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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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 10

The Winter Palace (Palatul de Iarna, Kremlin)

The Winter Palace was constructed between 1754 and 1762 and served the purpose of winter residence for the Russian Tsars – this is the reason for which the edifice bears this name.

The architect behind the project was Bartolomeo Rastrelli who designed the edifice in a Baroque style. The vividly colored palace (in green and white) has a total of 1.786 doors and 1.945 windows, 1.500 chambers and 117 staircases, so you can only imagine the immensity of the Winter Palace.



The Winter Palace has a quadrilateral structure, measuring 30 m in height and 250 m in length (the main façade). The exterior is still reflexive of the palace which was originally constructed, but the interior design has suffered modifications – nowadays different styles can be noticed within the chambers. Because of this, Budberg defined the edifice as a “19th-century palace inspired by a model in Rococo style.”


The edifice was the property of the Russian monarchs until 1917, when the population sieged the Winter Palace during the Russian Revolution. At this point, the edifice became the site for the Russian Temporary Government. But the palace once more changes hands as the Bolshevik forces begin their assault on the edifice, this action marking the beginning of the Socialist Revolution which took place in October, 1917.


Nowadays, the palace is part of the Hermitage Museum Complex which contains one of the largest collections of art from all over the world.

The palace underwent several renovation works throughout time. In fact, the edifice which presents itself in front of our eyes at present, is the forth “version” of the original Winter Palace.  In the later part of the 1730s, a fire of massive proportions took hold of the construction causing severe damages.

The Russian Tsar immediately gave order for the edifice to be “resurrected”, but the work was not complete until 1837, as constant transformations were inflicted. The palace was mean to accurately represent the strength and authority of Imperial Russia and it is precisely because of this that the palace has been designed at an epic scale.


Another event of high importance occurred in 1905 when a mass of protesters headed towards the Winter Palace with one purpose in mind – to shed the blood of the royal family. But the monarchs were no longer using the palace as dwelling, seeking retreat in a safer place where they could not fall to the angry hands of the demonstrators. But nevertheless, history recorded a bloodbath in that day – an event which has ever since been known as the Bloody Sunday Massacre.


The exterior of the Winter Palace consists of artistically crafted statues and stuccos which adorn the façades. The public had always been allowed to visit the main façades; it was the lateral ones which were not visible to the eye. These were veiled by massive stone walls and contained a beautiful garden in between them.


The main reception ballroom is the Nicholas Hall, named after Tsar Nicholas II. The interior design is distinguishable thought the tall windows which are separated one from the other by means of pillars. In fact, the palace has a multitude of porches, these being the only architectural designs that interfere with the otherwise symmetrical décor of the tall windows.

One thing that has changed constantly throughout time is the color in which the edifice was painted. The dual coloration mentioned previously (white and green) was conveyed during the improvement work conducted after WWII. The edifice was painted in green, while white was used to bring out the sculptural pieces and other objects of décor. Previously, the Winter Palace was painted in a paler shade of red.


As it has been said, the interior design combines a mixture of styles, manly Baroque and Neoclassical, with a hint of Rococo (as much as it was preserved during the constant renovations). There are only two elements in the entire place which have been preserved in their original form: the Jordan Staircase and the Grand Church.

The alterations conducted can be explained through the fact that Empress Catherine the Great (also known as Catherine II) was always following the latest trends and wanted to dwell in a modern palace which was accurately depicting the newest and most fashionable architectural styles. It is because of this that traces of Western Europe have managed to find their way to Sankt Petersburg.


Whether or not these modifications were to the detriment of the palace is debatable as each work has contributed to a certain extend to the rename conveyed at present to the Winter Palace. The “monument” palace has reached this status precisely due to the architectural and decorative transformations underwent by the edifice under different Russian monarchs.

Apr 25

Belvedere Palace (Palatul Belvedere)

The Belvedere Palace has been constructed for Prince Eugen of Savoia by the architect J.L. von Hildebrandt and reflects the Baroque architectural style. The palace is part of an immense estate which comprises beautiful parks and offers an impressive view over the old city.

The estate actually consists of two castles, the Upper Belvedere Palace, built between 1720 and 1722 and the Lower Belvedere Palace which was erected much earlier, between 1714 and 1716. It is in this smaller edifice that Prince Eugen resided. The two castles communicate through gardens which are decorated by the means of sculptures, water basins, wells, stairs and small waterfalls.


The entire ensemble reflects a theme of transcendence representing man’s journey from darkness towards the divine light. The death of Prince Eugen (in 1736) marks the moment when the estate becomes the property of the Habsburg family.

Upon entering the Lower Belvedere, tourists will find themselves in the Court of Honor and from then onwards, they will enter the Marble Hall. The Marble Hall was initially used for receiving guests (high officials). The way in which the walls are designed is representative for the triumphal arch architecture, a style selected as a reminder of Prince Eugen’s grand victories as a military commander.


On the ceiling of the Marble Hall, visitors can admire a fresco artistically done by Martino Altomonte. The Hall has both antique and baroque sculptures, the latter belonging to the famous artist Domenico Parodi.

On the walls of Sala Terrena (the gorund floor), you can see paintings of the grotesque as this was the current in Vienna in the first decades of the 18th century. The ceiling is painted in the same manner (in the grotesque style) by Jonas Drentwett and it depicts the seasons and the 4 primordial elements.


Overall, the original paintings have been maintained throughout the years. The only exception is one side of the edifice which has been badly damaged in a bomb attack during WWII. Because of this that particular part of the edifice had to be reconstructed.

The Upper Belvedere was transformed into an art gallery which held the imperial paintings from 1775 onward.

The Sala Terrena from the Upper Belvedere is enclosed by atlases in all of the four corners of the room. The structure of the room comprises 4 pillars which are pretty much essential to the edifice, as it prevents the hall from subsiding.


The Upper Belvedere has an impressive ceremonial staircase which leads to the main floor. The decoration of the edifice is exquisite. On the right wall lies a stucco relief which reenacts the scene when Alexander the Great defeated Darius, while on the left side, there is an illustration of the moment when Darius’ wives were presented to Alexander.

The Carlone Hall was named after the artist who decorated the hall room, Carlo Innocenzo Carlone and consists of beautiful fresco depictions, which have been preserved to this day (the majority of them).

The Marble Hall of the Upper Belvedere is made up of two floors and it is colored in red-brownish tone due to the marble used to decorate it.


Both of the palaces have been transformed into museums. The Lower Belvedere Palace has become the Austrian Museum of Baroque Art, whilst the Upper Belvedere houses the Austrian Art Gallery where visitors can indulge themselves with paintings dating from the 19th and 20th centuries. Paintings signed by well renowned artists, such as Van Gogh or Gustav Klimt, are on display at the museums. However, tourists are not allowed to take any photographs so all that is left is to imprint those images in their minds.

The first alpine garden on the European continent was designed in the Belvedere Park in 1803. Today, more than 4000 plants which are normally located in the Alps Mountains can be found in this garden.


Tourists can visit the estate in whatever period of the year they desire, but in order to grasp the beauty of the gardens, you should definitely schedule your visitation for spring or the beginning of summer because that is when the majority of the flowers encountered here are in bloom.

The palace gained the name of ‘Belvedere’ during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa because of the impressive view in conveyed over the old city.

The Orangery (the Greenhouse) is in close proximity of Lower Belvedere and hosts the Modern Gallery.

The estate is famous for its gardens with their lakes, cascades, statues and flower arrangements. Access to the gardens is free of charge whereas access to the museums and the orangery is allowed only after covering a fee.
For the Romanian population, the palace bears not so positive connotations. Belvedere is the place where on the 30th of August 1940 an international document called the Vienna Diktat was passed. Through this document Romania was urged to yield to Hungary almost half of the Transylvanian territory.

Apr 24

Peles Castle (Castelul Peles)

Peles Castle is situated in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, at a 44 km distance from Brasov, in Sinaia locality. This is one of the most well renowned castles in all of Europe, and one of the most beautiful ones as well.


Carol I of Hohenzollern chose the site for the castle and the architect appointed to design it  was Wilhem Doderer, of Viennese origin. But from 1876, the project was supervised by Doderer’s assistant Johann Schultz of Lemberg. The construction work began in 1873 but reached a halt between 1877 and 1879 because of the Romanian Independence War. Peles was constructed in its entirety by 1883 and was inaugurated on the 7th of October.


In the years that followed, other edifices were added to Peles Castle. These were the Economat (a building used for supplies), the Guard Headquarter, the Hunting House, the Stables, the Electric Power Plant, the Sipot Villa and Pelisor Castle. Pelisor was designed by the architect Karel Liman and was erected between 1889 and 1903. This castle would later on become the royal residence of King Ferdinand and Queen Mary of Romania.


The materials used in the construction of the Peles Castle were bricks, stones, marble and wood. The edifice was made out of 160 rooms. During the communist era, Peles, whose rooms were furnished so as to reflect the architectural design and decorations specific for particular European countries, was transformed into a retreat for leaders from all over the globe.


The dominant architectural style encountered at Peles is specific for the German Renaissance, but there are also marks of the Gothic period, the German Baroque and French Rococo architectural designs and of the Italian Renaissance era.

The edifice is enclosed by 7 terraces decorated with pieces of art made by the sculptor Romanelli, of Italian descent. Other ornamental items encountered are the beautiful wells made out of stone and the decorative vases. Carrara marble and wood are the main materials used to decorate the castle, both inside and out, and the architects did a great job choosing them as they give a certain allure to the edifice.


Peles is impressive in its entirety, but there are certain rooms which stand out more than the rest. These are the Grand Armor Room, the Small Armor Room, the Florentine Room, the Reception Room, The French Room, the Turkish Room and the Imperial Suit, just to name a few. Inside the Reception Room, tourists can admire paintings and sculptures made out of wood  – all representing the 16 castles owned by the Hohenzollern family.

The Grand Armor Room holds 1.600 weapons and armors. It is here that one of the most impressive collections of hunting equipment and weaponry in Europe is found – these date from the 14th up to the 19th century. The weapons on display are pistols, muskets, swords, sabers, hunting spears and many more.



According to the general belief, the Imperial Suite has been built in honor of Franz Joseph I. The Austrian emperor has come to Peles on one of his visits to the Romanian royal family and because of this the person in charge of the decoration (Auguste Bembe) has decided to get inspiration from the Austrian Baroque style – so as to please the Austrian ruler. One wall of the room has been transformed into a “tool holder” made out of Cordoba leather and it has maintained itself in a perfect condition for five hundred years.

The Small Armor Room mainly features silver and gold Oriental weapons (Ottoman, Arab, Indo-Persian) which are adorned with precious stones. Tourists can gaze upon the armors and weapons used in the past, such as helmets, axes, spears, daggers or matchlocks.


Inside the walls of the Peles Castle, lays one of the most valuable collections of paintings in all of Europe. Almost 2.000 pieces of art make up this impressive collection. Other items which are highly appreciated are the ceramic objects of decoration, the plates made out of silver and gold, the Meissen and Sevres porcelains, the stained-glass windows (of German inspiration), the weapon collection, the exquisite sculptures made out of ivory and ebony and the artistically crafted Murano crystal chandeliers.

Pelisor (the “Little Peles”) was constructed by the order of King Ferdinand. It is said that the king did not feel comfortable in the Peles Castle due to the immenseness of the edifice. Thus Pelisor Castle came into being. This edifice has 70 rooms, follows the art-nouveau architecture, and it is furnished in the Viennese style (from the turn of the century). At Pelisor, tourists can also find one of the most exquisite collections of glassware: the artistically crafted glasses and vases bearing the names Lalique and Tiffany.


Further information

Tourists should know that they cannot visit the entire castle. Only 35 rooms are opened for visitation – these include the basement and the chambers located at the 1st floor. There is an entrance fee that has to be covered, to which a photography fee is added (if this is the case).

Peles can be visited in the following interval:

Wednesday to Sunday: 9:00 – 17:00;

Tuesday: 11:00 – 17:00:

Monday – closed.

The castle can be visited throughout the year, except in November, when maintenance work is  scheduled.


Apr 12

Bran Castle (Castelul Bran)

Bran Castle is the main tourist attraction in the Transylvanian region. It is situated within less than 30 km from Brasov, between Bucegi and Piatra Craiului Mountains, on the road which connects the cities Brasov and Campulung Muscel.  The castle has a very rich history, having changed its destination throughout time from a medieval fortress to a royal residence. At present, the castle has become a museum, drawing thousands of visitors every year.


The castle dates from 1378, when it has been erected on top of a cliff. At the time, the construction bore high value from a military point of view as it reigned over the Rucar-Bran passage which led through the mountains.


In 1407, the ruler Mircea the Elder received the Bran castle from Sigismund of Luxembourg, the German emperor and king of Hungary. The building remained under Wallachian authority until 1419. In 1427, the castle was taken over by the Hungarian ruler and it underwent a series of fortification and extension works.

The castle become royal residence in the true sense of the word in 1920 when the Town Council of Brasov donated it to Queen Mary of Romania as a token of appreciation for her contribution to the Grand Unification which occurred on December the 1st,1918. The Queen had decorated it according to her taste and had left it as inheritance to her daughter, Princess Ileana, the sister of Carol II. The royal family had been expelled from the country in 1948 and Bran Castle became property of the Romanian state. Unfortunately, the building was abandoned and suffered considerable damages.

It is not until 1956 that the castle is reopened for visitations when it is partially transformed into a history and feudal art museum. In 1987, restoration works are conducted and these are completed by and large in 1993.




Bran Castle is mostly renowned for the legend of Count Dracula, which has been promoted extensively through the novel ‘Dracula’ written by the Irish author Bram Stoker. The legend is actually based on a real story which revolves around the ruler Vlad the Impaler who was a cruel and bloody person that punished its enemies and its disobedient subjects by using different types of torturing measures: cutting limbs, boiling people alive, strangulation, burning, mutilating. But the legend distances itself from reality, as the main character is actually a vampire that feeds itself with the blood of its victims. It doesn’t really matter that Count Dracula did not resemble Vlad the Impaler in many ways, the fact remains that the fictional story has stirred the imagination of thousands of readers, bringing them to Bran from all over the world. Visitors are enticed with the idea of seeing in person the place where the cruel vampire dwelt. In fact, some are so convinced of the idea that Dracula actually existed that they are intent in finding evidence of his existence in the castle. This goes to show the impact that the book had on its readers and the fame that Bran Castle has attained throughout time.

Tourists can visit both the interior of the castle and the exterior courtyard and they have an experienced guide at their disposal who can reveal them the secrets hidden inside the castle.



At present, visitors can admire the ceramic collections, the furniture, weapons and armors which date from the time of Queen Mary’s reign. The modifications made by the Queen are quite noticeable as the castle has been transformed from a military fortress into a summer residence for the royal family, so the esthetic and structural improvements are visible.

In 1932, the Queen requested for an electric generation to be built and from this year onwards, the castle benefited from artificial light. An elevator was also built in order to facilitate the access to the garden from the superior floors of the castle.

A hunting house, a wooden church, a wooden house with 7 rooms and two cottages (one for the Queen and one for her daughter) have been built. You can notice the refined taste of the Queen in the design she conveyed to the entire castle. Among these, the Grand Room (a living room decorated in the German Renaissance style), the Yellow Room, the Music Hall, the Tyrolienne Chamber (belonging to King Carol II) stand out as they are characteristic to that period and to the sophisticated style of the Queen.



In the exterior patio, tourists can visit the Romanian Village Museum which brings together different types of architectural designs and popular customs from all over Romania.

As you can see, Bran Castle is a place where history, culture and myth intertwine. The architecture and the décor are impressive and you will definitely not regret having visited this one of a kind touristic attraction.

Visitation hours:

  • Monday: 11:00-18:00;
  • Every other day: 9:00-18:00.


  • Adults: 9 RON/person (3 euro);
  • Students: 4 RON/person (1,3 euro)
  • Children under 5 years old have free access