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Branicki Palace

History of  Branickich Palace andit’S insides

Branicki Palace is a building belonging to the most beautiful XVIII-century magnate residence in Poland. Tourists can be astonished by the magnitude and harmony of the entire complex and interested by its rich history.

History of Branicki Palace and it’s insides

Palace is doubtless the icon of Bialystok. Impressive building in the shape of horseshoe is compulsory attraction to every tourist that comes to Białystok.

Branicki Palace belongs to the most beautiful XVIII-century magnate residences in Poland. Tourists can be astonished by the magnitude and harmony of the entire complex and interested by its rich history. Palace was expanded and decorated throughout entire life of Jan Klemens Branicki, its host. Some of the very finest architects from XVIII-century were working on it. Among them: royal architect Zygmunt Deybel, Jakub Fontana or colonel Henryk Klemm. The main building has two storeys; helmets are placed on roof line’s sides; between them, above main entrance a triangular field is located so called tympanum – above it there is a sculpture of mythical Atlas, kneeling under Earth’s weight. In the tympanum’s centre you will find an arms shield surrounded by panoplies. Branicki’s crest was a mythical Gryphon, a creature portrayed as a lion with eagle’s head and wings.

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Generally there were 178 chambers in the complex, out of which 115 were considered sumptuous and habitable. However the greatness of those rooms was expressed not in their number, but the quality. The rooms were heavily decorated and furnished with the most fashionable furniture of that time. Many precious ornaments were placed on tables or chimneys. Walls were full of paintings or sketches encased in beautiful frames. Among the paintings you could find some that portrayed the favourite dogs and horses of the hetman. Everything that would not fit into the chambers or was too precious was put into vault. Every apartment in the residence would consist of bedroom, “study” that would also fill the role of salon, closet for the staff and sometimes a toilet. It is also worth of mentioning that Białystok’s palace got its sanitary equipment earlier than French Versailles. Another innovative solution was the floor heating.

The description of the palace was found in Anna Wąsowiczowa’s diaries, who was a regular at the residence. Her description included: “I was also visiting Białystok’s palace decorated with unprecedented splendour. Expansive French tapestries, mirrors, equipment, moldings looked akin to Versailles. You couldn’t imagine the play rooms and vestibules decorated with marble columns.”

Main lobby with stairs was designed by Jakub Fontana from XVIII-century, inspired by his earlier design for Potocki’s Palace in Radzyń Podlaski. The focus of the room is place on two atlases holding the stairs and the rotator (grinder) character beginning the handrail – they were made by Jan Chryzostom Redler.

From the main lobby to the right hetman’s chambers were located, on the left Izabella Branicka’s of Poniatowski house. Ground floor also held the “gala” , “Parisian” and “bath” rooms. First floor was arranged as representative room, dining room, dance room and “royal” chambers, which actually welcomed quite a few kings. Next the “golden” and “Chinese” rooms were located as well as chapel and library. One of the most interesting rooms was the so called “aquarium”. It was said that Izabella’s closet had glass floor under which golden fishes with beautiful marine plants would live.

How do we know that the rooms looked like this way? Only thanks to the memories of the many guests that visited the palace in its golden age, Branicki’s countless letters, in which he would debate about the renovation and décor of palace and very detailed inventory check right after his death in 1752. Thanks to those documents we can at least imagine how did the inside looked like back then. Main lobby and the chapel are the only chambers preserved in their original form, despite the damage brought by the wars.

History of the palace is closely related to one of Poland’s republic and its eastern borders.

After the death of great hetman of the crown and Krakow’s castellan in 1771, the palace started to slowly fade into oblivion. Despite the best efforts Izabella was unable to maintain the greatness her husband brought to the place. Next owners such as King Frederick William III of Prussia or Tsar Alexander I of Russia didn’t do anything to maintain palace. A short period of relived greatness started with the reclamation of Poland’s independence, when it became the headquarters of provincial office. There worst time came when the retreating Germans blown and burnt the palace. The only thing left was the burnt corpse of the magnate residence. Nearly 70% of the complex were destroyed. Despite all that, it was rebuilt and we can currently admire the palace in its XVIII-century form. Sadly only from outside, the insides were almost entirely remade. The exceptions were main lobby and palace’s chapel.

Even while Izabella was still alive, the palace along with most goods was sold to Prussians, which after third partition of Poland took hold of Białystok. She was granted a “lifetime” meaning that Prussian King could only take the residence after her death. After her death in 1808, due to a treaty signed in Tylża, Białystok was handed over to Russian Empire. Since then Tsar Alexander I was the owner and chose it to be his summer house. During the “renovation” floors and tapestry were destroyed, furniture stolen. Most beautiful trees and bushes together with over 20 garden sculptures were moved to Tsarskoye Selo in Petersburg. Tsar performed yet another “renovation” which resulted in disappearance of helmets and sculptures from the roof and attic. His next move was donation of the palace in 1841 for the needs of Institute of Noble Maidens, school for highborn girls. For its needs, the room layout was changed. All art that was considered inappropriate was taken down and put outside. Overtime it slowly decayed.

Institute of noble maidens was functioning until 1915. During the first world war, a hospital was formed in its place which was operational throughout the first world war and during Polish-Bolshevik war. Since 1920 the palace was chose as the office of newly formed Białystok Voivodeship (Province). It was also the house of provincial governor. During the day officials were working around the palace, however in the evenings you could hear music and cheerful voices of governor’s guests.

During German occupation, after the beginning of second world war it was serving as an office. Destroyed in 1944 by Germans and Red Army palace was decided to be restored. The government of that time wanted to place there a Palace of Folk culture and Revolutionary Museum. Management over the process was handed to Władysław Paszkowski and Stanisław Bukowski, who designed the concept to bring the Branicki’s Palace to its XVIII-century glory. During the works, the government decided to place Medical Academy inside which forced changes in the room layout.

Branicki’s Palace Complex

Monumental and at the same time graceful residence is the icon of Białystok. This unique, baroque complex consists of several buildings – main building in shape of a horseshoe and few accompanying buildings. Everything together makes a harmonious complex. Branicki Palace was build according to the basic rule of residential layout in baroque inspired by Versailles – entre cour et jardin – which means between the garden and the courtyard. This vast complex was built in several stages: starting with a Wiesiołoski’s castle from XVI century, through reconstruction at the end of XVII century according to Tylman from Gameren’s project up until the last reconstruction in 1721-1771 managed by Zygmunt Deybel. After his death in 1752 his work was picked up by Jan Henryk Klemm. The biggest change was the reversal of palace’s front. Side pavilons were added and connected to main building with colonnades. Branicki’s team of architects and engineers created an amazing palace and made hetman’s countless guests stunned in awe. The residence was to be a proof of his status, aspirations and good taste.

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Entrance Gate – Gryphon

Entrance gate is an triumph arch with baroque decorations. It is the single building out of entire complex that was not destroyed in the Second World War. On the top of the gate there is a golden gryphon – early result of action to restore palace to its former glory. Gryphon is a modern reconstruction of a XVIII century wooden sculpture that decayed at the beginning of XIX century, gryphon finally came back to its place in 2006. Creature is sitting on a ball holding a shield with JKB initials in its claws. Decorations are reflecting Branicki’s house power. Below we can see decoration’s motif – a shield laying on war ornaments. The entrance divides the building into two wings. It was originally located right before the court but was moved on Branicki’s order to underline the majesty of the complex. People of that time were saying there were no impossible things for Branicki. Entire operation took only a week, that is how long a French diplomat – hetman’s guest – was gone hunting. It was in 1758 and after the hunt was over, he was wondering if he truly came back to the same place because its change a lot. The gate is standing on stone foundation and is built from bricks until the balcony, the rest above is made from wood.

Palace

Kings of many dynasties came here such as: Augustus II the Strong and Augustus III of house Wettin, Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor in his travels to Russia under false name of duke Falckenstein and Russia’s future Tsar Paul. Before the French revolution king Louis XVIII found shelter in here. There were also countless diplomats, artists, writers and travellers visiting the palace. It was however the visit of the great Ottoman empire’s representative that made it to history books.

Inside tympanum (triangular field) above the entrance the main building we can see Branicki’s crest – gryphon surrounded by panoplies. Everything is crowned with Atlas’ sculpture – Atlas is carrying the earth as an apotheosis to hetman’s mythical hero.

As we come inside through the main entrance we will see lobby decorated by Jakub Fontana inspired by his earlier work for Potocki family in Radzyń Podlaski. Atlas sculptures holding the stairs made by Jan Chryzostem Redler and the rotator (grinder) character are main decorations in the room.

To the right on the ground level we would find Jan Klemens Branicki’s chambers, while on the opposite side his wife’s – Izabella’s. The first floor held representative rooms, dining room, royal chambers and dance hall, which held many ceremonies. There were 178 rooms in the palace, out of which 115 had stylish décor while the rest were staff and utility rooms.

During Russian occupation the palace lost its baroque glamor and the Russian Institute for young ladies was placed in it. It has survived the First World War without any major damages. The next war was not so gracious. During retreat of German forces the palace was blown and burnt, while the coming Red Army finished their work. After the war in 1946-1960 Palace was rebuilt taking the shape from XVII century. Currently it is the headquarters of Medical University in Białystok.

Guard-houses/Wells

On both sides of the courtyard there are building which role is heavily discussed. They were most likely just guard-houses, which were a popular solution at that time. They were just small buildings included usually in the palace complexes and situated near the main gate.

Frescoes outside

Branicki’s palace raised by both polish and foreign artists is a typical example of XVIII century architecture. It will receive a rich décor on the inside and outside.

Our focus is deserved by paintings on the outer walls of the column gallery. Those paintings were made in 1738 by Wilhelm Neunhertz and then partially repainted by Antoni Herliczka. Because of the vast damage, they were completely renovated in recent years. Damaged by time they were restored and have major historic and artistic importance. All paintings are protected by unwanted actions of men and nature with Plexiglas.

Out of over eight only three unique paintings made it to our times. They acting as open-air gallery.

Paintings which managed to survive are: “Romantic landscape” on the northern wall of palace’s outbuilding by the garden’s entrance. It portrays a view with antic walls and ruins. The foreground shows us few bushes, grass and a small log placed horizontally on wooden stakes. In the background there is a marsh with peninsula and antic ruins on it. Entire landscape is finished with illusionist outline and an arch.

Next two paintings located in garden gallery are inspired by Greek mythology: “Master and Syrinx” and “Paris’ judgment”. Paintings were restored and now give us a little insight how marvellous the XVIII century outsides were.

Those are the myths, saved on palace’s walls.

Master and Syrinx -Master was one of Dionysus’ countless servants. Born in Arcadia. Not really handsome, rather ugly even, because he was born with goat’s horns and legs and long ears. Hermes took him one to the Olympus, the life there was not to Master’s liking however. Once back to earth, he fell in love with young Syrinx – daughter of river god Ladon. Long time he spent asking her to marry him. Unhappy goddess kept declining but Master would not give up. She turned then to gods and they transformed her into reed. Then the sad Master sat near the reeds and cried. He cut down few stalks and made seven fifes out of them. This is how a syringa fife came to be. Since then he played on it days and nights to forget about his love.

Paris’ judgement-Three goddesses appeared in front of Paris to decide which one is the most beautiful. You can guess that they all were more beautiful than anyone he ever seen and the choice was difficult. To help him with the choice they decided to bribe him with great gifts. Hera promised to make him master of all lands, the richest of men. Athena promised to make him great warrior always victorious and handcraft expert. Aphrodite promised him the most beautiful woman as wife – Helen, the daughter of Sparta’s king. Paris chose Aphrodite and handed her the apple for most beautiful. Since that time Hera and Athena mad with his choice decided to destroy Troy his homeland.

And yet again all fault lied with the woman!

Branicki’s palace after the host’s death 

After hetman’s death, while Izabella still had her right to a lifetime, Potocki family sold the palace in 1802 to Prussian king Friderick Wilhelm III. However he would only get it after Izabella’s death. Circumstances change after 1807 treaty in Tylża, between Russia and Prussia.

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According to the treaty Russia was given part of Prussia along with Białystok. Due to that fact Prussian king withdrew his right to the palace and left it for Alexander I of Russia. Izabella died at the age of 78 in February 1808 with palace nearly intact. The only change was the fact that the host wasn’t there anymore. After her death first to be dismantled were the zoos. Russian authority’s planning led the palace over the years to a miserable state. The chapel was change to Alexander Newski’s orthodox church. The 30’s in XIX resulted in eradication of tsar’s seat in Białystok and further loss of furnishings. Tsar Nicolaus I ordered to move some of the sculptures and furniture to Petersburg. Next building to be lost was orangery with plants moved to Warsaw’s Łazienki and Belweder.

Another turning point in palace’s history was the time when Tsar Nicolaus I ordered to place a Institute of Noble Maidens in it in 1837. Because of that it lost more of it baroque décor and built additional floors. All paintings, sculptures and stylish furniture was removed so the young ladies are not scandalised. Broken in half gryphon from the gate was replaced with steel banner. Renovation process adapted the building to its new role. Rococo’s décor and layout gradually faded away. Gardens without care started to grow wild. Only surviving places were Italian and Tuscan Pavilions, the bridge and stone balustrades around upper garden. Lower duct layout was left unchanged. In 1840 all sculptures, painting and other works of art were moved to Petersburg to save them from decay. 26 remaining sculptures were sold on auction. In following years the trees from orangery such as laurel, cypress, fig-tree and mulberry were also auctioned. The orangery building allowed to grow lemons and oranges as well as pineapples and pomegranates. Among them you could also find ginger bushes, laurel trees, dactyl palms, aloes, mulberry, peaches and apricots. Orangery was Branicki’s pride, no surprise they were biggest in country and well known within the Republic of Poland and abroad. Hetman’s guests and visitors would spread the word about this magnificent place.

In the place of upper garden a new building was erected for the needs of institute. Zoo managed to survive without any involvement, where during interwar period “Planty” Park was created. Institute was operational until 1915. Palace lost much of its character and glory during late XIX century.