Majestic ‘Heart of Warsaw’ returns with spectacular modernist Royal garden
When the newly completed lower garden of Warsaw’s Royal Castle officially opens to the public on Saturday, the streams of visitors will be able to enjoy a visual hors d’oeuvre in the form of a specially bred tulip called the Heart of Warsaw that features intense red petals symbolising the Polish crown and a yellow stamen that represents the Royal sceptre.
The name is well chosen. The Royal Castle in Warsaw has always been an important symbol of Poland’s national identity and the rebuilding after its wartime destruction is a testimony to the determination of the Polish people to raise the city from a literal pile of ashes.
The opening of the lower garden brings to an end not just the rebuilding of the Royal Castle but also the reconstruction of the whole Old Town. As castle director Professor Fałkowski said at a press conference on Wednesday: “The heart of Warsaw has now been given back to the city.”
With this gift, the city has gained a compact yet impressive modernist garden with Baroque elements at the foot of the Old Town embankment connecting it to the river.
Professor Fałkowski said: “The new lower garden draws the castle closer to the river and it has created a new space for people of Warsaw”.
The centre of gravity in the new garden is the sunken lawn, which stretches from the Kubicki Arcades at the back of the castle towards the rear gate, which is separated from the river by the busy riverside expressway.
The immaculate lawn is flanked by twelve modernist fountains and closed with a graceful, amphitheatre-style semi-circle of steps. Beyond the crunchy gravel paths lined with crisp white benches are beds with an abundance of forget-me-knots, pansies, marigolds, begonias and over 70,000 tulips.
On both sides of the symmetrical garden are hornbeam bosquets that form Baroque-style labyrinths. In fact, the bosquets on the northern side are an original feature from before the Second World War.
Castle landscape architect Monika Drąg told TFN: “The garden that we have now is unique. It is the completion of plans for a modernist and Baroque garden that were originally drawn up in the interwar period.
“It is not Baroque like in Wilanów, or landscape style like Łazienki. It is more modern and this is not typical.”
The garden’s modernism means that it does not have to fit into tight historical definitions. Monika Drąg said, “We can use a lot of flowers because the garden is modernist – we don’t have to worry that a certain flower was not used in the Baroque time. So, it gives us a lot of freedom.”
Work on the garden lasted approximately 18 months and cost around 23 million zlotys, 18 million of which came from EU funds and the remainder was provided by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
A large chunk of this cash was spent on less visually effective but necessary engineering work to install drainage and watering systems, electric cables for the impressive illumination and the underground workings of the fountains.
Although the garden represents the completion of the rebuilding of the castle and the Old Town, it is actually the first time that plans for an elaborate castle garden have reached their completion.
In fact, for most of the existence of the castle the area on which the lower garden now stands was actually under the Vistula river, and attempts to build a garden befitting of a royal residence have been continually scuppered by the vicissitudes of Polish history.
“The garden has a very unlucky history because each time something started it wasn’t finished,” Drąg lamented.
Back in the 18th century, Poland’s Saxon kings from the Vasa dynasty planned to establish gardens under the newly erected Baroque eastern wing of the castle that we can still see today.
However, when the last of this line of monarchs, August III, died they had not even managed to finish the interiors of the castle, let alone begin the work on the garden.
Enter the last king of Poland and cultural maven Stanisław August Poniatowski. As was typical for him, he had ambitious plans and it was under his watch that the area of the current garden was reclaimed from the Vistula river. However, he was forced to abdicate after the third partition of Poland before his designs for a showcase garden could begin.
Another attempt to create a garden took place in the 1820s, when the castle became the residence of the Russian Tsar as the ruler of the Polish Kingdom. The architect Jakub Kubicki prepared new designs for the upper and lower gardens, which were to be separated by indoor arcades that exist today and still bear his name.
Some work was done on the upper garden, but further plans were scuppered by the outbreak of the November Uprising in 1830. After the defeat of the uprising, the lower garden was used to station Cossak troops and plans to develop the garden were abandoned for the long night of the 19th century before Poland regained its independence after the First World War.
In this new period of freedom, hopes blossomed for a garden that would match the rank and importance of the Royal Castle. It was in this spirit of renewal that two architects Kazimierz Skórewicz and Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz came up with their modernist design with Baroque elements.
Work went ahead in the late 1930s and the hornbeam labyrinths on the northern side are a relic from that time, but the bombing of the castle in September 1939 and its purposeful destruction by the Germans in 1944 in an act of barbaric vengeance to punish Poles for daring to challenge their violent occupation meant that it has taken a further 75 years for the castle to finally receive its long overdue lower garden.
Small in size but big in significance, the garden will be open to the public each day without the need to buy a ticket, so the heart of Warsaw has very literally been given back to the people of the city.