We turned the corner quickly on the sandy path trying to outrun some dark, low-hanging clouds. And there was a jaw-dropping gate only slightly ajar, formidable but inviting. It provided a magisterial frame for the distant palace. This was the magnificent Wilanów (v-lon-oeuf) commissioned by King Jan III Sobieski in the 17th century. Reminiscent of Versailles, it was his summer palace in Warsaw.
King Jan Sobieski, and the gentry that succeeded him to live at Wilanów, were lovers of art and culture. They were greedy collectors as confirmed by the massive art collection of singular quality. The architectural interiors, furnishings and the exquisite French, German and Asian ceramics were captivating. Grecian pottery was on par with those I have seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The silver collection, the clocks, the textiles, the painted ceilings captivated throughout on the very organized viewing route.
In most rooms, for reference, there were printed laminate cards in several languages however a lot of the art lacked the visible provenance. We did not take the audio tour and lost some of the details as a result. Still, we enjoyed the art even though we wondered and questioned.
The staff were very helpful yet discreet as they shepherded you through the rooms. The docent opened some heavy wooden drawers to share with us additional tapestries and fabrics as well as swords and sword belts. They lay there so close and alive it was as if they were just put there yesterday and were ready to be used at this very moment. It was a very personal display.
The Asian collection on the 2nd floor in the “Hunting Rooms” was not-to-be-missed. The entry ticket for Wilanów is available in 3-parts. You can buy one route or all three. You will miss this collection if you buy only two out of three. So, take two hours and lose yourself completely in this splendor. And you will need another hour to walk the gardens.
Part 3 of that ticket is for the gardens that have been calling from the frames of every window as we meandered through the rooms. It is a French garden style that is geometric, perfect and very suited to this Palace. As we peeked through the windows, we observed that storm clouds were menacing on this afternoon; a drencher was in-work. Our ticket for the garden was not going to be franked that day. The gardens of Wilanów will be calling us back for another visit.
King Jan III Sobieski – a little history
You cannot separate this massive and extraordinary place from the massive and extraordinary shadow left by King Jan III Sobieski, one of the most revered of Polish historical figures. He was King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1674 until his death in 1696. For some imagery that might be relevant to Americans, Sobieski was a 17th-century rough-rider, warrior, romantic and aristocrat with a flair for indulgent decor and attire. A lover of art and beauty, he was a patron of science and the arts as well as an oligarch. He accrued a lot of personal wealth and power. His 22-year reign marked a period of political stability in the Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth which was at that time the largest and most populous European state.
Jan Sobieski had a remarkable instinctual military skill and went to battle often for Poland. He is most famously known for his victory over the Turks at the 1683 Battle of Vienna. Many of the portraits of Sobieski show him in superlative military attire with a handsome flowing mustache.
There are charming romantic stories of King Sobieski’s love for his French wife, Marie Casimire as attested by their prolific love letters. When Sobieski was offered the throne of Poland, he was asked to divorce his Marie and marry the former Queen, wife of the dead king. He immediately refused to leave his “Marysieńka” which was his diminutive for her. He became King in spite of that refusal. Breath-taking is the fact that they had 15 children together. Yes, King Jan Sobieski was a man above men.
Wilanów is in Warsaw but it is about 20 – 30 minutes outside the city center. Check with your hotel to see if they have a transport to take you out there. We took a taxi which cost about 55 złoty or $15.00 US. It is well worth the taxi fare and an excuse to get out of the city center. If you don’t see Wilanów, you have not been to Warsaw.
This palace website is excellent in lieu of a guidebook to Wilanów: http://www.wilanow-palac.pl/
“Why Poland?” is a blog written and produced by Grace Nagiecka with photos by Gregory Spring. Kraków, Poland 2018.
We invite you to visit our other blog pages, “Wanderlusting Dreams” at https://www.wanderlustingdreams.com
and “Greg Spring Photography” at https://gregoryspring.com