Well, it’s been a busy few weeks of moving out of corporate housing an into an more permanent apartment. I could write an entire post on the differences I’ve discovered here versus the U.S. But today, I want to write about two special items that happened this past week.
I had the wonderful opportunity to join in on a cultural outing, organized by our new school’s PTO, to the Wilanow Palace. Built by King Jan Sobieski III as his summer palace in the late 1600s, the palace sits in aptly named Royal Wilanow. Wilanow was once its own tiny village and not part of Warsaw, as it is today. I learned that King Jan was born in an area called Olesko, which used to be Poland, but now sits in present day Ukraine, he was the son of a senator, and was pretty much groomed from the beginning to do great things. After being educated in Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, he toured Europe with his brother, and learned to speak many languages, among them French, German, Italian and Latin. He was a great war hero, and we learned that during one battle with Turkish forces, he credits himself as discovering coffee, and bringing it back to Poland. Thanks, Jan! He ascended to the thrown of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as it was known, in year 1674. A scholar and quite worldly for his time, he called this area “Villa Nova” after the Latin meaning “new house,” and this eventually changed to Wilanow in Polish. (Remember the “w’s” are all pronounced “v.”) 😉
He is said to have met his great love, Marie Casimire, and it was love at first site. However, she was married, so for 10 years, he waited essentially for her husband to die (since there was no divorce then), and then married her, and wanted to build a beautiful palace for her, and a place to store his treasures. The palace is perfectly symmetrical, with a men’s side, and women’s side, beginning with reception rooms, and curving around to end with their personal bed chambers next to each other in the center. It reminded me of many palaces I’ve seen in the U.K.
One very interesting item to note was this cabinet, located in the King’s antechamber, that was essentially made like a puzzle box, with no handles to open the tiny doors. There are secret mechanical ways to open it that only Jan knew how to do; so that is where he kept his precious items.
The king’s library, housing his collection of books, interestingly displayed them below a corresponding author’s name. So, for example, the Plato corner meant that philosophy books were located just under it. Further, the library has the only original floor in the building, with a unique almost 3D look to it.
Also interesting, regarding the bed chambers: ever wonder why they are so little? Was everybody shorter then? Perhaps. But the explanation we received is that it was thought to be healthier to sleep sitting up, propped with some pillows, so that is what everybody did in the 17th century. The palace has the queen’s original bed silk bed coverings. It is said that Queen Marie was very attached to her bed, and often traveled with it when she and her entourage left the palace. Between her 17 labors, and being pregnant, and nursing babies, I can see why they said she spent most of her time in bed! And the corsets…we learned that from probably age 7, girls wore corsets and very rarely took them off, even as they grew, and even later during pregnancy and labor! No thanks.
King Jan lived to only his 60s, unfortunately, dying in 1696, and since the monarch at that time was voted on by other nobles, it did not necessarily pass on to his sons, nor was the palace guaranteed to wife Marie.
In 1720, after the palace had fallen into disrepair, it was purchased by Elzbieta Sieniawska, who added to wings to either side. And then at the end of the 18th century, Izabela Lubomirska commissioned to have an outdoor kitchen added, as well as a guardhouse to the property, both detached, and an attached bath. Another extensive renovation in the 19th century was by nobleman and politician Stanislaw Kostka Potocki, who occupied the palace from 1799-1821. In 1805, Potocki opened a section of the palace as one of the first public museums in Poland.
Like many buildings in Warsaw, it was taken over and ransacked by the Nazis during World War II; however, some of Jan’s antiques were in the basement and discovered later, so survived. Additionally, most of the stolen items have been returned by Germany, so we can see them today. After the war, the state took over the buildings, and the palace opened as a museum in 1962.
And now on to the really unique part of all this. A couple of weeks ago, through a friend, we found a boy scout troop for my son. Well, the Polish equivalent of the U.S. boy scouts.
Anyway, after attending a few meetings, and seeing it was a good fit, we decide he joins. Fast forward to this past Sunday, when it is September 26th, and on this day in 1943, a local Polish scout troop named “Zoska” attacked the German military post in Wilanow, literally next door to this palace. Our scout troop had the privilege of participating in the ceremony.
Since it was conducted entirely in Polish, I cannot tell you exactly what transpired during this ceremony, but suffice it to say there was marching, some kind of flag ceremony with dignitaries, a Mass, and then an official ceremony held on the exact spot of this attack. There is a permanent plaque commemorating the event as well.
I would highly recommend a visit to Royal Wilanow to see all of this, and a stop at a local place for a bite to eat afterwards in one of the many beautiful restaurants in the area.