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History of the Royal Castle in Warsaw

The history of this castle is strictly related to the history of Warsaw itself because constructing the first fort structure of that type coincided with constructing the city at the end of the 13th century. The first fortified structure included the city defensive walls and was made from wood. It was supported by earthworks. At that period it was the residence of Masovian Dukes and belonged to Conrad I and Bolesław II, who were brothers. In the 1340s Warsaw became an important centre of duke power and the castle became the residence not only for the Duke and his retinue but also a building where formal receptions and court proceedings took place. At that time the first Gothic building from stone was constructed at the premises of the fort – the Great Tower, following the design of the Teutonic Tower in Chełmno.

The first guest in the castle of the Mazovian dukes was Polish King Władysław II Jagiełło, who during his journey from Kazimierz (part of Cracow in the District and the Old Town) to Płock in the spring of 1426 had stayed in Warsaw for several days. Then he was just a guest of Duke Janusz I the Old (Masovian), whose lands had not belonged to the Polish Kingdom yet. However, when a hundred years passed, Warsaw went under the Jagiellonian dynasty's rule in 1526, since the last member of the Masovian House, young Duke Janusz III, died heirless. In 1529 King Sigismund I summoned the first Sejm in the castle to confirm his royal right to the Duchy of Masovia that was finally incorporated into the Polish Kingdom.

In that way a new period in the history of the castle began. The castle soon became not only the royal residence but also a place where sessions of the Sejm were held. The first bigger redevelopment of the residence of Masovian dukes took place under the reign of King Sigismund II Augustus in 1569, when many new buildings were constructed in the Royal Castle in Warsaw under the guidance of Giovanni Battista di Quadro (Polish Jan Baptysta Quadro), the Italian architect from Lugano. The King's death in 1572 stopped the extensive work related to modifying the castle. It was not continued until 1596, when King Sigismund III Vasa made Warsaw the capital. Long-term works related to developing and improving the building were carried out by famous Italian architects: Paolo de la Corte, Giovanni Trevano, Matteo Castello and others. Luxury royal rooms, official halls, halls for state receptions, the Throne Room, the Chamber for Sejm's sessions and many other rooms were richly ornamented with moulding, gilts, marble parts and decorated plafonds.

During the reign of Władysław IV between 1630 and 1640, the Royal Castle in Warsaw was in its golden period; the King was a great art enthusiast. Enchanted with Italian opera, he decided to change that building into a centre of theatrical life in Poland. In 1637 a theatre designed in the Baroque style was built in the south wing of the castle. Unfortunately, the magnificence of that fort was significantly damaged during the Swedish Deluge (1655-56) and the Northern War, when the aggressors, despite the destruction they had made, took valuable art collections, historical tapestries, furniture from the castle and a collection of books from the royal library. Several Polish monarchs tried to rebuild this wonderful historical building, however, the biggest progress was made by Stanisław August Poniatowski, the last Polish monarch. Under his reign there were several redevelopments, a new wing in the Neoclassical style, the Royal Library, the Knights’ Hall, the Marble Room and the Royal Chambers were added. When the King abdicated and the partition of Poland between Prussia and Russia took place, the Royal Castle lost its previous splendour. In the 19th century its deserted walls housed different government offices and offices for rent as well.

When Poland gained its independence, the castle was restored in 1918, and next it became the residence of Ignacy Mościcki, president of Poland, and the office for directors of the National Art Collection. At the beginning of the Second World War the walls of the Royal Castle were damaged during bombing Warsaw but co-workers of the National Museum led by prof. Stanisław Lorentz, risking their own lives, managed to save some valuable exhibit items and elements of decor of the castle. In 1944 Nazi forces destroyed Poland's capital, turning great and precious historical buildings into ruins. Ten thousand explosives were used to blow up the Royal Castle in Warsaw. When detonated, there was nothing left – not even a stone.

There had been nothing there for a long time so authorities planned to construct government buildings in that place. Fortunately, in 1971 the Sejm finally quit this plan and decided to rebuild the Royal Castle. The funds for rebuilding the building were taken from state money and all kinds of donations until 1980. In 1984 a part of its restored rooms was open to public, however, it took many years to rebuild the fort, that included not only the complex of the castle's buildings but also the gardens adjacent to it and the garden terrace well-known as the Kubicki Arcades.