Wilanów Palace & Park
Located south of Warsaw, the Wilanów Palace & Park concludes the series or royal residences erected on the edge of the picturesque slope of the Vistula. The summer residence of King Jan III is oriented on a main axis that determines the characteristic Baroque layout with the palace located between a representative courtyard and a regular garden. The composition was expanded by successive owners, most notably by Stanisław Kostka Potocki, and transformed into an expansive landscape establishment with numerous historical layers. The 45-hectare complex includes various styles of buildings, gardens and parks: North Garden, Baroque Garden – divided into two terraces, Rose Garden, two landscape parks – the North and South, and the Orangery Garden.
The area in front of the palace courtyard consists of four quarters surrounded by a brick-ceramic wall and rows of trees. The wide central alley is the start of the westward main axis, which in the times of King Jan III ran into a 400-metre water canal disappearing in the view into the surrounding fields and the Warsaw escarpment. Towards the end of the 18th century, the quarters were transected with a three-pronged design, a so-called patte d’oie (goose’s foot), which was a reference to French designs. Over the next two centuries, the quarters were supplemented with several buildings that exist to this day: the symbolic tomb – the Potocki Mausoleum, and the utilitarian Caretaker’s House (presently the Museum ticket office), the Lanci House and the Szenicówka, from Szenic, the name of the last resident (presently Villa Intrata). The palace courtyard is preceded by a moat with a brick retaining wall and a Baroque gate with stone figures of Mars and Venus, symbolising war and victory.
Originally, the royal courtyard was divided into two parts: the entrance courtyard of a utility character and the parade courtyard, directly adjacent to the palace. They were separated by a stone fence with the coats of arms of the Sobieski family, stretched between the wings of the palace. In the 19th century, this space was merged and decorated with an extensive oval lawn (gazon) surrounded by the access road. The ancient magnolias and the monumental little-leaf linden tree are exceptional decorations of the courtyard. An additional accent showing the variability of the seasons in the palace gardens is the extensive flower bed, densely planted with colourful, fragrant plants. The main entrance to the gardens leads through a stone pergola with a gate that greets guests with a Latin quotation from Horace: “Ducite solicitae quam iucunda oblivia vitae”. The text encourages visitors to forget about the everyday concerns of life and rest in the garden.
The present geometric layout was created in place of a garden where King Jan III grew cultivated fruit trees, vegetables and herbs. In the 18th century, it was replaced with a decorative garden. This composition is the basis for the present-day layout, which combines elements from the 18th and 19th centuries: regular layout of quarters with low boxwood hedges, filled with decorative lawns, yew trees trimmed into cones, flower beds and decorative ornamentation. The central element of the garden is a fountain topped with a figure of the mythological Triton holding a horn. From the north, the garden is bordered by a row of hornbeams with niches for stone benches, and from the east, by a metal pergola planted with linden trees and common ivy, a frame structure for the future reconstruction of Elżbieta Sieniawska’s berceau (arbour walk). In the western part of the garden is the Grove of Akademos, designed in the 19th century as a quiet place for rest and contemplation. Behind the statues of Jan Kochanowski and Franciszek Karpiński, Polish poets who praised the charm of life in the countryside, is an oval square with a semi-circular stone bench, referring with its shape to “whisper benches”.
The oldest part of the Baroque-style site is divided into two sections: the Upper and Lower Terraces, the composition of which is subordinate to the east-west main axis running towards Wilanowskie Lake. The present-day shape of the Upper Terrace refers to the 17th-century layout, designed by royal architect Augustyn Locci. The garden, laid out on an elongated rectangle plan, has sixteen quarters surrounded by boxwood hedges and decorated with floral borders, hornbeams trimmed into cones and ornaments of boxwood, coloured chippings and brick chips. Among the plants cultivated here, one can find species typical for the Baroque period: peonies, pasque flowers, narcissi, tulips, bellflowers, asters, lilies and larkspurs. The Baroque composition is complemented by orange trees and exotic plants in oak pots painted in white and green stripes, set outside in the summer. The original 17th-century garden also contained fountains. Because their appearance has not been determined, only their outline is marked with brick structures. Also not preserved were the old gilded sculptures and marble vases, which have been replaced in the present with Baroque sandstone statues, imported in the mid-20th century from the palace in Brzezinka in Lower Silesia. Their placement in the garden and mythological symbolism are an expression of praise for the virtues of King Jan III and Queen Marie Casimire. Original sculpted framing is provided by figures by Johann Christostomus Redler, which decorate the balustrade of the garden stairs. They depict putti, symbolising the four stages of love (respectively: fear, kiss, indifference and quarrel), putti with sphinxes and flower baskets, as well as allegories of the four seasons. Behind them is the Lower Terrace with a garden that reflects Baroque forms. Four geometric quarters are decorated with yew trees trimmed into cones and flower borders. The whole is enclosed by a bosquet, a compact plantation of trees shaped into trimmed walls of the rows. Regularly intersected with alleys, they open up views of Wilanowskie Lake and create quiet garden cabinets. A wide promenade runs along Wilanowskie Lake, offering a picturesque view of the opposite shore.
The rose garden was created on the site of the fruit-bearing gardens from the times of King Jan III. The present-day form of the garden refers to the original design by Bolesław Podczaszyński from the mid-19th century. The intimate interior of the garden is enclosed from the north by the wing of the palace, from the east by an iron pergola and from the south by a low wall with a semi-circular protrusion and flower vases. The keystone of the geometric composition of the Rose Garden is a fountain crowned with the figure of a boy with a swan. it is surrounded by quarters bordered by low boxwood hedges and planted with historic English and French rose varieties in warm pastel shades. They are complemented by plants growing in garden vases, Japanese grapevine growing on pergolas and clematis decorating the terrace with lion figures. The sculptural decoration of the garden consists of a ceramic figure of Victory and four allegorical sculptures: Harmony, Beekeeping, Farming and Fishing, which top the columns of the gate to the South Park.
South Landscape Park
At the end of the 18th century, in the southern part of the Wilanów park, on the site of King Jan III’s old farm, a picturesque English-Chinese garden was established, designed by Szymon Bogumił Zug. The outstanding garden designer took advantage of the varied terrain that gently slopes towards the pond and the Służewiec stream, to create an early landscape-style design. Freely-running paths and solitary or group plantings of trees and shrubs were supposed to give the impression of perfect imitation of nature. Several dozen years later, this layout was expanded and transformed by Stanisław Kostka Potocki into a landscape park, which can still be admired today. The seeming naturalness and blending with the surrounding landscape hides carefully designed sceneries and picturesque views intended to delight visitors to the park. The spatial programme is complemented by a brick bridge, cascade, a column with a Maltese cross and objects moved in the mid-20th century from the nearby Gucin Gaj – an obelisk with an urn, a commemorative stone and a sarcophagus. Preserved from the time of King Jan III, Mount Bacchus is an excellent viewpoint, from which the whole park can be admired. On the southern side, the park adjoins manor houses: The Vice-Starost’s House and the Dutch House, near which a flower meadow has been set up. The clearings contain the oldest, more than 200-year-old trees in the Wilanów Park, the vast majority of them oaks.
North Landscape Park
On the initiative of Stanisław Kostka Potocki, the reach of the Wilanów Park was extended northwards, connecting it with the transformed Kępa Forest, known from that time on as Morysin. In this way, an extensive water landscape park was created around Wilanowskie Lake, inspired by similar concepts from England. The North Park is distinguished by varied terrain, rich water system and a large variety of vegetation. Freely running paths and viewpoint features combine harmoniously integrated garden structures, giving the whole a romantic aura. These objects, built in various styles, were supposed to move transport the guests to distant times or places, such as the Pump Room, reminiscent of a medieval castle, the Chinese Arbour, or the Roman Bridge and the Battle of Raszyn Monument, imitating ancient architecture, built on the artificially-made North Island. The accompanying elements, such as moss-covered stones, dense thickets and artificial ruins, create a series of contrasting views. In the symbolic sphere, they combine many different motifs, creating an aura of mysteries around themselves. The elaborate flower beds are a unique decoration of the park, the selection of plants and decoration transferred directly from the 19th century. The elongated horseshoe-shaped flower bed in front of the main entrance to the orangery, composed in accordance with the principles of garden art from the times of King Jan III, is particularly eye catching.
The garden directly adjacent to the Orangery is the youngest part of the Wilanów site. During the reign of King Jan III, a wooden parish church and a cemetery were located here. Today, after many changes, it took on the form of a boulingrin with a centrally-situated fountain. The neighbouring garden quarters were planted with red roses and plantain lilies. The surrounding space was decorated with exotic plants in flower pots, set out here every summer. The specimens that can be found here include sizeable Canary Island date palms, Howeas, banana and fig trees. The whole is supplemented by colourful, fragrant herb and flower beds, as well as potted flowers.
In 2009–2011, thanks to three projects carried out by the museum and financed by the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management, an upgrade of several gardens was possible: the upper terrace of the Baroque Garden, the North and Rose Gardens, as well as sections of the South and North Landscape Parks. Thorough care treatments were carried out, which included maintenance of the greenery, removal of self-seeding plants, as well as those in poor biological condition. New plantings were also made for perennial plants and historical compositions were replenished. Thanks to this, the original character of the gardens, in accordance with the preserved tradition, was finally reconstructed.
Morysin Nature Reserve
The name of this site comes from the name of the grandson of Stanisław Kostka Poniatowski – Maurycy, also known as Moryś. Initially, it referred to a part of a water landscape park formed at the beginning of the 19th century, located on the other bank of Wilanowskie Lake. The extended layout of the watercourses inside the park and the architectural and sculptural equipment have disappeared over the years, and today, no trace remains of most of them. On the other hand, a very valuable habitat has been preserved, protected by law as a nature reserve since 1996. Among the thickets of trees, one can see traces of old history – ruins of the rotunda of an 1811 palace, designed by Stanisław Kostka Potocki and Christian P. Aigner, the remains of the caretaker’s house designed by Francesco Maria Lanci, and a well-preserved wooden forester’s lodge, also designed by Lanci. The other valuable sculptural elements were protected against damage by moving them to the Sculpture Pavilion near the palace.
With reference to Rose Garden, Upper Terrace Garden, North Garden and Orangery Park, the concept of their redevelopment created by Prof. Zbigniew Myczkowski of Cracow University of Technology, PhD, Eng. of Architecture, served as a basis for construction documentation prepared by Architecture Design Studio - Jerzy Wowczak.
text: K. Domańska, N. Kokoszka, J. Kuśmierski, Ł. Przybylak
photos: J. Dobrzańska, W. Holnicki, M. Klimowicz, Ł. Przybylak