Secrets, treasures and ghosts of the Second World War are plentiful in a palace called Ksiąz. Set high on a wooded hill in the town of Wałbrzych, it is imposing and majestic. An intensely mysterious and moody side appears when the sun disappears behind a cloud and the massive bricks dim, the turrets sulk and one wonders what stories are imprisoned in those imposing walls.
The castle displays many architectural styles dating back to the 13th century. It has been the private property of the aristocratic Hochberg family since the early 16th century. The Nazis confiscated and claimed Ksiąz as an administrative center even though it was then on German soil. They were punishing the Hochberg family who would not support Hitler. When borders shifted after the Second World War, this Lower Silesian region became part of Poland.
Just prior to WWII, the castle was occupied by Mary Theresa Olivia Cornwallis-West, related to Winston Churchill and first wife of Prince Hans Heinrich XV (Hochberg). The Princess Diana of her day, she was a great beauty and socialite popularly known as Princess Daisy.
Ksiąz was seized by the Nazis in 1941. They began to build tunnels and caverns some 50 meters beneath the castle. Supposedly they were to protect Hitler from Allied bombs and hide more Nazi booty as well. This area of Silesia drew media attention recently when two explorers announced they had located a secret tunnel that might be hiding an armored train reviving a local legend of a train laden with gold and valuables that the Nazis reportedly hid in 1945 as the Red Army approached the Owl mountains. This legend persists even though the train has not been found.
Princess Daisy’s impact is heavy on the residence as she managed it as a haven for her family. Even though most of the palace is devoid of furnishings because the Soviets tortured and stole the furnishings here as well, there are many beautiful photographs that illustrate the castle in its hey-dey under Daisy. The Princess is responsible for the stunning terraced garden that clings to one wall of the castle.
This familial haven is dramatically illustrated in one room where a beautiful archival display of old photographs of the Hochberg family is mounted. These photographs have been magnified and present a very artistic, dramatic exhibition. They are not your typical photos of stiff aristocrats in posed compositions. These are soft family photos of sledding children, romping dogs, holiday gatherings, dancing servants and frolicking picnics. There are some beautiful close-up portraitures such as a young boy holding a rabbit, a man with a beautiful dog, another of a family member gazing up at the palace from a distance in winter snow.
This is the room that set the mood of the palace for me. Grand and large, Ksiąz was still a home to a family who wandered the cavernous halls, ran over the multitude of stairways and occupied those rooms designated as dining, nursery, sitting and library. There is a feeling of aristocracy but also of a household, grand that it was.
Another dramatic exhibition mounted in another room is of paintings. One of which is very striking. The main character seems to be bending forward out of the canvas and his eyes are bright, alert and alive. There are other brilliant works of art in this room to wonder over.
At the end of the meander through the interior of the castle, the visitor ends by walking down a long staircase and out into the terraced garden which clings to the side of the castle on two sides. There are stone walks, rose trees, benches, sculptures, and short angular stairways. It is completely enclosed by the forest that tumbles down the steep hillside. The walls of the castle ascend to a great height over the garden in an awesome display of noblesse. One feels small and watched strolling through the gardens.
It is a beautiful palace which requires a lot of time to visit as much of the castle is open to visitors. It is worth taking an entire day to wander over the many venues. There is also the beauty of the Owl Mountains in the Sudeten Range which ring the castle and contribute to some magnificent views.
There are guided tours for groups of 15. There is also an audio tour but we found the audio tour completely useless with unsynchronized, long narratives that were not in queued with the displayed informational boards that are mounted throughout. I found myself scrambling to find the right ‘number’ that synced with the room and I could not find it. It was rather tortuous and frustrating and all of our group abandoned the audio tour early.
Without the audio tour, we just wandered and the castle began to recount memories of children, dogs, furniture, gardens, and mysterious tunnels. If you are in the Wrocław area or in Opole, this could be an easy ride for a visit. By the way, there are some nice cafes and restaurants that are within the complex right outside the palace gates. I look forward to Ksiąz continuing to grow through more renovations in the future. It still has a way to go to reclaim all of its former glory.
Expectations are very high when you arrive at that grand gate and walk into that marvelous courtyard. The excitement continues as you walk through the arch and up to the foot of the grand entrance staircase. Even without the gold train, the furniture, guided tour or audio tour, the Ksiąz is definitely worth a visit. As far as I have seen, there is really no other palace like it. We will let you know next year if we find something grander on the 2019 Castle Road Trip.
Princess Daisy’s Palm House – The Orangerie
The admission ticket to Ksiąz can include a visit to the Palm House which is little away from the castle complex in the town of Wałbrzych. If you are a gardener and are interested in succulents, orchids, bonsai and palm specimens, this is a place you will want to see. Hans Heinrich XV Hochberg had it built around 1911 for Mary Theresa Cornwallis-West, Princess Daisy, a lover of beautiful flowers and original plants. These greenhouses are the only such facility in Poland preserved in their original construction.
Apart from the Palm House and greenhouse, there is a Japanese garden, a rose garden, a fruit and vegetable garden, and an area for the cultivation of shrubs. The massive gates that welcome you to the palm house are beautiful. There are pools placed within the palm house where there is running water and the cutest families of turtles you have ever seen.
“Why Poland?” is a blog written and produced by Grace Nagiecka with photos by Gregory Spring. Kraków, Poland 2018.