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Wawel Royal Castle
State Art Collection

31-001 Kraków, Wawel 5

Switchboard:
(+48 12) 422-51-55, 422-61-21
email: zamek@wawel.org.pl

Tourist Information:
(+48 12) 422 51 55
ext. 219

Press contact:
(+48 12) 422 51 55
ext. 380, 341
e-mail: pr@wawel.org.pl

History of the Royal Residence

Zoom in - Northern wing of the Castle
Northern wing of the Castle
The beginnings of the residence of Polish rulers on Wawel hill go back to an early Romanesque stone building from mid 11th century, called the palatium, whose remains are located in the northern wing of the present-day Castle. In time, the prince’s residence on the hill was expanded eastwards. Along with the cathedral it was called “the Upper Castle”, while “the Lower Castle” was a settlement consisting of courtiers’ and clergy’s houses and churches other than the cathedral.
 
In the 14th century the Castle was considerably expanded by Ladislas the Short, and his son Casimir the Great built an impressive Gothic residence consisting of several buildings grouped around an irregular courtyard in the eastern part of the hill. During the reign of Ladislas Jagiello, at the turn of the 15th century, a Gothic pavilion, later known as the Danish Tower, was added to the Castle. After this time the complex remained unchanged until the fire in 1499.
 

Around 1504, King Alexander Jagiello commissioned a German architect Eberhard and an Italian sculptor and architect Francesco the Florentine to rebuild the Gothic residence in a Renaissance fashion. The King’s brother Sigismund I (the Old) continued this enterprise from 1507. Master Francesco, the creator of the decorative stone bay window in the western wing, had erected the eastern wing of the castle, and begun the construction of the arcaded galleries before his death in 1516. Further work was conducted by Master Benedict and then by the famous Bartholomeo Berrecci (the creator of Sigismund’s Chapel in the Cathedral). After his death in 1537 the work was continued by Niccolo Castiglione and Mateo the Italian. The interior decorations were created by sculptors, wood carvers – Sebastian Tauerbach and Hans the Wood-Carver, who built the wooden ceilings, and painters who decorated the walls with friezes and painted royal portraits. The Castle’s halls and chambers gained much splendour after Sigismund I Augustus acquired magnificent Flemish tapestries.

Zoom in - The arcaded courtyard
The arcaded courtyard
The Renaissance building, preserved to this day, with its beautiful arcaded courtyard, is impressive in its monumental layout, spacious, brightly lit interiors, and magnificent use of architectural forms originating from ancient art, hitherto unknown in Poland. The building was a breakthrough in the development of architecture in Poland. In the 16th century the Castle was the seat of the Lower House (Seym) whose sessions were held in the Envoys’ Room. The sessions of the Senate were held in the Senatorial Chamber.
 
After the fire in 1595 a part of the Castle’s northern wing was rebuilt in the early Baroque style by Sigismund III (Vasa) who commissioned two Italian artists: the architect Giovanni Trevano and the painter Tommaso Dolabella. From the time the royal court permanently moved to Warsaw (c. 1610), the Polish monarchs resided in Wawel only periodically, mostly to attend lavish weddings, coronations and funerals. In 1702, under Swedish occupation, there was another dangerous fire in the Castle. Although later restored, it never attained its original splendour again.
 

After Poland lost its independence in 1796, the Austrians took over the Castle and turned it into military quarters. In the early 19th century the arcaded galleries were bricked over. After the occupying Austrian army left the Castle in 1911 and returned it to the Poles, its restoration began. This lasted half a century and restored the Castle almost to its original condition. First, the restoration was supervised by architect Zygmunt Hendel, later (from 1916 until Second World War) by his successor Adolf Szyszko-Bochusz, and then primarily by Alfred Majewski. A museum was established in the interiors with Sigismund Augustus’ tapestries, recovered from Soviet Russia, as the main exhibit. In the inter-war period the Castle was also a residence of the Head of State. In the last decade of the 20th century the entire complex – now in the care of Wawel Royal Castle Museum - State Art Collection – underwent a further thorough restoration.

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