Warsaw Poland Travel Guide and Photo Gallery

  Warsaw Travel Guide: Warsaw's Royal Castle
The Royal Castle (Polish Zamek Królewski) in Warsaw is the royal palace and official residence of the Polish monarchs. The personal offices of the king, as well as the administrative offices of the Royal Court of Poland were located there until the Partitions of Poland. Between 1926 and World War II the palace was the seat of the Polish president. It is located at the Plac Zamkowy, at the entrance to the Old Town.

Partially destroyed by German bombers during the Invasion of Poland, it was heavily damaged by German bombardment and artillery fire during the Warsaw Uprising. The remnants were blown up by German engineers in September 1944 and were not removed until 1971. Reconstructions were started in the early 1970s and in July 1974 the clock on the tower began working again, on the exact same time at which it was stopped by the Luftwaffe bombardment.

Nowadays it is used as a branch of the National Museum and for ceremonial purposes. During the Siege of Warsaw in 1939 many of the works of art from the castle were transferred to several basements around Warsaw and hidden thus from German authorities they survived the war and were put on exhibition in their original place.

The interior consists of many different rooms, all painstakingly restored with as much original exhibits as possible after the destruction of the Second World War.The Jagiellonian Rooms: these rooms, which belonged to the residence of Augustus III, are now host to a number of portraits of the Jagiello family, a royal dynasty originating in Lithuania that reigned in some Central European countries between the 14th and 16th century.

The Houses of Parliament: from 16th century onwards, Polish democracy started here. In 1573, amendments to the constitution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were written here, with great religious tolerance. Also, during the Deluge in 1652, the liberum veto was established in these rooms, although not carried out until 1669. In 1791, the May Constitution, Europe's first modern codified national constitution as well as the second oldest national constitution in the world, was drafted here. The decorations in the room are replica's of the originals by Giovanni Battista di Quadro.

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The Royal Apartments: in these apartments, king Stanisław August Poniatowski lived. They consist of the Canaletto room, in which several painted views of Warsaw are on display. These were not painted by Canaletto, but rather by his nephew, Bernardo Bellotto. Jean-Baptiste Pillement worked between 1765-1767 on one of his largest projects, the wallpaper. Domenico Merlini designed the adjacent Royal Chapel in 1776. Nowadays, the heart of Tadeusz Kosciuszko is kept here in an urn. The Audience Rooms are also designed by Merlini, with four paintings by Marcello Bacciarelli on display. Andrzej Grzybowski took care of the restoration of the room, that included many original pieces.

Lanckoroński Collection: in 1994 Countess Karolina Lanckorońska donated 37 pictures to the Royal Castle. Collection includes two paintings (portraits) by Rembrandt.

Warsaw Travel Guide: Warsaw's Royal Castle: Out of the Ashes

On January 20, 1971, a miracle happened. It was decided that the Royal Castle in Warsaw, destroyed by the Nazis in September 1944, would be reconstructed. It was a daring project, since the communist government showed no interest in this kind of architecture and thus did not donate a single gross (penny). Only in 1981 did the state start the bear the costs of further restoration and maintenance. Despite the problems, the walls were reconstructed as early as 1974. It took ten more years to make the interior of the castle shine with their former splendor.

A glimmer of hope for the reconstruction of the castle appeared in the spring on 1947. While Trasa W-Z (the East-West highway) was being built over the Vistula River, Jan Zachwatowicz, the general curator of the city, had Grodzka Gate at the southern side of the castle reconstructed. This way he wanted to prevent socialist city planners from building a road there, which would have eliminated any hope for later reconstruction of the whole castle. On July 2, 1949, the Polish Parliament passed a motion to reconstruct the castle.

The decision, however, was never translated into action due to the opposition of the communist government. The director of the National Museum, Stanislaw Lorentz, fought tirelessly to put the project into effect, writing articles, till censorship finally silenced him. He sent numerous letters to the authorities and party leaders, met with them and used a variety of arguments, but he was banging his head against a brick wall. 

Royal Castle in the 1930's. Photo Z. Chomitowska

Twenty years were to pass before there appeared a faction in the government, which saw the project’s propaganda potential. Following the events of the Gdansk shipyard, the communists wanted to divert public attention towards national and cultural values. In mid-January 1971, Professor Stanislaw Lorentz was invited by the Communist Party to a meeting in the Central Committee Building. He was informed of the Politburo’s assent to the reconstruction. The Politburo had already discussed the issue on January 19, 1971. On January 20, 1971, a few other people were informed and the next day the news was published in the Zycie Warsaw daily newspaper.

Now things could get going. On January 26, 1971, the citizens’ committee for the reconstruction of the castle met for the first time and addressed an appeal for help to people tin Poland and abroad and over the years collected $800,000. The project was prepared by Studio Zamek (Castle), a state-owned enterprise for the restoration of historical and cultural monuments, directed by Jan Boguslawski. In the committee, Lorentz was responsible for scientific issues. Jan Zachwatowicz for architectural and preservation questions and Aleksander Gieysztor for archaeological scrutiny.

In the same year, Professor Lorentz undertook some journeys, among others to Rome, London and six other cities in the USA in order to gain some publicity and means for the ambitious scheme. He gave lectures and interviews, screened films and participated in discussions. During his three-week trip, Lorentz is said to have achieved more than the Polish attaché did in many years. 

Royal Castle 1939-1944 after Nazis set fire

He emphasized that the reconstruction of the castle was a gift from all Poles, living both in the country and abroad, to the Polish nation. The reconstruction works started on September 17, 1971. It took three years to build the shell of the building. The ceremonial decoration of the ridgepole was held on July 19, 1974, starting at exactly 11:15 am to commemorate the moment when in 1939 the clock on the tower stopped. On January 1, 1984, the castle was opened to visitors. The ballroom was completed in 1988. 

The first director of the newly reconstructed position was Gieysztor. He held the position from 1980 to 1991. Since 1991, Professor Andrzej Rottermind, Ph.D., has been in charge, the vice-minister of culture in 1991 and previously vice-director of the National Museum. The two periods of office stand for continuity and persistence. Also, Lorentz devoted over forty years of his life to the cause of saving the castle. Paradoxically, he and few others started to struggle for the castle even before it was bombed. Its destruction was decided upon when Germany invaded. Hitler wanted to exterminate the Polish nation and to reduce Warsaw (at that time a city of one million people) to a provincial town with a population of 130,000. 

Royal Castle in ruins 1945

At the site of the castle, the construction of a congress and cultural center was planned. According to the outline of a team of architects from Munster, Germany, the castle was supposed to give way to a green area. The destruction started with a bombardment on September 17, 1939, which the castle caught fire. In 1939-40, German forces drilled holes for explosives in the whole building. Under cover of night, brave people lead by Lorentz removed from the castle everything they could carry – paintings, sculptures, carpets, and furniture – to save them from the hands of the occupants. Lorentz hid the paintings, tapestry and other objects of art in the National Museum behind construction materials. For the reconstruction of the castle these objects were indispensable. On October 10, 1939, the German General Governor Hans Frank tore out from a baldachin one of 86 eagles embroidered in silver and ordered his people to follow his example. Only at the beginning of the 1990’s was one of the eagles found in the USA. It was given back to the castle and served as a pattern for the reconstruction of the royal baldachin, which is on display today.

Warsaw's Royal Castle in ruins 1945

Although the castle appears as a grand and well kept building from the outside, a lot of technical and architectural improvements as well as a new air conditioning system, electrical installation and roof tiles are necessary. A ten year plan assumes investment of 200 million zloty (50 million US dollars).

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