Kings and Tourists

The Palace and Cas­tle Com­plex of the Radzi­wills in Nesvizh wel­comes guests in its re­stored splen­dor

Economy of Belarus - - CONTENTS - Svet­lana BAlYSHEVA

The Palace and Cas­tle Com­plex of the Radzi­wills in Nesvizh

wel­comes guests in its re­stored splen­dor

Nesvizh is the town the Radzi­wills de­signed, built and pol­ished for sev­eral cen­turies to make it a de­cent Euro­pean-style res­i­dence, a show­case of the tal­ents and the spirit of their coun­try­men.

Nesvizh is the town the Radzi­wills sim­ply loved; they re­mained loyal to it even af­ter their death. Nowhere else in Europe will you find a fam­ily burial vault larger than the one in the crypt of the Cor­pus Christi Cathe­dral in Nesvizh, which

Some­times his­tor­i­cal jus­tice tri­umphs, like it did in case with the old Be­laru­sian town of nesvizh. to­day on ev­ery road lead­ing to it you will see signs in­di­cat­ing that you are head­ing for the res­i­dence of the radzi­wills. in­deed, nesvizh is pri­mar­ily known for its af­fil­i­a­tion with the dis­tin­guished fam­ily of the radzi­wills whose mem­bers were among the most prom­i­nent po­lit­i­cal fig­ures of the era, which made the fam­ily hugely in­flu­en­tial in the Grand duchy of lithua­nia and Rzecz­pospolita (aka Pol­ish-lithua­nian Com­mon­wealth).

is the burial place for al­most ev­ery Radzi­will fam­ily mem­ber.

Mag­i­cal Pull of His­tory

Nesvizh is very spe­cial for the Be­laru­sian tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try, and not just be­cause of its as­so­ci­a­tion with the Radzi­wills; not even be­cause of the me­dieval ar­chi­tec­ture that has mirac­u­lously sur­vived the ups and downs of his­tory (some ar­ti­facts are still on dis­play at the lo­cal his­tory and cul­ture mu­seum). The af­fil­i­a­tion with the Radzi­wills and the sur­viv­ing me­dieval ar­chi­tec­ture have se­cured the Palace and Cas­tle Com­plex in Nesvizh a place on the UNESCO World Her­itage List.

But there is so much more to this town. De­signed and built with sur­gi­cal pre­ci­sion, its streets a paragon of rec­tan­gu­lar metic­u­lous­ness, this town is steeped in leg­ends and mys­tery. With­out all these things (as any de­cent guide will tell you) any ex­cur­sion

is no more than a dull and bor­ing lec­ture.

But let us start with the name of the town, which has two leg­ends and one more or less sci­en­tific to­ponymic ex­pla­na­tion. The leg­ends are down­right sus­pi­cious. Ac­cord­ing to them, the name Nesvizh comes from the word nesvezhy mean­ing some­thing like “no longer fresh,” or “long past its best-be­fore date.” You know, there was a killed bear which corpse was to be re­trieved but was al­legedly for­got­ten, which made the bear no longer fresh in terms of its culi­nary value. The to­ponymic the­ory does not sound any more sen­si­ble, ei­ther. It claims the name of the town comes from the name of the lo­ca­tion, the thick­ets along the swampy banks of the Usha River. What kind of swamp are they talk­ing about, for God’s sake if all you have got is ponds framed by forests?

Things are not much clearer with the date of found­ing of Nesvizh, ei­ther. Un­til re­cently, the found­ing date was con­sid­ered the date of the well-known bat­tle be­tween the Rus­sians and the Tatar Horde on the Kalka River. It was that year (1223) that was proudly put on dis­play on a road sign as you moved into the town; there was an­other road sign in­di­cat­ing the ex­act place where a mes­sen­ger re­port­edly im­parted the sad news of the death of Prince Yuri of Nesvizh in the bat­tle. There in­deed was a prince by that name, but as his­to­ri­ans came to learn later on, that prince had noth­ing to do with Nesvizh. The road signs were re­moved.

The first writ­ten ev­i­dence of the town sug­gests it was founded in the 15th cen­tury. As for the Radzi­will con­nec­tion, it emerged in 1513 when Anna Kishka gave Nesvizh to her hus­band, Jan Radzi­will, as dowry. Two gen­er­a­tions later, the lit­tle fam­ily es­tate was given the right of pri­mo­gen­i­ture, with the es­tate pass­ing on to the eldest son who had no right ei­ther to di­vide it or sell.

The thing with the Radzi­wills is not com­pletely clear, ei­ther. For some rea­son, nearly ev­ery tourist is dy­ing to know the eth­nic­ity of the own­ers of Nesvizh. If asked to­day, the Radzi­wills them­selves would sim­ply say they are the Radzi­wills. Fam­ily chron­i­cles are full of leg­ends: the Radzi­wills con­sid­ered them­selves descen­dants of the myth­i­cal tribe of the Sar­ma­tians and, at the same time, off­springs of some an­cient pa­gan priest. As for the fam­ily name, it re­port­edly de­rives from an an­ces­tor who ad­vised the Grand

Duke of Ged­im­i­nas to found Vil­nia af­ter a prophet­i­cal dream.

How­ever, it is hardly ap­pro­pri­ate to men­tion eth­nic­i­ties when the fam­ily name it­self was a syn­onym of power, wealth, and grav­i­tas. It was for a rea­son that the Radzi­wills were called the un­crowned kings. There were top mil­i­tary peo­ple, top po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, church hier­ar­chs among them. And one of the mem­bers of the fam­ily, Bar­bara Radzi­will, was lucky enough to be­come a Pol­ish Queen once. Not for long, though. That beau­ti­ful Lithua­nian lady was al­legedly poi­soned by the mother of her re­gal hus­band and died in agony five months into her coro­na­tion.

And although she never lived in Nesvizh Cas­tle, nor did she ever come to visit her cousins here, it was in Nesvizh where the Black Lady leg­end was born. As the leg­end goes, five cen­turies al­ready a shade of the young queen in her mourn­ing dress has been walk­ing silently along the dark en­filades of the palace, shed­ding tears for her lost love…

Leg­ends are not re­li­able in­for­ma­tion, of course. But I hope you will agree, a cas­tle with­out se­crets, ghost sto­ries, trea­sure hid­den some­where in the stone base­ment is like spring with­out flow­ers. Even if the cas­tle is a lit­tle more than a mu­seum now.


Go­ing back to the talk about his­tor­i­cal jus­tice, its log­i­cal con­tin­u­a­tion should be a mon­u­ment to Ni­cholas Christo­pher Radzi­will, aka Sirotka or “the Or­phan.” Cer­tainly there were other peo­ple of promi­nence con­nected with Nesvizh. Se­myon Budny, a well­known fig­ure of the Be­laru­sian Ref­or­ma­tion, taught and printed his books here. Lew Sap­iega, the author of the Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithua­nia, used to go to the lo­cal Je­suit school. The fa­mous Be­laru­sian poet Yakub Ko­las was a stu­dent at the Nesvizh Teach­ers Sem­i­nary.

Still, the mer­its of Ni­cholas Christo­pher Radzi­will “the Or­phan” are ex­cep­tional. His­to­ri­ans and re­searchers are unan­i­mous about his out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the well­be­ing of Nesvizh. It was un­der him, the eldest son of Ni­cholas Christo­pher Radzi­will “the Black,” who stud­ied at the best Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties, who trav­eled to many coun­tries as far as Egypt and Pales­tine, that Nesvizh be­came a modern town with stone build­ings re­plac­ing ob­so­lete wooden con­struc­tions.

Ni­cholas Christo­pher Radzi­will the Or­phan in­vited a tal­ented Ital­ian ar­chi­tect from the Or­der of the Je­suits, Gio­vanni Bernar­doni, to Nesvizh to spruce up the ar­chi­tec­ture a bit. The Ital­ian worked hand in hand with the lo­cal masters. Within a short time monas­ter­ies with tem­ples rose in Nesvizh, the town hall in the cen­tral square, stone build­ings lined in pre­cise sym­me­try. The first cross cupola cathe­dral in East­ern Europe, Cor­pus Christi Cathe­dral, was built in Nesvizh at the time. The palace and the cas­tle were also re­built and re­fit­ted in ac­cor­dance with the lat­est Euro­pean tra­di­tions of the epoch.

If you want to see how Nesvizh looked like in the late 16th – early 17th cen­turies, take a look at the map cre­ated by the fa­mous etcher To­mas Makowski, which was “copied” onto the wall of an old house. Tourists eas­ily read this map (the street lay­out has not changed much), rec­og­niz­ing some of the build­ings and even the 400-yearold Bernar­dines monastery, the town hall and the mar­ket square, the Slutsk Gates, the Cathe­dral, the cas­tle framed by the ponds and di­vided by the long bridge.

Cer­tainly, much has been lost, and not every­thing has sur­vived to this day in its orig­i­nal form. Most of the changes made to the town took place in the 18th cen­tury and are as­so­ci­ated with the rule of Duke Michal Kaz­imierz Radzi­will (1702-1762). It was un­der his rule that two floors were added to the main build­ing of the palace, as well as two gal­leries were added to it, and the palace it­self got the traits of the Baroque style. Duke Michal Kaz­imierz Radzi­will ini­ti­ated the re­build­ing of the in­te­rior and the ad­di­tion of the unique paint­ings in­side the Cor­pus Christi Cathe­dral. That work was man­aged by the fa­ther and son Gesskiys. Peo­ple used to say about the re­fur­bished cathe­dral, “Go all over the world, and nowhere will you see such beauty!”

It was un­der Duke Michal Kaz­imierz Radzi­will that the first pro­fes­sional the­ater was es­tab­lished (the plays were writ­ten and staged by his first wife). In var­i­ous parts of the Grand Duchy of Lithua­nia, and he owned about one-fifth of the coun­try, there opened man­u­fac­tures which prod­ucts dec­o­rated Nesvizh Cas­tle, Mir Cas­tle and other res­i­dences of the mag­nates. Many of the things used by the mag­nates back then (like glasses, places, gir­dles, ta­pes­tries) have later on be­come pre­cious ar­ti­cles and un­for­tu­nately are now in col­lec­tions out­side Be­larus.

Many of the changes to the palace com­plex were ini­ti­ated by Marie de Castel­lane, the wife of the 14th mag­nate of Nesvizh, An­toni Wil­helm Radzi­will. That beau­ti­ful French lady turned the palace from a de­crepit old struc­ture with holes in the roof and scrapped walls into de­cent liv­ing quar­ters. To­gether with her hus­band they built five parks (strangely enough, there had been no green­ery around the palace be­fore at all). Af­ter her hus­band had died, Marie worked hard to re­turn to Nesvizh the doc­u­ments, rar­i­ties

and valu­ables that used to be­long to the Radzi­wills at one time or an­other.

But who could think at the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury that it would take more than a cen­tury to make this dream come true? Who could imag­ine that the cas­tle would be ex­pro­pri­ated in 1939, that it would house a Wehrma­cht hos­pi­tal dur­ing WWII and af­ter the war a sana­to­rium?...

In 1953 the palace en­sem­ble was de­clared an ar­chi­tec­tural mon­u­ment. And it was not un­til af­ter 50 years had passed that the ar­chi­tec­tural and cul­tural com­plex of the Radzi­wills was in­cluded on the UNESCO World Her­itage List, and re­stor­ers, builders and other spe­cial­ists be­gan re­viv­ing the palace and the cas­tle, bring­ing them to their orig­i­nal state.

Ac­tive Di­rec­tor

How­ever, the words “orig­i­nal state” can hardly be ap­plied to the re­stored palace and park com­plex. It was for a rea­son, af­ter all, that the daugh­ter of one of the last mag­nates of Nesvizh, Miss Elz­bi­eta Radzi­will, said that the re­stored fam­ily nest did not look very much like what she re­mem­bered it 30 years be­fore that, back in the 19th cen­tury…

The re­stored palace looked very much like it was dur­ing the time of Duke Michal Kaz­imierz Radzi­will, the mid­dle of the 18th cen­tury, baroque, gilded fa­cades, wealth, etc. His­to­ri­ans may ar­gue about the ac­cu­racy of the restora­tion and re­con­struc­tion, but as a whole, one should ad­mit that spe­cial­ists and builders have man­aged to ac­com­plish the main thing, which is to cre­ate an at­mos­phere of splen­dor and grandeur for vis­i­tors. From the very first step you take into the palace in­ner yard, you have a dis­tinct feel­ing that it was the res­i­dence of kings, if only un­crowned kings.

To make this feel­ing last is what tour guides are there for.

To make it last is not easy by any means, be­lieve me. Three groups of spe­cial­ists were brain­storm­ing ideas for the in­ner de­sign of the mu­seum, – says the di­rec­tor of the Nesvizh His­tory and Cul­ture Mu­seum, Sergei Klimov. – Ini­tially, it was planned that the en­tire ex­po­si­tion would be ded­i­cated to the his­tory of the fam­ily. But the at­tempt to make this idea a re­al­ity did not come off at first, I think. The

ex­po­si­tion was too static, too heavy and quite dull.

The third group, which fea­tured Olga Bazhen­ova, among other spe­cial­ists (and she is con­sid­ered one of the finest ex­perts on the Radzi­wills), came up with a dif­fer­ent con­cept. The main theme of the cen­tral ex­po­si­tion was the his­tory of the coun­try with which the his­tory of the fam­ily was in­ter­twined closely. Why is that so? Be­cause it is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to fill the mu­seum with orig­i­nal ar­ti­facts, Radzi­will col­lec­tions, etc. “These things are scat­tered all over the world. Some say they saw a pic­ture gallery in Brazil fea­tur­ing paint­ings from Nesvizh Cas­tle, although this is hard to ver­ify…”

Also, an idea is to as­sign the palace and cas­tle com­plex the role it used to play un­der the Radzi­wills. Of course, the em­pha­sis will re­main on guided tours here, but the cas­tle it­self will com­bine the func­tions of a mu­seum and a mul­ti­cul­tural com­plex. The National Aca­demic Bol­shoi Opera and Bal­let The­ater is al­ready or­ga­niz­ing evening shows here, and the house is packed. There is a high-class ho­tel here, a restau­rant, a cafe. The Get­man Hall in the main build­ing can be eas­ily trans­formed into a con­fer­ence hall.

A home the­ater for 110 peo­ple has been ar­ranged in the palace. They plan to open it by putting on the play “The Kid­nap­ping of Europe” penned by the tal­ented wife of Duke Michal Kaz­imierz Radzi­will, which will be per­formed by the com­pany of the Yanka Ku­pala Aca­demic Drama The­ater.

Fol­low­ing the agree­ment with Met­ro­pol­i­tan Tadeusz Kon­drusiewicz, the fam­ily chapel will be con­se­crated again, and divine ser­vices are planned to be held there on hol­i­days. “In the near fu­ture we plan to open a spe­cial ex­po­si­tion with unique re­li­gious ex­hibits saved by priest Kolosowski in his time. Now lawyers are dis­cussing the de­tails of the ar­range­ment, af­ter which we will bor­row 63 ar­ti­cles con­nected with the cas­tle, Nesvizh and its cathe­dral for a longterm de­posit,” Sergei Klimov says.

“Un­til the end of the year we plan to open 27 halls for vis­i­tors,” he con­tin­ues. Tourists will en­ter the palace us­ing the orig­i­nal stair-

case dec­o­rated with coats of arms and paint­ing work. On the sec­ond floor they will see the ge­neal­ogy of the Radzi­wills with the ties that con­nected the fam­ily with the royal dy­nas­ties of var­i­ous states, copies of doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing the doc­u­ments en­ti­tling their own­ers to be granted the ti­tles of the dukes of the Holy Ro­man Em­pire.

Af­ter that tourists will as­cend to the third floor and pro­ceed to the Golden Hall, one of the most beau­ti­ful and richly-dec­o­rated rooms in the palace, with the main theme be­ing knight­hood, chivalry and ser­vices to the mother­land. In ad­di­tion to the por­traits of the Radzi­wills in their knight ar­mor (over 40 paint­ings from Be­laru­sian mu­se­ums will be lent to the cas­tle for dis­play), the mu­seum ad­min­is­tra­tion is now ne­go­ti­at­ing the pur­chase of a het­man mace.

“Also we would like very much to see a replica of the ar­mor of Ni­cholas Christo­pher Radzi­will here, which is cur­rently in Vi­enna,” says Sergei Klimov.

There are sev­eral rooms with col­lec­tions near the Golden Hall. The Radzi­wills used to col­lect a lot of things in an at­tempt to show how highly ed­u­cated they were. Tourists will have a chance to see the col­lec­tions of coins and min­er­als and Slutsk belts (a hefty sum of money was al­lo­cated for the pur­chase of these belts).

In the Het­man Hall there are por­traits of all het­mans of the Grand Duchy of Lithua­nia and Rzecz­pospolita. It is in this hall that a UNESCO in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence will be held in De­cem­ber 2011.

Op­po­site to the Het­man Hall there lies the Hunter’s Hall with game tro­phies which used to be well-known far be­yond the bor­ders of Lithua­nia… Over time, the ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to open new tours in ad­di­tion to those avail­able, namely a tour of the se­cret ram­part pas­sages and un­der­ground pas­sages. There are ideas to open a cinema the­ater un­der the main build­ing where there are huge vaults.

“I think that a mu­seum is an ever grow­ing stream of in­for­ma­tion,” says Sergei Klimov. “The most im­por­tant thing for me now is to re­as­sign to the cas­tle and the palace their orig­i­nal func­tions, and to bring the en­tire com­plex into the con­text of the his­tor­i­cal land­scape. The town hall with the mu­seum, the Slutsk Gates, the Crafts­man’s House, the parks and the palace and cas­tle com­plex should be used in joint mu­seum projects.

“We have in­creased the staff of the mu­seum due to the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the sec­ond phase of the palace. We em­ploy young spe­cial­ists with in­ter­est­ing ideas. We are cre­at­ing our own mar­ket­ing ser­vice to pro­mote our own tourist prod­uct. The cas­tle should be able to earn money not only though ad­mis­sion tick­ets and tours. For the record, last year 178,000 tourists vis­ited Nesvizh; this year we ex­pect around 260,000.

“In ideal, the en­tire mu­seum to­gether with the palace should be­come Nesvizh’s main mon­ey­mak­ing project, cre­at­ing new jobs. For this, there is a need to cre­ate bet­ter in­fra­struc­ture to be able to ac­com­mo­date guests, in­clud­ing af­ford­able ho­tels, camp­ings, cafes,” the di­rec­tor says.

The di­rec­tor has been look­ing at the former es­tate of Zaushye near Nesvizh, where there is an old mill, other build­ings and a 19th-cen­tury park, with an idea to cre­ate an ope­nair mu­seum and a ho­tel com­pound. “We have al­ready got lots of peo­ple in­ter­ested in fort­night tours, en­ter­tain­ment pro­grams, etc. But there are some nec­es­sary ar­range­ments that need to be made for this. Also, I would like to de­sign an event cal­en­dar for Nesvizh to make sure travel agen­cies know, for ex­am­ple, that in Fe­bru­ary we are hav­ing szlachta balls, in June opera evenings so that they could in­clude those events into their tours,” Sergei Klimov says.

Do you plan to in­volve any Radzi­will heirs into your projects? – I asked Sergei Klimov. “Peo­ple of­ten ask me this ques­tion. You know, my first trip in the ca­pac­ity of the head of Nesvizh Mu­seum was to Warsaw where I met Ma­ciej and Ni­cholas Radzi­will. We drafted some­thing like a pro­to­col of in­ten­tions, and Ma­ciej has al­ready pre­pared a part of his col­lec­tion for send­ing to the cas­tle for a long-term lease.

Of course, no­body of the Radzi­wills will ever come back to live in the cas­tle. But, I think you will agree, there ought to be a spe­cial place set aside for them in Nesvizh. We in­tend to as­sign a spe­cial room in the pres­i­dent-class ho­tel for them with three rooms and honor them with a sym­bolic key to the cas­tle which used to be home for the Radzi­wills…”

The three halls of the stone build­ing with the orig­i­nal fres­cos now house a restau­rant

Dur­ing a guided tour of the com­plex, tourists may take a look at the orig­i­nal Radzi­will­time fire­places

Guided tours of the com­plex be­gin at the orig­i­nal stairs built dur­ing the time of the first mag­nate of Nesvizh, Ni­cholas

Christo­pher Radzi­will the Or­phan

The Radzi­wills’ fam­ily nest was de­signed as a strong fortress

The di­rec­tor of the Nesvizh National His­tory and Cul­ture Mu­seum, Sergei Klimov

The main palace fa­cade dec­o­rated with the coats of arms of the Radzi­wills and the Vishen­evet­skis is a won­der­ful spec­i­men of the late Baroque

The danc­ing hall of the palace as it looked in the 18th cen­tury

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