Around Lazienki Park
The area around Lazienki Park in Warsaw includes parks, palaces and other historic buildings, museums and government departments. Extending south from Three Crosses (Trzech Krzyzy) Square, the main thoroughfare is Ujazdowskie Avenue, along which the former residences of Polish aristocrats and the city's wealthy merchant families are. In addition to several government departments, the two chambers of the Polish Parliament occupy a large complex on the adjacent Wiejska Street. At the far end of Ujazdowskie Avenue is Belwedere Palace, untill 1994 the residency of Poland's president.
A number of foreign legations are also on this avenue. However, Lazienki Park is the most popular attraction. This romantic, landscaped park includes the Palace on the Water, together with various other palaces, pavilions, an amphitheater and two orangery's. Perhaps the most known and beloved corner of the park is the Chopin garden, with its towering bronze Chopin statue depicting the composer seated under a willow tree. The willow's branches stretch over his head like the fingers of a pianist over piano keys. For fifty years now, free Chopin concerts have been held in the park every weekend during the summer months, one of Warsaw's most popular cultural attractions.
Polish Military Museum
Established by the statesman and military leader Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, the Polish Military Museum (Muzeum Wojska Polskiego) opened in 1920. The museum has occupied its present site since 1933, and is Warsaw's second largest museum. The collection fascinatingly manages to illustrate the history and development of Polish weapons, firearms and amour over the last thousand years, particularly from the early Middle Ages to the 18th century. This includes full tournament armor and an extremely rare gilded helmet, which belonged to a Polish chieftain in the early Christian era (Poland became a Christian country in 966).
The hussars armor collection is unique in Europe, and there is also a fine life-size mounted figure of a hussar on display. During the 17th century, Polish hussars were widely acknowledged as being he finest heavy cavalry in Europe, and their greatest victory was at Vienna in 1683, when their charge mercilessly broke the mighty Turkish army. During that battle, a splendid Turkish officer's tent was part of the booty taken by the hussars. Weapons, tanks and many airplanes from World War II can also be seen in the museum's park.
Modern Art Center Warsaw
Ujazdowski Castle, which now houses the Modern Arts Center (Centrum Sztuki Wspolczesnej), was built at the beginning of the 17th century for King Zygmunt III Waza and his son Wladyslaw IV. The castle featured a courtyard, four towers and richly decorated interiors. Its splendor was not long-lived, as Swedish soldiers looted the castle during the invasion of 1655. Between 1809 and 1944, it functioned as a military hospital. Burnt out after the war, the ruins were detonated by the Communists in 1953. The castle was rebuilt in the 1970's and houses a major collection of works by many of the greatest 20th-century artists. The Qchnia Artystycana restaurant is also here, and provides views over the Royal Canal from its windows.
Earth Sciences Museum Warsaw
The collection of the Earth Sciences Museum (Muzeum Ziemi) comprises some 150,000 exhibits, including rocks, precious stones and fossils, while the amber collection is one of the world's finest. Inside there is on display a marble slab which is stained with the blood of a soldier who died during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. The museum occupies two buildings on the crest of an escarpment which descends towards the River Vistula, on the site of the former Na Gorze ("On the Hill") Park. The park is a design of Szymon Bogumil Zug from the 18th century. In 1935, Polish architect Bohdan Priewski built his own Modernist villa on the site. He later bequeathed the villa to the museum. Priewski's work also includes the foyer at the grand Theater.
Cabinet Office Warsaw
The Polish cabinet holds its regular meetings in the imposing Cabinet Office (Urzad Rady Ministrow), situated on Ujazdowskie Avenue. The building, constructed in 1900, by a design by architects Wiktor Junosza Piotrowski and Henryk Gay, served originally as the barracks for the Suvorov Cadet School.
The Infantry Officers' School was also housed here up until 1926, after which the building became the headquarters of the Inspector General of the Polish Armed Forces. During the interwar years the Military Library and the Rapperswil Museum collection used one wing.
A fire destroyed both the library and the museum collection in 1939, caused by a Nazi bombardment. Between 1984 and 1990, the Communist Party's Academy of Social Sciences occupied a part of the building, which was commonly called "The First of May Academy".
These days the Cabinet Office is often the scene of anti-government demonstrations. Protesting miners have been known to spread heaps of coal outside the main entrance. Similarly, farmers have followed the miners' example by dumping, among other things, mounds of potatoes.
Ministry of Education
The design of the building of the Ministry of Education (Ministerstwo Edukacji Narodowej), constructed between in 1925 and 1930, is notable for the striking contrast between its façade and the interiors. The modernist façade, with its impressive Neo-Classical columns, is a design by the architect Zdzislaw Maczenski. Meanwhile, Wojciech Jastrzebowski completed the Art Deco interiors. The monumental proportions of this building must have pleased the Nazis, who used it as the Gestapo headquarters.
Poland's parliamentary tradition started in the 15th century. The seat of the Polish Parliament (Sjem) moved from Kraków to Warsaw in 1569. The partition of Poland at the end of the 18th century interrupted the parliamentary process, which was only restored when Poland regained independence after World War I in 1918. As there was no suitable building available at that time, parliamentary sessions for both chambers were held in the rooms of a former ladies finishing school. These first rooms were then redeveloped and extended. Furthermore, there is a semi-circular hall hosing the Lower Chamber, built in 1928, designed by the architect Kazimierz Skorewicz. Jan Szczepkowski decorated this hall with Art Deco bas-reliefs. Among the various elements represented in these bas-reliefs are science, justice, commerce, the air force and the merchant navy. After World War II, more parliamentary buildings were constructed, designed in the then prevalent style of Socialist Realism. Following the democratic elections in 1989 (Poland's first since 1939), the Senate was reinstated. In 1990 a monument to the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) was unveiled outside.
Belweder Palace Warsaw near Lazienki Park
Although the Belweder Palace (Palac Belweder) dates from the 17th century, it acquired a certain notoriety in 1818, when it became the residence of Warsaw's Russian viceroy, Grand Duke Constantine (the loathed brother of Tsar Alexander I). The palace was refurbished and extended before the grand duke and his wife (a Polish aristocrat) took up residence, with the grounds also laid out to offer a landscaped park. Several romantic pavilions in Greek, Egyptian and Gothic styles were set around a pool and canals. These grounds are now part of Lazienki Park. On 29 November 1830, a first action of the November Insurrection saw a detachment of cadet officers, together with a number of students, attacking Belweder Palace. However, the grand duke managed to escape. Since 1918, the state owns the palace. Marshal Jozef Pilsudski occupied it from 1926 to 1935. It was then the official residence of Poland's president from 1945 to 1952, and again from 1989 to 1994. The beautiful Neo-Classical palace is best seen from the foot of the escarpment.
National Museum Warsaw near Lazienki Park
Originally established in 1862 as the Fine Art Museum, it became the National Museum (Muzeum Narodowe) in 1916. Tadeusz Tolwinski designed the museum's present Modernist building. The collections include an archeology department, medieval art, and Polish paintings. The Military Museum (see further below) is also part of the National Museum. The museum's vast collection started in 1862 with a first purchase of 36 paintings. Subsequent acquisitions have since turned the museum into one of the city's finest. Despite losses suffered during World War II the wide-ranging collection spans several centuries, from ancient artifacts and medieval painting to modern works. It includes pre- and post-20th-century Polish art and archaeological finds from Faras in present-day Sudan. Due to limited space, some collections are only on display as part of special exhibitions.
This gallery exhibits the discoveries of Polish archaeologists working in Egypt, Sudan, Cyprus and the Crimea. In the Egyptian rooms, there are displays of mummies, sarcophagi and papyri. Among the papyri The Book of the Dead from the New Kingdom period of ancient Egyptian history, is particularly interesting. Ancient Greece represents itself by pottery from various periods. There are also later Roman copies of ancient Greek sculptures. The sections devoted to Roman and Etruscan art are strong in statues, urns and bronze artefacts.
Faras Archaeological Collection
The Faras Collection was brought together in 1972, and consists of items discovered by Polish archaeologists working in Nubia (a part of present-day Sudan) during the early 1960's. Most of the finds originate from the cathedral of Faras, which was the seat of the Nubian bishops between the 7th and 14th centuries AD. The collection includes a large number of frescoes and architectural fragments, ranging from details of carvings to entire columns and capitals. The earliest frescoes date from the 8th century, and include depictions of St Peter and St Paul in majestic poses, as well as of St Anna.
Gothic paintings and sculpture forms the main focus of the medieval gallery. Many of the religious artefacts are from Polish churches which no longer exist. The most important of these are altar pieces, such as St Barbara's altar dating from 1447, and one taken from Grudziądz, created in about 1380, which is decorated with scenes from the lives of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. From the Church of St Elizabeth (Św. Elżbieta) in Wrocław comes a sculpted altarpiece representing the Annunciation, thought to have been created in about 1480. A 16th-century triptych from Pławno illustrates the legend of St Stanislaw, believed to have been painted by the artist Hans Süss of Kulmbach. A splendid Pietà from Lubiąż dates from about 1370, and the so-called "Beautiful Madonna" from Wrocław dates from 1410, Also from Wrocław, there is a retable - an ornamental altar screen used for a religious painting or sculpture. Jacob Beinhart carved the one on display in about 1400. It is decorated with a bas-relief of St Luke painting the Virgin Mary.