Małopolska – the land of castles
One can say, without exaggeration, that Małopolska is the land of castles, palaces and fortresses, as permanent elements of the landscape. Of about 400 of these structures in Poland, over 60 are located in Małopolska. What is the reason for this? There are at least two reasons: historical and geographical. For centuries, Małopolska was the prime seat of the rulers, magnates and prelates. Alongside this, important trade and merchant routes passed through this region. We suggest visiting these lesser known yet extremely interesting historical buildings. This is an unforgettable experience, not just for aficionados of castles.
The Czchów castle
This castle is picturesquely situated at the top of a hill, commonly called Baszta (Tower), which dominates Czchów and the beautiful valley of the lazily flowing Dunajec River. The origins of this fortress trace back to the 13th century, when a twenty metre high defensive stone tower was erected, surrounded by wooden fortifications. The castle was intended to guard the trade route to Hungary and the customs house for the Hungarian goods. In the early 14th century, a small sandstone castle was built around the tower, serving as the seat of the starosty of Czchów. The Middle Ages saw a period of greatness for Czchów and the castle. After the middle of the 17th century, the town faded in importance and the castle began to fall into ruin. In the 18th century, the prison still existed there, but it was abandoned following the first partition in 1772. Renovation works conducted in the 1990s uncovered the outline of the foundations with a restoration of the look of the building. In 2000, a rooftop terrace was built at the tower, overlooking the Dunajec River valley, the dam and Lake Czchów. In 2018, for the hundredth anniversary of Poland regaining independence, a revival of the castle hill was undertaken, and the drawbridge with the gate and part of the castle building were reconstructed. An historical and military educational trail was developed, where visitors can admire armaments from the period between the 16th and 20th century. A nice attraction is the Czchów bugle call played at the tower on Sundays and holidays at noon.
The Dobczyce castle
This medieval castle lies on a rocky hill at Lake Dobczyce, formed by the waters of the Raba River. This fortified stone castle was first mentioned in 1362. It fulfilled a defensive function for Krakow and guarded the Raba River crossing. Above the rock-cut cellar there was the corner tower. The building had two courtyards – upper and lower, and the latter was the equivalent of a bastion that was difficult to conquer. The square tower was most probably the oldest part of the castle. Right at its wall there is evidence of an irregular well, once called “the well of death”. The lower side chamber served as the prison. In 1398, King Jagiełło and his wife Queen Jadwiga visited the castle. In the times of Kazimierz Jagiellończyk, the “Academy” was established for the royal sons Zygmunt, Aleksander, Władysław, Fryderyk, Jan and Kazimierz. They studied under the supervision of chronicler Jan Długosz. In the 16th century, the Lubomirski family were starostas of Dobczyce. In their times, the fortress was converted into a Renaissance mansion, a clock was installed at the tower, a chapel was erected in place of the gate, and a fountain was built. In 1702, the castle was destroyed during the Swedish army invasion. Despite the destruction, the castle had been inhabited until the early 19th century, when it was despoiled in search of treasures.
In 1960, the teacher Władysław Kowalski initiated excavations at the castle hill. Many years later, part of the castle was finally rebuilt and a Regional Museum for the PTTK (the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society) was established. It is worth mentioning such exhibits as the restored medieval blast furnaces for smelting iron, the torture chamber, elements of decoration of the castle, and architectural elements – lintels, pillars, Gothic portals, and the Jagiełło and Lubomirski coat of arms. Next to the castle, as part of the Museum, is an interesting yet small open-air ethnographic museum with houses and homesteads from nearby villages. Periodic events, shows, educational workshops and performances are organised at the castle.
The Tenczyn castle in Rudno
Above Rudno village near Krzeszowice, at Góra Zamkowa (the Castle Mountain), is the magnificent Tenczyn castle, one of the largest castles in the Krakow-Częstochowa Highlands. Interestingly, this fortress is located on a volcano. But relax. There is nothing to worry about – the volcano has been inactive for a long time. A wooden castle was first built there in the early 14th century by the Krakow castellan Nawój from Morawica – an ancestor of the Tęczyński family. The castle was then expanded by his son Andrzej, governor of Krakow and Sandomierz, who erected the masonry part, called the upper castle. He was also the first to take the surname Tęczyński. The next constructor from the Tęczyński family was Jan. He largely expanded the fortresses and erected the chapel and the lower castle. The first historical record regarding the castle comes from this period. This was the place where Władysław Jagiełło imprisoned some important Teutonic Knights – they were taken hostage after the Battle of Grunwald. In the 16th century, the Tęczyński family transformed the castle into a magnificent Renaissance mansion called the Small Wawel Castle, with arcade cloisters in the courtyard and walls topped with decorative attics. In the early 17th century, the fortifications of the castle were expanded, creating a massive roundel-type fortress with a splendid barbican that has survived to this day. This is how one of the largest castles in Małopolska, and the largest castle in the Krakow-Częstochowa Highlands, was built. It was often visited by Jan Kochanowski and Mikołaj Rej of Nagłowice, and in 1461, Jan Długosz lived there for almost a year. Unfortunately, in 1656, the castle was destroyed and despoiled by the Swedes. In addition, the Tęczyński family lineage ceased following the death of Magnus Tęczyński’s three sons. Admittedly, after the Swedish deluge the castle was partially restored by the Lubomirski family, the heirs of this demesne. However, after a fire and a lightning strike in 1768, it began to fall into ruin. That continued until 2008, when the association Ratuj Tenczyn (Save Tenczyn) was established. They were aware of the necessity to save this monument. In 2010, part of the castle collapsed. Thanks to the efforts of the Krzeszowice commune, in agreement with the heirs of Count Adam Potocki, renovation began and continues to this day. Since 2016, the fortress has been open to visitors. The castle is also a perfect place for film makers – this is where several historical TV series were filmed, e.g. “Czarne Chmury” (Black Clouds) and “Rycerze i Rabusie” (Knights and Robbers).
The Wronin castle in Czorsztyn
The Czorsztyn castle has been attracting attention and cameras for years. Picturesquely situated in the Pieniny Mountains on the steep hill, above the waters of the Dunajec River, forming the Czorsztyn Reservoir, it was a fortified settlement on the Polish-Hungarian border. One side of the river is overlooked by the Hungarian castle in Niedzica, the other – by the Polish fortress in Czorsztyn. According to the tradition written down by Jan Długosz, in 1246 the owner of the castle was the nobleman Piotr Wydżga, yet the real founder was the duchess Kinga, and the Wronin castle was mentioned in the document from 1320. The uncovered remains of the wooden buildings and the earthworks date from the 13th century, while the foundations of the cylindrical tower date back to the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the 14th century. The castle was expanded in the days of Casimir III the Great and became one of the most important fortified castles in the country, mainly due to its location in the fork of the trade trails and the route to Hungary and further to the south. The fortress became the centre of the starosta of Czorsztyn, a resting place for travelling monarchs, and shelter during storms. The castle was visited by Casimir the Great, Louis I of Hungary, Jadwiga of Anjou and Władysław Warneńczyk. In 1651, during the Peasant Uprising, the castle was besieged and captured by Aleksander Kostka-Napierski. This rabble-rouser was paid by a Cossack hetman to distract the attention of the Polish army away from the fight with the Bohdan Chmielnicki Cossacks in Ukraine. The castle was quickly freed by the troops of the Krakow bishop Piotr Gembicki, and the leader of the uprising was captured and executed. Folk tales and legends say that the treasure of Kostka-Napierski is hidden somewhere in the basements of the castle. In the 18th century, during fights for the throne between August II Sas and Stanisław Leszczyński, the castle was destroyed by hordes of Cossacks. A fire in 1790 accelerated this destruction. Comprehensive renovation works began in 1992 and continue to this day. The castle is open to visitors, and a number of restored chambers house the historical and archaeological exhibition. The castle is under the care of the Pieniny National Park. On its premises there is a field of Erysimum pieninicum. An unquestionable attraction is the regular trip across Lake Czorsztyn, between the castles in Niedzica and Czorsztyn.
The Dębno castle
This is the gem of Polish late Gothic architecture, representing the only preserved mansion of the magnates. This castle in Dębno has survived almost unchanged to this day. It was erected between 1470-1480 by order of the chancellor and Krakow castellan Jakub of Dębno of the Odrowąż Coat of Arms. In those times the castle was deemed extremely innovative. The entire structure consists of four buildings covered with hip roofs, centred around the trapezoid shaped courtyard. In 1586, the castle was rebuilt in Renaissance style by the Krakow architect Jan de Simoni. The next renovation was conducted at the end of the 18th century, when the Tarło family owned the mansion. Legend has it that the beautiful daughter of the owner of the castle, with wonderful golden plaits, fell in love with a poor courtier and took vows of fidelity. When her father learned, he condemned her to be incarcerated with her dowry in the tower near the Concert Hall. It is believed that her ghost sometimes appears in the castle at midnight. Though over the centuries the mansion underwent several renovations performed by the changing owners, they preserved the characteristic body and overall look of the building. In contemporary times the castle underwent a major renovation that lasted, on and off, from 1947 to 1976. Currently the castle is a branch of the District Museum in Tarnów. Visitors can admire the richly equipped rooms, e.g. the living room, kitchen, pantry and shrine, as well as exhibitions of military accessories and tools of torture. There are also cultural events, of which the most famous is the knightly tournament The Golden Plait of the Tarło Girl.