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Saturday, 23 September 2017
VisitBialystok.com - All about Białystok


In the footsteps of Hetman Branicki
Undoubtedly the most precious gem of Białystok architecture is the 18th century Branicki palace, the work of renowned architects of the Baroque period. Its present shape is the reflection of the ambitions of the great hetman, Jan Klemens Branicki. He constructed a residence which was one of the few to satisfy the requirements of the etiquette of royal visits. Its richness resembled the baroque palaces of French kings, hence its name, the "Polish Versaille", the "Versaille of Podlasie", the "Versaille of the North". Today it is the seat of the Medical Academy.

The palace grounds begin with an entrance gate, called the "Grffin", from the family coat of arms of the Branickis. It was constructed by Jan Henryk Klemm in the years 1955 - 1978. On its top sits a clock tower, on the base of which there are the sculptures of the four Geniuses in each corner.

The luxury of the palace apartments was such that they could host royalty. The palace was, visited by August II the Strong, August III the Saxon, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, Louis XVIII before he became king, tsar Paul I and emperor Joseph II.

On the axis of the Palace, upon crossing the bridge, a theatre building was constructed. The date of its erection is 1748, so it was in fact built before the National Theatre in Warsaw, seen as the first fixed stage in Polish territory. The theatre library included scores of 19 operas, 41 ballets and 122 dramas. The theatre had its own orchestra and ballet, while the opera hosted the biggest singers of the times, invited to Białystok from Rome, Venice and Vienna.

The exterior of the palace does not differ much from what it looked like in the 18th century when it was occupied by the Branickis. Many similarities have also remained in the interior of the building, such as the vestibule, the Chinese room, the chapel and the Grand Hall, created from the past ballroom and dining room. The garden too, although smaller, resembles the surroundings of the residence of the "most just nobleman in Poland". Many traces of the original composition of the garden can still be observed, hence it is treated as the best preserved baroque garden in Poland. Since 1997 the area has been the site of intensive archaeological and conservationist works aimed at restoring the splendour of the past.

Just by the gate leading to the Palace, at the beginning of Kilińskiego street, stands the guest house, erected by the Branickis for those of the hetman's guests for whom the palace lacked space but whose position did not allow for them to stay in any of the inns in the town. However, that does not seem to be the only purpose of the building. One can suppose that it could also be the so called maison de pleasance, popular in those times, where the ladies would seek refuge from the duties of life on the court. It is possible that the villa was built on the wish of Izabela Branicka of the Poniatowskis.

The construction was begun before 1770, by the road leading from the town market to the residence of the hetman, close to the two ponds in the immediate neighbourhood of the Branicki palace.

The Guest Villa was the last building of the Branicki's Białystok residence.

Perhaps the villa was later used by the equerry of the Branickis, colonel Andrzej Węgierski, as for years it has been commonly called the "House of the Equerry". These, however, are only suppositions.

In the year of Branicki's death (1771), the elevations of the palace were finalised, however the designs of the interiors were never completed.

After 1838 the building, as did the whole palace complex, became the property of the Institute for Gentry Ladies. Before World War II the "House of the Equerry" was turned into a cafe, a pastry shop and the Savoy restaurant. In 1941 the occupying authorities had their seat there and in 1944 it was destroyed, together with the bombed Ritz hotel located next to it. In 1947 reconstruction work was begun which lasted for 5 years. It is now the so called Wedding House, where couples are formally married.

At the other end of Kilińskiego street, on the corner of Kościelna street, stands the classicist building of the Masons lodge, built in 1803 - 1806 in place of the old coach house of the Branickis from 1771. It is now the seat of Książnica Podlaska, or in other words the Łukasz Górnicki Woivodeship Public Library.

On passing the intersection with Kościelna street, one encounters the cathedral complex, composed of the neogothic cathedral, baroque presbytery and the parish church. The latter hides the sarcophaguses with the heart of Stefan Mikołaj Branicki and his mother, Katarzyna Aleksandra Branicka of the Czarnieckis. There is also the tombstone with the heart of Jan Klemens Branicki (marble mausoleum) and the embroidered epitaph of Izabela Branicka made in 1825. Her body was laid in the crypt of the church.

The next building is the orphanage, or hospital, founded by the hetman. It played several roles in the latter years. Just as World War II came to an end, it became the first theatre in Białystok, visited by the best Polish actors. Today it is the site of the "Ton" cinema. The building is baroque in style with an arcade. The tympanum, topped with a vase, holds a cartouche with the town's coat of arms.

There is one more historical building founded by the hetman, across the market which here resembles a street. It was built in the years 1768 - 1769 for the Sisters of Mercy of St Vincent à Paulo, otherwise known as the Szarytki. The two arch pillars are a characteristic trait of the building. Apart from the convent, the building was also a hospital run by the nuns. The hospital has long been closed and in 1923 it was turned into an orphanage called the "House of St Martin". It is presently a kindergarten under the same name, also run by the nuns.

Situated next to the "Ton" cinema are two other buildings from the times of the hetman, separated by a modernist building which was used as a shopping centre. The first building is the baroque - classicist armoury of the hetman, the so called zekhaus. It was constructed in the form of a typical gentry house of the 18th century, despite the fact that - contrary to its name - the building was used for storing fire fighting equipment.
It later served as a guard post and in the years between the two world wars - as a police station. It is now the State Archives. The other building used to be an inn. It is a two-storey construction, with a mansard roof and a cut south-western corner carrying a balcony decorated with a portico and a front supported by two pillars running through the two storeys. It is now the "Astoria" restaurant.

The above buildings are located in Rynek Kościuszki, in the middle of which stands the Townhall, the construction of which is also owed to Jan Klemens Branicki.


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