Villa Decius. The Past. The Present. And the Future.


Jost Ludwig Dietz came to Kraków from Hungary in 1508. Who could have expected then that that young lad would soon become one of the most influential persons in the city? That he would leave a remembrance that would shape the image of Kraków to the same extent as the Royal Wawel Castle. Justus Ludovicus Decius- as this is how the Alsatian started to be called in Poland — was a protégé of his compatriot, Jan Jacob Boner, a royal banker, the founder and manager of the largest commercial empire in contemporary Europe — the Wieliczka and Bochnia salt mines. Through his positions as secretary, bookkeeper and trusted deputy, Decius quickly became a consummate diplomat, practised financier and a highly positioned royal dignitary. A secretary of King Sigismund the Old since 1520, and soon his advisor and the principal of crown mints, due to many talents, literary and historical dissertations, many journeys and scientific predilections, he enjoyed the respect and friendship of the most outstanding European humanists.

He knew Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus. He also maintained close contacts with the Habsburg court. Already by 1519 he had obtained noble status from the King, and somewhat later he was received to the House of Tęczyński. In 1528 Justus Decius purchased parts of Przegorzały and Wola Chełmska villages near Kraków in order to build a suburban villa following the example of a fashionable paradis terrestiare in the environs of Florence and Rome — estates that were meeting places and places of rest and philosophical debate. He employed three Italian architects for the designing and construction of building: Giovanni Cini of Siena, Zenobius Gianotti of Rome and Filippo of Fiesole. Located on the picturesque eastern slope of Sowiniec, surrounded by an extensive renaissance garden, the palace was completed in 1535. Soon it became the venue for meetings of representatives of different cultures and nationalities, the exchange of opinion and for creative confrontation between various convictions.

After the death of the patron of the house, in 1545, the estate was inherited by his son, Justus junior, known as the leading dissenter in the capital of the Republic of Poland. The Arcadian estate in the Wola district, already known as Wola Justowska, was again full of guests. Those followers of religious innovation, the disciples of Luther and Calvin, found an atmosphere of tolerance and freedom at Villa Decius, and who knows, perhaps even an idyllic foretaste of eternity .

In 1590 Sebastian Lubomirski, the founder of the fortune of his House, bought the estate. He rebuilt the palace to meet the needs of his family. In 1630 a new storey, with a large impressive hall heightened the Villa. Two alcove towers were added and linked by a three-story arcade loggia. Most probably the renaissance treatise of Sebastiano Serlio inspired the change. Matteo Trapoli — the personal architect of the Lubomirskis, supervised the reconstruction works. The first outbuilding of the Villa, known today as the Łaski House , also comes from that period. The Lubomirskis were gradually becoming one of the first aristocratic Houses of the Republic of Poland and the small palace finally turned out to be too little. Therefore they moved to new much grander residences at Wiśnicz and Łańcut.

The eighteenth century was less favourable to Villa Decius. The estate often changed owner, and these did not always husband it appropriately. Under the Sanguszkos who presumably renovated the building and introduced changes into the interior, the whole second floor collapsed. Despite the size of the catastrophe, Andrzej Morzkowski — provincial royal official in Barcice — purchased the estate. Later, this time fortunately, the Villa passed into the hands of the Wielowiejskis.

The first of the three great ladies to reside at Villa Decius in the nineteenth century came from the Wielowiejski family. Already in the 1820s Joanna Ledóchowska née Wielowiejska transformed the destroyed and walled up Villa into a summer residence in accordance with her likes and Zeitgeist. The garden underwent the most significant change, it was converted into an English landscape park following the contemporary fashion. Such surroundings gave the Villa a romantic and somewhat enigmatic touch.

In the 1840s Henrietta Kuczkowska née Ankwicz took an interest in the estate. She came back to Poland after many years spent in Rome, where her parents kept open house, inviting the distinguished notables of the Polish emigré community. It is no secret that Miss Henrietta Ankwicz was the muse and the youthful beloved of Adam Mickiewicz, who portrayed her as Ewa in the third part of Dziady . After she had come back to Poland at the side of her second husband, Kazimierz Kuczkowski, Henrietta tried to maintain intimate contacts with the aristocracy paying no heed to their difficult financial situation. However, due to that carefree attitude the Villa underwent yet another costly reconstruction. An impressive front staircase appeared, the towers received balconies, an attic was added over the loggia. Once again the Villa was embellished, yet eventually the married couple went into debt. They tried to save the situation by selling off the palace furniture and Gobelin tapestry, and by selling licenses for tree felling in the Wolski grove. In the end, a Viennese banker, J. G. Schuller, purchased the declining estate for more than a million zlotys.

In the 1870s Villa Decius once again recovered its former splendour due to Marcelina Czartoryska, the Villa’s last aristocratic owner. The daughter of Michał Radziwiłł and Emilia née Worcelli, she was raised in Vienna, where she began her musical studies under Carl Czerny. She took lessons from Frederic Chopin in Paris, becoming with time one of the best performers of his works. In Paris she befriended many personalities from among the eminent Polish émigré community, as well as French literary and artistic circles. Her guests included such figures as Charles Gounod, Paul Delaroche, and Eugene Delacroix. In 1867 the Duchess returned to Poland for good and took up residence in Kraków at Villa Decius. Her house soon became the leading salon in the city, the mainstay of patriotism and Polish character. A fire at the residence in 1882 forced Czartoryska into a temporary removal to the city centre. Soon, after the reconstruction of the Villa supervised by Tadeusz Stryjeński, the Duchess returned to the palace in the Wola district. That restoration gave Villa Decius its neo-renaissance form and its current layout of rooms. Moreover, she added the impressive wooden stairway leading from the hall on the ground floor to higher storeys which still exists today. With the death of Duchess Czartoryska in 1894, the halcyon days of Villa Decius came to an end.

During the First World War it was used as army quarters. Later the Villa was changed into a tenement building. The Second World War deepened the devastation of the building — the Villa housed the Nazi police headquarters. After the war the building housed successively a school for auditors of co-operatives, a boarding school and a tuberculosis ward of the Dr. Anka Hospital. In the 1970s the building fell into complete ruin and it was hard to imagine that it would ever come back to life. Nevertheless, in 1996 Villa Decius once again opened wide its doors. Restored due to the efforts of the City of Kraków, the Villa regained its former splendour.

Villa Decius Association

The historical palace and garden complex of Villa is managed by the Villa Decius Association established in 1995 by well-known representatives of the worlds of science, economy and culture. Within several years Villa Decius has established itself as a cultural institution of international outreach and has become one of the bridges linking European nations and a venue for the dialogue of cultures.

At the base of all programmes lies the idea of meetings of representatives from various fields of science and culture from all over Europe. Through exchange of ideas and thoughts, they can explore mutual stimuli for creative work and advocate pluralism and dialogue in public life. Villa Decius programmes are also addressed to managers and entrepreneurs working at the point of contact between different cultures. Many interdisciplinary projects of Villa provide for a multifaceted outlook on the role of culture in the contemporary world, issues of international cultural cooperation and methods of cultural management and its financing.

In its programmes Villa Decius gives an important place to the role of the writer and translator in social dialogue, to European integration, the protection of cultural heritage, the issues of ethnic minorities and the development of tolerance. Just as centuries ago, Villa Decius is still eagerly frequented by eminent guests and outstanding representatives of their epoch. It is visited by crowned heads of state, presidents, prime-ministers, ministers of foreign affairs, recognised scientists and artists; the greatest authorities in social, cultural and political circles. Thus the ideas of the Renaissance accompanying the beginnings of Villa Decius are revived on the eve of a united Europe.

The main objectives of Villa Decius Association are:

  • to develop the activities of the Institute for Advanced Studies
  • to uphold the traditions of Villa Decius
  • to develop a forum for co-operation for the economic and cultural sectors

Palace and Park complex

Villa Decius is not only a Renaissance palace surrounded by an extensive park. Two outbuildings also belong to this historic complex. In the spring of 1998, one of the Villa’s outbuildings, Łaski House, named after one of the friends of Justus Decius, was opened after a thorough renovation. There are ten comfortably furnished rooms which are used by Villa Decius Association’s grantees and guests. The other sidebuilding is Erazm House. It was built in 2000, with the financial support of the Foundation for Polish-German Co-operation and the City of Krakow.

In the Decius Park there is also a Gallery of Bronisław Chromy, an author of numerous sculptures and memorials i.e. Wawel Dragon (1969) and Monument to the Polish Airmen fallen on all the fronts of world war II (1989) in Krakow.

The plans for the re-cultivation of the gardens around the palace have been systematically implemented. A comprehensive restoration of the whole park is being planned.

Awards and Diplomas

  • International Visegrad Prize

On 31 May 2012 in Prague, during the inauguration of the Polish Presidency of the Visegrad Group the International Visegrad Prize will be awarded. This is the most prestigious award in whole Central Europe, which was established by Ministers of Culture of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary in 2004 and is awarded annually to individuals and institutions for their actions for the development of cultural cooperation of the Visegrad Group countries. This year’s prize winner is the Villa Decius Association of Krakow, whose flagship programmes focus on the cooperation of V4. The most important among them is the Visegrad Summer School which has been carried out for 11 years enjoying an unflagging popularity and respect, as an international platform for informal study and a place to create new macro-regional initiatives.

  • For merits for the 7th District

In June 2006, on the occasion of the annual festival of Krakow’s 7th District, the Villa Decius Association was bestowed a title of honour “For merits for the 7th District” for its contribution to promoting culture both in the 7th District and in Krakow. The statuette of Lajkonik (formerly known as Zwierzyniec’s horse rider) was conferred by Dr Piotr Chechelski, the head of the 7th District’s Board, upon Ms. Danuta Glondys, the director of the Association.

  • Silver Medal of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic

In 2005, Silver Medal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic Eduard Kukan was conferred upon Ms. Danuta Glondys, the Villa Decius Association’s director, in recognition of her eminent personal contribution to strengthening Slovak-Polish cooperation in the new conditions of united Europe.

  • Diploma of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland

On 7th September 2005, the head of Polish diplomacy Adam Daniel Rotfeld conferred upon the Villa Decius Association a diploma for its outstanding contribution to Poland’s promotion worldwide in 2004. The diplomas of the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs have been awarded annually since 1970. Among their recipients in 2005 were Myslovitz, Jurek Owsiak and Marek Kamiński.

  • Honorary recognition — Diploma of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine

In May 2005, the Villa Decius Association’s director Danuta Glondys was honoured with an award of the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Borys Tarasyuk. It is the most prestigious Ukrainian award presented to international persons in recognition of their endeavours to strengthen the mutual relations between Poland and Ukraine.

  • Pro Publico Bono

On 11th November, the day celebrated as the Poland’s Independence Day, the Villa Decius Association was awarded the first prize in the “Pro Publico Bono 2004” competition for the best initiative in the field of international and interethnic relations, including activities supporting Poland’s integration with the European Union. The Jury highly appreciated Villa Decius projects related to intercultural and international dialogue, European integration, national and ethnic minorities as well as its endeavours to promote tolerance and human rights. Among the most significant projects were: a series of the seminars “Minorities in Everyday Life”, a publication “Tolerance — how to teach oneself and the others”, an educational project “My Europe”.

The Prize was presented to Professor Jacek Woźniakowski who on behalf of all the Pro Publico Bono laureates expressed gratitude for this prestigious award. Referring to Primate Stefan Wyszyński’s words, he emphasized the necessity of giving back dignity to the Poles, and the fact that this process has been vastly supported by non-governmental organisations.

In 2004, the ceremony of presenting the Pro Publico Bono award took place for the 6th time. Among the initiators of the competition for the best and the most interesting civil initiatives are e.g. Jan Nowak Jeziorański and Professor Jerzy Buzek. The Polish-American Freedom Foundation is the founder of the awards.