biały Słoń was a very expensive structure with total costs exceeding one million Polish złotys, a huge burden for the state budget of the time. Its walls were made of local sandstone, and due to lack of roads all material was carried to the site by local workers, Hutsuls, their horses and soldiers of the 49th Hutsul Rifle Regiment pl icon [] ] .

The design was based on the Przemyśl castle and shaped like a letter “L” with a tower. “Bialy Slon” was 5 floors high, with 43 rooms and 57 windows. The upper floors were occupied by astronomers and meteorologists, most of whom worked for State Meteorogical Institute and Astronomical Observatory of the Warsaw University. Their work was to carry out meteorogical observations for Polish Air Force. In the lower levels, there were lodgings of soldiers of the “Karpaty” Regiment of the Border Defence Corps, with headquarters in Stryj pl icon [] ] . Altogether, number of inhabitants never exceeded 20. Among those who worked there were professor Włodzimierz Zonn, doctor Jan Gadomski, and professor Eugeniusz Rybka.

July 1938–September 1939

The opening ceremony of the building took place on July 29, 1938 pl icon [] ] . Its official name was the “Observatory of the State Meteorogical Institute”, but soon afterwards it took on the nickname “Bialy Slon”, due to the color of its walls. The observatory was lavishly equipped, with a custom-made astrograph and refracting telescope made by the renowned British company Grubb Parsons of Newcastle upon Tyne. It had its own power plant with two Diesel motor-generators and central heating fueled by oil, which was transported in iron barrels from the “Polmin” company in Borysław. The military authorities also installed their own equipment, including two radiotelephone prototypes constructed to withstand high altitude.

The observatory was located in a remote, deserted area, with the nearest store and mail office 20 kilometers away (at Zabie), the nearest doctor 50 km away, and a rail station in Kołomyja as far as 120 km away. Wladyslaw Midowicz wrote that the staff’s main problem, however, was water, as no waterworks had been constructed and it had to be carried from a stream 6 km away pl icon [] ] .

For fourteen months (July 1938-September 1939) the Observatory was the highest-elevation permanently inhabited building of interbellum Poland. As entry was permitted only with a special military pass, local Hutsuls made up several legends about the building and its inhabitants. Władysław Midowicz wrote that the Hutsuls thought that the Observatory was in fact a mighty cannon, capable of attacking neighboring countries pl icon [] ] .

1939 and its aftermath

On September 18, 1939, following the Soviet aggression on eastern part of Poland (see: Kresy), the personnel of the Observatory packed the most important equipment (including the refractor) and left toward the Hungarian border pl icon [] ] .

At the end of the month, the Red Army captured the building and used it as a meteorogical station. In the summer of 1941 (see: Operation Barbarossa), the Observatory was seized by the Wehrmacht, which passed it to the Hungarian troops, who were stationed there until 1944. After 1945 the deserted building became a ruin, even though it had not been destroyed during the war, and locals reused all remaining material.

In mid-1990s scientists of the Lviv Polytechnic, led by professor Anatolij Dulcew, together with their collegaues from Warsaw Polytechnic, brought forward the idea of rebuilding of the Observatory. In October of 1996 a special conference took place in Lviv and Jaremcza, but so far no works have been started pl icon [] ] .


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  • Pop Ivan — ( ua. Піп Іван; ru. Поп Иван) is the third highest peak (after Hoverla and Brebeneskule) of the Chornohora (Czarnohora) range, with height of 2022 meters (6,634 ft) above sea level.In the interwar period (1918 1939) the peak marked the Polish… …   Wikipedia

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