There are so many treasures on my doorstep, and I take so long to find them! On Wednesday afternoon I travel a few tramstops to Królikarnia Palace. The surrounding walls are thick with vines, new tendrils springing out from a mat of leaves. The gates are imposing, a stylised figure embedded in each side.
I’m barely inside before I’m lured by the sight of weathered stone statuary and a pillar of blue, white and red mosaic. I wander amongst these fallen unlabelled bits and pieces – female figures, fantastical fish, a ram, groups in a bas-relief frieze.
There are modern pieces too, the first I see, “The kiss”, a counterpoint to the ancient pitted lovers.
I ramble along paths patterned with the first harbingers of autumn and come to a crumbling bridge.
Across the bridge are the sculptures of Xawery Dunikowski: a massive pair of white figures that I take to be a man demanding submission from a woman, but which in fact is called “The soul escaping the body”; and a lineup of busts, including Kosciuszko, with stunningly distinctive faces.
Near the bronzes is a dramatic 20th century bust in Carrara marble of Władysław II Jagiełło, 14th century King of Poland.
In contrast to bronze, marble and stone there is glass. First an installation of panels, damaged when a tree fell in a recent storm, and then an odd little glasshouse with an array of blown glass, bubbles and vases.
By now I’m approaching the palace itself, a grand domed building fronted by a circular path and a lush lawn. A few people have taken deck chairs from the pile and loll and chat and read in the grey afternoon light. A couple of old woman do genteel laps. Around the corner a circle of supercilious cows connected by garlands keep a stern eye on a chained pushbike.
Why the rabbit farm? Królikarnia translates as “the rabbit house.” It’s a lavish Palladian palace in Mokotów so named because it was King Augustus the Strong’s rabbit warren, stocked for hunting. Destroyed in the war, it was meticulously rebuilt in the 1960s. It is now part of the National Museum of Warsaw, housing the largest collection of Polish sculptures from the 15th century on. That’s for another visit.