Râșnov Citadel - impressive refuge castle in Transylvania

Among the most scenic and impressive landmarks in the Transylvania (in Romania) are refuge castles, also known as peasants castles. These are a castles, that were not permanently occupied but were acts as a temporary retreat for the local population when threatened by war or attack. One of the most impressive castle is located in a town of Râșnov in the immediate vicinity of Brașov. 
Rasnov Fortress (also known as Râșnov Citadel) is located on a rocky hilltop in the Carpathian Mountains, about 200 meters above the town of Râșnov. From the walls of the castle offers a beautiful view of the Bucegi Mountains and Piatra Craiului Mountains.
The citadel was built in 14th century by Teutonic Knights as part of a defence system for the Transylvanian villages exposed to outside invasions and was later enlarged by the local population. Strategically located on the commercial route linking the provinces of Transylvania and Walachia, Râșnov differs from other fortresses in that it was designed as a place of refuge over extended periods of time. As such, it had at least 30 houses, a school, a chapel and other buildings more commonly associated with a village.
The defensive system included nine towers, two bastions and a drawbridge. Citadel is surrounded by 500-foot-slopes on the north, south and west sides. The citadel is composed of two courts. The exterior court is located in front of the eastern wall, edged by a fortified wall, and fitted with a square tower. The interior court represents the inhabitable area, having a better protection by walls and towers. It has a simple architectonic style, similar to the ordinary houses of the time and adapted to the fortification requirements. 
Castle remaining unconquered in 1335, during a Tatar incursion, as well as in 1421 during the first siege of an Ottoman army. The citadel was conquered only once, in 1612. The fall was caused by the lack of water due to the discovery of the path to a secret spring by the enemy troops. Thenceforth the need for a water source inside the fortress became a must, so in the first half of the 17th century 146 metres deep well was excavated in it. 
According to legend the inhabitants forced Turkish prisoners to dig a well in the centre of the fortress, in order to gain their freedom again. The prisoners dug the well for 17 years and while doing this, they wrote verses from the Koran on the walls of the well. 
The last siege of Râșnov Fortress took place in 1690 during the final Ottoman invasion of Transylvania. Citadel were damaged by fire in 1718 and by earthquake in 1802. The fortress was last used as a place of refuge during the revolution of 1848. This was the last mission of the citadel as a place of refugee and defence. 
Recently, the old fortress has been restored to its former glory and today, you can visit the impressive remains. There is also a museum here, which briefly presents slices from the local history, the area's habits and crafts, and also gathers pieces and weapons from the inhabitants past.



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"Versailles of Podlasie" - Branicki Palace in Białystok

Branicki Palace in Białystok is one of the most appealing historic buildings in Podlasie land and one of the best-preserved aristocratic residences from Saxon times in Poland. Palace complex in Białystok is also one of the most beautiful baroque mansions in East Europe. The design of the residence refers to Baroque palaces of French kings and led to naming the Bialystok palace the "Polish Versailles", or “Versailles of Podlasie”.
The palace was designed and built between 1743 and 1750 by Jan Zygmunt Deybel for Count Jan Klemens Branicki, Great Crown Hetman and patron of art and science, raised in the French milieu of the Polish aristocracy. Branicki was one of the wealthiest Polish magnates in the 17th century. It was an owner of 12 towns, 257 villages and 17 palaces (including the palace in Choroszcz, see: Palace in Choroszcz - summer residence of hetman Branicki). Form of the palace in Białystok reflects hetman’s royal ambitions. In 1763–1764 he ran in the election of the King of Poland, but was beaten by his brother-in-law Stanisław Poniatowski.
The late Baroque style of the Branicki Palace is evident: two large wings are at right angles to the body of the main building and a large courtyard and portico columns adorn the palace from the side facing Podwale Street. The roofline is an Italianate balustrade that masks a low attic story, and the heroic sculptural group of Atlas crowning all. Visitors enter the palace complex through the entrance gate named “Griffin” (coming from Branicki coat of arms). Beautiful sculptures by Jan Chryzostom Redler were placed on the Podwale Street side in 1750.
Between 1771-1804 the palace was an important centre of cultural life of Poland, thanks to receptions and events held by Princess Izabella Branicka. In September 1939, the building was burned by the German occupiers, and then completely destroyed. After the Word War II it was reconstructed based on designs by Borys von Zinserling, and it then became a state building, housing different offices. The heritage of Jan Klemens Branicki is continued currently by the Medical University of Bialystok, which is the owner of the residence since 1950.
Branicki Palace is surrounded with the best preserved Baroque park in Poland. French garden is made of labyrinths, fountains and boxwood hedges. Its main avenue leads through a bridge over the water container which used to be an element of the former castle bastion. In the neighbourhood of the French park there is another one kept in English style. Other outbuildings include the Arsenal (1755), Orangery and Italian and Tuscan Pavilions.


Palace in Choroszcz - summer residence of hetman Branicki

In the small town of Choroszcz, not far from Bialystok (northeastern Poland) is located a charming small palace. The palace was the summer residence of the crown hetman and castellan of Kraków, Jan Klemens Branicki (1689-1771), a powerful Polish aristocrat. The palace was built on an artificial island, which is surrounded by canals modeled after those at Versailles. 
The construction of the Baroque residence at Choroszcz lasted from 1745 almost until Branicki's death in 1771. A fire destroyed it in 1915, and the palace was reconstructed only much later during the years 1961-1973, and then made into a Museum of Palace Interiors in Choroszcz - branch of the Museum of Podlasie in Bialystok.  
The ground floor, where the Branicki family once had its quarters, and the first floor, where the guest rooms used to be, were rebuilt for use today as exhibition rooms, where one can see period furniture, for example, from Rococo to sets in the style of Louis XVI. The interiors are decorated with paintings from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, including portraits of the palace's owners, canvases of the French, Italian and German schools from the mid-eighteenth century. In addition, there are also mirrors, grandfather and mantel clocks, Meissen, Vienna and Berlin porcelain, art glass from Polish and West European makers, marble and bronze sculptures, alabaster vases, candlesticks, sconces and carpets.
There is 25 hectare park at the rear of the palace, designed probably by French architect Pierre Ricaud de Tirregaile. The Park is the only one of its kind in Poland, and its criss-crossing canals and star-shaped paths are similar to those at the gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles. 
There are also historic buildings of stables from the 19th century. The buildings are decorated with sculptures of the horses heads. (Source: culture.pl)

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