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The Branicki Palace in Białystok
The late Baroque, residential Branicki Palace in Białystok with its surrounding park and game preserve (a total of around 14 hectares) was among the most magnificent magnate residences in the twilight of the old Republic of Nobles and used to be called “the Podlasie Versailles” by visitors.
The history of the palace goes back to the beginning of the 17th century, when Piotr Wiesiołowski the Younger, built a small, two-storey, late Renaissance brick manor laid out on a rectangular plan, with a round turret by the north-facing wall, which served as a staircase. At the end of the 17th century, the ownership of the Białystok estates was acquired by the Branickis, of the Griffin clan from Małopolskie province, which came to Podlasie from Branice near Kraków. Stefan Mikołaj Branicki, son of Aleksandra Katarzyna Czarniecka (daughter of the national hero Stefan Czarniecki), wished to locate his main family residence in Białystok. In 1692, the king granted him the privilege to build a city carrying the same name as the already existing village of Białystok.
In the years 1691–1697, the old fortified manor owned by the Wiesiołowski family was remodelled into a Baroque palace according to a design created by the outstanding architect Tylman of Gameren. The expanded palace and the park were laid out entirely in the French entre cour et jardin (between court and garden) style. As a result, the facade of the palace overlooks the courtyard, and the back of the palace – a stylised Dutch garden.
Further expansion of the palace and the entire residence took place in the years 1728–1771 and was guided by its new owner, Jan Klemens Branicki, Great Hetman of the Crown and Castellan of Kraków.
The main body of the palace, reconstructed according to a design by Jan Zygmunt Deybel, is a rectangular, three-storey structure, whose upper storey has the form of a mezzanine and which is expanded on both sides with rectangular, lower annexes, the so-called pavilions. At right-angles, through column connectors, it is connected to two-‑storey side wings constructed in the years 1755–1756 by extending the original outbuildings on the basis of a design by Jan Henryk Klemm. The side wings surround the courtyard and form a distinctive horseshoe-shaped plan together with the palace. Attention is also drawn to the front tympanon with a cartouche and the Griffin coat of arms below the crown of nobility, surrounded by military insignia. The attic is adorned with stone sculptures of Mars, Minerva, and Atlas bearing the globe. At the back of the palace is a garden with two sections separated by a canal.
In 1802, Hetman Branicki’s heirs sold the palace to Frederick William III of Prussia, and in 1807 the Russian Tsar Alexander I became its new owner. The palace was devastated gradually – even faster from 1837, when it began to house the Institute of the Nobly Born Maidens and its interiors were adapted to the needs of the educational establishment. During World War I, the palace and its garden were plundered and devastated by the Russian and German troops. After it was renovated, it housed the Governor of the Białystok Province in the Second Polish Republic. The war in 1944 brought about the destruction of around 70% of the palace. In the years 1945–1960, it was systematically restored to the state it was in in the mid-18th century – the time of its greatest splendour. Since the beginning of the 1950s, it has housed the Medical Academy, now called the Medical University.
Prof. dr hab. Cezary Kuklo
University of Białystok