TFN’s ALEX WEBBER likes castles. But what does he make of the 'new wave' palaces springing up across the country?
I like palaces, I like castles, but most of all it’s the bizarre that I love.
It’s handy, therefore, that I live in Poland. Rich in unexpected weirdness, it’s a country that never ceases to surprise me – and can there be anything more surprising than the mind-boggling castles and palaces that have been built from scratch in the last few decades?
Katarzynin could have been born to divide opinion. According to its fans, it’s a palace straight from the dreams of Disney. “Like something from Cinderella,” say some.
Others have been less kind, in term labelling it “Gargamel’s House”, “Shrek’s Castle”, and “a monument to megalomania”.
And then there’s the smattering of people who have drawn a likeness to Château de Chambord in the Loire.
Earmarked to serve as a four-star hotel, construction began in 2016 only to effectively cease in 2018.
Having already cost the investor PLN 16.5 million, updates have been scarce ever since builders downed tools. Despite occasional rumours concerning the resumption of work, these have been treated with little credibility.
Currently unfinished and empty, plans had imagined a 52-room hotel complete with tennis courts, a swimming pool, conference rooms and a pair of two-level ballrooms built with weddings in mind.
Set in Central Poland, 12 km from Kościan, the palace at Katarzynin has since become one of the great white elephants of Poland and all the more striking for its incongruous location perched next to a tiny village of less than 250 habitants.
Of all of Poland’s new wave of castle, none are more notorious than Stobnica. Touted by some as a symbol of the country’s inability to protect its own environment, the project has scandalized activists after taking root in the protected Natura 2000 conservation area.
“All we need now is a shopping mall in the forests of Białowieża and a Biedronka on the Kasprowy Ridge,” blasted internet users.
A quite gargantuan creation, Stobnica is reputedly the brainchild of a businessman identified as Paweł N. (previously, one rumour claimed that Poland’s richest man, Jan Kulczyk, had faked his own death to live in Stobnica).
With his attempts to buy his own castle thwarted, the Paweł N. opted to build his own. Located on a manmade island in the Noteć Forest, the castle has drawn gasps of horror from all sections of Polish society.
Comparable in size to the castle in Malbork, and already reputed to have cost PLN 400 million, the project has been slammed for the negative impact it has had on wildlife.
Others have criticized its gauche aesthetics, not least the fifty-metre that has been built to rise over the previously pristine woodland.
Designed by architect Waldemar Szeszuła to act as a self-contained historic town, Stobnica will ultimately be used – according to most sources – play host to just under 50 kuxury apartments.
Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen. For years the castle’s fate has been subject to court battles, reversed decisions, appeals and even government interference, so what happens next is anyone’s guess.
The Royal Castle Poznań
There have been times when Poznań’s Royal Castle has faced accusations of being kitschy and nouveau riche – but though this point is valid, it’s a flinty heart that does not feel a childlike joy when viewing it from afar.
Built between 2010 and 2016, the castle was constructed on the site of the 13th century fortification that once loomed over the town.
Reportedly once the largest castle in the Polish Kingdom, it was here that Ludgarda, wife of Przemysł II, was strangled to death in 1283.
Frustrated that his wife could not bear him a son, the crime was said to have been commissioned by Przemysł and came to be regarded as one of the big whodunnit’s of the era.
To this day, Ludgarda is said to stalk around these parts at night, occasionally followed by a weeping Black Knight.
Burned down in 1536 during a great fire that swept the city, it was rebuilt in Renaissance style only to again be levelled – this time when the city was sacked in 1704 and 1716.
Subsequently rebuilt this century, the project has faced no shortage of flak – not because of the intention, but more the execution itself.
With no real evidence surviving to show what the Royal Castle once actually looked like, what was constructed proved, in essence, to be a work of fiction with zero historic value or relevance.
Worse, a tight budget meant that building materials were noticeably inauthentic – rather than using hand-formed, wood-moulded bricks, workers instead found themselves dealing with the kind of hollow, modern bricks used on an out-of-town retail estate.
Unsurprisingly, negative feedback was swift, with one architectural critic going so far as to deem the castle “an architectural cancer”.
Still, this is perhaps a little unfair and as awkward as it may look, there can be no doubting that it lends a unique and curious twist to the city’s skyline.
Recognized in December by the Polish Tourism Organization as one of the country’s top attractions, Tykocin packs a big punch for its modest size. A town of 2,000 people, most visit for its sleepy but attractive Rynek and rich Jewish heritage, but its enchantments do not end there and include a hulking castle standing on the outskirts.
If on first sight its looks unscratched and brand new then that’s because it is. Officially inaugurated 2011, what you see was constructed only after a local businessman named Jacek Nazarko embarked on a personal crusade to resurrect history.
Formerly the site of a 15th century fortification built for a Lithuanian nobleman, the original castle enjoyed a prominent role in history: King Zygmunt, for example, appreciated the place so much that he kept his library here (later, in death, his body was also stored in the basement for over a year before being buried).
The bad times, however, were around the corner and the castle was hit by a series of sieges, fires, floods and calamities. When WWI kicked-off, what little remained was demolished by the Germans and carted away to pave roads.
There the story should have ended. Instead, several decades later Nazarko entered the picture. Armed with sketches and plans that had been discovered in a St. Petersburg vault, his construction team laid the cornerstone in 2002.
Nazarko himself admits that his passion project has not been plain sailing: “there were times that I regretted getting involved,” he says. “I took out loans and sold possessions: a holiday home in Krynica, a boat, a vintage car – but never did I think that it wouldn’t be finished.”
Incorporating a hotel, restaurant, observation point and exhibition (and, even, the largest tiled stove in Poland!), architects have been keen to include original items discovered during the excavation process, and whilst the ‘sense of newness’ can’t be denied, the reconstruction has been convincing enough to fool the resident ghost.
Seemingly indifferent to the newness of her surrounds, some guests have reported seeing the ghostly form of Queen Barbara Radziwiłł – in fact, one visitor is said to have been so startled upon seeing her in his bathroom that he ran naked and screaming into the corridor.
Seemingly not a year passes without some plonker plunging down a shaft or falling through the roof here: a favourite destination for urban explorers, the dangers of Łapalice though are outweighed by its copious charms.
Presenting itself in a feast of unfinished turrets and towers, Łapalice began life in 1984 when a Gdańsk sculptor by the name of Piotr Kazimierczak was granted a permit to build a residence and art studio.
What he hadn’t made clear, was the sheer scope of his fantastical vision.
Nestled in woodland forty kilometres from Gdańsk, what sprung up spanned an area of 6,000 sq/m and wasn’t so much a studio as an outlandish castle. Steeped in allegorical meaning, its 352 windows represented the days of the year and the 52 rooms the number of weeks.
The dozen towers, meanwhile, were intended as a nod to both the twelve apostles and the number of months.
As grand as the vision was, it was never fully realized. Grinding to a halt in 1991, construction has not resumed since and in 2006 authorities issued a demolition order.
Still, it remains standing, and as the years tick by the legends surrounding Łapalice have grown only stronger. Some claim that Michael Jackson was once interested in transforming it into a theme park, whilst others have speculated that it was built as a secret meeting point for Freemasons.
More recently, it was announced that an international group of Harry Potter fans were crowdfunding a bid to purchase the structure and convert it into Hogwarts-style attraction; unfortunately, the campaign soon fizzled out, though the castle did enjoy 15-minutes of fame when it was used as a backdrop in the Netflix adaptation of The Witcher.
Still, this remarkable phantom could yet see more glory in the future. If rumours are to be believed, plans are afoot to rescue the castle and convert it into a hotel.