The former House of the Pomeranian Estates, Szczecin
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The former House of the Pomeranian Estates

Szczecin

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The most impressive surviving Baroque public building both in Szczecin itself and in the surrounding province, designed by the eminent architect and fortifications designer Gerhard Cornelius von Walrave. Today, it remains an important part of the spatial layout of the Old Town district due to its location at the corner of the representational square and one of the adjoining main streets.

History

The palace was erected at the corner of Staromłyńska street - which had once led towards the northern exit from the city - and the Parade Square, established in the 1720s on the site of the former medieval defensive walls and moats. A Gothic gatehouse known as the Mill Gate had originally stood on the axis of the street. During the Middle Ages, the plots of land positioned alongside the city walls were considered to be of inferior quality and value. It was only when the Prussian fortifications replaced the earlier moats and walls that the two wide, representational parade squares - the so-called White Square on the northern side and the Green Square on the western side - have been established. As a result, the parcels of land located at the outskirts of the city have also increased in significance. Most of the townhouses which had once stood on the site of the existing edifice were demolished during the Russian siege in 1713. The decision on the construction of a new building was adopted by the Pomeranian Estates - the regional assembly which was, in fact, strongly urged to do so by the king Frederick William II - in 1725. The design was produced by Gerhard Cornelius von Walrave, who also came up with the design for the Fortress of Szczecin which was being erected by the Prussian authorities at the time. The construction works were performed under the direction of a man called Reinecke, a master brickmason, while the matters relating to stonework were the responsibility of master stonemason Trippel. The sculptural decorations were executed by the royal sculptor Bartholome Damart. The works are known to have progressed at a rapid pace. The construction began in the spring of 1726, with the building being completed in December of the following year. Frederick William I himself is known to have stayed at the palace in 1729; later on, he habitually resided at the new edifice whenever he visited the city, leading to the palace being accorded the status of a royal residence. The single-storey building with a mansard roof consisted of three wings surrounding an inner courtyard terminating in a wall positioned towards the south. The main, front wing with a two-bay interior layout faced Staromłyńska street. From street level, a grand, double exterior stairway led up to the representational vestibule inside. The staircase leading up to the first floor is believed to have been located deep inside the vestibule or on the southern side thereof, in the front suite of rooms, as shown in 19th-century documentation. The assembly hall of the Pomeranian Sejm (parliament) was located above the vestibule. The assembly hall was positioned inside the front avant-corps and spanned the width of two suites of rooms. The rooms which flanked the assembly hall were used as royal apartments whenever the king and his wife came to visit; the apartments designed for the king were located on the northern side of the structure, while those inhabited by the queen were positioned on the opposite side. The second, almost equally grand wing was positioned near the White Parade Square (known today as the Polish Soldier’s Square - Plac Żołnierza Polskiego). It followed a one-and-a-half-bay layout with a hallway on the courtyard side. The eastern wing of the palace was initially conceived as a single-storey structure. From 1816 onwards, the building served as the seat of the authorities of the newly established Pomeranian Province. Important changes to the architecture of the building were made during the second half of the 19th century. In 1871, the southern wall forming the boundary of the inner courtyard was replaced with a new wing. The eastern wing, originally designed as a single-storey section, became a two-storey structure. The interiors were redesigned in years 1876-1885. The transformations extended, among others, to the entrance hall, where the new, grand Baroque Revival staircase was now located. The front section of the hall was lowered, with the marble statue of king Frederick the Great created by Gottfried Schadow taking pride of place on the axis of the entrance. Entrance and egress was now effected from the level of the pavement; the main portal was redesigned and the external stairway disappeared. The gables of the northern façade were extended upwards, their design reminiscent of the French Renaissance. In years 1894-1896, the building was extended through the redesign of the front wing, which was now wider by three axes, its extension being effected through the incorporation of the former townhouse which had stood next to the palace. During the same period, the southern wing was also extended and redesigned to accommodate the grand, two-storey-high assembly hall of the Pomeranian Provincial Assembly. In 1928, following the completion of the new provincial government building, the old edifice was donated to the city museum; however, it was only in the years 1932-1934 that it was adapted to serve its new function. The building’s façade was remodelled to look just as it had during the Baroque period, with the reconstructed external stairway preceding the main entrance once more; the gables facing the Polish Soldier’s Square were likewise reconstructed. Inside, the entrance hall was remodelled, with its former fixtures and fittings removed and its front section regaining its original height. The ground-floor and first-floor rooms were adapted to serve as exhibition space, with the exhibits displayed dedicated, among others, to the art, ethnography and archaeology of the Pomeranian region. The former assembly hall was now used to display medieval sculpture as well as the banners of the Prussian army. The walls were painted gold - e clear manifestation of the expressionist tendency to apply powerful forms of artistic expression, such as vibrant, eye-catching colours. During World War II, the edifice sustained damage due to aerial bombardment. The roof was lost to the blaze, while the western façade was partially stripped of its plasterwork decorations. The entrance portal and window surrounds were damaged, while the balcony was completely obliterated. In years 1946-1947, a makeshift roof structure clad with roofing felt was assembled, while the ground-floor sections of the western and northern wings underwent renovation works in years 1948-1949; these works were followed by the reconstruction of the mansard roof with its ceramic roof tile cladding in the years 1950-1951 and the application of a new plaster finish and paint to the building’s façades in the years 1956-1957. During the latter period, the entire front façade décor - including the balcony and the main portal - was likewise reconstructed and subjected to the necessary conservation works. Inside, the museum now featured exhibitions dedicated to the history of art of Western Pomerania (with particular emphasis on the Gothic period), the era of the Pomeranian Dukes and the art created by various Polish painters. The offices of the authorities of the Western Pomeranian Museum (which was then transformed into the National Museum in 1970) were located inside the building from the very first years of the postwar period, with the director’s study being located on the first-floor level, in the front avant-corps; it was only recently - a few years ago, to be precise - that the director’s office was moved to the ground floor. The façades of the building first underwent renovation works in 1981, with subsequent actions following in the years 1997-1998, when a new colour scheme was applied and when various pieces of stonework detailing were also restored.

Description

The former House of the Pomeranian Estates (otherwise known as the Landed Gentry House or Landeshaus) is located at the northern edge of the Old Town district in Szczecin, at the corner of Staromłyńska street and the Polish Soldier’s Square, the latter being designed as an expansive promenade which replaces the former medieval defensive walls which had once stood here. The front (western) façade of the palace faces the Staromłyńska street, with the windows of the northern façade overlooking the Polish Soldier’s Square.

The design of the entire edifice shows unmistakable influences of the northern variety of the Baroque architecture, with its frequent nods towards Classicism. The four wings of the palace surround the quadrangular, trapezium-shaped courtyard within; the layout of the building features three right angles and a single acute angle where the main wings of the palace meet (the wings in question facing Staromłyńska street and the Polish Soldier’s Square respectively). The building features a basement underneath the entirety of its structure; the outer wings are two-storey structures with a garret, covered with mansard roofs, whereas the back buildings are three-storey structures with mono-pitched roofs. The exterior façades are partitioned with flat cornices - a socle cornice running just above the tall semi-basement and a string course above the ground floor; in addition, there are also sill cornices positioned below the windows of the first floor and cornice-shaped window headers above the windows positioned in the slightly recessed sections of the walls on the ground floor level. The profiled cornice running below the eaves of the roof above provides the finishing touch. The semi-basement windows are topped with segmental arches, with those of all the other storeys being rectangular in shape. The entrances to the building are topped with basket-handle arches. Both of the external façades follow a symmetrical layout, with windows arranged in pairs. This arrangement is only absent from the middle sections of the façades, with the central part of the northern façade incorporating a gateway into the courtyard, while the main entrance into the building is located in the middle of the front façade. The surface of the ground-floor level of the pseudo-avant-corps projecting from both façades are accentuated with linear rustication, as are the first-floor lesenes adorning the corners of the building and the sides of each of the said avant-corps. The front façade of the edifice, facing Staromłyńska street, was originally conceived as an eleven-axial design but currently follows a fourteen-axis layout, with a three-axis pseudo-avant-corps in the centre and a pair of two-axial avant-corps on the sides. The entrance into the building leads through the central pseudo-avant-corps; the entire front façade is a grand, representational design, with the entrance preceded by two opposing flights of steps and surmounted by a balcony resting on a pair of decorative stone corbels. The wrought-iron balustrade protecting both the stairs and the balcony above is notable for its sophisticated, ornate form. The coat of arms of the Duchy of Pomerania, flanked by supporters and laurel leaves, is positioned between the entrance arch and the balcony. Despite its decorative nature, this design pales in comparison with the quadripartite crest of the Kingdom of Prussia, incorporated into the massive tympanum which crowns the central avant-corps. The crest is displayed against the background of a winged, oval escutcheon surmounted with a coronet and surrounded by panoplies. A pair of allegorical, semi-reclining sculptures occupy the spaces along the edges of the tympanum, between the ornamental urns which surmount it; the sculptures were designed to symbolise Prudence and Justice - the two virtues without which no monarch would ever achieve excellence, in this case displayed as the prominent attributes of king Frederick William I. The elegant window surrounds and panels beneath the window sills further add to the overall grandeur and lavishness of the sculptural and stonework decorations that grace the building’s front façade. The window headers above the lintels of the first-floor windows - the semi-oval one above the central French window and the mitred ones above the other windows of the three pseudo-avant-corps - are particularly notable for their exquisite design. The windows in the slightly recessed sections of the front façade between the avant-corps are topped with simple cornices. The three-axial southern part of the front façade, added at a later date, can be easily distinguished from the rest of the design due to its austere design, with the windows framed merely by plain, simple surrounds. The northern façade is likewise rather more restrained in appearance than the front façade; following a thirteen-axial design, this façade features a pair of two-axial avant-corps topped with mitred gables, their top sections following a semi-circular outline. The sculptural decorations are limited to the split pediment above the middle window of the first-floor level, adorned with the sculpted head of the goddess Minerva, as well as the ornate urns which crown both gables. The window surrounds are likewise more restrained in appearance, their lintels being adorned with cornices or keystones. The southern façade, facing the courtyard and designed in the late 19th century, also deserves attention. The Baroque panoply reliefs positioned between the tall windows of the former assembly hall have all been salvaged from the now-vanished Parnica (Parnitz) Gate, which was also designed by Walrave.

The interior of the building follows a two-bay layout in the western wing, a one-and-a-half-bay layout in the northern wing and a single-bay layout in both of the back buildings. Access to the upper storeys is achieved courtesy of a number of staircases - the main staircase in the rear suite of rooms of the front wing and three auxiliary staircases located in the annexes positioned against the rear façade of the northern wing, in the corner between the western and the southern wing as well as inside the southern wing itself, in the area where it adjoins the eastern back building. The entrance hall, in its contemporary, austere form, dates back to the first half of the 1930s. The half-turn stairs are located in the rear section thereof, which is slightly taller than its front section. Exhibition rooms housing a permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of Pomeranian art are positioned on the southern side of the hall. One of the exhibition rooms, designed back in the 1930s, is notable for the presence of Late Romanesque columns originating from the Cistercian monastery in Kołbacz. The former meeting room of the Pomeranian Provincial Administration, almost two storeys high, is located in the southern wing. Today, the vast chamber is used as an exhibition space for numerous artefacts from the Gothic period, including the 13th-century crucifix from the cathedral in Kamień Pomorski and a monumental altarpiece originally designed for the church of St John in Stargard Szczeciński. On the first floor, visitors can admire a permanent exhibition dedicated to the rule of the Pomeranian Dukes, with its famous pieces of ducal jewellery and attire which have been found inside a number of sarcophagi interred inside the castle. Other rooms inside the building are designed to host temporary exhibitions.

The building is accessible to visitors during the museum opening hours.

compield by Maciej Słomiński, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Szczecin, 21-12-2014.

Bibliography

  • Fredrich C., Erbauung und Geschichte des alten Landhauses in Stettin, “Monatsblätter hrsg. von der Gesellschaft für pommersche Geschichte und Altertumskunde“, Jg. 42(1928), pp. 17-24
  • Krzymuska-Fafius Z., Dzieje zabytkowego pałacyku Gerharda Walrave, siedziby Muzeum Pomorza Zachodniego w Szczecinie, “Muzealnictwo” 6(1957), pp. 29-34
  • Słomiński M., Szczecińskie budowle Gerharda Corneliusa von Walrave, “Przegląd Zachodniopomorski”, II(XXXI), 1987, issue 3, pp. 109-120.
  • Słomiński M., Makała R., Paszkowska M., Szczecin barokowy, Architektura lat 1630-1780, Szczecin 2000, pp. 91-96
  • Architectural monument record sheet, compiled by A. Szerniewicz, 1993, typescript available at the Regional Monuments Protection Office in Szczecin.

General information

  • Type: public building
  • Chronology: 1 poł. XVIII w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Staromłyńska 27, Szczecin
  • Location: Voivodeship zachodniopomorskie, district Szczecin, commune Szczecin
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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