History of the Royal Castle in Warsaw

History of the Royal Castle in Warsaw

The Royal Castle in Warsaw was a seat of the Sejm and Senate of the first Rzeczpospolita and also an official residence of the monarchs in Warsaw. It contained the offices of a number of political institutions, arranged around a central courtyard.

The castle is a symbol of Polish statehood and history. Its origins date back almost a seven centuries and its present structure has evolved in stages since the fourteenth century.

Castle in the Middle Ages

In the 1339 the Papal Legate in Warsaw heard a case brought by the King of Poland, Kazimierz the Great, against the German Teutonic Order. He claimed that they had illegally seized a slice of Polish territory — Pomerania and the Kujawy region. The documents in this case are the earliest written testimony to the existence of Warsaw. At that time a fortified town surrounded by earthen and wooden ramparts, and situated where the Royal Castle now stands, it was the seat of Trojden, Duke of Masovia. At the end of 13th century, during the Duke's Conrad II of Mazovia reign, the wooden-earthen gord called Smaller Manor (Latin: "Curia Minor") was built. The following duke, Casimir I, decided to build here the first brick building at the burg-city's area the Great Tower (Latin: "Turris Magna").In the middle of the 14th century the Castle Tower, whose structure up to the first storey has survived to our own day, was built, while towards the end of the 14th century, when Masovia was ruled by Duke Janusz I the Elder, the "Curia Maior" (Big Manor) was erected between 1407 and 1410. Its facade, which was still standing in 1944, was knocked down by the Germans, but has been rebuilt nowadays. The character of the new residence and its size (47,5 m/14,5 m) decided about the change of buildings status, from 1414 functioned as Prince Manor.


When the Masovia region was incorporated in the Kingdom of Poland in 1526, the edifice which until then had been the Castle of the Dukes of Masovia became one of the royal residences. From 1548 onwards Queen Bona Sforza resided in it with her daughters Izabela, who became Queen of Hungary, Catherine, later to become Queen of Sweden, and Anna Jagiellon, later King of Poland. In 1556–1557 and in 1564 the King of Poland, Zygmunt August, convoked royal parliaments in Warsaw. They met in the Castle. Following the Lublin Union (1569), by which the Polish Crown and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania -were united as a single country, Warsaw Castle was regularly the place where the parliament of the Two-Nations State met. In 1569–1572 King Zygmunt August started alterations w the Castle, the architects being Giovanni Battista di Quadropl icon cite web |author = |url = http://www.dziedzictwo.pl/sources/muzea/waw/zamek-krolewski/zamekkw.html |title = Zamek Królewski w Warszawie (The Royal Castle in Warsaw) |work = www.dziedzictwo.pl |publisher = |pages = |page = |date = |accessdate = 2008-07-18] and Giacopo Pario. The "Curia Maior" was altered so as provide a meeting place for Parliament, which premises for the Chamber of Deputies ("Sejm" - delegates of the gentry) on the ground floor ("the Old Chamber of Deputies"), and the Senate Chamber (where the Senators debated in the presence of the King) on the first floor. This was one of the first attempts in Europe to create a building that would be used solely for parliamentary purposes. The parliamentary character of the "Curia Maior" is stressed by the paintings of the facade — the coats-of-arms of Poland, of Lithuania, and of the various regions from which the delegates were elected. A new, Renaissance—style building, known as the "Royal House", was erected next to the "Curia Maior". The king resided there when parliament was in session.

The Vasas Era and the Deluge

The next alterations to the Castle were made in the reign of Sigismund III, who transferred the royal residence from Cracow to Warsaw. In 1598–1619 the Castle was enlarged. Giovanni Trevano was in charge of the reconstruction. His plans were probably amended by the Venetian architect Vincenzo Scamozzi.en icon cite web |author = |url = http://www.um.warszawa.pl/v_syrenka/perelki/index_en.php?mi_id=37&dz_id=2 |title = The Royal Castle |work = eGuide / Treasures of Warsaw on-line |publisher = |pages = |page = |date = |accessdate = 2008-07-23]

Between 1601–1603 Giacomo Rodondo finished the new northern wing. From 1602 Paolo del Corte was doing stonework. Later after 1614, when Matteo Castelli took the head, western wing was built(from today's Plac Zamkowy side) as a chancelleries and marshals office. The southern wing was built at the end. In that way five-wings early baroque assumption, work of architects, was made. In 1619 building of New Royal Tower (Latin: "Nova Turris Regia") also called Sigismund's Tower was finished. It was 60 meters high and was placed in the middle of a new built west castle side of 90 meters length. At the top of the tower a clock with gilded hands and copper face was placed. New tower's spire was 13 meters high and had glided knobs and a copper flag at the top.

On 29 October 1611 in the Senator's Chamber Tsar Vasili IV of Russia, captured by the hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski, paid homage to the Polish king Sigismund III Vasa.

The Polish king Sigismund III and his successors of the Vasa dynasty — Władysław IV and Jan Kazimierz — collected many rich works of art in the castle, such as oriental fabrics, tapestries, and numerous paintings by such famous artists as Titian, Veronese, Jacopo and Leandro Bassano, Tintoretto, Palma il Giovane, Vassilacchi, Dolabella, Guercino, Reni, Heintz, Rembrandt, Soutman, Danckers de Rij, Rubens, Jan Brueghel, Seghers, Daniel Schultz etc. and sculptures by Giambologna, Susini and de Vries. These splendid works of art were either destroyed or plundered during the invasions of Poland by Sweden and Germans of Brandenburg (The Deluge, 1655–1657). Swedes and Germans took all the priceless pictures, furniture, tapestries, royal library, crown archive, numerous sculptures, whole floors and royal flags. In the castle they did military Lazaret field hospital, which additionally contributed to the devastating of the object. A few months later armies made an act of destruction, plundering most of the copper elements and tearing the rest of castle's floor.

In 1628 the first opera in Poland - "Galatea", was staged at the Castle. The great opera hall (double-storied, over 50m long), which exist at the Royal Castle, was demolished by Sweds and Germans and rebuilt in 1660s by King Jan Kazimierz.pl icon cite web |author = |url = http://martim33.w.interia.pl/opera_theater3.html |title = Sala operowa |work = Opera i teatr Władysława IV |publisher = |pages = |page = |date = |accessdate = 2008-07-23]

Late Baroque period

Just in 1657 the reconstruction of the castle started, under the Italian's architect Izydor Affait guidance. Because of the lack of money the following Polish king, Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki, did not decide on radical rebuilding of the object, just limiting to vanishing destructions. Because of bad conditions of the residence he had to move to Ujazdów Castle in 1669. Until 1696 when the next Polish king, John III Sobieski died, no serious works were done. They only limited work to current inspections of the building's condition. Sessions of Parliament continued to be held in the castle, as well as various State occasions, such as when the Hohenzollern Dukes of Prussia paid homage to the Kings of Poland and occasions when the king received the ambassadors of foreign countries.

After choosing Augustus II in an election in 1697, the castle again began to deteriorate. A new conflict with the king of Sweden Charles XII significantly charged king's budget. Despite problems, in 1698 Augustus II commissioned to prepare a residence reconstruction project. In 1700 it was done by Johann Friedrich Karcher, fetched from abroad.pl icon cite web |author = |url = http://swiadectwo1.republika.pl/royal_castle.html |title = Zamek Królewski za Sasów |work = |publisher = |pages = |page = |date = |accessdate = 2008-07-23] On 25 May 1702 Swedes reseized the Royal Castle in Warsaw, arranging there a hospital with 500 beds, and in The Chamber of Deputies and ministers’ rooms a stable. During the Polish army's siege in 1704 the castle was retaken. However, it soon moved to Sweden's army. In 1707, by virtue of the peace treaty between Augustus II and Charles XII of Sweden, Russian allied troops entered Warsaw, and Tsar Peter I of Russia settled in the castle. After two months, Russian forces were removed from Warsaw, robbing from the castle works of art, for example Tommaso Dolabella's pictures, among them two, important for Russians, paintings: "The Defense of Smolensk" and "Russian Tsar Vasili IV compelled to kneel before Polish King Sigismund III of Poland". The Władysław's Opera Hall was completely devastated and was never restored.

The reconstruction according to Karcher's project began during 1713-1715. In 1717 the Parliament Hall was completely rebuilt. It was to serve the Saxon rulers as a coronation hall. During the following years, between 1722-1723, the other castle halls were converted-under the direction of architect Joachim Daniel von Jauch the new Senate Chamber was built, and all the furnishings moved from the old to the new location, among others 60 Polish province emblems, paneling, mouldings and lizens. On 31 May 1732, a fire broke out in the castle destroying the west elevation and part of the Zygmunt's Tower and the exterior façade sculptures, known as armature.

The next reconstruction project of the Royal Castle appeared after Augustus III took to the Polish throne in 1733. New plans, which were formed in 1734 and developed in 1737 by architect Gaetano Chiaveri, saw among other things the reconstruction of the castle's façade on the Vistula side in the rococo style, which was meant to form a new so called Saxon elevation and also the conversion of the north-east part with the Altana Tower, where it was planned for 3 two-storey rysalits to be built on. The reconstruction work according to these projects was carried out with various intensity between 1740-1752. During the period of 1740-1747 the façade on the Vistula side was reconstructed in the late baroque style (architects: Gaetano Chiaveri, Carl Friedrich Pöppelmann, Jan Krzysztof Knöffel). One of the best sculptors who did work on the castle of this period was Jan Jerzy Plersch, who made the royal decorative frames, mouldings and statues called the Famous Figures, which held the royal crowns on the top of the middle rysalit, of the Saxon elevation, on the Vistula side. The last reconstruction work of this period was finished by late 1763, after the death of Augustus III, when Plersch made the last sculptures and frames with province emblems for the Parliament Hall.

The Stanisław August period

The most splendid period in the history of the Castle was during the rule of Stanisław August Poniatowski (1764–1795).That monarch collected exquisite works of art, many of which have survived to our own time. He recruited first-rate architects such as Jakub Fontana, Merlini, Kamsetzer, and Kubicki, to work on the castle, as well as splendid painters such as Marcello Bacciarelli, Bernardo Bellotto (otherwise Canaletto), Franciszek Smuglewicz, Kazimierz Wojniakowski, and Jean-Baptiste Pillement eminent sculptors such as André le Brun and Jakub Monaldi, and famous French artists such as the architect Victor Louis. The total reconstruction of the castle planned by the king did not come to fruition, but the interior was changed to the neoclassical style - although this, known in Poland as the "Stanisław August style", was rather different from neo—classicism in the rest of Europe. During 1766-1785 on the basis of J.Fontana's plans, the south wing of the castle, which was burnt on 15 December 1767 was rebuilt (2 destroyed floors, a new elevation on the south side with three rysalits, the division of the façade by lizens and Jon capital pilasters. Between 1774 and 1777 the monarch private apartments were furnished. They consisted of the Prospect Room (with landscapes by Canaletto), the Chapel, the Audience Chamber, and the Bedchamber, while between 1779 and 1786 the Senate Apartments were completed, consisting of the Ballroom, the Knights Hall, the Throne Room, the Marble Room, and the Conference Chamber. These rooms contained pictures and sculptures depicting great events in Poland's history, as well as portraits of Polish kings, generals, statesmen and scholars (e.g. Copernicus, Adam Naruszewicz).en icon cite web |author = Peter K. Gessner |url = http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/Zamek/castle.html |title = Warsaw's Glorious Royal Castle |work = info-poland.buffalo.edu |publisher = |pages = |page = |date = |accessdate = 2008-07-23] The Castle also housed the rich royal collections including 3200 pictures, classical statues, about 100 000 graphics, in addition to medals, coins, and a fine library, to house which a separate building was erected in 1780-1784.pl icon cite web |author = Agnieszka Kania; Monika Bryzek |url = http://www.wsp.krakow.pl/whk/biblioteki/poniatow.html |title = Biblioteka Stanisława Augusta Poniatowskiego (Library of Stanisław August Poniatowski) |work = www.wsp.krakow.pl |publisher = |pages = |page = |date = |accessdate = 2008-07-23] The new library building housed many books, gems, drawings, coins, maps and plans belonging to the monarch. The Royal Library's book collection amounted to 16 000 volumes of various works, 25,525 drawings, 44,842 etchings in 726 bound volumes, overall a number of 70,000 etchings—fancy dress balls were also held in this hall.

Up until 1786 Stanisław August Poniatowski tried a few times to change the outside decor of the Castle and to build an architectural castle square, he was not however successful in carrying out these plans.

At that period the Castle was the place where the ideas of the Polish Enlightenment first flourished. The king held "Thursday lunches" at the Castle, for scientists, scholars, writers and artists. This was where the idea for the National Education Commission; one of the first secular Ministries of Education in Europe, was mooted. The Castle was the place where the first proposals were made for a Knights’ School, for a national theater, etc. It was in the Senate Chamber in the Castle that what was known as the "Great Sejm" (Great Parliament) passed the famous Polish Constitution of 3rd May, 1791. During the ceremony the King was carried out to the nearby church of St.John. In honour of this occasion a marble plaque with Ignacy Krasicki's text written on it was set in the wall of the Castle.

In partitioned Poland and the Second Republic

Between 19–20 December 1806 and 1–30 January 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte, the French emperor, spent his time at the Castle. Here in 1807 he made the decision to form a Warsaw duchy, which was to be ruled by the Saxon prince Frederick August I, using the Royal castle as his residence. Prince Józef Poniatowski, Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army and Marshal of France, resided in the Copper-Roof Palace joined to the Castle. After the creation of the constitutional Kingdom of Poland (1815) its parliaments met here at the Castle. As Kings of Poland, the Russian Tsars Alexander I and Nicholas I also resided in the castle when they stayed in Warsaw. During the November Uprising, on 25 January 1831, the Sejm debating in the castle dethroned Tsar of Russia Nicholas I as the Polish king.en icon cite web |author = |url = http://www.castles.info/poland/royal-castle-warsaw/ |title = Royal Castle in Warsaw |work = www.castles.info |publisher = |pages = |page = |date = |accessdate = 2008-07-18]

In 1836, after abolishing the division into voivodeships in the Congress Poland, they were replaced by the guberniyas. In that time, the Royal Castle became the residence of tsar's governor Ivan Paskievich. Paskievich charged Ludvik Corio–Russian Colonel and architect – with designing new elevation and facades (the west, south and east parts). However, Russian authorities were not satisfied with the new designs and Corio was told to prepare another project – one that would refer to Kubicki's solutions (and his co-workers Lelewel and Thomas). Finally, Corio rebuilt all elevations and facades in the neoclassical style, but the Saxon Elevation was left the same. After the death of Paskievich in 1856, all of the next governors resided in the Royal Castle's Chamberlain's Room. The Russian officials occupied rooms on both floors of the west and north wings of the castle. The governors were heavily guarded by the Russian army. Unfortunately, the living space that was assigned to these soldiers was the Parliamentary Hall, Library and barracks under the Castle. As a result the object was left devastated.

After the January Uprising in 1863, the Russian army totally destroyed the Royal garden on the Vistula side (which was transformed into the military parade square), building a few barracks made of brick for stables and Cossacks’ barracks. In 1862-1863 some maintenance work was held in the Royal Castle under the supervision of Jerzy Orłowicz, Ludwik Gosławski and Potolov. In 1890 the Saxon Elevation was rebuilt under the supervision of a builder January Kiślański, when the arcades of both viewing galleries, dated back to August III period, were deformed. The last repair works, which cost 28 000 rubles, during the reign of Russia, were in 1902 in the rooms which had been occupied by the Russian army.

During the First World War it was the residence of the German military governor. After Poland regained her independence in 1918, the Castle became the residence of the President of Poland. It was lovingly restored under the guidance of Kazimierz Skórewicz (1920 - 1928) and Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz (till 1939). Under the terms of the Peace Treaty signed with Soviet Russia at Riga in 1920, works of art and other precious things, including all the castle furnishings, which had been taken away to Russia, were brought back to Poland. As a result, it was possible to restore the historic rooms to their appearance in the reign of Stanisław August Poniatowski.

During World War II

On September 17, 1939, the Castle was shelled by German artillery. The roof and the turrets were destroyed by fire (they were partly restored by the Castle's staff, but later deliberately removed by the Germans).en icon cite web |author = Peter K. Gessner |url = http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/Zamek/zamek.html |title = Warsaw's Royal Castle and its destruction during the Second World War |work = info-poland.buffalo.edu |publisher = |pages = |page = |date = |accessdate = 2008-07-23] The ceiling of the Ballroom collapsed, resulting in the destruction of Bacciarelli's beautiful ceiling fresco "The Creation of the World". The other rooms were slightly damaged. But immediately after the seizure of Warsaw by the Germans, their occupation troops set to demolish the castle. The more valuable objects, even including the central heating and ventilation installations, were dismantled and taken away to Germany.

On 4 October 1939 in Berlin, Adolf Hitler issued the order to blow up the Royal Castle. On 10 October 1939, special German units, under the supervision of history and art experts (Dr. Dagobert Frey, an art historian at the University of Wrocław; Gustaw Barth, the director of museums in Wrocław, and Dr. Joseph Mühlmann, an art historian from Vienna) started to demount floor, marbles, sculptures and stone elements such as fireplaces or moulds. The priceless artifacts were taken to Germany or stored in Kraków's warehouses. Many of them were also seized by various Nazi dignitaries who resided in Warsaw. The Castle was totally emptied. Disobeying German orders, and always in danger of being shot, Polish museum staff and experts in art restoration managed to save many of the works of art from the castle, as well as fragments of the stucco-work, the parquet floors, the wood panelling, etc. These were used in the reconstruction. The great service done to Poland by Professor Stanisław Lorentz, in leading this campaign to save the castle's treasures, is well known. Wehrmacht sappers then bored tens of thousands of holes for dynamite charges in the stripped walls.

In 1944, after the collapse of the Warsaw Uprising, when hostilities had already ceased, the Germans blew up the Castle's demolished walls. Leveling the Royal Castle was only a part of a larger plan – the Pabst Plan – the goal of which was to build a monumental Folks Hall (ger. "Volkshalle") or an equally sizable Congress Hall of NSDAP (National Socialis German Workers Party - ger. "Parteivolkshalle") in the Royal Castle's place and to replace the Zygmunt's Column with the Germania Monument.

A pile of rubble, surmounted by only two fragments of walls that somehow managed to survive, was all that was left of the six hundred year old edifice. On one of these fragments, almost like a symbol, part of the stucco decoration remained. This was a cartouche with the royal version of the motto of the Order of the White Eagle — "PRO FIDE, LEGE ET GREGE" (for Faith, Law, and the Nation - literally translated, the last word means a "herd").


Immediately after the liberation in 1945, work started on rescuing the surviving fragments of the castle's walls, foundations, and cellars as well as the fire-blackened walls of the Copper-Roof Palace and the Royal Library building, from further destruction. In 1949 the Polish Parliament passed a bill to rebuild the Castle as a monument to Polish history and culture. Meanwhile special architectural designing offices, under Jan Dąbrowski, Piotr Biegański and Jan Zachwatowicz, drew up blueprint for restoring the framework of the building and furnishing the historical rooms. The decision to start work was postponed several times, but was finally taken on 20 January 1971. A Civic Committee was set up. Amid universal applause it was decided to rebuild the castle from voluntary contributions. Both, in Poland and abroad fund-raising committees were set up.

By May 1975 the Fund had already reached the 500 million złotys. By the same date more than a thousand valuable works of art had been gifted to the Castle by numerous Poles resident both in Poland and abroad. Official representatives of other countries have likewise presented to the Castle works of art of great artistic and historic value.


# cite book | author = Lileyko Jerzy | coauthors = | title = Vademecum Zamku Warszawskiego | year = 1980 | editor = | pages = | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher = | location =Warsaw | id = ISBN 83-22318-18-9 | url = | format = | accessdate =
# cite book | author = Lileyko Jerzy | coauthors = | title = Życie codzienne w Warszawie za Wazów | year = 1984 | editor = | pages = | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher = | location =Warsaw | id = ISBN 83-06010-21-3 | url = | format = | accessdate =
# cite book | author = | coauthors = | title = Warszawa w latach 1526-1795 (Warsaw in 1526-1795) | year = 1984 | editor = Stefan Kieniewicz | pages = | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher = | location =Warsaw | id =ISBN 83-01033-23-1 | url = | format = | accessdate =
# cite book | author = | coauthors = | title = Zamek Królewski w Warszawie | year = 1972 | editor = Aleksander Gieysztor | pages = | chapter = | chapterurl = | publisher = | location =Warsaw | id = | url = | format = | accessdate =










External links

* [http://martim33.w.interia.pl/castle.html Royal Castle during the Vasas]
* [http://swiadectwo1.republika.pl/royal_castle.html Royal Castle during the Saxons]
* [http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/Zamek/castle.html Royal Castle in Warsaw]

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