Castle, currently the History Museum, Bielsko-Biała
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Castle, currently the History Museum

Bielsko-Biała

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An example of a military and representative complex typical of the region, combining the artistic influences of the Austrian Empire and the local building traditions. The castle is also valuable from the historical point of view, as it is related to the history of the city and Cieszyn Silesia.

History

In the 13th century, the site was occupied by a wooden watchtower surrounded by an earth rampart and a moat. The purpose of the complex, laid out in the vicinity of a trading settlement situated at the intersection of two trade routes, was to guard a crossing on the River Biała. As the town grew rapidly in the 1st quarter of the 14th century, Bielsko and the watchtower were enclosed with defensive walls. An entrance wicket gate was installed nearby the watchtower and replaced with a fortified tower with a through-passage in the 2nd quarter of the 14th century. In the 2nd half of the 14th century, the process of transforming the watchtower into a castle was initiated in connection with its designation as one of the places of permanent residence of the Cieszyn-Oświęcim Duke Przemysł I. The first step was the construction of a south-east fortified tower of stone and of a representative building being an example of the so-called grand houses, constructed in important Silesian castles starting from the 13 century. Moreover, the watchtower area was separated from the city by means of an additional defensive wall. As Bielsko was designated as a permanent seat of the court of the duke, after 1442, the city was reinforced with another, outer band of defensive walls, and the castle was extended and adapted for representative purposes. At that time, the 14th century entrance fortified tower was incorporated into the castle structure and a tower was constructed in the south-west corner of the courtyard. In the 16th century, the process of extending the complex and adapting it for representative purposes was continued at the cost of its defensive features. Two free-standing, two-storeyed castle wings were constructed on the east and west sides and communicated with the other buildings by means of porches or loggias, and a two-storeyed annex adjoining the south wall, a lower gate, and a roundel were built, among other things. A small garden was established between the walls. Towards the end of the 16th century, due to a burden of debt, the dominions of the Teschen Piast dynasty became part of the State Country of Bielsko, which in 1592 was taken over by counts of the Sunnegh family for the next 150 years. Full-scale modernisation of the castle was carried out then, including the gradual interconnection of particular free-standing elements of the complex by means of decks and loggias and the decoration of the façades with symmetrical dividing lines and optical illusion wall paintings. The process was continued in the 17th century. As part of the castle renovations carried out in the 3rd quarter of the 17th century following the Swedish invasion, the final floor plan of the castle, consisting of four full wings spanned with an inner arcaded porch, was fully shaped. In the mid-18th century, the complex was taken over by the Sułkowski family, who owned it until 1945. In 1787, another series of alterations was initiated and continued at the beginning of the 19th century. Upward extensions were added to the wings up to the height of the second floor, inner corridors were constructed on the courtyard side, and a uniaxial, Baroque garden reaching the River Biała was established. Starting from 1855, the last series of works were carried out, consisting in the unification of the whole complex, modification of the external design, construction of the early-historicist Chapel of St Anne, upward extension of the towers, and the adaptation of the external appearance of the castle to the reshaped surroundings. The works concerned the interior design only to a small degree, the major alteration being the construction of a representative staircase in the west wing. In the 2nd half of the 19th century, works were also carried out in the immediate vicinity of the castle: the square on the south side was redesigned, part of the defensive walls were demolished, trading pavilions were constructed on the side of Chrobrego Square and the gardens. In 1934, the castle gardens were deprived of their function in connection with the subdivision of the city according to a 19th century design of Max Fabiani. In the 1970s, the 19th century trading pavilions were dismantled in connection with the construction of a new road to the east of the castle and new terraced retaining walls were constructed.

Description

The castle is situated along the north-east edge of the hill on which the building of the historic Bielsko are located. The main entrance, preceded with an undeveloped yard, leads to the castle from the south, and the most prominent part of the complex faces the representative Chrobrego Square on the north side. To the west, the complex is bordered by Wzgórze Street, and to the east — by the retaining walls towering over Partyzantów Street. The castle is made of brick and stone and constructed on a quadrangular plan consisting of four wings enclosing an irregular, trapezoid courtyard. The three-storeyed wings, covered with hip roofs, form a compact structure, closed when viewed from outside, decorated with avant-corpses, a fortified tower in the north-east corner, and the dominant rectangular tower in the north-west corner. A small rectangular chapel from the 19th century, surmounted by a quadrangular tower with a tented roof, adjoins the castle on the south-east side. The Neo-Renaissance, multiaxial façades of the castle feature a distinct socle level, a crowning cornice on corbels, and vertical division lines in the form of rusticated double lesenes. The north façade, framed by the octagonal fortified tower and the rectangular tower crowned with decorative battlements, is divided by porte-fenêtre windows at the level of the piano nobile. The windows open to a narrow terrace resting on a rusticated arcaded wall. The interior layout in all wings is enfiladed in nature, with corridors with barrel vaults on the courtyard side. In the south and north wings, there are two gate passages covered with barrel vaults. The south passage is decorated with semicircular-arched niches. In the west wing, there is a representative half-landing staircase on a floor plan in the shape of a rectangle terminating in a semi-circle, decorated with pilasters, a frieze with plant motifs, and cove moulding. In the north wing, on the first floor, there is a small room covered with a Late-Gothic groin-rib vaulting with thin stucco ribs, dating from the 17th century, and the corridor features tripartite windows with stonework decorations from the 15th century. On the same floor in the south wing, there is the so-called music room with Rococo-classical wall and ceiling decorations. In the north and west wings, there are also remains of 17th century optical illusion paintings from the former north wing and south wing facades, made using the grisaille technique and depicting architectural sections with figurative elements, as well as painted interior decorations in the form of door framing and friezes. In the cellars of the north wing, covered with barrel vaults, there is a Gothic pointed-arch portal from the 15th century.

The site is accessible. The castle can be visited during the opening hours of the museum.

compiled by Agnieszka Olczyk, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Katowice, 9-10-2014.

Bibliography

  • Bicz-Suknarowska M., Komorowski W., Zamek w Bielsku, [w:] O sztuce Górnego Śląska i przyległych ziem małopolskich, red. E. Chojecka, Katowice 1993, s. 91-136.
  • Chojecka E., Architektura i urbanistyka Bielska-Białek 1855-1939, Katowice 1987.
  • Chorąży B., Zamek w Bielsku: rys historyczny, Bielsko-Biała 2012.
  • Katalog zabytków sztuki w Polsce, T. VI: Województwo katowickie, z. 2: Powiat bielsko-bialski, red. I. Rejduch-Samkowa, J. Samek.
  • Zabytki Sztuki w Polsce. Śląsk, red. S. Brzezicki, C. Nielsen, Warszawa 2006.

General information

  • Type: castle
  • Chronology: 2. poł. XIV w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Wzgórze 16, Bielsko-Biała
  • Location: Voivodeship śląskie, district Bielsko-Biała, commune Bielsko-Biała
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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