Regardless of the youthish, yachtie feel of New Wilanów (Ralph Lauren, Porsche, job in finance sector: mandatory), the area will always be synonymous with one thing and one thing alone: its palace. Affirming that Wilanów has always been the haunt of choice for the rich and even richer is this extraordinary landmark, a baroque masterpiece commonly lauded by Poles as the Polish Versailles.
Completed at the end of the 17th century for King Jan III Sobieski – a man noted for saving Europe from Ottoman invasion at the 1683 Battle of Vienna – it’s emphatic in splendor and monarchial bling. Today its vast halls and indulgent chambers represent one of the big draws of tourist Poland at least, that is, if you prefer more traditional sightseeing as opposed to the computerized, interactive adventures now hawked by many. On the contrary, Wilanów is a solemn, almost reverential experience.
The exhibition is divided into two parts, with the first comprising of The Polish Portrait Gallery. Kicking off with some creepy coffin portraits (painted onto coffins so deceased nobility could observe their own wake), in truth the portrait section is possibly of least interest. Part Two of the tour takes visitors on a winding safari of the rest of the palace – upstairs, then back down again – where points of interest come thick and fast. The elegant Raspberry Parlor is where the communists would house important visitors (Jimmy Carter, for instance), while the Etruscan Parlor houses a collection of booty dating back to 800BC.
While the former living quarters are in themselves a source of fascination, the thrill of Wilanów lies in its details: a revolving mirror possibly used by peeping Tom’s (!); a grand looking funnel used in the 18th century for cleaning ears; a carafe specially designed so those drinking from it would down the wine in one; not to mention two ‘Chinese frogs’ used as spittoons. Some of the curiosities are hilarious, others a plain mystery: e.g. a bathroom device which for a long time was thought to be used to unbutton shoes – a claim now disproved. As impressive as the still life’s and urns may be, it’s the little treasures that doth make the palace.
ul. Potockiego 10/16, www.wilanow-palac.pl