The History of the Villa Decius

In the second of our Postcards from Poland series, we wanted to tell you more about the history of our conference venue, the Villa Decius (pictured).

Villa Decius is the 16th Century Renaissance Palace of Alsatian diplomat Justus Ludwik Decjusz, Secretary of King Sigismund the Old. Built around 1535 just outside the city centre of Krakow, the Villa Decius served as a literary and cultural hub that followed the style of prominent places for philosophical debate in cities like Florence and Rome. The Villa soon became a lively meeting place for representatives of different cultures and nationalities.

After the death of Justus Ludwik Decjusz, the estate was inherited by his son, Jutus Junior, who sought to continue his father’s legacy, and the legacy of the Villa Decius, by encouraging tolerance and intellectual exchange amongst those that visited the estate.

From the late 16th Century onwards, the Villa and its estate underwent a period of change. New owners added towers and an impressive new storey to the building, before further changes in ownership saw the estate falling into disrepair. In the 1820s Joanna Ledóchowska née Wielowiejska transformed the derelict Villa into a summer residence, and its gardens into a fashionable ‘English’ landscape park.

In the 1840s Henrietta Kuczkowska née Ankwicz took an interest in the estate. She came back to Poland after many years spent in Rome, where her parents kept open house, inviting the distinguished notables of the Polish emigré community. At this time, the Villa underwent another costly reconstruction – a grand staircase and tower balconies added to the splendour of the place. Unfortunately, because of financial difficulties, the estate once again went into decline and was sold once more.

In the 1870s Villa Decius recovered its former splendour due to Marcelina Czartoryska, famed pianist and arts patron, and the Villa’s last aristocratic owner. After spending time in Paris and Vienna, rubbing shoulders with those in the literary and artistic circles of the time, Marcelina Czartoryska returned to Poland and took up residence at the Villa Decius. The house once again became a hub for creative and intellectual exchange. A final significant restoration of the building gave the Villa its neo-renaissance form and current layout of rooms. A new staircase was added which links the grand hall on the ground floor to the higher stories, and this can still be seen today. The death of the Duchess in 1894 marked the end of the Villa’s aristocratic history and its function as a family home.

After various uses during the twentieth century ranging from housing, use as a school and a hospital from the 1970s the Villa fell into complete disrepair.  However, in 1996 the Villa Decius once again opened its doors fully restored to its former splendour due to the efforts of the City of Kraków. Today, the Villa Decius Association, established in 1995, operates here. It is a non-governmental organisation and cultural institution supporting, developing, and propagating art and literary activity, as well as international cultural and intellectual cooperation. Through its programmes, and partnerships with national and international institutions, the Villa Decius Association, much like the original functions of the Villa in the 16th Century, creates a forum for exchanging thoughts and a space for creative development. With its history of encouraging inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue, its work in the cultural heritage field and its serene location very close to the City of Krakow, it provides an ideal conference venue.

The Urban Jewish Heritage: Presence and Absence Conference is organised in association with the Villa Decius Association. You can read more about the Association and their work on their website: http://villa.org.pl/villa/en/

Postcards from Poland is our official conference blog, designed to provide more information about the Urban Jewish Heritage Conference, the history and historical sites of the local area, and tips for places to visit during your trip to Poland. If you have any tips to share, or stories to tell, please do get in touch by emailing heritageconference@contacts.bham.ac.uk

 

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