Some early parks include the la Alameda de Hércules, in Seville, a promenaded public mall, urban garden and park built in 1574, within the historic center of Seville. The City Park, in Budapest, Hungary, which was property of the Batthyány family was later made public. Another possible claimant for status as the world’s first public park is Boston Common (Boston, Massachusetts, USA), set aside in 1634, whose first recreational promenade, Tremont Mall, dates from 1728. An early purpose built public park was Derby Arboretum which was opened in 1840 by Joseph Strutt for the mill workers and people of the city. This was closely followed by Princes Park in the Liverpool suburb of Toxteth, laid out to the designs of Joseph Paxton from 1842 and opened in 1843. Another early public park is the Peel Park, Salford, England opened on August 22, 1846. Central Park in New York City, the most-visited urban park in the U.S. was established in 1857 on 778 acres (315 ha) of city-owned land. And you might ask where on this prestigious list is the Warsaw Saxon Garden and then I would say “On the top of the list”. Founded in the late 17th century, it was opened to the public in 1727 as publicly accessible park. It is much older than most of them.
The wicked mathematician made me love ancient history
I love London public parks. When I visit my favourite city, a walk in Hyde Park is a must. I even choose accommodation in Bayswater near Kensington Gardens (being part of Hyde Park) fence because of proximity to this park. It makes me feel excellent. I have Hyde Park at my heart and it`s the same with the Saxon Garden in Warsaw. Shall I tell you why? The high school I attended to as a young girl has been close to that garden. My maths teacher was wicked, used to close classroom door exactly at 8 am, and I was always a few minutes late. I was pushed to skip classes and that`s why I was walking to the Saxon Garden. As a result I was not good in maths but I was excellent in ancient history due to many park statues which are allegories of the Virtues, the Sciences, and the Elements. Thank God, I had course of general education with extended curriculum in humanities. No maths was needed for my secondary school-leaving examination. While strolling in the Saxon Garden I was absorbing ancient stories very easily. And now I suggest you should sink into history with me.
The gardens are missing a palace
Stretching out a couple of blocks west of ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście (Kraków Suburb Street), this magnificent garden – as I have written above – dates from the early 18th century and was one of the world`s earliest publicly accessible parks and also the city’s first public one. This was a typical example of the Baroque extension of formal vistas inspired by the park of Versailles. In the 19th century it was turned into a Romantic English-style landscape park.
The Saxon Garden was originally the site of Warsaw fortifications, “Sigismund’s Ramparts,” and of the palace built in 1666 for the powerful aristocrat, Jan Andrzej Morsztyn. The garden was extended in the reign of King Augustus II, who attached it to the “Saxon Axis”, a line of parks and palaces linking the western outskirts of Warsaw with the Vistula River.
The park started from the back façade of the Saxon Palace (Pałac Saski) flanking a long alley with many sculptures. The central avenue led directly to the palace, as was usual in French parks of the era. The gardens are filled with chestnut trees and mentioned Baroque statues, and there’s an ornamental lake overlooked by a 19th-century water tower in the form of a circular Greek temple.
If it looks to you as though the gardens are missing a palace, you are right. The 18th-century Saxon Palace, which once occupied Plac Piłsudskiego (Piłsudski Sq), was, like so many other buildings, destroyed during WWII. The palace was blown up by the Germans as part of the planned destruction of Warsaw after the collapse of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. All that survived were three arches of a colonnade, which have sheltered the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier since 1925. There are plans to rebuild the Saxon Palace from scratch at fabulous expense, but so far they remain unfulfilled.
Parks and gardens history
The parks and gardens history is very long and impressive. The Saxon Garden belongs to the “Ivy” League of the world`s famous parks. Let`s see when they were first laid out.
The Egyptians made domestic gardens and temple gardens. The Assyrians also made hunting parks. The Greeks added public gardens, as meeting and market places protected within city walls.
Parks were made for domestic pleasure, for exercise, for hunting, for the fine arts and for celebration of the emperor’s godlike status. As such, they became models for Renaissance villas, in Italy and then throughout Europe, from the 15th to the 18th century. North European park and garden designers paid their respects to this ancestry when they included Greek and Roman statuary in their designs. So do all those gardeners who place concrete casts of Diana, Flora and Aphrodite amongst the roses of their suburban “villas”.
Fryderyk Chopin at the Saxon Palace
Fryderyk (Frédéric) Chopin spent his first seven years of life (except to the first early months spent in Żelazowa Wola) in the Saxon Palace, and so in the direct vicinity of the Saxon Garden. Mrs Justyna Chopin certainly took her children little Frycek and Ludwika to the nearby park. Given Fryderyk’s fondness for walks around the city, we can assume that a dozen years or so later he visited this beautiful spot on many occasions in the company of his friends. Some biographers have even held that he used to go there with Konstancja Gładkowska, a Polish soprano, his muse and first love although there is no information regarding such romantic walks in mentions of Fryderyk’s contacts with her.
A vast palace complex according to a Dutch-born Polish architect and engineer Tylman van Gameren’s design arose here between 1661 and 1664 for Jan Andrzej Morsztyn. He was a Polish poet, member of the landed nobility, and official in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1669 the palace was rebuilt and enlarged. The main break was enhanced and a two galleries ended with a double-storied pavillons were added to the palace’s alcoves. In 1713 the building was purchased by King Augustus II, who started to repurchase surrounding freeholds and demolishing the buildings. Reconstruction of the palace establishment and creating of the Saxon Axis passed through three distinct stages – from 1713 to the 1720s according to the architects Carl Friedrich Pöppelmann’s and Joachim Daniel von Jauch’s design, secondly to 1733 and completion in 1748 by Augustus III “the Corpulent”. The Palace was remodelled in 1842.
The former palace of a Polish nobleman and Crown Court Treasurer Jerzy Ossoliński, was rebuilt between 1681 and 1697 by Tylman van Gameren. Purchased by Polish-Saxon statesman Heinrich von Brühl in 1750, on his request it was reconstructed by German architects Johann Friedrich Knöbel and Joachim Daniel von Jauch between 1754 and 1759. The two outbuildings were built in that time and put together with the palace. Later another two were added and composed together by an enclosure decorated with sculptures. The central limb of the building was enhanced and covered with a mansard roof. During 1932 – 1937 the palace was adapted for use as the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the new Polish Republic. It was deliberately destroyed by the Germans on December 18, 1944.
They are a part of the rich collection of sculptures removed to Saint Petersburg after recapturing the city by Marshal Suvorov in 1794, and placed in the Summer Garden. According to the 1745 plan of the Saxon Garden there were 70 plinths in the Garden, and in 1797 there were only 37 sculptures left, only 20 of them have been preserved until our times. Four of these sculptures were completely destroyed during the blowing up of the Saxon Palace in 1944, but they were later reconstructed. Comprised are groups of sculptures, including Arithmetic, Astrology, Bacchus, Flora, Geography, two sculptures identified as Glory, Instruct, Intelligence, Intellect, Justice, Medicine, Military Architecture, Painting, Poetry, Rationality, Science, Sculpture, Venus and Winter. They were generally made before 1745 by anonymous Warsaw sculptors under the direction of Polish sculptor of German origin Johann Georg Plersch.
The Great Salon
Situated on the axis in the center of the Saxon Garden, was intended simply to provide a suitable end to the main garden axis. It was constructed after 1720 according to Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann’s design (a German master builder who helped to rebuild Dresden after the fire of 1685). The building was opened to the garden by semicircular porte-fenêtres and oculuses. A terrace above the ground level of the building was enclosed by an attic decorated with vases; also, two outhouses from both sides were added. The Great Salon was demolished in 1817.
The 500-seat opera house, was opened in 1748. It was built under the architect Carl Friedrich Pöppelmann and modelled on the Small Theatre in Dresden, built by Christoph Bayer in 1687. The interior was decorated in a heavy, sumptuous baroque style by the court artists. On November 19th, 1765 in Operalnia, the actors of The Majesty put on the premiere of Józef Bielawski’s Intruders (Natręci), a comedy which was a loose adaptation of a play by Molière. Since the acting team had all the features of a fully professional and national group (they performed in Polish and earned their living through acting), November 19th is the anniversary of the establishment of the National Theatre. The National stage belonged to the elements of the educational and cultural reform programme in the falling Republic of Poland, prepared by King Stanisław August Poniatowski. Over decades this theatre, taking care of the works of Polish playwrights, was the ground on which the cultural development of Polish people thrived. The building was demolished in 1772.
Last year we celebrated the 250th Anniversary of the National Theatre in Poland. I shall write about this story in next text.
The Blue Palace
It took its name from the colour of the roof. The palace was purchased by King Augustus II for his daughter Anna Karolina Orzelska from bishop Teodor Andrzej Potocki. The palace was rebuilt in 1726 by Joachim Daniel von Jauch and a Saxon Rococco architect Johann Sigmund Deybel. The King wished to offer it to Anna as a Christmas present. In six weeks, the Palace was renovated by 300 masons and craftsmen working night and day. The courtyard, encompassed by a walled enclosure, had two gates. Column galleries were situated on both sides of the garden façade. A backside garden (integral part of the Saxon Garden) and a cascade fountain were designed by Carl Friedrich Pöppelmann. Since 1811, it has been the property of the Zamoyskis , Polish aristocratic family which remodelled it in a late Neoclassical style. The palace was rebuilt after the war devastations.
The Church of St. Anthony of Padua and Reformed Franciscan Monastery
It was founded in 1623 in gratitude for the capture of Smolensk on June 13th, 1611 (Liturgical Feasts of Saint Anthony of Padua) by king Sigismund III Vasa (Zygmunt III Waza) and dedicated on May 13th, 1635. This church was heavily damaged during the Deluge by the Transylvanian army of George II Rákóczi. The new church was founded by Castellan Stanisław Leszczyc-Skarszewski. Work began in 1668 following the plan of Italian-born Polish royal court architect Józef Szymon Bellotti. In 1734, the church became the parish church of the royal court in the Saxon Palace. The king ordered a special loge for him and his wife to be built on the left side of the presbytery (1734–35), and the royal sculptor Johann Georg Plersch created the sculptures inside. The church was partly destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising.
The Iron Gate
It was a part of The Saxon Establishment, which itself had a shape of a pentagon covered an area of around 17 ha (42 acres). The gate was constructed according to Joachim Daniel von Jauch’s design after 1735, together with other buildings of the Saxon Axis border, like Mounted Crown Guards barracks, a wall with bastions from the south and west, or the Blue Palace. It was embellished with cartouches with Polish and Lithuanian Coats of Arms. The Gate was demolished in 1821.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
It was dedicated to the unknown soldiers who have given their lives for Poland. It is one of many such national tombs of unknowns that were erected after WWI, as well as the most important national symbols of bravery and heroism. In 1925, architect Stanisław Ostrowski produced a design to be located under the arcades of the Saxon Palace in Warsaw. The triple arch of the Tomb is the only remnant of the Saxon Palace colonnade. Here official delegations place wreaths and pay homage to the killed soldiers. The tomb has a change of guards every hour.
With an elaborately carved plaque resting on a shell form basin supported by a scrolled bracket, is often used by dating couples as their meeting place. It was established in 1855. The fountain is the centerpiece of gardens designed by the 19th-century designer and architect Henryk Marconi and also one of the most precious urban symbols of Warsaw.
An 1863 horizontal sundial, is situated close to the big fountain in the centre of the park. It was established by the significant physicist and meteorologist Antoni Szeliga Magier.
In the northwest part of the Saxon Garden, it is situated by the ornamental lake surrounded by willows. This classicist water tower in the shape of a Roman monopteros was modelled on the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli. It was designed in 1852 by Henryk Marconi.
A popular summer variéte theatre, existed between 1870 and 1939. It was under famous Polish composer Stanisław Moniuszko’s “rule” at the Grand Theater (Teatr Wielki) that the wooden Summer Theatre was built in the Saxon Garden, between the Water Tower building and the Blue Palace by Polish constructor Aleksander Zabierzowski. From then on, summer performances from the Warsaw theatres were shown there every year. At the time, the Summer Theatre could seat an audience of 1,065. Famous Polish actresses: Helena Modjeska (whose actual Polish surname was Modrzejewska) and Pola Negri (born Barbara Apolonia Chałupiec) made several appearance there. The theatre burned in September 1939 following a direct hit by an incendiary bomb and was never restored.
Modelled after Victorian glass and iron structures in England, was built in 1894. It was created specifically for the exotic palms being collected and introduced to Europe in the 19th century. The elegant design, with its unobstructed space for the spreading crowns of the tall palms, was a perfect marriage of form and function. The structure was destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising and planned destruction of Warsaw, and was never restored.
The Monument dedicated to Maria Konopnicka
The Monument of famous Polish poet and writer mainly for children and youth, was unveiled in 1965.
The Statue of Stefan Starzyński
The Statue of brave leader of the fighting capital during the Siege of Warsaw, was added in 1981.
I have strong connection with the Saxon Garden. This place witnessed my classes skipping when I was young and now I work there, at least twice a year making live coverage of state ceremonies of Armed Forces Day August 15th and National Independence Day November 11th. Piłsudski Square turns then into a colourful stage with subdivisions and reconstruction groups on that. It`s really worth seeing. It`s spectacular, and the Saxon Garden is gorgeous and worth seeing any time. If you happen to visit this place in August I can likely see you walking down the alleys. If it happened I would be most delighted.
See you there!
By Agata Szostkowska
Photos: Michał Stanisławski
Archive photos: Agata Szostkowska’s collection