Royal Castle & Castle Square - Warsaw
Warsaw's landmark and a meeting point.
Royal Castle & Castle Square is Best For
Directions to Royal Castle & Castle Square
In 1596, the Polish capital moved from Krakow to Warsaw, recognizing the younger city's central location between the far-reaching points of the rapidly expanding Commonwealth. The local castle, once the possession of the Dukes of Mazovia, was renovated in royal style, and Warsaw was transformed from a growing centre of trade to the centre of Renaissance Europe's largest empire.
The man responsible for the move can be seen standing high on a column in the middle of the castle square. This is Zygmunt III Waza, whose reign marks both the apex of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the beginning of its decline. The column was commissioned by his son, Wladyslaw IV, in 1644. The whole structure is 22 metres tall, making it the highest secular monument in Warsaw. His sword and cross represent his bravery in fighting evil. If his sword falls, according to legend, the city faces disaster - a legend which came true in 1944, when the column was destroyed. Fragments of the original column can still be seen by the castle walls.
The original castle was built in the thirteenth century, but expanded many times until it took on its current shape with its grand central courtyard. The interior decorations on display mostly date from the 18th century, although several treasures of the royal art collection were taken to Russia during the 19th century Russian occupation and never returned. The castle was completely destroyed after the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, and the decision to rebuild this particular part of Warsaw history was only undertaken by communist authorities in 1971.
A large part of the castle is open to visitors, including state and private rooms once inhabited by kings and their court. The décor of these grand state rooms is exquisite, heavily gilded and intricately designed. In the King's Apartments you can see paintings by Bernardo Bellotto, the court painter to Poland's last king, Stanislaw August Poniatowski. His depictions of Warsaw were vital in the post-war reconstruction of the city. Among other treasures of the art collection are two Rembrandt paintings.
While the castle's front façade and clock tower, dominating the castle square and the entrance to the Old Town, is one of the loveliest views in Warsaw, it's well worth viewing the structure from the back. Descending the grand steps at the side of the castle, you'll reach the level of the riverbank, and gaze across a neatly-clipped lawn and maze of green hedges to the recently renovated, elegant Kubicki Arcades and riverside castle façade. The arcades are original, having remained undamaged after the war. They were once used for stables, barracks and later garages, and now house an archeological exhibition.
The also newly-renovated Palac Pod Blacha (the Copper-Roof Palace), lower down on the riverbank escarpment from the main body of the castle, was connected to the Royal Castle by the last king of Poland in the late 18th century, and given as a gift to his nephew, Jozef Poniatowski, a hero of the 1794 Kosciuszko Uprising and later a marshal to Napoleon. The palace's various interesting collections, as well as oriental cultural events, are open to the public.