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Natolin, one of the most beautiful eighteenth century residences in the vicinity of Warsaw, is approximately 10 kilometres from the city center and once formed part of the Wilanów estate. In 1730 August II who succeeded Jan III Sobieski to the Polish throne, purchased the Wilanów estate and founded a pheasantry with a fan shaped park in what is today Natolin. Hence its original name of the 'Pheasantry'.

Portret Augusta Czartoryskiego, XVIII w.In the second quarter of the 18th century the then owner of Wilanów, Prince August Aleksander Czartoryski, ordered five radial avenues to be cut through the forest. In 1780 his daughter Izabella, the future owner of Wilanów and the wife of Crown Marshal Prince Stanisław Lubomirski, built a palace there, designed by one of the most distinguished exponents of Polish neo-classicism, the architect Szymon Bogumił Zug.

The palace is situated picturesquely on the edge of what was once the Vistula escarpment, its most outstanding feature is the oval reception room opening on to the park, from which it is separated by a semi-circle of columns. The interior design was entrusted to the Italian architect Vincenzo Brenna, who later worked for Tsar Paul I in St Petersburgh. Brenna painted the walls of the interior with fantastic scroll-work and landscape motifs; the reception room was decorated with a huge mural and a painted ceiling.

Holendernia, mal. Wincenty Kasprzycki, 1835 r.,In 1799 the Wilanów estate, including the palace in the pheasantry, became the property of Aleksandra Lubomirska, daughter of Crown Marshal Lubomirski and the future wife of Stanisław Kostka Potocki, a prominent patron of the arts, collector and amateur architect, as well as the first European Minister for Education and Religious instruction.

In 1806 work began on the conversion of the palace into a summer residence for Stanisław Kostka Potocki's son Aleksander, who married Anna Tyszkiewicz. The work was supervised by Piotr Aigner, another distinguished architect of Polish neo-classicism. Since Brenna's decorations were no longer fashionable, they were replaced by stucco reliefs designed by Wirgiliusz Bauman. Outstanding among them is a bas-relief representing a Dionysian feast, which runs around the entire drawing room.

Between 1806 and 1815 Anna Tyszkiewicz personally supervised the work of transforming the grounds into an English park. The numerous pavilions built at this time include the so-called Holendernia, a 'Dutch' farm comprising a pseudo-medieval barn with a tower, battlements and embrasures put up in the period 1812-1814.

Nisza z sarkofagiem i figurą Natalii  z Potockich SanguszkowejAdditions completed between 1808 and 1815 include the terrace and amphitheatre in front of the palace, as well as the servants' quarters, coach-house and stables. In 1807 the estate was renamed Natolin, after Natalia, the daughter of Aleksander and Anna Potocki. After his divorce from his first wife Anna Tyszkiewicz, Count Potocki employed the Polonised Italian architect Henryk Marconi to erect several new pavilions in the park. These additions, dating from the years 1820-1845, include a Doric temple, a Roman aqueduct, and a Moorish gate.

In 1830, Natalia Potocka who married Prince Sanguszko, passed away. Her father erected a statue in her honour in the park, this was executed by the sculptor Ludwik Kauffman, a pupil of Antonio Canova.

In the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century the palace was seriously neglected: the crumbling walls of the Dutch farm were pulled down in 1922.

During the Second World War, the Natolin estate became a place of refuge for Polish patriots who were pursued by the Gestapo. In 1942-43, due to the efforts of Count Adam Branicki and his wife Beata, a programme of conservation was launched in the palace and the park's outlying buildings. However during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, retreating Nazi troops did extensive damage to the palace and looted its interiors.

In 1945 Natolin became a state property, and as a part of the Warsaw national museum it underwent important restorations. From 1946 onwards Natolin was closed to the public and became the weekend residence of the President of the Republic. During the early years of Communist rule, the estate was associated with the hard line Presidential faction within the Communist Party known as the 'Natolin Group'. With the loss of influence of the Presidential faction after the death of President Bolesław Bierut, the estate passed into the hands of the Council of Ministers.

Fragment budynku stołówkiIn 1992 the Polish Government gave the Natolin estate to the Foundation 'European Centre Natolin' which administers the site on behalf of the Polish Treasury. The European Centre has adopted old buildings, and put up new ones in a style, which has kept with the harmony of the Palace and its outlying park.

Since 1993 the European Centre Natolin has hosted the only branch of the College of Europe (Bruges) whose students spend a year in Warsaw studying for an MA in European Studies. The European Centre also hosts the Research Laboratory of the European University Institute (Florence), and it carries out extensive educational, research and training programs.

Today Natolin is a place of European debates, conferences, seminars and visits of prominent European politicians, academics, artists, and thinkers, keeping with the spirit of its original owners.

 

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