Best preserved ‘Silver Age’ palace opens its doors after PLN 21 million renovation
The best preserved early Baroque palace in Poland, and one of the best in Europe, has opened fully to the public this week after an extensive five-year restoration project.
The Bishops' Palace in Kielce, which was built as a home for the wealthy Kraków bishops, was constructed in the early 17th century, a time when Poland had reached its largest geographical size and had recently occupied Moscow.
With its mix of Italian and Polish styles, it reflects the richness and grandeur of the time of the Vasa dynasty kings, which is known as Poland’s Silver Age.
The palace exteriors, gardens and interiors have been gradually opened to the public during the refurb project, but now, with the opening of the final rooms, the full splendour of the palace complex can be fully appreciated.
“The Kraków Bishops' Palace in Kielce is a gem of our architecture from the Vasa period. There is no other palace of this stature in the country, and above all it is in such good condition. It is 90 percent original," said palace museum director Robert Kotowski.
The project worth more than PLN 21 million began in May 2017 and was financed from EU and Polish government funds.
The first stage was to modernise the galleries of Polish and European art in the northern wing, which now house over 300 paintings and 600 other precious objects.
Further stages saw the reconstruction of the façade with its original colours and the restoration of stone decorations.
According to the museum director, the most spectacular effect of the project was the return last year to the front of the palace of several statues of Swedish and Russian deputies, destroyed by the Russians as a punishment after the January Uprising in 1863.
The original, almost 2.5-metre high sandstone sculptures represent Moscow and Swedish deputies, with whom the Bishop of Krakow and Great Crown Chancellor, Jakub Zadzik, the founder of the palace, negotiated a peace deal.
“They give the façade character and dignity and are characteristic for this type of building and the epoch in which it was created,” Kotowski said.
Inside the palace, two important tapestries and prize exhibits of the museum have been renovated: the Battle of the Granik and the Triumph of Athena.
A highlight is the former bishops’ dining hall, where the portraits of 35 bishops painted in the 1640s adorn three walls.
The palace is situated on Castle Hill, right in the centre of Kielce, the capital of the Świętokrzyskie province, about 130 kilometers from Kraków.
In the 12th century, the hill and surrounding land was acquired by the Kraków bishops, a powerful church group that goes back to the origins of Poland.
Much later, in the 17th century, the then bishop Jan Zadzik, who was also Great Crown Chancellor, one of the highest offices in the kingdom, decided to build a palace that matched his wealth and ambition.
Built on a square plan with four corner towers, the architecture and decoration feature strong Italian influences.
The palace was most probably designed by Tomas Poncino or Giovanni Trevano and the paintings in the interiors are the work of royal court artist Tomas Dolabella.
Two wings were added in the first half of the 18th century, and the palace continued as a residence for the Kraków bishops until 1789. In that year, bishops’ properties were nationalised by the Great Sejm, which also passed the May 3rd Constitution.
It has survived as it was then until today largely thanks to the fact that various offices were housed in it, including Poland’s first technical university, the Mining Academy, and later the Kielce province authorities.
It was converted into a museum in 1971 and is now part of the National Museum’s branch in Kielce.
The palace is the best preserved example of architecture from what historians call Poland’s Silver Age in the first half of the 17th century.
After the Golden Age under the Jagiellonians in the fifteen hundreds, Poland entered the new century in a strong position.
The kingdom reached its largest geographical extent in 1619 at the end of the Polish-Russian war of 1609-1618 when Poland occupied Moscow for a short period and gained the lands of Smolensk, Chernihiv and Sverdlovsk.
The new territories meant that Poland achieved an area of about 1,000,000 square kilometres km², extending from Tartu, now in Estonia, in the north, to the Crimean Khanate in the south, and Poznan in the west to Smolensk in the east.
The official opening of the palace after its restoration took place on Tuesday this week.
Visitors will be able to enjoy the interiors on Saturday and Sunday free of charge.