When it comes to Łazienky Królewskie, I don’t know whether to speak of a park, a castle, a museum or all three. The magnificent 76-hectare park is an open-air museum in which nestle the most famous statue of Frédéric Chopin, two castles, a lake, two bridges, an orangery, a water reservoir and an amphitheater.
Let’s start with the monumental statue of Frédéric Chopin. Designed in 1907 by Wacław Szymanowski for the centenary of Chopin’s birth in 1910, its realization was delayed by WWI and the statue was finally erected only in 1926. The statue was then the first monument of the city to be destroyed by the German army in 1940, but a new molding allowed it to be reproduced and reinstalled in 1958. During the Summer weekends, the statue overlooks free piano concerts that music lovers listen to, sitting on the grass.
The statue represents Frédéric Chopin seated under a weeping willow whose branches evoke the shape of a hand – Chopin was famous for his hands, so large that they were able to cover a third of the piano keyboard.
The park houses many sculptures, animals and even a dog’s grave.
Myślewice Palace, a semi-circular building, was originally intended to house the King and become his main place of residence, but over time its function became more formal.
State affairs were discussed there and the Tsar’s generals, representatives of the Polish government and foreign guests were welcomed there. Between 1958 and 1970, Myślewice Palace was the scene of many meetings between representatives of the People’s Republic of China and the US.
Built in 1774 in the Eastern part of the gardens, Myślewice Palace owes its name to the village of Myślewice, which has disappeared.
The palace was originally a two-storey villa built on a square plan. The two rounded wings were added in 1776. Simple ground floor, a first floor was added in 1780.
The main decorative element of the facade of Myślewice Palace is a high niche, in which the main entrance is located. The statues of Flora and Zephyr frame the entrance door. Flora, goddess of spring and flowers, and Zephyr, god of the Western wind, were a mythological couple of lovers and their characters, linked to nature and love, underline the light, bucolic and sentimental character of the building.
Although modest in size, Myślewice Palace, which is a perfect example of classicism, offers a rather imposing appearance.
On an artificial island is the Palace-on-the-Island. This royal residence in neoclassical style replaces a first bathhouse (“Łazienky Królewskie” means “royal baths”) in Rococo style designed by the Dutch architect Tylman de Gameren. This pavilion was dedicated to contemplation and poetic inspiration.
In 1764, seeking the location for his Summer residence, King Stanisław August acquired and transformed the Rococo pavilion into a neoclassical Palace-on-the-Island. Of Italianate inspiration, the building was to embody the idea of an ideal, modern and sovereign State.
Stanisław August did not consider the fine arts only from an aesthetic point of view. Painting, sculpture and architecture were part of a program encompassing political, social and economic issues and were intended to serve the reform of Poland and the formation of national consciousness. The fine arts were to “shape the spiritual culture of the nation” and, consequently, contribute to its renewal.
From then on, Stanisław August transformed in 1792 the Palace-on-the-Island into a villa-museum, where the most precious paintings of his collection were exhibited, counting, according to the inventory of 1795, 2289 works produced by the most remarkable 17th and 18th century European artists.
Paintings, sculptures, engravings in combination with architecture formed a total work, which was to become the first modern museum open to the public.
The Bathing Room
The Solomon Room
On the first floor are the royal apartments, the upper picture gallery, the balcony room, the King’s cabinet, the royal bed chambers, the cloakroom, and the officer’s room.
The King’s Chapel
The park is magnificent and the Palace-on-the-Island is mesmerizing.
The Old Guardhouse, built in 1792, is a pavilion that was intended for the King’s guards, who had to control visitors and ensure the safety of the ruler and the residents of Łazienki. The classical building of modest size is characterized by its simplicity, which is linked to its defensive function and evokes the architecture of ancient Greece.
The Little White House is not as imposing and well known as the Palace-on-the-Island. However, it was the Little White House that was initially thought to be Stanisław August’s residence within the Łazienki estate. Stanisław August occupied the Little White House during Summer, probably until 1779. He then lived there during the work campaigns carried out at the Palace-on-the-Island. Other members of the King’s family lived in the Little White House and also, according to legend, Elżbieta Grabowska, Stanisław August’s mistress.
The Reservoir was used to capture water from nearby springs. In 1777, its cylindrical architectural shape with brick walls gave it the appearance of a medieval tower. Therefore, it was also called the Dungeon. In 1823, the Reservoir took on the appearance we know today. Inspired by the ancient tomb of Cecilia Metella in Rome, the building remains simple but is adorned with a frieze and garlands of fruit. The Reservoir testifies to the phenomenon of the time which consisted in concealing buildings with a purely utilitarian function under noble, decorative and antique facades.
During WWII, the occupying Germans drilled holes in the Palace-on-the-Island walls in preparation for blowing it up. They never got around to carrying out the planned destruction. Thank God, because the place is incredibly beautiful.
September 15, 2023