Several beautiful gardens flourished in Warsaw during the eighteenth century. The trend originally came from France. Princess Izabela Czartoryska, née von Fleming, founded one of the most beautiful in the village of Powązki. Czartoryska was the wife of Adam Czartoryski, the Crown General of Podolia. By having the garden laid out, she was taking up the gauntlet from Princess Elżbieta Lubomirska, who owned a competing garden in the village of Mokotów (from the French mon coteau, ‘my hill’).
The idyllic Powązki garden was elaborately and exquisitely laid out. It was extolled by poets (including Stanisław Trembecki, court poet to King Stanislaus Augustus) and drew the admiration of domestic and foreign visitors alike. ‘Powązki looks like a small village tucked away in the forests amid lakes and streams’, wrote one of them, Johann Bernoulli. ‘Except for a few imitation ruins, there is nothing to see here other than a few simple thatched wooden cottages. Once inside, however, the dazzling sumptuousness of the furnishings is really striking. I have never seen anything so wonderful’. Only the princess, her older children and her friends lived in the cottages.
In 1780, however, tragedy reshaped the future of Powązki, when the Princess’s daughter Teresa perished in a fire in one of the cottages. The heartbroken princess returned to the Blue Palace in Warsaw for good. She had all her possessions in Powązki brought to Puławy before the outbreak of the Kościuszko Uprising . In 1790, a cemetery was established in Powązki. It is now the oldest necropolis in Warsaw.
Many of those close to Fryderyk Chopin – especially his parents – are buried in Powązki. Mikołaj and Justyna Chopin were laid to rest in the catacombs as recently as the early twentieth century. ‘Their final resting place’, writes Ferdynand Hoesick after being shown around the graves by Antoni Jędrzejewicz, ‘is marked by two black marble plaques built into the wall right beside each other in the upper level, i.e. in the second row beneath the vault. They have inscriptions in gold lettering. Although they are now completely blackened, they can still be read, albeit with difficulty. The first, on the right, reads as follows:
“In Memoriam Mikołaj Chopin
Member of the Examination Committee of the Roman Catholic Theological Academy
Born Nancy 1776
Died Warsaw 1844
Requiescat in Pace”.
To the left of it is a similar black marble plaque behind which lies “Justyna Chopin, née Krzyżanowska”’.
In 1948, some of the catacombs were threatening to cave in, so the composer’s parents were lain in a new grave at the rear of the Church of St Charles Borromeo.
All three of Chopin’s sisters – Ludwika, the eldest, Izabella and Emilia, who died before her time – lie buried in Powązki, as do his brothers-in-law, his godson, Ludwika’s son Fryderyk Jędrzejewicz, who died aged seventeen, and his niece, Ludwika Ciechomska, née Jędrzejewicz (Antoni Jędrzejewicz told Ferdynand Hoesick: ‘She was with my mother at the death of uncle Fryderyk in Paris in 1849. She had a prodigious talent for sculpture from her earliest years. Even when she visited the sculptor Clésinger (married to Mrs Sand’s daughter) in Paris with her parents as a child, she amazed everyone with her caricatures. She initially took lessons in sculpting from Hegel and then Myszkowski in Warsaw. When her grandfather, Mikołaj Chopin, died, it was decided to place a bas-relief, depicting the face of the deceased, over the plaque. My sister Ludwika was to make this bas-relief and to do so from memory. Unfortunately, every time she made a start, she had palpitations, so that in the end, she had to abandon the task…’).
Count Fryderyk Skarbek and Chopin’s teachers (including Wojciech Żywny and Józef Elsner), schoolmates and close family friends are all buried in Powązki as welll.