The Antonin property belonged to Prince Antoni Radziwiłł (1775-1833), who married Princess Louise of Prussia, a niece of King Frederick II (Frederick the Great). The prince served as governor of the Grand Duchy of Poznań and resided in the former Jesuit college in Poznań. He spent the spring and summer months of 1821-1826 building his hunting palace in the village of Szperek, which was renamed Antonin in his honour. This was the centre of an estate which had belonged to the Radziwiłł family since the 18th century.
The residence was designed by German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who drew on 17th-century German hunting palaces for inspiration. This was the only avant-garde work he ever completed. The palace was erected on a Greek cross plan. The building is composed of modules that make use of geometric shapes. Three-level wings with pitched roofs are connected to the four-level octagonal central part (which has a tented roof) on four sides.
Inside, a massive octagonal chimney fulfils its structural role of supporting the polychrome ceiling. The residential apartments are in the wings and are connected via two-level galleries circling the foyer. The walls of the chimney stack display deer and moose heads (complete with antlers) as well as two chimneys.
The central interior reflects the democratic mindset of the duke. Twenty four guests could stay by the fireplace on equal terms. Everyone resided in the same standard of apartment, which consisted of an anteroom, a living room and a bedroom. Schinkel also designed folding beds for the servants.
Although considered wooden, the palace is actually timber framed. The walls are coated with peat for insulation and warmth while the outside walls are covered with pinewood beams. The socle is made of bog iron and the basement, which houses the kitchen, is made of brick.
Shinkel designed a Swiss style single-storey house, a forester’s lodge, a coach house, a dairy with a lounge room, and a “garden centre” at a respectable distance from the palace. Everything has survived, apart from the dairy.
The residential complex stands in forest clearings cut out to imitate natural glades. Pathways wind in amongst trees and shrubs, cross streams over wooden bridges and lead off into the forest. The islet in the small pond that lies between the palace and the road leading towards Ostrzeszów contains a symbolic tomb of two Radziwiłł children who died in infancy. One of them is modelled on the tomb of Scipio the Bearded in the Vatican. This is a very personal corner of the estate.
The commons were further on, not far from Lake Szperek. The school built here for local children is now a forester’s lodge. Family members were laid to rest in the nearby neo-Romanesque brick mausoleum, designed by Heinrich Häberlin and built 1835-1838. The building had always doubled as a chapel for the local population. The mausoleum was extended in the early 20th century. A triumphal arch, dating from the 9th or 8th century as a Byzantine work of art, was imported from Italy. The image of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn in the round, stained glass presbytery window is meant to highlight the Radziwiłł family’s Lithuanian connection. The classicist entrance door is remarkable.
The last male heir in primogeniture had the caskets exhumed and interred beside the chapel in simple earthen graves with wooden crosses. The information plaques placed on them list the name of the person buried there along with that of his or her spouse.
Frédéric Chopin spent the autumns of 1827 and 1829 in Antonin.
Tsarina Aleksandra Feodorovna visited with her son, the future Alexander II, in May and June of 1829, with Tsar Nicholas I arriving later. The Tsarina also came here in 1830, as did the “uncrowned King of Poland”, Prince Adam Czartoryski. The Dukes of Saxe-Weimar, Mecklenburg, and the Netherlands all visited, as did Alexander von Humboldt, the prominent German scholar who pioneered landscape science, climatology, oceanography and plant geography (the precursor to nature conservation). Members of the Hohenzollern family, who were related to the Radziwiłłs, most frequently came here to hunt. Princess Elise visited Prince Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig Hohenzollern, the second son of King Wilhelm Friedrich III of Prussia, who was in love with her. Wilhelm bowed to family pressure and broke off his relationship with Eliza. They met in Antonin in 1829 for the last time. He was crowned King Wilhelm I of Prussia in 1861 and the first Emperor of a united Germany in 1871. He never forgot his youthful love and kept her portrait on his desk. Elise never married and died of consumption a few years after their breakup. She was interred in the mausoleum in Antonin.References:
The Château de Foix dominates the town of Foix. An important tourist site, it is known as a centre of the Cathars. Built on an older 7th-century fortification, the castle is known from 987. In 1002, it was mentioned in the will of Roger I, Count of Carcassonne, who bequeathed the fortress to his youngest child, Bernard. In effect, the family ruling over the region were installed here which allowed them to control access to the upper Ariège valley and to keep surveillance from this strategic point over the lower land, protected behind impregnable walls.
In 1034, the castle became capital of the County of Foix and played a decisive role in medieval military history. During the two following centuries, the castle was home to Counts with shining personalities who became the soul of the Occitan resistance during the crusade against the Albigensians. The county became a privileged refuge for persecuted Cathars.
The castle, often besieged (notably by Simon de Montfort in 1211 and 1212), resisted assault and was only taken once, in 1486, thanks to treachery during the war between two branches of the Foix family.
From the 14th century, the Counts of Foix spent less and less time in the uncomfortable castle, preferring the Governors' Palace. From 1479, the Counts of Foix became Kings of Navarre and the last of them, made Henri IV of France, annexed his Pyrrenean lands to France.
As seat of the Governor of the Foix region from the 15th century, the castle continued to ensure the defence of the area, notably during the Wars of Religion. Alone of all the castles in the region, it was exempted from the destruction orders of Richelieu (1632-1638).
Until the Revolution, the fortress remained a garrison. Its life was brightened with grand receptions for its governors, including the Count of Tréville, captain of musketeers under Louis XIII and Marshal Philippe Henri de Ségur, one of Louis XVI's ministers. The Round Tower, built in the 15th century, is the most recent, the two square towers having been built before the 11th century. They served as a political and civil prison for four centuries until 1862.
Since 1930, the castle has housed the collections of the Ariège départemental museum. Sections on prehistory, Gallo-Roman and mediaeval archaeology tell the history of Ariège from ancient times. Currently, the museum is rearranging exhibits to concentrate on the history of the castle site so as to recreate the life of Foix at the time of the Counts.