Race to save 18th century Polish palace stalls after mysterious Czech businessman claims it is his!
For years left to rot, hopes that a stunning palace in the Opole region would regain its former splendour have been put on hold after legal issues were raised concerning its recent purchase.
Regarded as one of the area’s finest architectural jewels, the palace in Kopice began life in the 18th century when the architect Hans Rudolph designed a classicist mansion to be built on the ancient seat of the van Borsnitz clan.
A century later, the property was purchased by Count Hans Ulrich Schaffgotsch for his seventeen-year-old wife Joanna Gryzik von Schomberg-Godulla. In 1863, the couple commissioned Karol Lüdecke to oversee its complete reconstruction.
Famed primarily for his ecclesiastical architecture, not to mention landmarks such as Wroclaw’s New Stock Exchange, Lüdecke set about his task with gusto.
Implemented in various phases, the first and most major stage – conducted between 1863 and 1865 – saw the main body take shape in a show-stealing Neo Gothic fashion.
This was embellished yet further in 1873 when a pointy northern tower was added, and again in 1897 when a chapel and belfry were constructed at the other end.
Appearing as if from the pages of a fairy tale, the fantastical setting was befitting of the count’s teenage bride. Known as the Silesian Cinderella due to her modest upbringing (it was said that she was born in a peasant’s hut), various twists of fate saw Joanna elevated to a life of immense wealth. Regarded as “a star of the aristocratic salons”, she became famed for both her beauty and benevolence.
With this in mind, the palace provided a glorious, Disney-style backdrop for the charitable socialite.
Of its many standout features, it contained a spectacular rib-vaulted chapel, hand-carved furnishings and priceless works of art. Equally impressive was its sprawling 60-hectare garden.
Filled with 300 sculptures by Carl Kern, other noteworthy elements included a victory column, ten ponds, a ‘temple of Diana’, and a palm house boasting tropical trees that reached 17-metres in height.
However, the end of the war brought with it challenges. Systematically ransacked for hidden treasure by the Red Army, locals and fleeing refugees, not even the family tombs were judged sacred.
Though often wrongly attributed to drunken Soviet soldiers, it’s said that the mummified corpses of Joanna and Ulrich were pulled from their tombs before being placed next to a nearby inn as a sick-minded prank.
Despite these ignominies, the palace’s core survived. Utilized to serve as a Red Army hospital, and then later as a military field headquarters, the peacetime that followed saw it assume new functions. Used temporarily for scout camps and, even, New Year’s Eve balls for nearby residents, from 1950 to 1956 it was partially used as a grain warehouse by the local state farm.
Then, disaster struck. On October 7th, 1956, a fire tore through the palace just days before an inspection was due to take place investigating alleged illegal trade that was being conducted by the farm’s employees.
Started in four different places, firefighters battling the blaze turned up to the scene to find the nearest pond had been purposefully drained of water so as to hamper their efforts.
With just “a muddy puddle” to aid their attempts, fire crews battled gallantly for 24-hours to rescue the palace. Unfortunately, their actions were in vain and all that was left was a smoking set of skeletal ruins.
Though numerous theories have since been put forward (with potential culprits even including the palace’s heir), the mystery surrounding the fire remains a celebrated whodunnit.
Now, another mystery has enveloped the palace, that being as to whom it actually belongs to.
Following Poland’s political transition, hope glimmered when a Kraków businessman promised to restore it as a hotel touting a golf course and private airport. Swiftly, though, this was revealed to be a pipedream with no basis in reality.
With the palace’s grounds by then resembling little more than a garbage dump, hopes were again raised anew in 2008 when a Chorzów-based firm purchased the palace for a reputed PLN 2 million and pledged to pump PLN 150 million into its thorough renovation.
Again, this proved a hollow promise. Decaying all the while, it wasn’t until 2017 another buyer was found, this time a Luxembourg investment fund that promised to transform the palace’s shell into a Museum of Polish-German Reconciliation.
Once more, nothing happened and as of today the palace finds itself embroiled in a ludicrous ownership dispute.
Seemingly sold in February to a local entrepreneur who had presented a well-crafted plan for its revival, the last few days have seen a media-shy Czech businessman enter the fray claiming that it was actually he who held the title to the property after acquiring it in December from the Luxembourg fund.
Mired in complex legal arguments, the fate of the palace is now likely only to be resolved through a long-winded court battle. Met with dismay by the palace’s fans, the latest development has left many wondering if the court’s decision might come too late to save this remarkable jewel from complete collapse.