Warsaw: The Royal Castle and The Old Town – Monuments of the world heritage

Warsaw Royal Castle and Old TownWarsaw’s Royal Castle is the old residence of Polish monarchs towering over the oldest part of the city with a historic set old burgher houses. Having been reconstructed after the total WW II destruction, they have entered the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The beginning of the Royal Castle and the oldest part of the adjacent town complex defined as the Old Town, dates back to the 14th c. when Duke Boleslaus II of Mazovia united his duchy and raised a wood and earthen fortified town. With time, the castle grew to become the main Ducal residence and was extended as a brick construction. Also the town complex expanded, and the stone Church of St. John (today the Cathedral) as well as the Town Hall located at the centre of the houses now forming the Market Square were built. Subsequently, the complex was surrounded by a stone wall with town gates and a keep.

In the first half of the 16th c., after Mazovia had been definitely incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland by Sigismund I the Old, the Castle gained its Royal status. It finally became the seat of the court and of the highest country’s authorities at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries when Sigismund III Vasa made it his permanent, though constantly extended residence. What expanded too was the Old Town gradually gaining more sumptuous burgher houses raised in compliance with the currently followed styles and the Market Square where one could purchase all the imaginable luxury commodities.

During the so-called Swedish Deluge in the 17th c., the Castle was badly devastated to regain its splendour only under Poland’s last King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski. The Castle’s interiors were then decorated by the period’s most renowned artists: Johann Christian Kamzetzer or Marcello Bacciarelli. Moreover, it was there that in 1791 the first in Europe and the second worldwide modern constitution was adopted.

The period in which Poland lost its statehood and its territories were partitioned among its neighbours was the time of some stagnation in the Castle’s development. At the time it served as the seat of the Russian partition authorities, and many precious collections were then taken to Russia. Also the Old Town deteriorated. Having been deserted by wealthier burghers, its houses became tenement ones with the Market Square turning into the marketplace. The Town Hall, defensive walls, and town gates were pulled down, this giving some open space for the Zamkowy (Castle) Square.

After Poland had regained independence in 1918, the Castle again turned into one of the central edifices in the capital, with time becoming Poland’s President’s residence. The revitalized building provided a stately venue for meetings of state leaders, celebration of national holidays, and a museum. Moreover, the renovated Old Town had the neglected houses restored to their former splendour. With the outbreak of WW II, the Castle and the Old Town were destroyed in Nazi air raids; after the defeat of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, they were blown up by the Germans.

Following WW II, the Communist authorities relatively promptly agreed to having the Old Town rebuilt. In 1955, its houses regained their 18th-c. outlook. It took a long time, however, for the decision to rebuild the Castle to be made, with the reconstruction actually launched as late as in 1971. The edifice was reconstructed thanks to the generous donations of Poles and Polish community abroad and opened to the public in 1984. By that time, however, the reconstruction of the interiors, the renovation of the Copper-Roof (Pod Blachą) Palace, and of the Kubicki Arcades had not ended, the latter actually opening only in 2009.

Today the Royal Castle is a Baroque and Neo-Classicist complex composed of genuine cellars, the main pentagon-shaped body with e.g. the Knights’ Hall, Former Deputies’ Hall, King Stanislaus Augustus’ apartments, the Kubicki Arcades from the side of the Vistula, and the Copper-Roof Palace adjacent to the Castle from the south.

The unprecedented in history re construction of the Castle and the Old Town was appreciated by UNESCO and in 1980 both facilities entered its List of World Heritage Sites. The richly decorated Castle, with its precious art works by Rembrandt, Canaletto, and Bacciarelli, today serves as a popular venue for conferences and exhibitions. It has been visited by royalties, presidents, and famous artists. The historic part of the city, located just next door to the city centre, is a traditional place for family walks, while the Old Market Square with its cosy restaurants and cafés, continues a favourite dating site and destination for many Polish and foreign tourists raving about the beauty of those extraordinary monuments.

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