Royal Castle

Lonely Planet review

This massive brick edifice, now a marvellous copy of the original that was blown up by the Germans towards the end of the war, began life as a wooden stronghold of the dukes of Mazovia in the 14th century. Its heyday came in the mid-17th century, when it became one of Europe’s most splendid royal residences, and during the reign of Stanisław August Poniatowski (1764–95), when its grand Baroque apartments were created. It then served the tsars and, in 1918, after Poland had regained its independence, it became the residence of the president. Today it is filled with period furniture, works of art, and an army of old ladies watching your every move.

The highlights of the ‘Castle Tour’ include the Great Apartment and its magnificent Great Assembly Hall , which has been restored to its 18th-century decor of dazzling gilded stucco and golden columns. The enormous ceiling painting, The Disentanglement of Chaos, is a postwar re-creation of a work by Marcello Bacciarelli showing King Stanisław bringing order to the world. The king’s face also appears in a marble medallion above the main door, flanked by the allegorical figures of Peace and Justice.

The neighbouring National Hall was conceived by the king as a national pantheon; the six huge canvases (surviving originals) depict pivotal scenes from Polish history. A door leads off the hall into the smaller Marble Room , decorated in 16th-century style with coloured marble and trompe l’œil painting. The room houses 22 portraits of Polish kings, from Bolesław Chrobry to a large gilt-framed image of Stanisław August Poniatowski himself.

Further on from the National Hall is the lavishly decorated Throne Room . Connected to the Throne Room by a short corridor is the King’s Apartment , the highlight of which is the Canaletto Room at the far end. An impressive array of 23 paintings by Bernardo Bellotto (1721–80), better known in Poland as Canaletto (he used the name of his more famous uncle), captures Warsaw in great detail from its heyday in the mid-1700s. The works were of immense help in reconstructing the city’s historic monuments.

Overlooking Castle Sq from the 1st floor is the Crown Prince’s Apartment . The lavishness of the rooms here is overshadowed by the collection of historical paintings by Jan Matejko; look for his most famous work, The Constitution of the 3rd of May 1791, which shows a triumphant King Stanisław being borne into the castle on the shoulders of a jubilant crowd.