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Górka Palace

In 1954, the building of the former Górka Palace, one of the most interesting objects of historical architecture in Poznań, was designated as the seat of the Archaeological Museum. Although the date of the move was not specified then - first the residence had to be rebuilt after the war damage - the attractive location right to the Old Market square and the prospect of adapting the interior to the museum’s needs provided a new perspective for the development of this institution. The Górka Palace – a town magnate’s residence, an important centre of the Reformation movement in the sixteenth century, and later the Benedictine monastery – survived until the Second World War as an ordinary tenement house. Over time, numerous alterations had obliterated the traces of the palace’s architecture, and only architectural and historical research carried out in the years 1959-62 made it possible to uncover the original structures and the layout of the Renaissance residence’s interiors. In 1957, the researchers attempted archaeological reconnaissance of the building. Excavations carried out then in the courtyard revealed the relics of wooden structures dating to the Late Middle Ages. In retrospect, the reconstruction of the building can be seen as a difficult attempt to combine conservation requirements and historical factors with the needs of a modern museum. It is also necessary to mention objective difficulties arising from a complicated economic situation of the post-war period. As a result of numerous discussions, the reconstruction of the building was based on the only known iconographic representation – a drawing by Juliusz Minutoli from 1833, with a view of the Baroque monastery. The interior design was a compromise between the needs of the Museum and the desire to expose original Renaissance architecture. The author of the project of rebuilding the palace and neighbouring tenement houses was the architect Aleksander Holas.

The present-day complex of buildings occupied by the Archaeological Museum, customarily referred to as Górka Palace, extends far beyond the area of the former magnate’s residence. Its beginnings can be traced back to the purchase of a plot of land located in Wodna Street by the castellan of Poznań Piotr Szamotulski. The residence was given a new shape by his son Andrzej Szamotulski, later governor of Poznań. In 1509, Łukasz Górka of Łodzia coat of arms became the successor of the estate. Raised by the Poznań bishop Uriel Górka, he quickly grew in importance and climbed up the levels of his political career, finally becoming a governor of Wielkopolska (Greater Poland) in 1535. Education, good manners, and great ambition allowed Łukasz to gain a significant position at the court of King Sigismund the Old and to become actively involved in national and foreign policy. The magnate with such a high status, an uncompromising opponent of the Reformation movement, a partisan of the Emperor, and at the same time a friend of Albert, Duke of Prussia, after the death of his wife he resigned from all his offices and started applying for the bishopric of Włocławek, which he finally received in 1538. The outstanding career of Łukasz, combined with his supposedly unrestrained desire to expand his wealth, had an undeniable impact on the shape of the discussed property, which became the main residence of the family. Łukasz, and later his son Andrzej, expanded the residence, which was an expression of the social position and the new model of life developed in the sixteenth century. From that time comes a richly decorated portal (1548) surviving unchanged to this day. The new residence consisted of a complex of two buildings with an internal courtyard on a square plan with an entrance gate. The model of the two-house residence was derived from medieval architecture. An undoubted peculiarity of the palace was the belvedere with a pond, in which – as the later Benedictine chronicle reported – there had always been plenty of fish. 

The fundamental alterations in the family’s residence were made by Łukasz’s son, Andrzej Górka. He continued the political aspirations of his predecessors, becoming the richest and the most influential magnate in Wielkopolska. In line with his father’s previous policy, he backed the pro-Habsburg side and maintained close relations with duke Albert. He supported the Reformation movement in Wielkopolska and made Górka Palace a shelter for many Reformation activists. In November 1543, Andrzej Górka hosted Albert, Duke of Prussia and Frederick II, Duke of Legnica, in his Poznań residence. The meeting was related to the situation of Protestants in Prussia, Germany, Wielkopolska (Greater Poland), and Śląsk (Silesia). The chronicle documenting this event provides information about the wealth and splendour of the Górka’s residence: Afterwards, they were served dinner [...] in the residence of the nobleman Górka located in Wodna Street. The house was decorated with such an amount of gold, silver, and rugs that it could easily be taken for a prince’s residence  ("The chronicle of Poznań town's writers", p. 49).

Andrzej Górka offered active help to the members of the Unity of the Brethern, who stayed in his residence in 1548. Interstingly, the chronicle holds that despite his religious preferences, in 1551, when Poznań was affected by a great flood which also hit all the churches making the liturgy impossible [...] the nobleman Andrzej, the owner of the Górka Palace, Poznań castellan and general governor of Wielkopolska [...] allowed sermons to be preached in his palace [...].

The activity of Andrzej I Górka supporting the Protestants as well as the activity of his three sons, Łukasz, Andrzej, and Stanisław, who openly converted to Lutheranism, made the building in Wodna Street one of the most important centres of the Reformation in Poznań. In the years 1540-1543 and 1563-1593, a Protestant congregation operated in the Górka Palace, which influenced the later history of the building. The last member of the family, Stanisław, having no heir, bequeathed the property to his brother-in-law, the Poznań official Piotr Czarnkowski. He, in turn, wanted to get rid of the property associated with Lutherans and sold them the building for a substantial sum of twenty thousand florins. The Protestants planned to adapt the building for their congregation again. However, well organised and widespread activity of local Jesuits caused a growing counter-Reformation sentiment in the town. After the protests by the Poznań bishop, the City Council, by an act from 1595, forbade the rebuilding of the property for the Lutherans’ purposes. Therefore, the residence was returned to Piotr Czarnecki, who, in turn, immediately sold it to the city.

The idea of bringing the Benedictines to Poznań and locating them in Górka Palace was proposed by Jesuits and received the approval of the Church authorities. As a result, in 1605, the Benedictine nuns bought the residence, which brought a new chapter in the history of Górka Palace, lasting for over two centuries. One of the important aspects of the Benedictines’ activity at that time was education. They opened a school for girls, mostly from noble families. The curriculum included reading, writing, singing, handicraft, housekeeping, and learning good manners. This kind of education, in the time when illiteracy was widespread among women, had great social importance. 

More than two centuries of the presence of Benedictine nuns in Poznań became a part of the city’s history. The monastery chronicle is full of important events, including the war with Sweden in 1655, where there was a real threat of losing the property in Wodna Street and restoring the congregation for numerous Protestants occupying the city. The chronicle is also a valuable record of the Northern War from 1704. The strict monastic rules forbade hosting lay people in the monastery, but it is known that the exception was made for two Polish queens: Marie Luise Gonzaga, the wife of John II Casimir, and Marie Casimire Louise de La Grange d’Arquien, the wife of King John III Sobieski. 

Already after the first nuns arrived in Poznań, the residence underwent a large redevelopment. As may be inferred from the monastery’s chronicle, the construction work covered the whole building. While deepening the cellars, the workers unearthed human skeletons, probably the remains of the cemetery located in this place in the Early Middle Ages. This account written by the Benedictine nuns is the first archaeological report known from Poznań. After the rebuilding of the second and third floors of a monastery, a church was established in the northern wing of the estate. 

The period from the Polish-Swedish War to the Northern War was a difficult time for the monastery. However, despite financial difficulties, in the years 1728-1734, the Benedictines bought another building - the former Graff’s tenement house adjacent to the monastery from the west. The purchase made it necessary to rebuild the northern part of the monastery. The appearance of the building after the redevelopment can be seen on the only surviving iconographic representation - a drawing by Julius von Minutoli from 1833, with large windows of the church and an ornamented portal in Wodna Street. 

The time of the Partition of Poland and the restrictive policy of the Prussian authorities towards the monasteries caused the gradual decline of monastic life, which also influenced the history of the Poznań Benedictines. First, Prussians confiscated the property thus undermining the finances of monasteries. Then, the recruitment of the novices to the monastery was made more difficult by raising the age of the candidates. The Napoleonic wars brought temporary hope in improving the situation and regaining independence. However, these were illusory hopes. The march of Napoleonic troops through Poznań caused substantial damage to the monastery buildings which were taken over and used as temporary hospitals or - as in the case of Benedictines’ church – military warehouses. A definite end to the presence of Benedectine nuns in Poznań was in 1828 when the Prussian authorities announced the dissolution of the monastery. Then a small group of nuns moved to a house by the Parish church, and the last of them died in 1857.

Thanks to the intercession of princess Ludwika Radziwiłłowa, on 5 July 1834, the king of Prussia handed over all the buildings of the secularised Benedictine monastery to a private secondary school for girls. The Ludwika’s school, as it was commonly called, provided four levels of education for girls. It took 8-9 years to complete the full course. High level of education certified by public exams was the result of both employing excellent teachers and the original curriculum. The new function of the building and its poor building conditions made a general renovation necessary. The rebuilding work was carried out in 1836. First, the church was closed and two residential floors were restored in its place. The appearance of the facade was unified and the Baroque gables were removed. An excellent description of the building from the time after its redecoration in 1836 was given by Marceli Motty in his "Walks around the city": At first glance, this tenement house seems the same as all the others: at the lower level are stalls, and at the upper three rows of windows: it is distinguished only by its corner buttress with a statue of the Virgin Mary and Child in which you immediately recognise a work of the Middle Ages, and few steps behind this buttress, in Klasztorna Street, you will see a carved stone gate with the date of 1548. [...]. There were also other statues on the walls, and the second carved gate with an inscription "Lucas do Górka capitaneus".

Until 1880 the school had its seat in the former Górka Palace. Later it was moved to a new building in Młyńska Street. The abandoned building was transformed into an ordinary tenement house, and it survived undisturbed until the Second World War only to be destroyed in 1945. The Archaeological Museum in Poznań was opened in the reconstructed Górka Palace on 8 June 1968. With time, the courtyard was roofed and modernised, which created an interior of an exceptional character. Archaeological research carried out in connection with this rebuilding project revealed the remains of wooden structures and brick architecture from the earlier phases of the building.

Kateriny Zisopulu-Bleja