History of Ujazdowski Castle

The establishment of Jazdów settlement on the left bank of the Vistula River predates the beginnings of Warsaw’s history and is related to a river crossing between Kamień and Solec, hence the name Jazdów, and later Ujazdów. A gorge on the Vistula escarpment — today, Agrykola Street — led to the crossing. On the southern shore of the crossing (presently, the Botanical Gardens area), a lookout tower was erected — a place of frequent stops of the dukes of the Mazowieckie District. In the 13th century the stronghold was destroyed twice; finally, at the turn of the 1290s, prince Konrad II moved the seat from Jazdów to Warsaw, which resulted in the need to build a new castle. The Jazdów settlement remained in the hands of the Dukes as a hunting court.

The second period in the history of Jazdów begins in the 16th century. Following the expiry of the Dukes of Mazovia family line; their lands were incorporated into the Crown. After the death of Sigismund the Old in 1548, Queen Bona chose the area of Jazdów as her seat. The Queen lived in a spacious wooden manor house, surrounded by magnificent gardens on the site of what is now the settlement of wooden Finnish houses.

Soon after, in the 1570s or 1580s, a new royal court was erected in Jazdów, the location of which more or less corresponds with the present Ujazdowski Castle. The initiator of the construction of the suburban seat was probably Anna Jagiellon, the wife of Stephen Báthory. According to some sources, the world premiere of Jan Kochanowski’s The Dismissal of the Greek Envoys took place in Jazdów and was attended by the royal couple. The breakthrough period for the Ujazdowski Castle came during the reign of Sigismund III Vasa. After transferring, in 1596, the country’s capital from Kraków to Warsaw, the monarch began a thorough reconstruction of the Royal Castle, choosing the wooden mansion of Anna Jagiellon as his temporary seat. After modernization in the first years of the 17th century, its layout referred to Italian Renaissance architecture, and the building was an example of the so-called villa suburbana.

Following 1606 — or 1624, according to Adam Miłobędzki — when Sigismund III relocated back to the Royal Castle, the construction of a new brick castle, a residence worthy of the king of Poland and Sweden, began on the site of the wooden Ujazdów seat. According to the so-called Saxon measurement, the first precise architectural measurements of the Ujazdowski Castle, conducted in the 1720s at the request of King Augustus II, we can recreate the appearance of this building, preserved until the Saxon times in an unchanged shape. It was a one-story (piano nobile) castle built on a square plan with an internal courtyard and hexagonal towers in the corners. On the south and west the courtyard featured cloisters, and its baroque shaped was marked by an avant-corps in the eastern façade, opening onto the Vistula with a three-arcade viewing loggia. The architectural composition referred to the traditions of Polish Renaissance (Krasiczyn, Baranów), but the aforementioned accent on the entrance axis, huge surfaces of steep roofs and decorative towers clearly belonged to the Baroque. The castle is a characteristic example of the Polish Baroque, also known as the Vasa style. It is not certain which of the architects working at the court of Sigismund III is the author of the project: the names of Giovanni Battista Trevano, Constantino Tencalla and Matteo Castelli are mentioned.

The construction of the Castle lasted until the 1630s and continued under Władysław IV Vasa. The Swedish Deluge interrupted the heyday of this private residence of Polish kings. In 1655, king Charles Gustav resided in Ujazdów during his stationing in Warsaw, plundering and destroying it completely when leaving the capital. The residence was revived in 1674, when Ujazdów and Zwierzyniec, located at the foot of the escarpment, became the property of Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski, a writer, art connoisseur and wealthy patron. In the years 1674-94 an outstanding Dutch architect, Tylman van Gameren, who settled in Poland, modernized the Castle and designed the new interiors. Ujazdowski Castle soon became a great example of a magnate’s residence.

In 1702, after Lubomirski’s death, the Castle was leased to King August II, who desired to arrange his suburban seat here. The king planned a complete reconstruction of the castle and its surroundings in the style of late baroque palace and garden designs. Prominent architects of the Saxon era, including Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann and Jan Zygmunt Deybel, presented projects that were impressive in their grandeur. Just a small part of their vision was implemented — the interiors were updated and in 1717 the Piaseczyński Canal was built — the largest in Poland and the second only after Versailles baroque water complex, located on the entrance axis of the residence.

A historic opportunity for Ujazdów was the reign of Stanisław August Poniatowski, who in 1764 bought the property from Lubomirski’s heirs and designated it as a private residence, different in character from his official seat in the Royal Castle. Another attempt was made to create an extensive spatial arrangement in these areas. The same team of architects and artists who worked on the Royal Castle was probably involved in the reconstruction of the body and interior of the Ujazdowski Castle and the erection of two outbuildings on the west side of the estate. The chief architect was Domenico Merlini, and Jakub Fontana, Efraim Schroeger, Bernardo Bellotto — Canaletto, Marcello Bacciarelli, Jan Jerzy Plersch, Antoni Smuglewicz, August Fryderyk Moszyński and many others were also employed. However, the entire congregation of outstanding artists worked largely according to the king’s guidelines, fulfilling his tastes, ranging between baroque and classicism. This was reflected in the apparent lack of stylistic consistency in the architecture itself (late Baroque Castle and Classicist outbuildings) and interior design (late Baroque and Rococo).

In the years 1768-73, also at the king’s order, a large spatial arrangement was created in front of the Castle, referring to the scale of the Saxon axis on the southern outskirts of the city (the author of the design was probably August Fryderyk Moszyński). Around the axis delineated by the Piaseczyński Canal and the entrance road to the Castle (currently, Nowowiejska St.), a grid of avenues diverging outwards and converging in several circular squares: Na Rozdrożu, Unii Lubelskiej, Trzech Krzyży was delineated, The central point of this Baroque composition was the Ujazdowski Castle.

From 1767, parallel to the ongoing work at the Ujazdowski Castle, the pavilions in Łazienki Royal Gardens were refurbished for the king. Around 1772, the monarch, already completely absorbed with Łazienki, ordered the reconstruction of the Ujazdowski Castle to be suspended and in 1784 he allocated the castle to the barracks of the Lithuanian Foot Guard. Adaptation works were carried out by architect Stanisław Zawadzki, who bequeathed the building a monumental character: the towers were devoid of turrets, decorations were removed, and the four-column porticoes running through all floors became the dominant accent of the eastern and western façade. The outbuildings were extended in the form of pavilions with internal courtyards, stables (now the Laboratory building), a coach house and a hospital were added. North of the castle, the king wanted to arrange a ‘Field of Mars’, extending to the present Piękna St. According to a design by Jan Christian Kamsetzer, the field was separated from neighbouring areas by four rows of trees — traces of this formation can still be found today in the vicinity of the Castle.

During the Insurrection, Kościuszko intended to turn the barracks into a field hospital. The project was implemented in 1809 when a military hospital was permanently located in the Castle. The hospital building survived unchanged until 1852, when it underwent another reconstruction, according to the design of Jerzy Karol Völck. It was stripped of all historic architectural details, which gave the Castle a raw appearance. Subsequent reconstructions and unsightly alterations meant that the Ujazdowski Castle no longer resembled a magnificent royal residence, its monumentality and proportions remaining the only echo of its distant history.

From 1922, Ujazdów was the seat of the Military Sanitary School and during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 it housed an insurgent field hospital. As a result of the war, the interiors were burnt, but the main substance of the walls has been preserved. Due to the then authorities’ hasty decisions, the Castle was razed to the ground in 1954. In the 1970s on the initiative of professors Aleksander Gieysztor, Stanisław Lorentz and Jan Zachwatowicz, it was decided to rebuild the Castle according to Piotr Biegański’s design, proposing the implementation of the original, early baroque plans. Initially, it was planned to locate the Government Reception, and later the seat of Comecon, at the Castle. As a result of political changes in 1981, the final decision was made to hand over the Ujazdowski Castle to the artistic community; from 1985 it houses the Centre for Contemporary Art.


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    • Ewa Gorządek