A grand example of Baroque architecture, the original Royal Castle (Zamek Krolewski) was planned on the site of a Mazovian fortress when Zygmunt III Vasa decided to move Poland’s capital from Cracow to Warsaw in 1596. It was designed in the early-Baroque manner by the Italian architects Giovanni Trevano, Giacomo Rodondo, and Matteo Castelli between 1598 and 1619. Successive rulers remodeled the castle many times. Following its destruction in World War II, the castle was rebuilt between 1971 and 1984, and many of the original furnishings were returned. This massive undertaking was funded largely by donations from the Polish people.
INSIDE THE CASTLE
The Royal Castle’s fascinating interior is the result of its dual role as a royal residence and as the seat of the Sejm (parliament). A tour of the castle visits lavish royal apartments as well as the Deputies’ Chamber and the Senate. Rooms have been meticulously reconstructed in the style of the 18th century, and many of the furnishings and objets d‘art are original to the castle. These include statues, paintings, and even fragments of woodwork and stucco that were rescued from the building and hidden during World War II. The Canaletto Room displays the 18th-century paintings of Warsaw by an Italian artist that were used as source material for the rebuilding of the castle.
Among the many permanent exhibitions in the castle, two galleries are of particular interest. The Gallery of Decorative Arts is a showcase for 17th-18th century ceramics, glass, furniture, textiles, bronzes, silverware, and jewelry. Around 200 pieces are on display, including an Etruscan vase saved from the original castle. In the Lanckoronski Gallery there are paintings from the former royal gallery of King Stanistaw August Poniatowski, donated by the Lanckoronski family in 1994. The collection includes works by Rembrandt, Teniers the Younger, and Anton von Maron.
POLAND’S LAST KING
Born in 1732, King Stanislaw August Poniatowski (r. 1764-95) was the son of the palatine of Mazovia. He spent his early life in St. Petersburg, where he was introduced to the future empress, Catherine the Great, who took him as her lover. Russia was eager to add Poland to its empire and, perhaps to this end, Catherine promised the Polish crown to Poniatowski. When he fell out of favor and was sent back to Warsaw, she engineered his election as king of Poland in 1764. He introduced economic reforms, promoted the arts and sciences, and presided over the adoption of the Constitution of May 3, 1791. But Poniatowski was unable to repel his mighty neighbors: by 1795 Poland had lost its statehood and the king was forced to abdicate.
Decorated in 16th-century style with colored marble and trompe l’oeil painting, this room also features 22 magnificent portraits of Polish kings by Marcello Bacciarelli.
This tower, 200 ft (60m) high, was built in 1619. It is crowned by a cupola with a spire . It is also known as the Clock Tower (Zegarowa), since a clock was installed in 1622.
Crown Princes‘ Rooms
Historical paintings by Jan Matejko are displayed in a gallery in these former royal apartments.
The Constitution of May 3 was formally adopted here in 1791. The coats of arms of all the administrative regions and territories of the Republic are depicted on the walls and a royal throne is also on show.
The walls of this room are decorated with 23 scenes of Warsaw by Bernardo Bellotto (1720-80), a Venetian painter who was known in Poland by the name of his famous uncle.
Great Assembly Hall
Decorated with 17 pairs of golden columns, the hall is one of the castle’s most elaborate rooms . It was used for state occasions, banquets and balls.
The finest piece in this beautiful room is the Neo-Classical sculpture of Chronos by Jakub Monaldi.
This second-floor gallery contains two paintings by Rembrandt – Portrait of a Young Woman and Scholar at his Desk.
King Stanislaw’s bedroom, dressing room and study were located here.
Apartment of Prince Stanislaw Poniatowski
The Rococo paneling here, thought to be by Juste-Aurele Meissonier, was taken from the former Tarnowski Palace.
The Constitution of May 3 was an experiment in democratic reform the first of its kind in Europe. Members of Poland’s parliament had to swear an oath of allegiance to it in St John’s Cathedral.
Early 1300s: The dukes of Mazovia build a fortress on the site of the Royal Castle.
1598: Construction begins on the Baroque addition.
1939-44: The Royal Castle is destroyed in World War II.
1980: The Old Town and castle become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1984: The restored Royal Castle opens to the public.