The earliest mention of Labiau dates back to 1258. At that time Labiau was most probably an old Baltic Prussian village or a small fortified settlement. The first timber fortress was built by the Teutonic Knights during the second Prussian surge, around the year 1274 (other sources suggest that the first stronghold was established in 1258). It stood at the mouth of the Laba River and protected this waterway. During the Prussian uprisings, the fortress changed hands, being alternately demolished and then reconstructed. Finally, in the late 1380s the Teutonic Knights returned to Labiau, this time to stay. The earth and timber construction was subsequently replaced by then modern fortifications.
In 1347 and in 1352, Labiau attacked by Lithuanians. While the lands around the castle were ravaged by troops of horse-mounted warriors led by the Dukes Algirdas and Kęstutis, the local people escaped to Labiau and hid behind the fortified walls of the fortress, but the Lithuanians made no decision to besiege the town. In 1352 the Teutonic Knights waged an unsuccessful attack on Lithuania. Upon their return to Labiau, they decided to reinforce the fortress. New entrenchments were made and the old walls were repaired. A few years later, in 1360, construction of a new stone and brick fortress began.
The new castle was raised on a small isle surrounded by a crescent-shaped moat, deep enough to let ships enter, which is why a new harbour was built near the castle. The earth from the moats and old entrenchments was used to strengthen the castle hill. The new castle in Labiau was nicknamed 'a castle on water'. The building was laid on an irregular quadrilateral plan with all the castle wings being the same height. The foundations and walls up to 4-5 meters height were built from boulders; above - they were brick walls.
The ground floor had household functions, containing a kitchen and a bakery, for instance. The west wing was residential. It also had a huge furnace and a heating system fitted in. In the north wing there was a gatehouse. In the east wing there was a sanitary tower, known as 'dansker'. The walls were between 2 and 3 meters thick. There were most probably two watchtowers - in the eastern and western corners. Inside the castle, around the inner ward there was an arcaded walk, which took to the first floor. And there, on the first floor, we can still see some halls with cross and rib vaults. In the middle of the inner court, the building master Hannus Bolle of Gdansk made a deep well.
Around the castle there was an outer ward, encircled with a ring of fortified walls. One of the towers which belonged to these fortifications has survived to the present day, albeit extensively redesigned. There was also a church in the castle compound, called St George's Church. It was first mentioned in written records in 1408, but in 1541 it was converted into a brewery and finally demolished in 1880.
In the 16th century the castle was completely reconstructed to serve as a residence for the Duchess of Prussia. Some of the halls were decorated with frescoes executed by the Italian artist Gianbattista, also called Johann von Braun. A century later the castle began to lose its status. Some of the fortifications, then useless, were demolished and the buildings often stood empty. In 1818, when Labiau became the capital town of the district, the old castle was redesigned again. The old vaults were destroyed and new windows were made in the old walls.
The building was now housed the local authorities, a court of law and a prison. Although World War Two left 'the castle on water' in very bad state of repair, the prison was not closed down until 1964, when the castle was completely abandoned. Soon it was extensively devastated. For a few years it was occupied by a factory. In 1990 the ruined castle was ceded to the local government of Polessk, which intended to use it for cultural purposes.
Today those few castle chambers that have preserved the original vaults house a modest museum. Some other rooms contain an amateur theatre and several commercial companies. Most of the castle stands empty and desolate.References:
The famous Italian Medici family have given two queens to France: Catherine, the spouse of Henry II, and Marie, widow of Henry IV, who built the current Luxembourg palace. Maria di Medici had never been happy at the Louvre, still semi-medieval, where the fickle king, did not hesitate to receive his mistresses. The death of Henry IV, assassinated in 1610, left the way open for Marie's project. When she became regent, she was able to give special attention to the construction of an imposing modern residence that would be reminiscent of the Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens in Florence, where she grew up. The development of the 25-hectare park, which was to serve as a jewel-case for the palace, began immediately.
The architect, Salomon de Brosse, began the work in 1615. Only 16 years later was the palace was completed. Palace of Luxembourg affords a transition between the Renaissance and the Classical period.
In 1750, the Director of the King's Buildings installed in the wing the first public art-gallery in France, in which French and foreign canvases of the royal collections are shown. The Count of Provence and future Louis XVIII, who was living in Petit Luxembourg, had this gallery closed in 1780: leaving to emigrate, he fled from the palace in June 1791.
During the French Revolution the palace was first abandoned and then moved as a national prison. After that it was the seat of the French Directory, and in 1799, the home of the Sénat conservateur and the first residence of Napoleon Bonaparte, as First Consul of the French Republic. The old apartments of Maria di Medici were altered. The floor, which the 80 senators only occupied in 1804, was built in the middle of the present Conference Hall.
Beginning in 1835 the architect Alphonse de Gisors added a new garden wing parallel to the old corps de logis, replicating the look of the original 17th-century facade so precisely that it is difficult to distinguish at first glance the old from the new. The new senate chamber was located in what would have been the courtyard area in-between.
The new wing included a library (bibliothèque) with a cycle of paintings (1845–1847) by Eugène Delacroix. In the 1850s, at the request of Emperor Napoleon III, Gisors created the highly decorated Salle des Conférences, which influenced the nature of subsequent official interiors of the Second Empire, including those of the Palais Garnier.
During the German occupation of Paris (1940–1944), Hermann Göring took over the palace as the headquarters of the Luftwaffe in France, taking for himself a sumptuous suite of rooms to accommodate his visits to the French capital. Since 1958 the Luxembourg palace has been the seat of the French Senate of the Fifth Republic.