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:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.