Nesvizh or Niasvizh Castle is a residential castle of the Radziwiłł family. The estate was owned by the Radziwiłł magnate family from 1533, when it was awarded to Mikołaj Radziwiłł and his brother Jan Radziwiłł after the extinction of the Kiszka family. Since the Radziwills were one of the most important and wealthy clans of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, it was there that the Lithuanian Archive was moved in 1551. In 1586 the estate was turned into an ordynacja.
In 1582 Mikołaj Krzysztof 'Sierotka' Radziwiłł, the Marshal of Lithuania, voivode of Trakai and Vilnius and castellan of Šiauliai, started the construction of an imposing square three-storey chateau. Although the works were based on a pre-existing structure of a mediæval castle, the former fortifications were entirely turned into a renaissance-baroque house. Construction was completed by 1604, and they added several galleries half a century later. The château's corners were fortified with four octagonal towers.
In 1706, during the Great Northern War, Charles XII's army sacked the castle and destroyed its fortifications. Several decades later, the Radziwiłłs invited some German and Italian architects to substantially renovate and enlarge the chateau. Antoni Zaleski decorated its yellow facades with baroque stucco work. The 16th-century castle gates were also reconstructed, and the two-storey gatehouse tower was crowned with a helm. It was at this time that the three separate buildings surrounding the central courtyard were joined into a single structure.
The most important structure in Nesvizh is the Corpus Christi Church (1587 to 1603), connected with the castle by a dam over a ditch and containing coffins of 72 members of the Radziwill family, each interred in a simple coffin made of birch and marked with Trąby Coat of Arms. Designed by the Italian architect Gian Maria Bernardoni (1541 to 1605), the church is considered the first Jesuit temple patterned after Il Gesù in Rome, the first domed basilica with Baroque facade in the world and the first baroque piece of architecture in Eastern Europe.
Apart from elaborate princely sepulchres, its interior features some late baroque frescoes from 1760s and the Holy Cross altar, executed by Venetian sculptors in 1583.
In 1770 the castle was seized by Russian forces and the Radziwill family was expelled. Soon afterwards the Lithuanian Archive was transferred to Saint Petersburg (where it remains), while the majority of works of art gathered in the palace were distributed among various Russian nobles. Abandoned both by the original owners and by the Russian army, the palace gradually fell into disrepair. However, it was restored by the Radziwills and between 1881 and 1886 the castle's interiors were renovated by Prince Anton Radizwill and his French wife, Marie de Castellane. They also designed a landscape park in English style. With an area of more than one square kilometre, the park is one of the biggest such facilities in Europe.
In 1939, the Radziwiłł family was expelled from the castle by the invading Red Army. In Soviet times, the castle was used a sanatorium, while the park gradually fell in neglect. In 1994, the castle complex was designated the national historical and cultural reserve. In 2005 the castle complex was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.References:
The first historical record of Lednice locality dates from 1222. At that time there stood a Gothic fort with courtyard, which was lent by Czech King Václav I to Austrian nobleman Sigfried Sirotek in 1249.
At the end of the 13th century the Liechtensteins, originally from Styria, became holders of all of Lednice and of nearby Mikulov. They gradually acquired land on both sides of the Moravian-Austrian border. Members of the family most often found fame in military service, during the Renaissance they expanded their estates through economic activity. From the middle of the 15th century members of the family occupied the highest offices in the land. However, the family’s position in Moravia really changed under the brothers Karel, Maximilian, and Gundakar of Liechtenstein. Through marriage Karel and Maximilian acquired the great wealth of the old Moravian dynasty of the Černohorskýs of Boskovice. At that time the brothers, like their father and grandfather, were Lutheran, but they soon converted to Catholicism, thus preparing the ground for their rise in politics. Particularly Karel, who served at the court of Emperor Rudolf II, became hetman of Moravia in 1608, and was later raised to princely status by King Matyas II and awarded the Duchy of Opava.
During the revolt of the Czech nobility he stood on the side of the Habsburgs, and took part in the Battle of White Mountain. After the uprising was defeated in 1620 he systematically acquired property confiscated from some of the rebels, and the Liechtensteins became the wealthiest family in Moravia, rising in status above the Žerotíns. Their enormous land holdings brought them great profits, and eventually allowed them to carry out their grandious building projects here in Lednice.
In the 16th century it was probably Hartmann II of Liechtenstein who had the old medieval water castle torn down and replaced with a Renaissance chateau. At the end of the 17th century the chateau was torn down and a Baroque palace was built, with an extensive formal garden, and a massive riding hall designed by Johann Bernard Fischer von Erlach that still stands in almost unaltered form.
In the mid-18th century the chateau was again renovated, and in 1815 its front tracts that had been part of the Baroque chateau were removed.
The chateau as it looks today dates from 1846-1858, when Prince Alois II decided that Vienna was not suitable for entertaining in the summer, and had Lednice rebuilt into a summer palace in the spirit of English Gothic. The hall on the ground floor would serve to entertain the European aristocracy at sumptuous banquets, and was furnished with carved wood ceilings, wooden panelling, and select furniture, surpassing anything of its kind in Europe.