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.