Polish capital has a lot to offer when it comes to old architectural marvels – three distinct castles and a couple of smaller ones are the best examples of rich history of Warsaw.
Out of those three castles, Ujazdów has the best vistas and is located in a very attractive neighborhood, in Warsaw’s Downtown (Śródmieście), surrounded by beautiful Agrykola park and also gives you an opportunity to witness the beauty of the Vistula River.
The Ujazdów Castle (Zamek Ujazdowski) is a fairy-tale-like edifice in its third incarnation. Erected in the 1620s for King Sigimund III Vasa (Zygmunt III Waza) as his summer residence, it was burned down by the Nazis in 1944, blown up by the communists in 1954 and eventually rebuilt in the 1970s. At the time of research it housed changing exhibitions of modern art from the Centre for Contemporary Art (Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej). But beginnings of the Ujazdów Castle (Zamek Ujazdowski) date to the 13th century and neighbourhood even to earlier age. Already in the 12th century in that area there was a Polish borough Jazdów, the most significant area of Warsaw of the time.
Jazdów – one-of-a-kind architectonic phenomenon
It was established to protect the crossing of the Vistula River (Wisła). Jazdów disappeared, however, as a result of the invasion of Lithuania in 1262 and fratricidal struggles in 1281, and as a result the castle was transferred to the north, where it gave rise to Old Warsaw (Stara Warszawa). Though none of the previously conducted archaeological research could not identify the exact location of Jazdów.
Jazdów – an oasis of greenery in the centre of the city – is an extraordinary place. This stretch of the Warsaw Escarpment (Skarpa Warszawska), running parallel to the Vistula River (Wisła), is the highest. The history of Jazdów, dating back to the 12th century, is older than the history of Warsaw (Warszawa) itself.
Although this area is a one-of-a-kind architectonic phenomenon: a unique colony of wooden single-family cottages unexpectedly sitting in the very centre of a populous capital city.
These so-called Finnish chalets were built after World War II as part of the war reparations Finland had to pay. They were erected in Warsaw in 1945 in three locations as temporary housing for architects and employees of the Office for Reconstruction of the Capital (“Biuro Odbudowy Stolicy”). Some were built next to the Polish parliament buildings, at the rear of the Ujazdów Park (Park Ujazdowski), and the area was christened Jazdów. Although these buildings still exist, their fate is uncertain.
The wooden manor for Queen Bona Sforza
The first castle on the spot was erected by the Dukes of Masovia as early as the 13th century. However, in the following century their court was moved to the future Royal Castle (Zamek Królewski) in Warsaw, and the Ujazdów Castle (Zamek Ujazdowski) fell into neglect. In the 16th century, a wooden manor house was built there for Queen Bona Sforza. It was surrounded by wonderful gardens, where Queen Bona lived after the death of her husband Sigimund I (Zygmunt I) of Poland. This Polish queen of Italian origin brought many popular vegetables to my country (hence, ‘soup vegetables’ are in Poland called ‘Italian vegetables’). Also because of her Poles started to eat Italian pasta and used root spices, which she loved.
It was at the Ujazdów Castle, on January 12, 1578, that Jan Kochanowski’s blank-verse tragedy “The Dismissal of the Greek Envoys” (Odprawa posłów greckich) received its premiere during the wedding of Polish nobleman, magnate and Royal Secretary Jan Zamoyski and Krystyna Radziwiłł, a Polish-Lithuanian noblewoman.
Let me tell you a few words about Poland`s greatest poets. Jan Kochanowski was a Polish Renaissance poet who established poetic patterns that would become integral to the Polish literary language. He is commonly regarded as the greatest Polish poet before Adam Mickiewicz, and the greatest Slavic poet prior to the 19th century. Adam Mickiewicz in turn is regarded as national poet in Poland, Lithuania and Belarus. A principal figure in Polish Romanticism, he is counted one of Poland’s “Three Bards” (“Trzej Wieszcze”) and is widely regarded as Poland’s greatest poet. He is also considered one of the greatest Slavic and European poets and has been dubbed a “Slavic bard”. A leading Romantic dramatist, he has been compared in Poland and Europe to Byron and Goethe.
Now I am taking you back to the 17th century. In 1624 Polish king Sigismund III Vasa started the construction of a castle that was designed to serve as a comfortable retreat for monarchs. Namely the ruins of the castle of the Mazovian princes were incorporated into a new fortified manor built by the King for his son, future King Władysław IV Vasa. However, there is little evidence that the residence was ever used by the young prince, who spent much of his youth either at his father’s court. Between 1659 and 1665, the building housed the mint of Titus Livius Boratini, who there struck his famous boratynka, a type of copper coin.
Again neglected, in 1674 the castle was bought by Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski, a Polish noble, politician, patron of the arts and writer and then rented to King Augustus II, who ordered the construction there of a new royal residence. The castle, incorporating much of the earlier constructions on the site, was built by Tylman of Gameren, a notable 17th-century architect and engineer. The gardens surrounding the castle, later divided into two separate parks, were refurbished. About that time the Łazienki Estate and Łazienki Palace were built. Łazienki literally mean “The Baths”.
The castle’s design was further modified by King Stanisław II August, who in 1764 commissioned the court architects of Polish kings Jakub Fontana (counted among the few esteemed Polish architects representing Franco-Italian trends), Dominik Merlini (most famous for his Royal Baths Park in Warsaw), Jean-Baptiste Pillement (a painter and designer, known for his exquisite and delicate landscapes) and Efraim Schroeger (a Polish architect of German origin) to refurbish it. The eastern and western façades were made taller by the addition of a second floor, while the post-Gameren outbuildings were also rebuilt to the height of the main building, thus creating a large courtyard. About that time, the castle was also included in the so-called Stanislavian Axis, a line of parks and palaces planned in the southern outskirts of Warsaw much like the Saxon Axis in the city centre (more about it you can find in the text about the Saxon Garden). The palace’s reconstruction was almost complete by 1784, when work was abandoned and the building donated to the Polish Army.
Through the ages the Ujazdów castle was refurbed and modified to follow the newest technical and architectural trends.
The Ujazdów Hospital (Szpital Ujazdowski)
From 1809 (time of Partitions) till World War II the castle has been transformed into a hospital. During WWII, soldiers defending the city were brought to the Ujazdów Hospital to recover from various wounds and injuries. At the time of the occupation, the interior of the Ujazdów Castle had been burnt completely, with only the main walls remaining. After the war the communist regime which took over Poland decided to demolish the castle and only the spacious basement was left intact. Fortunately, it was rebuilt in 1974.
The Centre for Contemporary Art (Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej)
At present, the Castle houses the Centre for Contemporary Art – a cultural institution and an excellent gallery. This is a place for the creation, presentation and documentation of contemporary art in all of its manifestations. The CSW (Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej) organizes exhibitions, presentations of visual theater, performances, concerts of contemporary music, experimental films and video art screenings, creative workshops, and numerous artistic events mixing the various genres and forms of art. The Ujazdów Castle (Zamek Ujazdowski) also operates as the Library and Artistic Reading Room, and the Videoteka (video library), releasing films of artistic events.
There is the Agricola Park, a historic area located in Warsaw, at the foot of the Ujazdów Castle and along Agrykola Street, adjacent to the Łazienki Park. This is a popular place of sport activities and family days out. You can spend lovely time there being in the city`s centre and not noticing traffic noise.
Below the escarpment, east of the Castle, there is the street of the same name, where street gas lamps are hand lit by lighthouse keepers just before the dusk and put down at dawn. It`s worth visiting in late evening. You can have a very romantic walk there.
The Statue of John III Sobieski
Walking down Agrykola Street you can find the statue of Poland`s king John III Sobieski (Jan III Sobieski), most famous for his victory over the Turks at the 1683 Battle of Vienna. The statue depicts King astride a rearing horse which is trampling two fallen Turks. Sobieski is dressed like a Roman soldier, and holds a baton in his raised hand. The statue is modelled on the Baroque equestrian statue of Sobieski at Wilanów, as well as on Gianlorenzo Bernini’s equestrian statue of Louis XIV. The monument closes the north-facing visual perspective from the windows of the Salle de Salomon in the Palace on the Isle. The statue was officially unveiled on 14 September 1788 on the 105th anniversary of the Victory at Vienna. Stanisław August had a particularly high regard for King Jan III Sobieski. Not only did the statue express his deep respect for his predecessor, it also served as an element of anti-Turkish propaganda. It was installed at the commencement of the Russo-Turkish war in 1787. Poland was to have provided an army for Catherine the Great in the Turkish conflict. In this way Stanisław August hoped to strengthen Poland’s relations with Russia and protect his country from any further partitions. The statue of John III Sobieski was designed by the King’s principal sculptor, André Le Brun, and executed by Franciszek Pinck. It is a typically Baroque work and is the only free-standing statue to have been commissioned by Stanisław August (the second such statue in Warsaw after the Zygmunt Column). It was carved out of a sandstone block which had been earlier prepared in Sobieski’s lifetime.
The Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden of the Warsaw University (Ogród Botaniczny Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego) set up in 1818. It is one of the world`s earliest botanical gardens, giving priority to Orto Botanico Di Padova established in 1545, Gardens of Versailles in 1661 and The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Mevagissey, England, in the middle of the 18th century. The Warsaw garden offers interesting specimens and nature trails and greenhouses. There are collections of plants that consist of over 10 thousand species. The garden may be visited from spring to autumn.
I made many TV events on Agrykola. Two of them were “Powitanie lata z Jedynką” (Welcome Summer with TVP1) and “Pożegnanie lata z Jedynką” (Goodbye Summer with TVP1). We had live studio in the middle of steep stairs leading to the Ujazdów Castle from Agrykola and a control vehicle parked at the foot of it. I made thousand steps every time I worked there going between these two places and feeling my feet killing me. That`s why I suggest you should start visiting Agrykola with the Castle, then go down to Agrykola park and Agrykola street. Not backward. But you should go there to go back to the past and feel how it would be if you were born in royal family and then look to the future. I guarantee you will enjoy.
See you there!
By Agata Szostkowska
Photos: Michał Stanisławski
@Copyright Communications-Unlimited 2016