Today it’s hard to imagine the epicenter of Warsaw without the Theatre Square.

Until the time of the Swedish Deluge in Poland, however, the grounds of the present square were home to the saltworks and then Marywil, a complex of buildings whose originator was Maria Kazimiera the wife of notable Polish king Jan III Sobieski. Both royal apartments and market halls were located there. The area was nobility’s designated stomping ground.

Owing to this fact it can be said Mikołaj Daniłowicz, the Royal Treasurer of the Great Kingdom and one of the richest Polish magnates of the period, acted on uncanny intuition when he decided to build his offices next door to the Marywil complex. The great plot of land he bought consisted of the area that is now the Theatre Square, Bielańska and Senatorska street and the gardens by Miodowa street. It can almost be hard to believe that in the first quarter of the seventeenth century this whole perimeter was virtually entirely empty. These days the area is densely populated with buildings and among other things well known in Warsaw for the fact that this is where Daniłowicz’s estate stands. Now called The Kings’ House (Dom pod Królami) the manor is the home to ZAiKS’ main headquarters since 1962.

Daniłowicz had great wealth and impetus at his disposal. We can imagine what the building and its surroundings looked like from Konrad Zawadzki’s book on the Załuski Library (the predecessor of ZAiKS’ headquarters). The library, a two-story building, was adorned with immaculate stone figures and baluster of pillars which encircled the whole roof. The southwest corner stairwell was covered with a dome, which partially remains. The building was based on a rectangular plan. Caskets of gold and silver as well as various valuables were stored in the vaulted cellars of the building. Around all of this stretched a vast Italian garden with a gazebo and a plant conservatory dedicated to the growing of fig trees.

Daniłowicz had great wealth and impetus at his disposal. We can imagine what the building and its surroundings looked like from Konrad Zawadzki’s book on the Załuski Library (the predecessor of ZAiKS’ headquarters). The library, a two-story building, was adorned with immaculate stone figures and baluster of pillars which encircled the whole roof. The southwest corner stairwell was covered with a dome, which partially remains. The building was based on a rectangular plan. Caskets of gold and silver as well as various valuables were stored in the vaulted cellars of the building. Around all of this stretched a vast Italian garden with a gazebo and a plant conservatory dedicated to the growing of fig trees.

Daniłowicz was not able to enjoy his paradise for very long; he died in the summer of 1624. His eldest son who inherited the estate died, childless, and left no direct descendants after him. The Opaliński family, who inherited The Kings’ House, gave it to “the fathers of provincial Polish Jesuits.” The estate, throughout the course of Swedish Deluge had been utterly destroyed, was now essentially a dilapidated wreck. Municipal records of the time describe the damage, “No notable presence of any fences or buildings… only the remnants of a brick court and a few underground vaults, filled with manure and rubble, stand. The court no longer even has a roof… the second and third floors of the building [are] visible out in the open.”

The Jesuits had decided to open a convent house in the manor for visitors coming from the provinces alas their efforts were gravely endangered by the illegal squatting of building plots – a common occurrence in Warsaw at the time. The remains of the estate situated on a large part of the surrounding area became occupied by the canon Szapałaski and his brother. Endless legal proceedings resulted in the Jesuit convent house being erected in a nearby area and left the estate standing in a state of unceasing ruin.

Under these circumstances all of a sudden a new owner came about – a one Andrzej Stanisław Kostka Załuski, the Grand Chancellor of the Crown and Bishop of Płock. His brother Józef Andrzej Załuski was a widely well-known erudite, frequenter of European salons and the largest bibliophile in the family. An avid collector of books since he was fifteen, Józef Andrzej Załuski devoted his entire income to his passion of book collecting. It comes off as no surprise, therefore, that together the Załuski brothers decided to create a library in the purchased by them building. The brothers, incidentally, found themselves the owners of the nearby aforementioned royal buildings located in the nearby area. Thus the reconstruction of derelict Daniłowicz residence began in 1740.

Andrzej Załuski was bestowed with responsibility of the building’s reconstruction by the Mellan brothers of Italy. The description of the proposed renovation, which he presented to his brother, survives to this very day. The book collection largely predetermined the proposal. The top floors would house books in Latin while the lower floors would be home to both Polish and foreign books. The smaller rooms were to contain manuscripts, letters, documents, graphics and coins. At this time the Załuski collection already had over 200,000 titles at its disposal.

Significantly during renovation the bishop priest was able to purchase a series of sculptural bas-reliefs. Today these reliefs, depicting busts of Polish kings, are a hallmark of the building. What’s more the facade of building was decorated with a figure of a knight holding a shield and lance, and numerous statues. In the largest hall one could admire the busts and medallions of scholars as well both Polish and foreign writers representing all different various fields of science and art.

The library’s collections could be accessed by researchers, scholars, lecturers and members of the clergy.  Unfortunately, despite this, library was subject to frequent thefts. The plunders multiplied to such an extent that the brothers were forced to ask Pope Benedict XIV to put a curse on every thief. The Pope cast the curse, but regardless 3,000 volumes were stolen from the library until 1761. Books were a priceless commodity. Nonetheless, the Załuski brothers persevered. Undeterred by the hit their collections took during these robberies, they sought out to appoint a research center to bring scholars and writers together. They initiated an expansion of the building; two side wings were added, closing off the courtyard, and a planetarium was built on the roof.

The death of the elder Załuski dampered these plans, putting them to an untimely end. Józef Andrzej Załuski in light of the library’s growing debt decided to hand over the building over to the Jesuits who committed to watching over its collections. However the glory days of the convent were a thing of the past, and the convent decided to save itself financially by secretly selling many priceless volumes from the collection. The library’s founder managing to write his will before his death bestowed the entire estate and collection to the state Commonwealth.

On the Polish throne sat Stanisław August Poniatowski. The School of Oriental Languages, The National Educational Commission and The Society for Elementary Books came out of his embarked initiative. The renovation of the Załuski Library was carried out without any further delays. Zbigniew Bobrowski, the author of Public Buildings in Poland During The Enlightenment penned the following opinion: “The disparity between the splendor of the collections and the current status of the building was absolutely glaring. The large number of small rooms made the systemization of the collection incredibly hard to accomplish. In addition, the building itself was tight and very dark. When the Commission received the library, its technical condition required immediate refurbishment.”

Regrettably the modernization plan for the building by the best architects of the day was never implemented. Lack of internal cohesion within the country lead to a weakened Poland which made it vulnerable to foreign invaders. Following the failure of Kościuszko Uprising in 1794, Catherine the Great ordered the resources of the library to be taken to St. Petersburg. There, the collections of the Załuski Library formed the foundations of Empress’s The Imperial Public Library, presently The National Library of Russia.

Devastated by Russian soldiers during the seizure of the collection, the building succumbed to a fire in 1807 and turned into dust. The library was rebuilt by the Nowakowski brothers in 1821. They removed the turret from the roof, added additional floors, modified the building’s elevation and moved the placement of the windows. Living quarters were arranged in the the interior. The palace became a building with apartments available for rent; it served this function until World War II.

A sensational discovery was made during the building’s renovation. Stone busts of Polish princes and kings were excavated from the ground, where they had been hidden from fearful destruction. The busts were joined by a complementary series of figures depicting kings all the way up to the last Polish king Stanisław August Poniatowski. The figures adorned the niches of the two closing annexes which closed the courtyard perimeter. When the reconstruction was finalized in 1899, the busts were elevated and placed on the front walls of the building. A statue of Virgin Mary looked over them. The building, without any major changes, survived the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the entirety of the occupation, and the Warsaw Uprising. It wasn’t until the systematic obliteration of the Polish city by commands of the Vernichtungskommando in November 1944 that the building caught fire.

The property remained in ruins until 1958 when, thanks to ZAiKS’ main director Ryszard Rokicki’s efforts, city authorities handed over the building to ZAiKS giving the organization permission for its renovation. By defining a new purpose for the building, a new set of structural plans was drawn up – but was it really new?

On the same stairway the Załuski brothers walked on, dreaming of creating a library comparable to the Library of Alexandria, today both young and experienced, well-known creators tread. They are writers, poets, composers, songwriters, screenwriters and choreographers. The King’s House is still a library and archive, a center for events, an integral and key place for Polish culture. In this way, it can be said that not much has changed since the times of the Enlightenment. The dream lives on.

 

author: MM/GS
Translation: Julia Kulon
Illustrations:
Andrzej Nowicki/ZAiKS
„Tworzymy i chronimy. 100 lat ZAiKS-u”. Tekst Rafał Marszałek, oprac. graf. Maciej Buszewicz, Wyd. Stowarzyszenie Autorów ZAiKS, Warszawa 2018, s. 58, 59, 102, 103.
„Tworzymy i chronimy. 95 lat ZAiKS-u”. Tekst Rafał Marszałek, oprac. graf. Maciej Buszewicz, Wyd. Arkady, Warszawa 2013, s. 47, 49.

 

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