Over the centuries, Polish kings and magnates erected numerous defensive castles and stately palaces. Turbulent history has reduced many of them into piles of rubble. Some of them, however, have been spared and today – carefully restored – enchant us with their beauty. At present, some of these buildings house government offices, colleges, etc. Others serve as museums.
THE ROYAL CASTLE: Built by royal order of the king, then rebuilt by the efforts of the nation, the Royal Castle in Warsaw was the seat of kings from the 17th century on. Totally destroyed during World War II, it has been restored to its former beauty during the 1970s, thanks to the generous donations of Poles and numerous Polish communities abroad. Now, as a splendid museum, it is open to the public.
THE WILANOW PALACE: Wilanow is a Baroque palace/park complex situated in the outskirts of Warsaw. Formerly it was a residence of King John III Sobieski. The Baroque palace and garden complex is one of the finest in Poland. Unfortunately, the Nazis plundered the palace during World War II, carrying off most of its treasures. Nevertheless, thanks to a successful campaign to reclaim the looted property, the palace that can be seen at Wilanow today is no less rich and beautiful than it was in the days of John III. The palace has been converted into a museum of interior decorations, while its former carriage house shelters the Poster Museum.
THE ROYAL LAZIENKI PALACE AND GARDENS: In the second half of the XVIIth century, the King’s Prime Minister commissioned a celebrated master builder to construct two buildings -baths and an hermitage- in the old river bed of the Vistula. The property was purchased in 1764 by King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski. Over the next thirty years, the King developed the site into his summer residence. An admirer of beauty and a lover of the Arts, the King transformed the property into one of Europe’s most beautiful palace and garden complexes, covering a total of 73 hectares. To the inhabitants of Warsaw, the Lazienki Park is nowadays a favorite place for walks. Most of the palace buildings are open to the public as museum facilities, and also provide a splendid background for theatrical performances which are staged in the park amphitheatre during the summer months. Sunday concerts of music are given at the foot of the monument to Frederic Chopin, the famous Polish composer and pianist.
WAWEL HILL: Wawel Hill in Krakow is the old seat of Polish kings, dating back to medieval times. It is topped with a Gothic and Renaissance castle with an arcaded courtyard. A XIIIth century Polish chronicler wrote: -In the days before Alexander the Great, Wawel Hill was ruled over by Prince Krak. A cave in the hillside, today known as the Dragon’s lair, was home to an extraordinary savage monster, which had to be supplied with food, for otherwise it would go forth and attack the local people. The castle’s period interiors contain collections of old weaponry, paintings, and the famous Arras tapestries, manufactured in Dutch workshops in the late 16th century. A mention is due to the Audience Room, with its original wood carved coffered ceiling, and the Bird Room.
LANCUT: Many Polish castles and palaces are associated with legends of ghosts and apparitions. It is said that guests at Lancut Castle, should they happen to look through the window on a stormy autumn night, are likely to catch sight of a rider galloping past on a black horse, his long cloak billowing in the wind. This is the ghost of Stanislaw Stadnicki, a ne’er-do-well who lived disreputably and came to a bad end. The three-storey Castle, laid out as a rectangle and surrounded by fortifications in the shape of a five-point star, is today a museum of period interiors: Baroque, Neo-Classicist and Romantic. A museum located in the old Coach House features a collection of old carriages. The old Castle Stables, on the other hand, house an interesting exhibition of icons. Every May, when the Magnolia is in bloom, Lancut Castle becomes a mecca for discerning music lovers, who arrive here to listen to performances of chamber music by artists of international renown.
MALBORK CASTLE: expanded step by step from the XIIIth to the XVth centuries, to encompass within its mighty walls three constituent parts: the oldest was the High Castle, then came the Forecastle, later converted into the Middle Castle, and then the Lower Castle, the last to be built. The whole complex occupies a considerable area. This huge defensive castle of the Teutonic Knights, is one of the most impressive examples of the Gothic defensive architecture in Europe. Built in the years 1270-1404, it was the seat of the Teutonic Order’s Grand Masters. Following major damage during World War II, Malbork Castle was extensively rebuilt and restored by Polish specialists who returned the historical halls, chapels, corridors and courtyards to their former splendor. The Castle is now a museum with its period interiors housing a permanent exhibition presenting the Castle’s history, together with collections of Medieval sculpture, stained-glass windows, coins and medals, weapons, ironwork, pottery and tapestries, and also a collection of amber art.
Imposing castles and palatial residences are also found in Antonin, Baranow Sandomierski, Brzeg, Kielce, Kwidzyn, Krasiczyn, Lublin, Nieborow, Poznan and its environs Kornik and Rogalin, Rokosowo, Sandomierz, Wisnicz and many other places.
For more information on the Castles, Palaces and Manors of Poland contact the Polish National Tourist Office.
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