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.