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The Warsaw Voice » Destination Warsaw » July 30, 2012
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The Palace That Isn’t a Palace?
July 30, 2012   
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When is a palace not a palace? When it looks like a palace but was never occupied by royalty—at least not by a member of a royal family during their lifetime. The Staszic Palace on Nowy ¦wiat Street is such a place. Today it serves as the headquarters of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN).

The Staszic Palace dates back to 1620 when King Sigismund III Vasa built a small Eastern Orthodox chapel as a burial place for Tsar Vasili IV of Russia and his brother, who died in Polish custody after they were captured several years earlier during the 1605-1618 Polish-Muscovite War.

In 1818 Stanisław Staszic bought the building and had it redesigned in a neoclassical style. Five years later, Staszic gave the building to the Society of Friends of Science, the first Polish scientific organization, of which he was founder and president. Staszic also commissioned the monument to Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, which was erected in front of the palace in 1830.

Staszic, who was one of the most prominent figures of the Polish Enlightenment, focused the Society’s activities on fostering the country’s development in terms of the economy, science and education. He was a Catholic priest, philosopher, geologist, translator, poet, writer and statesman. His many activities included initiating the construction of a coal mine, forming an Agricultural Association in Hrubieszów, carrying out research into geology and preparing a geological map of Poland and neighboring countries. He was one of the founders of the University of Warsaw and served as a member of the State Council of the Duchy of Warsaw and as minister of trade and industry.

After the unsuccessful November 1830 Uprising by the Poles against the Russian empire, the Society was dissolved and the works of art gathered there were confiscated by the Russians, who had controlled Warsaw since the final partition of Poland in 1795. For the next 26 years the palace housed the State Lottery and later a secondary school for boys. Then for five years it was home to the Medical-Surgical Academy, which was closed by the Russians after yet another failed uprising in January 1863. In 1892 the palace was renovated in a Russo-Byzantine style by the Russians, in line with the ongoing russification of Warsaw.

When Poland regained its independence after World War I, the palace was restored to its previous neoclassical splendor. In the interwar period it was home to several scientific and scholarly organizations. Nobel prize-winning scientist Marie Curie-Skłodowska delivered a lecture there in 1925.

Damaged by the Germans during the 1939 siege of Warsaw and nearly razed to the ground during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against Poland’s German occupiers, the Staszic Palace was rebuilt after the war to its neoclassical form.

Jolanta Wolska
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