May 15

Royal Palace in Warsaw (Palatul Regal, Varsovia)

The Royal Palace has been designed by the architects Giovanni Trevano, Giacomo Rodondo and Matteo Castelli, and the construction work lasted from 1598 until 1619.

The castle has a pentagonal shape, consists of two floors and is representative for the early Baroque architectural style. But in time, the original castle underwent a series of modifications, work meant to enlarge the edifice. Thus, in a first renovation project, the Grand Court, the Little Court and the Grodzka Tower had been added.

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Throughout time there were two wings added. During the reign of Augustus III Wettin, a wing was constructed on the Vistula shore. The wing was named after its founder, “The Wettin Wing,” and was decorated with beautiful works of art by the sculptor Jan Jerzy Plerch.

Other modifications were conducted in the time of Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski (the last monarch of the first Republic of Poland): the Royal Library, which was constructed after the sketches of Domenico Merlini, and the Cooper-Roof Palace. The second wing was added in the later part of the 18th century, and was called the Baciarellowka, after the painter Marcello Bacciarelli.

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The Royal Palace also comprised a special room, used by the deputies of the state, but this disappeared in 1775, when Poland, as a country, disappeared from the face of the earth due to the third territorial division made between Prussia, Austria and Russia.

This room was initially used as the Town Hall, but later on it was transformed into the residence of Jozef Poniatowski, a hero of the Napoleonic Wars, and his uncle, the last king of Poland, Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski. In 1988, the Palace was included in the Royal Castle ensemble. An important historical event which took place here and is worth remembering is the drafting of the First Constitution of Poland – which occured on March 3rd, 1791.

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The palace disposes of a beautiful terrace with splendid arches created after the drawings of Jakub Kubicki. Tourists have to go out on this terrace as it offers an impressive look over the royal gardens.

The Castle has not remained untouched by warfare. Thus, in 1932, the German army burnt down the edifice, while a complete destruction of the Royal Palace occurred in 1944 (WWII). But the palace was reconstructed between 1971-1988, and with the occasion, the edifice had received works of art which belonged to King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski (among which there were two Rembrandt paintings).

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At present, tourists can admire the palace as it was constructed in the 18th century, the façade facing the Vistula River still bearing the traces of the Rococo architectural style. The interior furnishing is pretty much the original one, despite the destruction which occurred in 1944, when the palace was blown-up by Germans. The reason for this is that several clerks which worked at the National Museum had managed to put to safe keeping a large part of the furniture.

The Royal Palace had managed to be “resurrected” due to some photographs taken prior to the destruction, as well as to some paintings created by Canaletto in which the palace was accurately represented. In fact, because of this, the most renowned room located downstairs bears the name of the painter.

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The Grand Hallway, or the Ball Room, has a ceiling which is sustained by 17 golden columns and which is wonderfully adorned with pictures representing various mythological scenes. Some of the most impressive rooms within the palace are the Senate Room and the Marble Room, both adorned with priceless objects of decoration.

The Royal Palace is truly imposing: the façade, which is made out of bricks, extends over 90 meters in length, there is a square tower located in each end, and the Sigismund Tower, which measures 60 m in height, is constructed right in the middle of the edifice. There is one theory according to which this later tower has been ispired by the Smolensk Tower, in Russia.

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The palace is now considered a museum and it functions under the Ministry of Culture. As it is a historical and national monument, the castle has been registered as part of the UNESCO patrimony since 1980.

Visiting hours (these depend widely on the period of the year in which you visit the palace, but the minimum opening hours are):
Tuesday-Saturday: 10:00 – 16:00;
Sunday: 11:00 – 16:00;
Monday: closed.

May 08

Rynek Glowny Krakow Grand Square (Piata Principala din Cracovia)

The Rynek Glowny Grand Square in Krakow is one of the most beautiful medieval squares located in Europe, and one of the largest as well, as it spreads over 10 acres.

It is inconceivable to pass through Poland and not to make a detour in order to visit this one of a kind square which is composed of buildings characteristic for the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. At the center of the square, tourists will find the Sukiennice (the Cloth Hall), which dates from the 14th century but which has been restored during the Renaissance. On top of this, there is an attic which is adorned with carved masks.

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One of the main attractions, located in the north-eastern part of the square, is the St. Mary Church which has a beautifully carved Great Altar. This edifice, erected in 1222 and rebuilt in 1355, is a representation of the Gothic architectural style.

The story that revolves around this church says that in the 13th century a man tried to alert the city about the Tatar invasion by blowing a horn, but that he was deadly wounded in the neck by an arrow. The church is said to “retell” the story of this hero by means of its towers which play a specific tune every hour (called “hejnal”). The horn used to alert the population is still preserved in the left tower of the church and bears the name “Kosciol Mariacki”.

The church is opened for visitation only between May and August.

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Other important tourist attractions are the Town Hall Tower, the Gothic edifice dating from the 13th century, and the St. Adalbert Church which still preserves some of its original parts from the 11th century.

Some of edifices have changed their attributions, in as much as nowadays, the cellars of medieval buildings have been transformed into pubs and restaurants, while others house the Archeological Museum and the Maszkaron Theater.

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Another place worth visiting is the Wierzynek Restaurant. Those who are unacquainted with the legend that revolves around the restaurant should know that in 1364, a 21-day feast was organized here for the monarchs of Europe with the purpose of reaching an agreement about some political matters.

The Grand Square consists of 47 buildings, each more impressive than the next. Upon admiring these edifices it is impossible not to think with regret about the other constructions which had been demolished in the 19th century. Probably the most relevant one of the edifices which had been destroyed is the Town Hall built in the 14th century in the Gothic style.

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Since its formation, the purpose of the square was commercial in nature, and even after the rebuilding process which took place after the Mongol invasion left the square in ruin (in 1257), commerce was still the number one function of the Grand Town Square.

But besides having been an important trading center, the Rynek Glowny, also bears an important historical role. This is the site where public executions were being held and where royal proceedings were organized.

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The Grand Square won in 2005 the title of the World’s Best Square, awarded by the organization Project for Public Spaces. The reason for which it received this award is that a multitude of events are organized here, such as concerts, festivals, marches. For example, the Square hosted the largest party ever to be organized on New Year’s Eve on the territory of Poland.

May 04

Wilanow Palace (Palatul Wilanow)

The Wilanow Palace is a Polish edifice erected for King Jan Sobieski which comprises 60 rooms, the majority of them being filled with objects connected to the royal family, such as portraits, valuable artifacts and jewelry.

The estate, which contains a beautiful garden and the Wilanow Palace, carries a great importance for the Polish population. The edifice dates from the 17th century and it bear the mark of the architect August Locci. All the decorations are heavy in symbolism, representing various motifs from the ancient Greece and Rome.

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The interior decoration is representative for three different epochs: the oldest rooms (the royal suits which have a Baroque architecture) are located in the central part of the palace, the southern wing is decorated in the architectural style specific for the 18th century, whereas the northern wing bears the stamp of the 19th century – when the palace was property of the Potocki family.

Construction

The architect received order from the king to construct an edifice with only a ground floor which would respect the general plan usually followed by the Polish buildings. But the original plan was changed due to the military successes obtained and due to the fact that the royal family gained more importance. Thus the edifice was expanded so as to do justice both to the royalty and to the Republic of Poland.

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Massive transformations to the edifice took place between 1677 and 1696. The final result was a combination of Polish, Italian and French architectural elements. The edifice was inherited by the king’s sons, after Sobieski passed away. Other modifications to the edifice were conducted in 1730, under king August II the Strong, who mainly focused on the interior decoration.

Stanislaw Kostka Potocki, who became the owner of the Wilanow Palace in the 19th century, made a lot of efforts to enhance the value of the palace.  It was because of him that, in 1805, the palace housed one of the first museums located in the entire state.

Museum

The museum is structured in two parts: the downstairs and the first floor. Probably the most relevant area in the museum is the Gallery of Polish Portraits, where tourists can admire the paintings which illustrate the Polish monarchs, important figures in the history of the state (such as people who have played significant roles in national uprisings), or distinguished artists. The authors of these works of art are either of Polish or of foreign origin.

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The next part of the tour consists of visiting the royal suits. These were divided based on the purpose for which they were being used, such as apartments for parties, for receiving guests and friends, for official business, for sleep or for listening to music.

A unique collection of coffin portraits which is found nowhere else on the European continent can be admire at the museum. These are actually realistic portraits taken of the deceased noblemen once they were placed in their coffins and represent a distinctive characteristic of the Baroque style, encountered solely in Poland.

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The practice was that the portrait of the nobleman was painted on metal and the representation was placed on the coffin, facing the mourners, so that the person that passed away could have an overview of the extravagant funeral services held in his/her behalf.

In fact, the majority of these pieces of art were created while the noblemen were still alive. So the detailing is quite impressive, in as much as we are offered a complex image of the nobility that dwelt in Poland during the 17th century.

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Another point of attraction within the palace is represented by the statue of King Jan Sobieski, which was initially located near the main entrance. The sculpture, which was created in 1693, was meant as a reminder of how the king defeated the Turks.

But the statue was moved in 1729 as a result of the modifications conducted to the Grand Vestibule and it ended up in close proximity to the southern tower.

The grandeur of the edifice is noticeable upon a first look. Tourists are impressed with the architectural and decorative elements, as well as with the lavishness conveyed on the Wilanow Palace.

Apr 23

The Lublin Castle (Castelul Lublin)

The Lublin Castle is located in Poland, in close proximity to the center of the city Lublin. It is a medieval citadel and one of the oldest castles which have survived the passage of time. The castle was erected by king Casimir II the Just and it served as royal dwelling.

History

The structure of the Lublin Castle, as it is today, is the result of years of construction and renovation. The castle is situated on a hill which has been fortified for the first time in the 12th century when a wall made out of wood and stone was erected. The first decades of the 13th century witnessed the construction of the stone keep. This is not only the oldest edifice within the city of Lublin but also the highest one in the area.

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King Casimir the Great gives order for the castle to be reconstructed in the 14th century. The reason behind the reconstruction work is the king’s wish to fortify the edifice, by making it out of stone. The Lublin Castle also holds a church, the Holy Trinity, and even though the actual period when the church was constructed is unknown, there are reasons to believe that it dates from the reign of Casimir the Great.

The painting work for this chapel, initiated in the first years of the 15th century, were finished in 1418. It is remarkable the fact that the illustrations did not suffer massive deterioration, and even today, tourists can admire the original painting done by Master Andrej.

The painter’s inimitable artistic design which draws inspiration from both the eastern and western orthodox elements has transformed the castle into a valuable monument which has gained universal praise.

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When Poland was ruled by the Jagiellon family, the castle was one of their favorite places.  Because of this, the castle was reconstructed in the 16th century but the result was impressive. Everything was “updated” so that it would be fit of a royal family. In order to meet the Jagiellon family’s expectations, architects were brought from Italy to supervise the reconstruction work.

Important historical events took place within the walls of this castle and probably the most important one is the moment when the document attesting the Union of Lublin was signed in 1569.

The 17th century was not a very good period for the castle as this was badly damaged during the wars that ravaged Poland at that time. It was between 1826 and 1828 that the castle underwent restoration work. This was possible due to the territorial settlement reached upon by the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

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Following the decision of the congress, Poland decided to initiate the renovation of the edifice. The architectural design used for the castle was English Neo-gothic. The renovation led to a completely new edifice which had nothing in common with the old one it replaced.  But the purpose was also different: the castle was meant as a criminal prison.

The only sections that maintained their original look were the keep and the chapel. The castle maintained its status as a prison for 128 years and it was not until 1954 that the role of the castle as a penitentiary ceased. It took 3 years to reconstruct the edifice and ever since the Lublin Castle has been the home of the Lublin Museum.