The palace and park complex in the Warsaw Łazienki is one of the most beautiful historical establishments of a kind in the capital. Łazienki Królewskie in Warsaw is a former residence of the king Stanisław August Poniatowski. Nearly an eighty-hectare park with old tree-stand, numerous water basins and the highest art buildings, expresses the aesthetic preferences of the last king of Poland.
At presents, Łazienki Królewskie is a vast park with picturesque alleys, canals, small ponds, decorated with various outstanding sculptures. Among the park alleys there are historical buildings in different parts of the park. The most important one is the Water Palace which used to serve as the baths of the great royal marshal Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski. Thanks to the last Polish king, Stanisław August Poniatowski, it became one of the most splendid palaces in Warsaw. After this baths, since the 17th century, already during the reign of Stanisław August, the place at the foot of The Ujazdowski Castle was called Łazienki. Currently, while visiting this unique area, next to the Water Palace we can also admire the following buildings: the Myślewicki Palace, the Great Annex, the Old Guardhouse, and the later: the Old Orangery, the New Orangery, as well as the magnificent Amphitheatre. The first group of monuments is for king Stanisław who made Łazienki his summer residence.
The park’s beauty was appreciated yet in the 19th century, during the period of the Partitions of Poland, when new buildings maintaining the loveliness of the palace and park establishment were erected. The Łazienki history is inextricably connected with the history of Warsaw and Poland. From the times of Mazovian princes, through estates of wealthy families and Polish kings, the property of Russian tsars (1817), state government (1918), then German invaders, until the Museum Łazienki Królewskie established in 1960, it is currently the cultural and artistic showpiece of the capital.
The area, covered today by Łazienki, used to belong to Jazdów, that is Ujazdów, neighbouring with Warsaw. At the foot of the Vistula slope there was the so-called Zwierzyniec, where Mazovian princes would hunt small game. Nearby in the second half of the 16th century, Queen Bona founded an Italian garden. In 1578 in the Ujazdów manor, on the occasion of Jan Zamoyski’s wedding, the premiere of „Odprawa posłów greckich” (Eng. Dismissal of Greek envoys) by Jan Kochanowski took place. Around 1683–1689 at the order of S. H. Lubomirsk, Tylman from Gameren erected a Baroque pavilion of the Baths in the centre of Zwierzyniec, and to the north of this one, the pavilion called the Hermitage. In 1720 the palace was leased by the Lubomirscy into the royal hands. Augustus II the Strong wished to transform it into a breath-taking royal residence…
In the last year of the Augustus II reign, Teodor Lubomirski’s widow, Elżbieta, and their son Kacper, finally sold Ujazdów to Stanisław Poniatowski, then still just the esquire carver of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. As the king, on the 13th of January 1766, Stanisław August paid the amount of 1 100 000 zl for the estate ultimately purchasing the whole lot.
Huge amounts were spent on the palace extension, and in 1769 Stanisław August settled in. The renovation works, however, never finished. The young king was renowned for his extravagance and fascination with new ideas. Works in the garden and buildings continued till the last years of the reign of the last Polish king.
The palace reconstruction began a huge royal investment aimed at creating a park and palace complex. Simultaneously, works in other parts of former Zwierzyniec were carried out. New buildings were built: The White House and Myślewice. The White House was constructed to the west of the Palace. It was built on a square plan in the style of a Classicist villa from the second half of the 18th century.
Among the newly-erected buildings there was also the Reservoir and Great Annexe. Further, „le Trou-Madame”, a special small building named after a game it was built for that was fashionable at the time and similar to billiards, was constructed together with the Turkish House (has not survived).
Once the residential pavilions were ready, theatres in Łazienki were taken into consideration. The „le Trou-Madame” house was to play this role. It was called the Small Theatre. Soon, in fact, it turned out to be too small and, consequently, was abandoned. The theatre was located in the newly-erected building called the Orangery. It was open on the 6th of September 1788. It was intended for the king and his court. In the same year, the building of a magnificent amphitheatre commenced, with a stage situated on the island and semi-circle audience. The first solemn performance happened on the 7th of September 1791.
The park is an integral part of Łazienki. During the reign of Stanisław August rotten Alders were cut down and replaced with various coniferous and deciduous trees. Reclamation works were carried out, damp and boggy places were elevated. Trees were planted in parterres and alleys, new tracks and paths were marked up. The works reports give evidence to their extent, in 1777 a thousand standard trees were planted, in 1778 oaks and nut-trees were planted, and in the alleys 764 maples and lime-trees were added. The park was cut through by a lot of canals connected with the Piaseczyński Channel. The Łazienki Palace was surrounded by the waters of two ponds. In the park there were picturesque strolling alleys marked up. The main roadway in the very centre of Łazienki connected the White House with the Belvedere. It was a road “planted with oranges and Egyptian acacias”.
Łazienki after Stanisław August
In February 1798 Stanisław August Poniatowski, the last king of Poland, died. Till the very end he was interested in the existence of his beloved Łazienki. Artists and the managing director of the royal buildings, Marcello Bacciarelli, stayed in Warsaw. In his entourage, painters (Plersch, Tokarski, Wall and Vogel), sculptors (Lebrun, Poinck, Monaldi, Staggi) and architects (Merlini, Gresmayer, Kamsetzer and Kubicki) slowly bade farewell to Łazienki.
Łazienki, recently so full of life, became something of a museum, a keepsake designed just for sightseeing. It was visited by Russian and Prussian generals, Prussian tsar family.
After the collapse of the Duchy of Warsaw and establishment of the Kingdom of Poland, in 1817 Łazienki was purchased by tsar Alexander I. For over 100 years Łazienki was in the hands of the invader. In the Great Annexe the Officer’s Training Centre was founded, from which on a November Night in 1830 conspirators set off towards the Belvedere. After the uprising fell (1831), the training centre was dissolved. The buildings of the Great Annexe, White House, Myślewice, Hermitage and Orangery were occupied by tsar officials. The wooden constructions of the Turkish House or Chinese Bridge were dismantled.
Tsar gardeners also changed the routes of park alleys and canals. In 1955 a collection of orange trees was fetched from Nieborów. The New Orangery was built for them in 1870. From then on, for distinction purposes, the older Orangery was called the Old Orangery.
Tsar Alexander I did not live in Łazienki. Nicholas I and Alexander I visited the place a couple of times. In Łazienki, notable guests were received, among others, the Duke of Wellington, Prussian, English and Austrian princes. In 1897 the Siamese king stayed here, in 1889, the Romanian king, and in 1900, the Persian Shah. When there were no notable guests, the park was a strolling place for inhabitants of Warsaw.
In the first days of the city’s occupation, in September 1939, the German authorities occupied Łazienki. The Germans closed the palace and park to the Poles. The palace collections were stolen. At the end of December 1944, the Germans set fire to the palace. In the remaining walls they drilled hundreds of holes for explosives. Luckily, they never managed to execute the plan of complete destruction of the palace. During the bombardment many buildings were damaged. Fires consumed part of the interiors. In the park, around a quarter of trees were destroyed.
After the liberation, in March 1945, Łazienki was looked after by the special “stanisławowska workshop”, established by the Capital Reconstruction Office. They rummaged the rubble, dug out the sculptures and architectural details. Reconstruction of the entire park and palace establishment immediately commenced. In 1960 the Łazienki Królewskie Museum was founded. From the first years of its existence, a long-term director prof. Marek Kwiatkowski devoted his life to Łazienki. Currently, Łazienki is vibrant with cultural life and constitutes one of the greatest tourist attractions of Warsaw. The masterpiece of king Stanisław August Poniatowski can be admired by visiting the museum, listening to concerts and lectures or going for a moving stroll along the park alleys.
The Museum Łazienki Królewskie
From 1959 (May - September) by the Chopin’s Monument, free Chopin Concerts attended by the most prominent performers have been organized. The concerts take place every Sunday at 12 and 4 pm. For two years now, during the Festival Chopiniana, there are also piano marathons. In Łazienki Królewskie, one can also listen to Chopin recitals in the Old Orangery, Water Palace, Myślewicki Palace and Stanisławowski Theatre.