History of Palace in Balice

From Boner to Radziwiłł

The village of Balice near Kraków is mainly known for the international airport. Not so many people know about a beautiful and well-kept palace that stands hidden among trees near the exit from the Katowice-Kraków motorway. The village of Balice was first owned by the Toporczyk family from Morawica. Their Balice line took the name of Balicki, but changed it into Ossoliński after establishing a family residence in Ossolin. The first residence in Balice was built in 1518 by Jan Boner, a banker of King Zygmunt the Old, one of the wealthiest and most influential magnates in 16th-century Poland. Boner's financial clout is evidenced by the fact that he bought all debt-laden royal demesnes (the Spisz region for 12 000 red zlotys from Jordan of Zakliczyn; the town of Oświęcim and Ruthenian salt-mines for 14 000 red zlotys from Stanisław Kościelecki; and many towns, including Sieradz, Gostynin, Radom, Sochaczew, Piotrków, Drohobycz, Rabsztyn, Głuchów, Tuchola, Sącz and Inowrocław). He spent 200 000 zlotys to pay off all debts to the royal court, which had not been paid for years, and financed construction work carried out by the King at Wawel Castle. However, the palace did not survive and we can only imagine how it looked like.

Jan Boner's nephew and heir, Seweryn Boner, a great humanist and a patron of the arts, extended the palace in the form of an Italian villa. Balice was in full bloom during the time of his son, Jan. In 1553, the palace was visited by Queen Catherine, daughter of Emperor Ferdinand I and future wife of King Zygmunt August. "The Queen and her brother, Archduke Ferdinand came to Balice, the impressive rural residence of the Boner family, of which even Lucullus would not be ashamed. There the Queen stayed the night and the King sent her a golden chariot with 8 horses harnessed in gold and silver." After Jan's childless death, Balice became the property of the Firlej family. Jan Firlej, the Great Marshal of the Crown and voivode of Kraków, renovated and extended the wooden palace at great expense, planting many exotic fruit trees, in accordance with the fashion of the time. The rural residence of Firlej was a shelter for scholars as well as Arians. Jan Laski, a well-known European Protestant lived here for a long time. On 17 February 1574 in Balice, Jan Firlej entertained King Henryk Walezy at the head of 18,000 noblemen. The splendour of attire, armour and horses was so great that the king – accustomed to luxury – "only here felt like a king". Walezy came to Balice a second time to present Henryk, the son of Jan Firlej and the future Gniezno Archbishop and Primate, for baptism. In the same year, the estate was inherited, after father's death, by Kraków voivode Mikołaj Firlej, who entertained Anna of Austria, the fiancée of King Zygmunt III, in 1592. A colourful procession set off from Balice towards Kraków to meet the king. The archduchess, who travelled in an eight-horse carriage upholstered with pink satin, was accompanied by 4900 horsemen, 5700 infantrymen, and 262 people in carriages. In 1596, Cardinal Gaetano, the envoy of Pope Clement VIII stayed in Balice to hold diplomatic negotiations regarding the league against the Turks. The Cardinal's secretary noted: "the place in this estate is beautiful and spacious, although wooden, the garden lovely, full of fruit that are seldom found in this country, such as grapes, figs, peaches and apricots". In the early 17th century, the Balice estate went into the hands of Piotr Kochanowski, a nephew of Jan Kochanowski, the famous Polish Renaissance poet. During the Swedish invasion of Poland, the Swedish army plundered and destroyed the residence. A new brick palace was built in the late 17th century by Jan Szembek, the Great Chancellor of the Crown. The residence later changed hands to become the property of Darowski, Sołtyk and Homolacz families, and ultimately the Radziwiłł family, who retained the ownership until the Second World War. In the late 19th century, Prince Dominik Radziwiłł thoroughly reconstructed the palace after the design by Tadeusz Stryjeński. Stylized monograms of Prince Dominik and his wife Dolores are a common ornament found in the interior décor. After the Second World War, the palace was handed over to the Jagiellonian University. The then Vice Chancellor, eminent geneticist Teodor Marchlewski, established the Zootechnical Experimental Station there. In 1951, this was transformed into the National Research Institute of Animal Production. In the 1980s, the Institute carried out a complete refurbishment of the Balice palace, for which it was awarded in 1988 a prize from the Ministry of Culture and Art as the best user of a historic building, and three years later a diploma for best work in historic park landscaping. Today the palace is the seat of the Institute's management. Conferences are organized in the beautiful rooms and a hotel part is held in the side wing. The palace is surrounded by a park. The Renaissance Italian garden, described on many occasions by delighted distinguished guests who visited Balice, was established in the 16th century. The preserved 18th-century plans of the garden show 9 rectangular plots surrounded by avenues of trees, as well as a pond and an isle.

Zofia Musielewicz