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The Warsaw Voice » Regional Voice » March 31, 2011
Mazovia Region
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The Versailles of Warsaw
March 31, 2011   
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Wilanów Palace, surrounded by a lush green, historic park in a southern suburb of Warsaw, is one of the capital’s biggest tourist attractions. The 45-hectare park in Wilanów has gardens in a variety of styles including a two-level Baroque garden, a Neo-Renaissance rose garden, an English scenic park and an English-Chinese scenic park.

King Jan III Sobieski bought the property in Wilanów in April 1677. He appointed Alessandro Locci, his secretary and artistic adviser, as chief architect. Locci was a polonized Italian and an amateur engineer. He came up with an original design which the king accepted without hesitation and construction began almost immediately in May 1677. The first structure to be completed was a small, one-story building reminiscent of traditional Polish manor houses. Four years later, however, it was decided that the modest building should be enlarged into a grander residence. Renowned architects were summoned to Wilanów from Italy and France along with craftsmen from across Poland, including carpenters, cloth makers, woodcarvers, goldsmiths and locksmiths. The king commissioned special art agents to search the world for works of art which they would then bring to Wilanów. Visitors to the residence started comparing the palace to the French royal residence in Versailles as early as in the 1680s.

In 1733, the palace was devastated by Russian troops who plundered the interiors. In that sorry state the palace was taken over by Count Stanisław Kostka Potocki and his wife Aleksandra Lubomirska. They decided to open the former royal residence to the public. Potocki restored the palace to its former splendor and arranged some rooms in a way that paid tribute to King Jan III Sobieski. Wilanów Palace gradually filled with works of art and rich art collections again.

During World War I, the palace was converted into a military hospital and a command post and as a result soon fell into ruin. The then owner, Count Adam Branicki, was forced to sell part of the rich collections. Under German occupation during World War II, everything of any value was taken out of the palace and by 1945,
a mere 20 percent of the furnishings were left.

After the war, Wilanów Palace became state property and the authorities started rebuilding the ruined building and making efforts to retrieve the stolen property.

The palace was reopened to the public in 1962.

Wilanów Palace is now one of Warsaw’s biggest tourist attractions. The must-sees include the palace museum, the former chambers of King Jan III Sobieski and a gallery of Polish painting.
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