Royal Castle, Warsaw

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Royal Castle, Warsaw

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Review of "Royal Castle, Warsaw"

published 03/08/2011 | RICHADA
Member since : 20/06/2004
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Excellent
Pro A different castle experience. Interior. Café restaurant.
Cons Raw, red exterior. Complex admission charges. Disinterested staff.
exceptional
Prices
Is it worth visiting?
Transport links
Family Friendly

"WARSAW ROYAL CASTLE NEWER NOW THAN THEN"

A 1945 photograph of the remains of ther Castle, it sat like that for nearly three decades after World War 2.

A 1945 photograph of the remains of ther Castle, it sat like that for nearly three decades after World War 2.

THE HISTORY LESSON

The history of Warsaw’s Royal Castle very much reflects the turbulent, bloody and destructive history of the city in which it is so prominently situated. The ‘short history’ is that only 40 years ago there was virtually nothing on this site, the Nazis firstly, in 1939, severely damaging the castle with incendiary bombs and subsequently meticulously dynamiting this whole, enormous, structure immediately prior to withdrawing from Poland in 1944. Along with the rest of Warsaw, the castle lay in total ruin, deserted and desolate. Whilst the adjacent Old and New town areas were completely re-constructed after the war, there was neither the cash, nor political will to restore the castle complex. In 1971 the decision was taken to use public funds in order to finally rebuild the castle, this completing the restoration of the historic heart of Warsaw in 1980, four years later the interiors were complete and it opened to the public as a museum.

In the twenty-first century, it is now almost inconceivable that the Old Town could ever have been without the Royal Castle as the anchor attraction.

Few people in any country were designing and building castles in the 1970’s, which makes it all the more remarkable that the communist regime made the decision to do so, and all the more surprising that it did not finish up looking like a concrete bunker! Reading much of the publicity material – and guide book accounts – you will be fooled into thinking that it looks as it did prior to 1939, they tell you that 1939 photographs were used as the basis of the reconstruction. Dig a little deeper and you will find 1930’s photographs of the castle which clearly show cream, presumably rendered, walls and a tiled, presumably red, roof. Its current appearance, particularly from the Castle Square (a triangle in reality) is of a colossal red brick edifice, typical of many modern Polish buildings built of brick, over strong in colour, stand back and it is akin to looking at your television with the colour turned up full. Only single courses of cream bricks, running under each row of windows relieves the over-bearing redness of it all. Look a little closer however and you will discover that rather than being exposed brick, the walls are actually rendered and painted – a decision therefore having been taken by some authority to actually paint it this over-strong colour! Maybe, even, in the communist era, red paint, being the most popular, it may also have been the cheapest! From the east, river side of the castle, there are some cream rendered facades, which make this view of the castle perhaps more authentic, as a whole, currently it does not look very homogenous – it would be interesting to have the ability to see how it will look once weathered for a couple of hundred years, or, indeed, re-painted in its pre-war cream colour.

The “long” history starts in the thirteenth century, in tandem with the development of the Old Town, with the construction of what is now known as the Justice Court Tower. Various Dukes of Mazovia expanded the building, then in gothic style, over the following three hundred years until, in 1569; King Sigismund III Vasa moved the Royal Court and Sejm (the Polish equivalent to our House of Commons) from Krakow to Warsaw thus setting up the building as a Royal Castle and Warsaw as the Capital of Poland.

The appearance of the Royal Castle today, reflects Sigismund’s tastes and ambitions of the time. He had moved his Court and Parliament to Warsaw, the Vasa dynasty was of Swedish origin and having designs on ruling that country to the north, Warsaw was more conveniently located geographically. His castle consequently became a fusion of Italian (he employed Italian Architects) and Swedish architecture and design, with inspiration for the towers apparently coming from the spires of Smolensk. The basic pentagonal design of the castle complex, with a large inner courtyard, has remained since the late sixteenth century.

The Nazis were not the first to attempt to destroy Warsaw’s Royal Castle, the invading Swedish army had a good crack at it in the seventeenth century; it was not restored for the best part of a hundred years, so the precedent was set for lengthy periods of abandonment!

FINDING THE ROYAL CASTLE

Find the Old Town in Warsaw and you cannot help but find the Royal Castle, almost preposterously big in comparison to the rest of the buildings there, it almost appears to be out of proportion, if this were a model I would say that the castle was ‘out of scale’. However, this would have been entirely intentional, the King and his architects making sure that his presence and that of the ruling government physically appeared to be over and above the inhabitants of the city.

Whilst neither the Metro, nor Tram system encroach upon the old town, buses do stop very nearby and there is also plentiful, cheap parking close to, although if you go in the late afternoon / early evening, be prepared to pay more for a guarded car park as all the pay and display spaces will be taken.

THE GRAND TOUR

You enter the Castle through the main entrance situated at the base of the Sigismundus Clock Tower which faces out across the Castle Square. Passing through the entrance you emerge into the castle courtyard facing you to the right is what would have been the oldest part of the castle complex, now known as the Gothic Wing, which was, along with the Grodzka Tower, the original residence of the Mazovian Dukes, around which the rest of the castle was developed in the sixteenth century. The ticket office is through a door to the left, on our visit we were lucky, there were no long queues, but be prepared for a long wait for admission on a busy day.

We elected to escort ourselves, rather than taking an audio guide, the route around the castle is easy enough to follow and there are room guides in every room – just do not try to back-track however, you will get a stern rebuke! Incidentally if you want a guide book or mementoes of your visit you will need to visit the shop in the cellar adjacent to the excellent, clean, toilets.

The standard tour of the castle takes place entirely on the first floor, where all of the state rooms are located. As we progress from room to room, it soon occurs to us that, unlike any stately home visited in England, or anywhere else for that matter, Warsaw’s Royal Castle has an extraordinary sense of newness about it, you are seeing this, in 2011, very much as King Sigismund III Vasa would have done in the early seventeenth century. The gold leaf – and there is plenty of it – is particularly bright and shiny, but you feel you can almost smell the fresh paint. This comment is not in any way intended to belittle the overall experience here, indeed, if anything, the newness of it all adds a different dimension to the visit of such an attraction.

I am not going to offer a room by room, blow by blow description here; there are far too many rooms for such a description anyway. Having acclimatised to the newness of it all, the second impression gained is that this place is extremely palatial for a castle. Indeed, it only ever was a “Zamek” (castle) in title only, its purpose for being was both a Royal Palace and place of administration. At no stage in its history was it ever actually fortified, which may explain why it fell so easily to the Swedish raiders in 1655.

Since opening to the public in 1984, the Royal Castle has performed the role as a museum; much of the artwork inside the castle is original to it. Massive artworks, Polish national treasures indeed, were taken from the walls of the castle and hidden in cellars around Warsaw by museum curators, who had been alerted to the Nazi invasion, and had only a very short time in which to act, in 1939. Miraculously they survived the war and were recovered, although much that was of value was removed to Germany by the Nazi’s when they arrived there. Polish experts have been tracking and recovering these treasures from all over the world as they have come up for sale.

The interiors are truly remarkable, not only due the quality of the rebuilding, it was not a restoration, but a total rebuild, but also thanks to the original artwork and some furniture too. Remarkably you are allowed to photograph all of this splendour – providing your flash is switched off, not a problem here as there is plenty of natural light – far more than you would find allowed into any English treasure house.

Whilst the exterior of the Castle was modelled on its 1939 form, many of the rooms inside were restored to their late eighteenth century appearance and positions, of particular significance are the Senate Room, where the 1791 Constitution was signed, the fabulous Ballroom, which is the largest and most spectacular room in the Castle, the incredible Canaletto Room and the small, but very beautiful, chapel housed in the Grodzka Tower.

The time, skill and yes, money, expended on the interior of the Royal Castle almost defies belief. The first of the magnificent rooms listed above entered is the Ballroom, which is very bright and airy as it is two storeys high and forms an enormous bay on the east front of the castle. The magnificent, far reaching views are dwarfed by the splendour and opulence of its marbled interior, with superb chandeliers, ceiling art and gold leaf.

Personally I am no great connoisseur of fine art, I enjoy a good painting as much as the next person, but, entering the world renowned Canaletto Room, this room was purpose designed by Italian architect, Domenico Merlini, for the original paintings now hanging in it commissioned by King Stanislaw August in 1777. Once the English guided tour ahead of us leave the room, we are left alone to drink in the breath-taking detail of the masters work. The paintings are a fantastically detailed record of Warsaw as it looked in the late eighteenth century and, ironically, very much as it looks in the early twenty-first! I could not help but point at one of them and say ‘good lord; we parked the car just there!’ How often can you point at a great master painting and say that?

The importance attached to the Canaletto Room is reinforced by its location adjacent to the Chapel, where the King worshipped daily. For a residence of this size it is an incredibly small and intimate space, the dimensions of which are determined by the Grodska Tower. Due to its size, you cannot enter the Chapel; merely admire it through the double width door opening in the Canaletto Room.

Apart from the three rooms described, a range of reception rooms, sitting rooms and even bedrooms – less than conventional, by choice the kings slept on day beds apparently, are to be admired. All the rooms are fully furnished, how authentically so, I guess it is difficult to know, but sufficient paintings and drawings survived the war, in order to take a lot of the guesswork out of the job for the re-builders.

One other room that has to be mentioned here, as it was the very seat of Polish government is the Senate Room. Like the Ballroom on the opposite side of the castle, this, being two storeys high, is a deceptively large room, the centrepiece is a large oval table at which the senators sat. Shiny new paint, gold leaf and heraldry abound here, but it was some of the small detail which attracted my attention – period maps of Eastern Europe of the late eighteenth century, a look at those borders tells you all that you need to know about the turbulent intervening years.

THE EXTRAS

Upon entry, we had paid a small surcharge (8PLN), in order to visit the temporary (until 11.09.11) Exhibition to the Alter of Good; a homage in photographs and film to Pope John Paul II. Not only did we get to see the incredibly high quality images, but in order to get there we passed through many rooms not included in the standard tour and climb to the third floor via a very beautiful spiral staircase – for this reason alone I would recommend purchasing an exhibition ticket.

You can discover on the Castle website what the temporary exhibition is prior to your intended visit.

Descending another splendid marble, spiral, staircase, one now re-emerges at ground floor level. Unfortunately, having been so engrossed with the interior of the Royal Castle, we had neither time left (our pay and display car parking had expired!) for the shop, nor a return visit to the superb Royal Castle Café Restaurant where we had so enjoyed tea outside on the terrace the previous evening.

THE ROYAL CAFÉ RESTAURANT

This is one more great asset of the Castle, which we would whole heartedly recommend. The Old Town area of Warsaw is not a cheap place to eat or drink, neither did we find it easy to select from the many dozens of eateries available there. However, the Castle has, in its’ basement this establishment, which offers a wonderful ambiance, professional yet unobtrusive service and, unusually a choice of dining options, ranging from bar, to café, a smart restaurant area and the lovely al-fresco terrace. Prices here are competitive with others in the locale, whilst the menu choice appeared better and more varied – English menu translations are available.

CONCLUSION

However you may feel about the newness, and personally I feel that it offers Warsaw’s Royal Castle a unique selling point, this is undeniably a world class visitor attraction and one that, if you are intending to visit Warsaw, I would very much urge you to spare a couple of hours in order to visit. Just do not expect the staff to be particularly engaging, unusually the friendliest guardians of the castle appeared to be the security guards, the room assistants and ticket sales staff seemed particularly aloof and unwilling to engage, even when approached by a Polish national. This is far from always the case in Warsaw Museums as we discovered during our time in the city, so it is an area that could be redressed in order to put the final gloss on the otherwise superb overall visitor experience.

OPENING HOURS:

Tuesday to Saturday: 9.50 – 17.00, Sunday: 10.50 – 17.00.
Last visitors admitted an hour before closing time.
Closed: Mondays, 25th of December, 1st of January.
I would recommend allowing at least two hours for your visit – we were surprised how quickly the time passed here.

DISABLED ACCESS

The Castle operates a wonderfully phrased Zamek bez barrier (Castle without barriers) policy for those with disabilities of all types.

Being of new construction, we were pleased to read on the Polish language (only) section of the Castle Website that the majority of the castle is fully accessible for those with disabilities, a series of ramps and lifts allowing free movement between the ground floor, the main tour on the first floor and also the basement where disabled toilets are . The first floor is entirely level, regrettably the third floor and cellars are inaccessible to wheelchair users due to narrow corridors and changes in level via narrow and or spiral staircases.

It is recommended that groups with disabilities contact the castle prior to arrival so that appropriate staff assistance may be provided.

ADMISSION CHARGES:

(As at our visit in June 2011 – £1 = 4.5PLN)

Route I: The Court Rooms, The Houses of Parliament and The Apartment of Crown Prince Stanisław: Admission: 10PLN Concessionaires: 5PLN
Route II: The Great Apartment and the King's Apartment:
Admission: 18PLN Concessionaires: 12PLN
Permanent exhibitions:
8PLN Concessionaires: 4PLN

Polish Guide: 45PLN, other languages 70PLN

CONTACT:

The Royal Castle
Plac Zamkowy 4
00-277 Warsaw

Tel. +48-22-65-72-170
Fax: +48-22-635-72-60

www.zamek-krolewski.pl

© RICHADA Ciao 3.08.2011

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Comments on this review

  • jo-1976 published 22/02/2017
    Fascinating read
  • triohermawan published 22/02/2017
    good
  • ccmccartney published 24/01/2017
    Fab photos
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Product Information : Royal Castle, Warsaw

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Museum

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Type: Museum

City: Warsaw

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