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 Beckov castle stands on a steep 50 m tall rock in the village Beckov. The dominance of the rock and impression of invincibility it gaves, challenged our ancestors to make use of these assets. The result is a remarkable harmony between the natural setting and architecture.
The castle first mentioned in 1200 was originally owned by the King and later, at the end of the 13th century it fell in hands of Matúš Èák. Its owners alternated - at the end of the 14th century the family of Stibor of Stiborice bought it.
The next owners, the Bánffys who adapted the Gothic castle to the Renaissance residence, improved its fortifications preventing the Turks from conquering it at the end of the 16th century. When Bánffys died out, the castle was owned by several noble families. It fell in decay after fire in 1729.
The history of the castle is the subject of different legends. One of them narrates the origin of the name of castle derived from that of jester Becko for whom the Duke Stibor had the castle built.
Another legend has it that the lord of the castle had his servant thrown down from the rock because he protected his child from the lords favourite dog. Before his death, the servant pronounced a curse saying that they would meet in a year and days time, and indeed precisely after that time the lord was bitten by a snake and fell down to the same abyss.
The well-conserved ruins of the castle, now the National Cultural Monument, are frequently visited by tourists, above all in July when the castle festival takes place. The former Ambro curia situated below the castle now shelters the exhibition of the local history.