University of Warsaw's Botanical Gardens
Originally the botanical garden was situated by Kazimierzowski Palace where the University is currently based, now, it is next-door to Łazienki Park. It was founded in 1811 for the use of the Warsaw Medical School and 7 years later moved to Ujazdowskie Avenue ? its present location. You can find the University Astronomical Observatory here, which was completed in 1825, as well as a foundation stone, laid by Stanisław August Poniatowski, for the Temple of Divine Providence which was originally planned to be built here.
After the war it took a long time, until the 1980s, for the botanical gardens to return to their former glory. Today, the garden serves visitors as well as students on courses related to plant cultivation. The employees are presently involved in creating a collection of the rarest Polish decorative plants. Over 60 000 visitors enter the gates of these picturesque gardens each year and they are open from Spring to Autumn.
The beginnings of this most beautiful and loved park go back to the 13th century and the fortified settlement of the Mazovian Princes, built on the Vistula embankment. When Mazovia was annexed to the crown, the manor house, called Ujazdów, became the property of Queen Bona, who initiated the building of a palace where Belvedere Palace now stands. Łazienki Park looks the way it does mostly thanks to Stanisław Augustów Poniatowski, who bought the lands near Ujazdowski Castle. On this large wooded terrain, Poniatowski built a beautiful lake according to a design by Tylman Van Gameren, which then gave its name to the whole complex ? Łazienki (bath). The best architects and artists of the time were involved in the project ? Dominik Merlini, Jan Christian Kamsetzer, Marcello Bacciarelli and Giacomo Monaldi. The King kept his eye on the work and personally consulted on the designs brought before him, resulting in the Palace on the Isle. In this building Stanisław August Poniatowski gathered an impressive art collection of works by the greatest Italian, Dutch and Flemish artists. Under the direction of Poniatowski several other buildings were constructed, including the White House, built in 1774, which, at the end of the 19th century, was the home of the French King in exile ? Louis the 18th. A short time later the Old Orangery was built, which housed the Stanisłowski Theatre and a glyptothek which gathered faithful copies of Greek and Roman sculptures for students of art schools. Unfortunately, after the reign of the last king of Poland, the park deteriorated. During Congress Poland many works of art were taken away to deepest Russia. The complex regained its earlier glory in between the wars, but was then destroyed in the 2nd World War. It took a long tome to rebuild Łazienki and it was finally opened as a museum in 1960.
The most well-known monument to Frederic Chopin by Wacław Szymanowski can be found in the park which is the site for the famous summer piano concerts. By the park gates on Agrykola you can visit the building of the officer cadet school where the November Uprising began. Near the south gates there is a mini-golf course and a riding club as well as the most elegant restaurant in the area ? Belvedere.
Situated in Praga Poludnie (South Praga) next to the national stadium, in 2009 the park was awarded the title of the most beautiful park in Poland in a competition organised by Briggs and Stratton. The Ignacy Jan Paderewski Skaryszewski Park, called Skaryszak (scarishak) by the locals, was founded on a Vistula oxbow lake in 1906, thanks to the initiatives of Franciszek Szanior. The wetlands had to be drained, 2 artificial lakes installed and the regained land picturesquely landscaped.
The park, which covers an area of 58 hectares today, had an artificial waterfall, a rose garden and a dahlia garden which unfortunately have not survived. The chocolate company Wedel, which is based near the park, installed the first ever chocolate vending machines in Poland near the main gate. Between the wars, a jetty, tennis courts, a sports centre with a running track and other attractions were added and are still available today. The park also witnessed many unusual events. In 1928 there was a plague of rabbits and to deal with the problem the authorities allowed anyone with a gun to go hunting in the park! A year earlier the park was flooded by water which overflowed from the Kamionkowskiego Lake and a pumping station was installed in the park to deal with any re-occurence by pumping the water underground to Port Praski nearby.
Skaryszewski Park is the most interesting place in Warsaw on the east side of the river as far as nature is concerned. There are over 20 000 various trees and bushes, including amazing examples of old poplars, lime trees and oaks and some more exotic species like Ginkgo, Amur cork trees and Canadian Coffee trees. There are 50 species of birds, some protected like the grey heron, the black cormorant or buzzards. Some treat the park as their home and others just drop in during their migrations.
Skaryszewski Park is also a place of social meetings and interesting events. For the last few years they have also organised a reconstruction of the Battle of Olszynka Grochowska with participating ?soldiers? from all over Poland as well as Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus. There are also many annual sporting events for kids and adults. During Euro 2012 there will also be a fan-zone in the park.
Saski (Saxon) Gardens
These beautiful gardens, in the very centre of Warsaw, currently cover about 15.5 hectares and are one of the oldest of their kind in Poland. The park, marked out from 1666?1671 by Tylman Van Gemeren, was part of the royal gardens surrounding the yet to be built Saski (Saxon) Palace. Before the war, the park went right up to Żelazna Brama (The Iron Gates). The present borders were set up after the war, together with the extension of Marszałkowska Street to Bankowy Square (Bank Square). Due to the numerous protests of the locals, who didn't want the park to be reduced in size, a big curve in Marszałkowska Street was built to avoid part of the park.
The oldest trees which can be seen here, survived the war and some are 250 years old.There are several sights within the park ? an exceptional sun dial built in 1863, which still tells the correct time on a sunny day, a fountain designed by Henryk Marconi from 1852 as well as 25 sandstone allegorical figures presenting virtues, muses and even abstract ideas like 'intellect'. In the part directly next to Fredry Street there is a scenic lake with a water tower providing the water, which was built to a classical design by Henryk Marconi based on the famous Temple of Vesta in Tivoli. In 1965, the Saski Gardens gained a statue of Maria Konopnicka of dubious beauty. Until recently there was also a monument of Stefan Starzyński by Ludwika Nitschowa (the sculptor responsible for the Warsaw Mermaid Monument). The figure was moved in 2008 to the courtyard of primary school nr 143 and the empty plinth was left in the gardens.
Royal Palace in Wilanów
This building, which has had great luck, survived the war as well as the partitions of Poland and is the only historical building of its kind in Warsaw in its original state.
The baroque Royal Palace, designed by one of the greatest architects of the 18th century, Augustyn Locci, was built from 1677?1696 for King Jan III Sobieski. Originally it was meant to be a 'normal' aristocratic residence in a style similar to that of a nobleman's manor house with alcoves. As time went on and as Jan III Sobieski became more successful, the palace was extended and enriched with new rooms, wings and sectors.
After the death of Jan III Sobieski in 1696, royal princes inherited the building.It was then sold and in 1720 it became the residence of the greatest aristocratic families in Poland in turn. First the Sieniawski family lived here, then the Czartoryskis, Potockis, Lubomirskis and Branickis. For 3 years (1730?33) King August II The Strong resided here. In 1805 the owner of the palace, Stanisław Kostka Potocki, opened in one part of the building one of the first museums in Poland which was accessible to the wider public. Large collections of Polish and oriental art were put on show. A separate part of the museum was dedicated to golden age of the Republic and the amazing feats of King Jan III Sobieski. Later owners introduced their own architectural improvements and shaped the palace according to the latest trends. All of these modernisations have made Wilanów Palace one of the most impressive palaces in Poland. From an architectural point of view it is an effective marriage of European art with old-fashioned Polish traditions. The interior decorations strongly refer to ancient style and tell a tale of the greatness of the Sobieski family and the military feats of King Jan III Sobieski. The stucco work and most of the pieces of art were created by internationally famous artists ? Józef Szymon Belotti, Jerzy Siemiginowski-Eleuter, Michelangelo Palloni, Claude Callot or Johann Samuel Mock.
The richly decorated interior showcases 3 architectural styles. The Royal apartments, in the oldest part of the palace, are furnished in a late baroque style and are situated in the main part of the building. The south wing is 18th century in style. The north wing has rooms like the Crimson Room, the Etruski Parlour, the Lapidarium and the Parlour before the Gallery which were furnished in the times of the Potockis, in the 19th century and are part of the museum founded by Stanisław Kostka Potocki. On the 1st floor we can have a look round the Polish Portrait Gallery of the 16th ?19th centuries, where there is a large collection of the portraits of monarchs, barons and representatives of the Polish aristocracy. Don't miss the characteristic coffin portraits from the Sarmatism period.
The palace is impressively 'framed' by the Wilanów Gardens. The park has 2 levels and is a clever and harmonious connection of several styles. The baroque garden, the romantic Anglo-Chinese park, the scenic English park and the neo-renaissance garden are all worthy of admiration. To the east the garden picturesquely descends to a lake and to the south there is a beautiful stream with a small waterfall, tasteful sculptures, fountains and wonderful landscape architecture. Many interesting cultural events takes place in the park, the most popular being the Royal Summer Concerts in the Rose Garden and the International Summer Academy of Early Music.
The history of the manor house in Jazdów, the name of the historical settlement where the present castle stands, dates back to the middle ages. A wooden castle belonging to the Mazovian dukes stood here in the 13th century. When Mazovia joined the crown in 1526 Jazdów was passed on to King Zygmunt the Old. After his death Queen Bona made it her residence and after her, Anna Jagiellonka inherited Jazdów and significantly extended the palace. The wooden castle survived until the 17th century when King Zygmunt Waza III built a brick castle nearby according to a design by either Giovanniemu Battiście Trevano or Mateusz Castello ? it is unknown which of the 2 most respected architects of the time drew up the plans. Prince Władysław (later King Władysław IV) personally oversaw the work. During the Swedish deluge, the Swedish King, Charles Gustav, had his headquarters here. The monarch loved the place so much that when he left he took everything with him, burnt down the castle and built an exact copy of the castle outside Stockholm. Just after the battles were over, a mint was set up in the hastily renovated castle. Later, the building was placed into the hands of the Lubomirski family by state decree and they lived here for about 80 years, changing the crude castle into a luxurious baroque residence. In 176 the castle changed hands again and became the property of King Stanisław August Poniatowski. The king planned further extensions that were not carried out and 20 years later gave the castle to the Lithuanian Infantry Guard. 2 new wings were added for military use. From 1809 to the 2nd World War a huge army hospital was located here. The castle was burnt but not demolished during the war, but was taken down in the 50s by order of Marshal Konstanty Rokossowski. The communist authorities intended to build here on the embankment a Theatre of the Home of the People's Army of Poland and an Evening Marxist-Leninist University. The plans were never realised and in the mid-70s work was started to return the castle to its prewar state. In the 1980s, Ujazdowski Castle became the home of the Centre for Contemporary Art and its collection include work by Mirosław Bałka, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Katarzyna Kozyra and Zdzisław Libera. There is also an inviting bookshop with a club here, a well-stocked library and a cinema which shows independent and experimental films from all over the world. The Centre for Contemporary Art is seen as one of the most active centres of its kind in central and eastern Europe.
The zoo covers an area of 30 hectares and is one of the most interesting places in the Praga-Północ district and was established in 1928. After difficult times in the 2nd World War when most of the animals were killed in the bombardments or transported to Germany, the zoo reopened in 1948.
In today's zoo there are over 4000 animals representing 530 different species. The zoo boasts a 6000m2 elephant house ? one of the most modern in Europe, an aviary with an open flight hall and a sanctuary for domestic birds as well as a herpetarium, opened in the 1990s inhabited by over 50 species of reptile.
The monkey house, ape pavilion and giraffe paddock are worth a visit as is the building for the hippopotami, opened in 2010. The hippos swim in a huge aquarium, so you can observe them underwater. The modern shark aquarium has rare examples of sharks and rays and the insectarium has invertebrates from all over the world.
A 10 000m2 Fairy Tale Zoo awaits the youngest visitors, where they can stroke and feed the animals with a carrot or lettuce leaf supplied by the zookeepers. There are donkeys, ponies, angora goats, guinea pigs, rabbits, tortoises and silkie hens. There are also 3 play areas with a zip line, swings and slides. There is also an eating area under a thatched roof where you can hold birthday parties. You can also run around, have picnics, sunbathe or just have fun on the lawns.
The zoo also provides educational activities for children and youth all year round. Little ones, young people and adults can find out why animals need tails, how animals adapt to life in the wild and why zoos are established (apart from tourist interest). The zoo is open Jan-Dec from 9:00?18:00 (weekend until 19:00) although the ticket offices close 1 hour earlier.