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The Royal Castle in Warsaw

The Royal Castle in Warsaw is one of the most important royal residences in Europe. This is due not only to the beauty of its architecture: moderately austere and elegant from the side of the Castle Square and baroquely exuberant from the Vistula River, or to the artistic class of its ceremonial interiors containing outstanding pieces of art, but most of all due to its dramatic history which made it a symbol of the sovereign Polish State.

The history of the Royal Castle is inextricably connected with the history of Poland and Warsaw. It was originally built as the seat of the Dukes of Mazovia, in the 14th century. After incorporation of Mazovia to the Crown in 1526 the residence of the Dukes in Warsaw passed into the hands of the kings of Poland, and in 1569 the Castle was designated as the seat of the Diet of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The extension of the Castle, started under King Sigismund II Augustus, continued under King Sigismund III Vasa until the early 17th century. Three wings were added to the existing structures, thus creating a harmonious pentagon with a courtyard in the middle. The Castle’s façade seen from the side of the town, with a dominant Clock Tower, was also constructed at that time, giving the Castle a shape of a public utility building – Palatium Reipublicae. The sumptuous interiors housed royal apartments and the venue of the Diet, acting as a centre of political, administrative and cultural life of the country. The Castle was plundered and devastated on several occasions, but every time it was rebuilt and rearranged; for the last time under King Stanislaus Augustus. It was during his reign that debates were held in the Castle on the reform of the State, which was enshrined in the Constitution of 3 May 1791.

The Partitions and the fall of Poland brought degradation to the Castle – in the 19th century, it was the seat of the governor appointed by the occupying empire. After Poland regained independence in 1918, the Castle became again the representative building of the government of the Republic of Poland. However, as early as at the start of World War II, on 17 September 1939, the first bombs were dropped on the Castle, causing heavy damage. This triggered a spontaneous action by the public to save the Castle’s furnishings, with a view of its future reconstruction. No one envisaged, however, the eventual enormity of the task, as the extent of destruction yet to come was beyond any conceivable expectations: on the order of Adolf Hitler the Royal Castle in Warsaw, the symbol of the Polish statehood, was blown up in 1944 after the fall of the Warsaw Uprising.

The Royal Castle has been also brought back to life as a symbol. The phenomenon of its reconstruction according to the will of the Polish people in 1974-1984, an unprecedented work in the history of the protection of cultural heritage, crowns the Castle’s history and ushers in a new chapter – as a museum which is a testimony to the commitment of Poles to historical legacy.

In 1984, most of the reconstructed interiors of the Castle were opened to the public. This did not mean, however, that the works had been completed – since 1995 the Kubicki Arcades have been revitalized and the Tin- Roofed Palace has been completely refurbished. Today, the work is underway in the gardens of the Castle which now houses a museum of historic interiors. The Castle also performs official functions as the venue of visits and meetings of the highest state level.

Przemysław Mrozowski, Ph.D.
Deputy Director for Scientific Affairs and Museum Stewardship
The Royal Castle in Warsaw