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Castle Museum Lancut (Poland)

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The history of Łańcut stretches back to the early Middle Ages, founded as a town in 1349 under King Casmir the Great. The major landowning families in Łańcut were, successively, the Pilecki’s, Stadnicki’s, Lubomirki’s and the Potocki’s. In the second half of the 18th century, the then current owner of Łańcut, Izabela Lubomirska of the Czartoryski family, converted the fortress into palace-park complex. She employed outstanding artists such as Szymon Bogumił Zug, Jan Christian Kamsetzer, Christian Piotr Aigner, Fryderyk Bauman and Vincenzo Brenna. The most important changes were made to the layout and equipment of the castle, adapting them to the needs of the fashion of the times. The palace was filled with excellent works of art. In the 1870s, work started to create the park surrounding the castle. After levelling the embankments and re-aligning the road surrounding the moat, lime-trees were planted out creating an avenue.

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      12.09.2006 20:34
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      Lancut is a "must see" if visiting Poland.

      Lancut (pron. wineshoot) was one of the very first places in Poland that my then fiancée and I visited in our first flush of romance. Indeed, it was on the Sunday of my very first visit to Poland - the "meet the parents" trip in June 2001. That day trip to Lancut was rather rushed for several reasons, partly though due to the heavens opening. It was a very hot and humid, thundery day. Outside the sky was as black as night, we saw little of the gardens, or indeed the Coach House.

      During the five years that followed I have always wanted to return on a finer day - partly because, due to the weather, we were unable to take photographs that first time.

      On the last Sunday of July (2006), we made our return visit, this time as a family party, Mrs R, her sister Klaudia, their parents and myself. It was an equally hot day, the outside temperature gauge in the car reading 35deg.C, as we parked in the road that crosses the park. This time however, a bright blue sky formed a backdrop for the many photographs taken.

      WHERE IS LANCUT?

      Assuming that very few of you have heard of, fewer still actually visited this little town, I had better explain where it is located. Follow European route E40 all the way east from Calais, across northern France, central Belgium, all the way through Germany and then Poland - stop around 50 miles from the Ukrainian border and there you will find Lancut, situated on the left hand side of this ancient trans-continental route. It is about a 20 minute drive to the east of the local administrative city of Rzeszow. The castle is very well signposted off of E40 and is easy to find as it is the centrepiece of this attractive little town.

      Apart from the Castle, Coach-House and Park, all under the same administration, the other local attraction is the well known Polmos distillery, vodka manufacturers - situated only 1km from the entrance to Lancut Castle.

      THE CASTLE MUSEUM

      The Castle Museum is in fact a catch-all title for the combined attractions of the fortified palace (Zamek), the Coach House, which is actually a group of buildings in its own right, and the extensive park, which, as already mentioned, is bisected by a road. Whilst very well known in this local area of Poland, Mrs R's family live about 50 miles away, from the lack of foreign visitors here on both occasions, this seems to be very much a hidden gem on the tourist map.

      The Castle is set well into the park, there is therefore no traffic passing and the whole park, excepting the horse drawn carriages, is a very peaceful pedestrianised area. This makes it a very relaxed place to stroll. Initially, especially if you cannot speak Polish, you will have a job locating where to obtain an entry ticket to the castle and Coach House. There is no pay kiosk at the front door, you can only buy a ticket at the gatehouse on the north side of the park. This is far from immediately apparent; even on our second visit we had a job locating this. Behind the handsome gate and gatehouse are located large and clean (attendant run, therefore paid - about 18p for a pee!) toilets.

      By the way, keep off the grass! It didn't look particularly lush, or out of the ordinary and there were no signs, but Klaudia and I were snarled at by an officious guard for standing on his precious grass in order to take a photograph.

      The ticket now, in high season, is a timed one, by guided tour only. Five years ago, we were given free access to the Castle, now you have to go with a group or not at all. That is fine if you are Polish speaking, certainly we were not offered an English guide. We were instructed to be at the front door at midday (which is the first tour), by which time there was quite a large group assembled.

      THE HISTORY LESSON

      Outside, on the front step, we were given a more than brief, to put it mildly, history lesson on the town and its previously regal occupants. Founded in 1349 by probably the most famous of Poles, King Kazimierz the Great, Lancut has passed in ownership through the most prominent family dynasties in Polish history. In the mid 1600's, Stanislaw Lubomirski, the most powerful man in Krakow, ordered the building of a fortified palace. He employed the most famous architects and builders from all corners of Europe to build this stunning palace, which originally was far more of a castle that it now appears to have been.

      Obviously, from the appearance of the grassy banks remaining, originally moated, Lancut Castle was built in order to defend the vital trade routes, both to the east and to the south. As the centuries went buy, the threats diminished and the large Castle became increasingly palatial, by the end of the 18th century it was ranked among the most splendid residences in all of Poland. In our modern times, that may not sound very impressive, one has to remember that in that particular period of history, Poland was an extremely prosperous nation.

      This state of affairs continued through to the turn of the last century, at which stage Lancut Castle was undergoing substantial modernisation and renovation. Between 1899 and 1911, electricity was installed throughout and the plumbing extensively renewed. At the same time the Stables and Coach House complex were built to house the then owner's (Roman Count Potocki) huge collection of horse carriages.

      Over the centuries, art and furniture had built into a stunning collection, housed in the most opulent of surroundings here at Lancut.

      All of that really rather came to an abrupt halt in 1944, when under occupation of the German army, Alfred III Potocki was forced to flee Lancut as the Russian army approached. He fled to Switzerland, where he died in 1958, leaving his large domestic staff to the mercy of the invading Russians.

      The communist authorities evicted the staff, setting up Lancut as a museum, which, to this day since 1945 is what it has been.

      LET THE TOUR BEGIN

      We were shown through the courtyard and into a boot-room where we had to don soft slippers over our footwear. Most of our group also had to hand in ruck-sacks and larger camera bags, even though you are not allowed to take photographs inside the Castle, I preferred to keep hold of my camera case.

      Our guide was a rather old fashioned Pole, a man of around 60 years, obviously passionately interested in history and art, well versed in all matters to do with Lancut. Unfortunately, even I could tell that he was really rather boring with it too, dwelling far too long on individual paintings rather than giving more of a "flavour" of the fascinating place itself.

      Having visited before, we were also only too aware of the fact that during our hour long guided tour, we saw far fewer rooms - the whole top floor was excluded for instance - than when we had toured this building un-escorted.

      The entranceway at Lancut is highly unusual. The carriages drove straight into the front of the building, onto a courtyard paved with wooden cobbles. From their carriages, the guests alighted into the Grand Hall. This is part of the original 1650 castle, although the furniture there now is of mid 19th century origin.

      From here you climb the stairs to arrive in "The Room Under The Wooden Ceiling". Its title needs no explanation, but it is in here that you will see the first of the superb ceramic stoves which were used to heat these grand spaces. Again this is an original 17th century room, furnished in contemporary style.

      As with most grand houses, Lancut is built around a central, open, courtyard, and consists of four joining "wings". The corridors leading along these wings form galleries, from which the principal rooms are accessed. And what rooms they are……

      ……lavishly furnished, richly decorated and with outstanding chandeliers. We have over the past two years seen many English palaces and country houses, but few compare to this in size or quality.

      The rooms themselves are deceptively large. Mrs R comments that a double bed appears rather small, actually it is a huge bed, but the room in which it is placed is high ceilinged and of massive proportions, merely making the bed look like a toy. There are few carpets here, all the flooring has superb parquetry - hence the over slippers that we are wearing.

      Unlike the majority of buildings, both public and private, in Poland, this one has been maintained regardless of cost. That it has been a museum for the last sixty years is incredible, most of the rooms appear as though the family has recently left, on holiday perhaps. There are far too many rooms to describe each individually, even on our shortened guided tour. The most interesting I found to be the tower rooms, the library, the ball room, the theatre (oh yes!) and the veranda room, both of which lead off the ball room.

      Since stepping foot in the park, we had been aware of hearing live, classical music. Everywhere upstairs in the house you could hear it, bringing the whole place to life. On the approach to the Ball Room our guide informed us that there were music rehearsals taking place (for an evening concert - this was the festival season here) and asked us to remain quiet once inside the Ball Room. When we actually reached this room there was a very talented young lady playing the violin on stage. She gained a rapturous round of applause at the end of her piece from our group of visitiors.

      The Ball Room is the largest room in the Castle, made even more impressive by the mirrors running along the back of it, facing the windows. Not only does this flood it with natural light but, along with the double floor height of this room, also enhance its already huge proportions.

      The theatre, dating from 1784 is a far more intimate, yet even more richly decorated room. It has been very recently restored to its full splendour.

      On leaving the ball room you come into the Gallery of Sculptures which leads through to the Columnade Room (decorated in 18th century English style) and the Veranda Room. This is a garden room, again having English conservatory overtones.

      To bring you back full circle (square more accurately) you walk back down the long north (Red) Corridor which contains a fine collection of historic weapons and early fire arms. Off of the Red Corridor is to be found the extraordinary Chinese Apartment of 1780. This is a bedroom apartment and in terms of decoration is very similar to the Royal Pavilion, right here in Brighton!

      Also on the Red Corridor is the Chapel, a surprisingly modest room when compared to the splendour of the rest of this castellated palace.

      The rooms upstairs, on the third floor, which we were not shown on our guided tour, are equally sumptuous, if of more modest proportions. These were the daily living quarters, rather than the state rooms which you are shown on the guided tour.

      Anyone used to the current general living standards in Poland will be left reeling from the sheer richness and no expense spared interior of Lancut. For me, it is even more of a breathtaking experience having been accommodated in a communist built 1970's apartment block over the previous several days.

      The tour returns to the ground floor and the Great Hall where we began. Our over-slippers are returned and the guide then takes the party out into the gardens.

      THE ORANGERY

      This is a long, lower building located in front of and to the west of the castle itself, which was built in 1802. You enter it through a scruffy door and hallway, to find inside a rather eclectic collection of plants, birds and turtles in small tanks. Incidentally, the Orangery is the only building here inside which you are allowed to take photographs. There is running water flowing through this long oblong room too, which gives us some welcome cool on this scorching hot day. Exiting the Orangery, we are marched across the park to the Carriage House.

      THE CARRIAGE HOUSE

      Your admission ticket to the Castle also includes a tour of this large collection of horse drawn carriages, housed inside impressive custom built coach houses. Fascinating indeed is the variety and style of these, it is very easy to see the link between the last horse-drawn carriages and first horseless ones - or cars as we now know them. Manufacturers of coaches from all over Europe are represented here, even some English ones. Collecting these carriages was the passion of Roman Count Potocki at the turn of the twentieth century. The museum has continued adding to his collection over the last 60 years. One carriage on display had even been used by the famous Polish composer Chopin.

      This is a big collection, and not only of conventional wheeled carriages. The sleighs are numerous and fascinating and must have been a very practical way of travelling during harsh Polish winters.

      Within the Coach House complex there is also located the stables and tack rooms. Whilst there are no horses stabled here now, the tack rooms have a very impressive display of various riding equipment and ceremonial harnesses.

      For anyone interested in matters equine, the Stables and Carriage House would be a fascinating attraction in their own right. I was certainly suitably impressed and usually prefer an engine in front of my carriage!

      Having shown us around the Coach House, this is where our guide departs. In all his tour has lasted around an hour and forty-five minutes. Personally I would have preferred to have done this independently with the aid of an English Guide book - regrettably, no such publication actually appears to be available.

      THE PARK

      OK, hands up here, this is where we rather gave up through exhaustion on this baking hot afternoon and took the easy option, which to this day I feel a little guilty about. Outside the Coach House they run a horse and carriage tour of the park, using a six seater open carriage - the driver taking up one seat - pulled by two beautiful white horses.

      We English I suppose have a rather soft reputation for being animal lovers, on the whole the Poles take a rather less sentimental attitude towards them. Personally I would not have been working these two horses all day on this, probably, the hottest day of the year.

      I was persuaded by the family to take the seat to the left of the driver, high up above them seated in the carriage behind me. Whilst this was a great position - albeit unstable as it turned out - for photography, it neither suited my fear of heights, nor my rather swollen left ankle (from the heat) when I had to climb down again.

      The carriage ride lasted approximately twenty minutes, my wife having handed over 28PLN (£5) to the driver, which for the five of us I think has to count as a bargain.

      From the lofty seating position in the carriage we saw everything in the park that we would have seen on foot. In truth this is not a large park by English standards, although such places are less common in Poland. The trees at least provided some welcome shade both for us and the horses. Due to the sheer heat, or perhaps such attractions just are not so popular in Poland, there seemed to be very few people enjoying this Sunday afternoon in the park.

      OTHER FACILITIES AT LANCUT

      Café / Restaurant

      Whilst on this visit we did not use the restaurant, from our last visit here I can inform you that they sell wonderful fresh ice creams. The café / restaurant is located through a gateway between the Orangery and the Castle.

      Hotel

      Yes a small and out of site area of the Castle itself has for many years operated as a hotel. On our first visit here I was curious enough to enquire about rooms. Regrettably, in this most romantic, glamorous too by Polish standards, place, the hotel could only be described as old fashioned and very basic. The room that the receptionist showed us was dark and dingy, it had an en-suite that looked more than ready for re-furbishment.

      The Shop

      For what is a very large and well established museum complex, the shop at Lancut leaves an awful lot to be desired. It is absolutely tiny, three visitors standing at the counter and it is pretty much full. This problem is compounded by the fact that it is located adjacent to the Carriage House at the end of the guided tour.

      The shop, such that it is, sells a range of small books and leaflets(some in English) about the Castle, some good post cards and a very limited range of souvenirs. Fortunately for us on this particular day, there is also a tiny cold cabinet, containing a limited range of drinks - including mineral water.

      TICKETS & OPENING TIMES

      As already explained, admission tickets can only be purchased in the gatehouse on the north (town) side of the park. The ticket pricing structure is fantastically complicated; I will quote what we actually paid - on a high season Sunday, for a timed guided tour - the most expensive and only "service" available to us on the day.

      All recognised credit cards are accepted.

      We paid 26PLN (equiv. £4.64) each. According to the Castle's website:
      http://www.zamek-lancut.pl/en/Visiting/Prices you are able to obtain the services of a foreign speaking guide for an additional 3PLN per person.

      During the week, or off season, you can buy an ordinary admission ticket
      for rather less than this. My advice would be to do so, you will see far more of the castle and not have to suffer the fairly boring picture, by picture history lesson which took up the majority of our time inside the castle.

      I note that the "all-in" ticket price also allows admission to the Synagogue, an attraction that we did not see, therefore allowing us an excuse for a return trip to Lancut!

      Opening times are equally as complicated as the ticket prices and I would suggest referring to the site above in order to determine just when you can visit Lancut.

      Incidentally, the site has an English language option!

      CONCLUSION

      Lancut is some way off the beaten tourist path for western visitors to Poland. For me, there lies its' appeal, it has yet to be overrun by English and American tourists - indeed in the course of two visits there we have not heard English spoken.

      It is a strenuous three hour drive to the east of Krakow, if castles and palaces are of interest to you, then this would be a day trip worth taking from there. If you were thinking of taking a holiday in south eastern Poland, maybe being a little adventurous and venturing away from Krakow for a few nights then the local cities of Tarnow and Rzeszow offer some very good and cheap accommodation, as well as interesting old town centres and cathedrals (in the case of Tarnow).

      About two hours drive to the north of Lancut is my favourite Polish town Sandomierz, on the way there a stop can be made at Baranow, where there is another splendid 16th century castle.

      Lancut is undoubtedly the most impressive single attraction that I have seen in Poland. I therefore thoroughly recommend it to you - preferably without the services of a guide.

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      ""The history of Łańcut stretches back to the early Middle Ages, founded as a town in 1349 under King Casmir the Great. The major landowning families in Łańcut were, successively, the Pilecki’s, Stadnicki’s, Lubomirki’s and the Potocki’s. In the second half of the 18th century, the then current owner of Łańcut, Izabela Lubomirska of the Czartoryski family, converted the fortress into palace-park complex. She employed outstanding artists such as Szymon Bogumił Zug, Jan Christian Kamsetzer, Christian Piotr Aigner, Fryderyk Bauman and Vincenzo Brenna. The most important changes were made to the layout and equipment of the castle, adapting them to the needs of the fashion of the times. The palace was filled with excellent works of art. In the 1870s, work started to create the park surrounding the castle. After levelling the embankments and re-aligning the road surrounding the moat, lime-trees were planted out creating an avenue.""