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This massive brick edifice, a copy of the original blown up by the Germans in WWII, 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. It then served the Russian tsars and, in 1918, after Poland regained independence, became the residence of the president. Today it is filled with period furniture and works of art.
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'oeil paintwork. 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 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, captures Warsaw's mid-18th-century heyday in great detail. The works were of immense help in reconstructing the city’s historic facades.