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The Warsaw Voice » Destination Warsaw » December 21, 2012
Destination Warsaw
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Wilanów—A Polish Versailles
December 21, 2012   
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Wilanów Palace Museum is only 10 km from Warsaw city center in the Wilanów district and at the end of the historical Royal Route. In the olden days, Wilanów was considered a separate township and takes its name from the Italian term villa nuova.

The Wilanów Palace survived the time of Poland’s partitions and both world wars and has preserved its authentic historical qualities. It was built for Jan III Sobieski, one of Poland’s most revered monarchs. It was King Jan III Sobieski, who in 1683 drove back the Ottoman Turks. The Battle of Vienna, as it is known today, was one of the decisive battles in European history, which prevented the spread of Islam into Europe.

Considered to be one of the major masterpieces of Polish architecture and combined with several other styles from around Europe, the Wilanów Palace is often referred to as the “Polish Versailles.” This 17th-century baroque-style palace comprised elements of a noble’s home, an Italian garden villa and a French palace in the Louis XIV style.

Motives and decorative elements on the structure played an essential role in glorifying the monarch, his wife and the Republic—busts of the king and queen among the effigies of ancient characters, gods and goddesses, Roman emperors and empresses.

The most prominent Polish and foreign artists were commissioned to decorate the 17th-century interiors and the king’s invaluable art collection included the works of the greatest contemporary and ancient masters, such as Rembrandt, Pieter van Laer, Anthony van Dyck, Ferdinand van Kessel, Raphael, the Caracci brothers, Guido Reni, and Bernardo Strozzi. The chambers were filled with precious furnishings, such as a silver folding screen, silver pyramid with 11 baskets, a three-story silver fountain and a silk baldachin presented by the Shah of Persia. Unfortunately, they were either scattered by the successive palace owners, appropriated by Friedrich August of Saxony or looted by the Germans during World War II.

The palace passed through the hands of several Polish kings and aristocratic families, each making their own additions and alterations to the structure and the magnificent gardens.

Today, the 60-room palace is filled with splendid art, including by some of the biggest names in European art, from Jean-Louis David to Bernardo Bellotto.

The second floor of the palace houses a gallery of 16th- to 19th-century Polish portrait painting. There are also private apartments of King Jan III Sobieski and his wife, while the wings house the apartments of the subsequent owners of the palace.

Poland’s communist leadership would often use the palace to accommodate foreign dignitaries. President Jimmy Carter once stayed here, while one of the beds had to be especially adapted to sleep the tall General Charles de Gaulle when he visited.

The ornate Wilanów palace is surrounded by a magnificent 45 ha park with canals and picturesque bridges, a natural lake and stream and a manmade pond dating back to late 17th century. The park comprises gardens in several styles including a two-level Baroque garden, a neo-Renaissance rose garden, an English landscape park and English-Chinese landscape park.

Jolanta Wolska
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