You can take a trip without leaving your home. You have all sorts of opportunities to see even the furthest corner of the world. You can „walk in” to most galleries, museums and other places of interest with just one click. Many cultural institutions offer the virtual tours. If you feel like seeing these locations you can see them from the sky. Just google a desired place and see satellite images which are covering almost the whole planet. The museums and galleries in Poland are available online, too but I must say it is not the same and it will never replace traditional sightseeing. If you come here you will get my point.
One place, many famous owners
When you are tempted to visit my wonderful town you must not miss one place which is crucial to history of Poland. The Royal Łazienki is the largest city park, occupying 76 hectares of the city center. The park-and-palace complex lies in Warsaw’s central district (Śródmieście), on Ujazdów Avenue (Aleje Ujazdowskie) on the “Royal Route” linking the Royal Castle with Wilanów Palace to the south. North of Łazienki Park, on the other side of Agrykola Street, stands Ujazdów Castle (also worth seeing).
Łazienki premises, literally “Baths Park” or “Royal Baths”, often rendered “Royal Baths Park” derive their name from baroque baths pavillion. It was the first construction onsite built in the second half of the 18th century. Located on the isle surrounded by canals richly ornamented bathing pavillon was designed by Tylman van Gameren for Court Marshal of the Crown Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski, the owner of Ujazdów. Tylman van Gameren was the one who designed the whole Łazienki estate in the baroque style.
But we have to look more deeply into the past as far as to the mid-16th century when Łazienki became part of the estates of Poland’s Italian-born Queen Bona Sforza, who built a wooden manor house with an Italian garden on this site. Later, the wooden manor house of Queen Anna Jagiellon stood on this spot, immortalized in 1578 by the performance of the first Polish play, “Dismissal of the Greek Envoys” by famous Polish Renaissance poet Jan Kochanowski. To the south, King Sigismund III Vasa had a four-sided stone castle with corner towers erected in 1624.
In 1766 Stanisław August Poniatowski bought Łazienki as the royal summer residence. At the times of famous Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin the Łazienki ownership passed to Tsar Alexander I. The Park was closed to public but not to young Fryderyk who enjoyed himself there. Now you can find the monument of our great artist, just take the entrance to the park opposite the Office of the Prime Minister in Ujazdów Avenue (Aleje Ujazdowskie).
Modern state and reforms ahead of the era
As I wrote the Royal Łazienki Park is located at the heart of Warsaw. These exceptionally beautiful and magical gardens are really worth visiting.
Łazienki are inextricably linked with Stanisław August Poniatowski – a politician, reformer, philosopher-king, as well as renowned patron and art collector. The Royal Łazienki will always symbolize Stanisław August’s courageous attempts to transform the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth into a modern state.
One huge step to the modern state was the Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791. It was the second in the World and the first in Europe supreme law which was preceding the French September Constitution by several months. The American Constitution was forged in the fire of the American War of Independence, the French one was produced by the Revolution, while the Polish Constitution bloomed from bloodless changes effected by forces striving to recover independence of their own state and sovereignty of their nation and the enable development of the country predetermining an effective protection of independence.
Have you ever expected that Poland was once considered to have the strategic influence on the continent? The Commonwealth – the Polish-Lithuanian state (composed of the Crown – Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) was a European power during the 16th and the first half of the 17th centuries. However, it became dependent on its neighbours – Prussia, Austria and Russia in particular during the 18th century. Its republican system efficient earlier turned to anarchy. The Enlightened people raised their voices calling for reforms already during the first half of the 18th century. Attempts to lift the country from its downfall started with the new reign commenced with the election of Stanislaw August Poniatowski in 1764. Although this election was also conducted at the presence of the Russian army, the new king, a former favourite of the Russian Empress Catherine II, aimed, contrary to her intentions, at a civilisational, cultural, economic and military rebirth of the state and at gaining independence from Russia and changing relations with the country from vassal to partnership. Consecutive attempts at reforms were subverted by Russia. Russian interventions and the dislike towards the king among a major part of magnates and conservative gentry opposing reforms led to Confederacy of Bar in 1768. The gentry fought under the flag of the Confederacy defending their faith and freedom and trying to overthrow the king and to prevent reforms. The fall of the Confederacy in 1772 brought about the First Partition of Poland meaning a loss of 1/3 of the territory and population to Russia, Prussia and Austria.
The partition coalition forced King Stanisław to abdicate and he retired to St. Petersburg as Catherine II’s trophy prisoner, where he died in 1798. Austria, Russia, and Prussia sought to permanently erase the existence of Poland, even down to the country’s name, as proven by a secret and separate article signed by the partition coalition. The Third Partition of Poland ended the existence of an independent Polish state for the next 123 years. Immediately following the Third Partition, the occupying powers forced many Polish politicians, intellectuals, and revolutionaries to emigrate across Europe, in what was later known as the Great Migration. These Polish nationalists participated in uprisings against Austria, Prussia, and Russia in former Polish lands, and many would serve France as part of Napoleon’s armies. In addition, Polish poets and artists would make the desire for national freedom a defining characteristic of the Polish Romanticist movement. If you ever meet Polish minorities members, they could be descendants of those great people.
Going back to history line, Poland would not regain full independence until the end of World War I, when the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the collapse of the Russian Empire allowed for the resurrection of Polish national sovereignty.
The time of revenge has come
Throughout centuries the Łazienki Park witnessed a difficult history of Poland. The November Uprising was one of the most significant Polish revolutions and Łazienki estate was where the headquarters of Cadet School was located. It became a scene of so called the November Night when the Cadet Revolution began. The signal for the uprising was supposed to be a fire in Warsaw district Solec`s brewery building and at town house in Wild Street (ul. Dzika). The Uprising broke out in the evening at 6 pm on November 29 1830 and its very beginning was moment when the Polish lieutenant Piotr Wysocki walked in the Cadet School, interrupted the tactics faculty and made a speech:
“The Poles! The time of revenge has come. Today, we shall die or win! Let`s go and let your breasts be Thermopylae for hostile.”
Piotr Wysocki brought the cadets to the meeting point where now you can find the statue of king John III Sobieski. The brotherhood captured the Belvedere Palace, the residence of Russian Grand Duke Constantine, who fled it unluckily for conspirators. He was told to have escaped in female disguise.
The November Uprising turned into the Russo-Polish War lasting almost the year. In 1831 Piotr Wysocki was sentenced to death by Russians, but his sentence was commuted to a 20 years exile in Siberia. On 3 March 1831 he was awarded the Gold Cross of the Virtuti Militari, being Poland’s highest military decoration for heroism and courage in the face of the enemy at war. To make the fact even more prestigious Piotr Wysocki was the bearer of cross number 1.
There are not so many places in Poland that have so strongly engraved in our emotionality and imagination as the summer residence of King Stanislaw August. The Royal Łazienki Park is a symbolic masterpiece of Stanislaw August who – as I have written above – through his entire reign, from his coronation in 1764 to abdication in 1795, strived to transform the kingdom into a modern country. In the end, following the third partition of the country among Russia, Prussia and Austria Stanisław August suffered a political defeat but his utopian vision of the “Republic of Dreams” is symbolised by Warsaw Łazienki. King as Apollo rules a world of justice, peace, prosperity and simplicity of life. The Royal Łazienki Park is an allegory of Stanislaw August’s political visions and views. Łazienki is also where the past meets the future.
Where the past meets the future
Today the Royal Łazienki is considered “the most convivial place in Warsaw”. Here visitors are able to not only relax and observe the wildlife and plants, but also broaden their knowledge of the Enlightenment, thanks to meetings organized with eminent philosophers and art historians. Because of the Museum’s contacts withEuropean high culture, visitors are given the opportunity to participate in numerous cultural and educational events. The most famous of them are undoubtedly the traditional piano recitals which take place each year from May to the end of September in front of the Fryderyk Chopin Monument.
European high culture, visitors are given the opportunity to participate in numerous cultural and educational events. The most famous of them are undoubtedly the traditional piano recitals which take place each year from May to the end of September in front of the Fryderyk Chopin Monument.
Above and beyond, Łazienki offers many spectacular events all the year round: The Winter Evening of Light, Gardens of Light, The Night of Museum, The Festival of Lights, international concerts, The Sphere of Silence, Tulipomania in the Royal Łazienki, European Picnic, The 3rd Ignacy Jan Paderewski International Festival. Most of these events are ahead and if you want to plan your visit, you should go to The Royal Łazienki official website: http://www.lazienki-krolewskie.pl/en/.
The Royal Łazienki premises are open daily to visitors from all over the world, who can admire the unique collection of paintings and sculptures amassed by the last Polish king, both in the palace interiors and in the gardens. Royal Summer Residence of King Stanisław August has been renovated recently and now has even better look. This former royal residence is also one of the most elegant and prestigious venues in Warsaw frequented by prominent politicians, scholars, representatives of the arts, as well as royal couples and crowned heads.
And what is more important to me the Łazienki Park is very significant to a few generations of the Warsaw common people. Most of us have our favourite tree there which was both shelter and hideaway for the dates who were kissing secretly under the cover of branches. It is also our stories, love stories hidden behind the fence of the loveliest Polish park. But the King has been always the first and the Łazienki is mainly a story about him – about Stanisław August Poniatowski who was the great man being ahead of an era. He was the last king of Poland whose abdication unfortunately made my country vanish from the map of Europe.
If you want to learn more about world history, discover an undiscovered part of European heritage you should go to Warsaw. You can take a trip without leaving your home – home sweet home, your shelter, your hideaway, not even your comfortable armchair but you won`t experience the history and you won`t smell blooming trees, just mown lawn, you won`t hear peacocks making noise, nor ducks or swans swimming in the pond. So you should go there to experience all this, meet the past and look to the future.
By Agata Szostkowska
Photos: Michał Stanisławski
© Copyright www.communications-unlimited.nl, 2016. All rights reserved.
Photos taken in the 50’s and 60’s
Photos taken in 2016