The Royal Route

Known locally as Trakt Królewski the Royal Route is a title used to describe the road once taken by Poland’s kings to get from the Royal Castle in the old town, to the palace complex in Wilanów. The streets most familiar to readers, Nowy Swiat and Krakowskie Przedmieście, are covered in detail elsewhere in this guide, so we’ll start off on Pl. Trzech Krzyży, Warsaw’s poshest shopping district, and an area known for its ‘closed at dawn’ bars. Translated to mean Three Crosses Square the name is something of an inaccuracy, and more eagle-eyed readers will be able to spot four crucifixes: two date from 1731, another – held by the figure of St John of Nepomuk – dates from 1752 and a final one tops the church. The rotund looking church in the centre is that of St Alexander, and it’s here that Allied agents gathered during the war to swap information while disguised as the deaf mutes the church has historically catered for. Head past the Sheraton and onto ul. Wiejska 4/6/8 to catch a look at the Polish Parliament (Sejm), a series of dull looking low-level buildings. Parts of it are open to the public, but our advice is to give it a wide berth if there’s any public demonstrations going on – the miners in particular have a penchant for turning the whole area into a battlefield during their annual marches. Head back onto Al. Ujazdowskie to look enviously into some of the most elegant lodgings in Warsaw. Most of these 19th century structures have since been occupied by embassies but it’s not hard to squint and imagine the days when it was Warsaw’s leading entrepreneurs who resided in these grand mansions; number 17 was home to Michal Szlechow, a caviar magnate, while 12/14 was the domain of the Marconi architects. Then, lumped amongst these wedding cake masterpieces is the US Embassy (Al. Ujazdowskie 29/31), perhaps the best example of crap architecture in Warsaw – a position that’s fiercely contested. Built in late fifties this horror has to be seen to be believed, but don’t for a minute think you can get away with photographing the evidence. As you continue down Ujazdowski you’ll pass the castle, the neo-renaissance astronomical observatory and botanical garden. But the real point of interest should be the Belvedere Palace (ul. Belwederska 52), a building whose history merits a book. Built in the 18th century it was extensively remodelled in the 1820s, and became the official residence of the Tsar’s brother Prince Konstantine. His life took a colourful turn in 1830 when the November Uprising kicked off with an attack of the palace. The prince escaped, disguised as a woman, and the rebellion was crushed within a year. Marshal Józef Piłsudski used the palace as his residence during the interwar years (his statue stands outside), and the list of residents includes the Nazi Hans Frank, Lech Wałęsa, all Poland’s post-war leaders and General Jaruzelski, the man responsible for declaring Martial Law in 1981. The rest of the journey to Wilanów is a largely undistinguished trip through suburbia, but one structure that can’t help but stop you in the tracks is the Russian Embassy (ul Belwederska 49). This intimidating structure looks every bit a Bond building, and its not hard to imagine cold war intrigues being played out behind the darkened windows.

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