The palace in Wilanów together with the surrounding park is one of Warsaw’s most beautiful spots. It is also one of the few attractions of the capital which has been extended and looked after over the centuries, and which has survived a series of wars unscathed.
The history of the palace started when John III Sobieski, the triumphant king of the battle of Vienna, wished for an adequate seat worthy of a European monarch: an Italian villa, beautifully situated and surrounded with gardens. On April 23, 1677, the king purchased the village of Milanów near Warsaw. The mansion built later was named Villa Nova in Italian in keeping with the trend of the time, but the name was later domesticated by the people of Warsaw and turned into Wilanów. The architect and advisor to the King, Augustin Locci, a polonised Italian, completed the first phase of construction within two years. At first, the building was quite modest, which did not entirely meet the expectations of Queen Marie. This led to the swift beginning of the second phase, soon followed by the third extension of the royal seat. In 1696, the year King John died, the building was a combination of a Polish gentry mansion, an Italian garden villa and a Louis XIV-style French palace.
The meticulously designed, terraced garden sloping towards the lake was an embellishment of the two-storey building with a belvedere, corner alcoves and copper-roofed turrets. Subsequent owners extended the garden and changed it, but even today it still boasts some trees planted personally by King John, many of them valuable specimens. 28 trees in the garden have natural monument status. In springtime the garden’s magnolias (among Poland’s oldest trees of this species) impress with their bloom, as the park’s 200-year-old oaks begin to develop their leaves. The way the garden looks today is a result of its reconstruction in 1950s. Currently, another revitalisation is under way, geared at the restoring the glamour of the two-level baroque garden, the small Neo-Renaissance rose garden and the English landscape garden.
After the King’s death in 1698, Queen Marie left for Rome and took valuable decorative works of art from the palace with her. The Palace was redecorated and developed by its subsequent owners, including Elżbieta Sieniawska, wife of the leader of the Polish army, the Crown Hetman. In the 1730s she was the patron of the addition of the wings to the Palace; this undertaking was supervised by an outstanding architect, Giovanni Spazzio. It was also during this period that the sculptures on the Palace’s elevations featuring allegoric figures and mythological scenes from Ovidius’ Metamorphoses were created. King August II Sas, Wilanów’s tenant, equipped the palace with an art collection, and Izabella Lubomirska established a romantic English-Chinese park designed by renowned architect Szymon Bogumił Zug. Stanisław Kostka Potocki opened the palace and park to the public in 1805. He thus launched one of the first museums in Poland and the only one which has been operating without interruptions until today. Kostka Potocki’s art collection included paintings, Greek vases and artefacts from China and Japan.
The last private owners of Wilanów, the Branicki family, resided in the palace until September 1944. At the end of January 1945, the National Museum in Warsaw took custody of the Palace. Recently, the palace has been refurbished and painted yellow in accordance with the initial plans by 17th century baroque architects. Wilanów Palace hosts many cultural events, including the Summer Royal Concerts in the rose garden and the International Summer Early Music Academy. The former horse dressage arena is now home to the world’s first poster museum (established in 1968). Its collection of 54,000 posters is one of the largest in the world. The museum is also the patron of the international Poster Biennnale contest. POLISH PRESS AGENCY (PAP)