Hillfort, Chełm
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

The surviving foundations on the so-called “Wysoka Górka” (High Hillock) are the remains of a medieval hillfort erected during the first half of the of the 13th century by prince Daniel of the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia. The distinguishing feature of this complex was its highly innovative form, virtually unknown in Europe at the time, with its cluster of residential, defensive and ecclesiastical buildings located in a courtyard surrounded by quadrangular walls with a monumental gatehouse. The design of the complex emphasized its rank during the early Middle Ages, when Chełm was both the capital of the principality and the seat of the local Orthodox diocese.

Location and description

The hillfort known as “Wysoka Górka” (High Hillock) is located in the central part of town, at the top of a chalk landform known as Góra Chełmska (Chełm Hill, 221 metres above sea level), commonly referred to as “Castle Hill” or “Cathedral Hill”. West of the hill lies the expansive Uherka river valley, with the swamps and waterlogged meadows of the lowland formed around the Uherka river and the now-defunct Darka river flanking the hill to the north and the south.

The remnants of the hillfort are situated on the summit of the Chełm Hill, on an earthen mound (the “High Hillock”) built on a quadrangular plan and featuring rounded corners, its dimensions being approximately 40 x 60 metres, with a varying height of between 7 and 17 metres. No remnants if any buildings have survived on the site, with the exception of old foundations. Today, the site of the hillfort remains disused and is overgrown with grass as well as trees. In the middle of the site stands the so-called Independence Mound, with Stations of the Cross being located at the edges thereof. Below the mound, the remaining parts of Chełm Hill are occupied by historical ecclesiastical buildings - the Greek-Catholic cathedral built in years 1735-1756 and currently serving as the basilica of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the former Basilian monastery and the bishop’s palace.


In the early 13th century, prince Daniel (Danylo) Romanovych conquered the territories around what is now known as the town of Chełm and incorporated it into the Principality of Galicia and Volhynia, much like the other areas between the Wieprz and Bug rivers. During the 1230s and 1240s, he erected a hillfort on the hill, followed shortly thereafter by a residence and the tserkva of St John Chrysostom. Prince Daniel was also the founder of the tserkva of the Mother of God, which is believed to have stood on the site of the existing basilica, as well as two other tserkvas - the tserkva of St Cosmas and Damian and the tserkva of the Holy Trinity - the locations of which have not been determined so far. The hillfort was damaged by fire in 1256; it has successfully fended off the onslaught of Tatar forces in years 1240 and 1259. The fortifications around the hillfort have been extended and modified somewhere between 1240 and 1256. Following prince Daniel’s death in 1264 and his burial in Chełm inside the tserkva of the Mother of God, until 1323 Chełm remained in the hands of the Romanovych family, although its significance has seen a substantial decline; towards the end of the 14th century, the region was incorporated into the Crown by King Władysław Jagiełło. The buildings that stood on the hill have been lost to the blaze in 1473; later on, the hill became the site of the tserkva of St Cyril and Methodius, built in years 1875-84. After World War I, the tserkva was demolished and replaced by the so-called Mound of Independence, topped by a cross.

The first reference to the city of Chełm was made by the chronicler Jan Długosz, who mentions it as a hillfort which had already been in existence back in the 11th century. The first mentions of the city were made in the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle back in 1223, where it was stated that the hillfort was founded by prince Daniel Romanovych (1201 - 1264) of the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia, who moved the capital of the principality from Halych to Chełm somewhere around the year 1240; at the same time, Chełm also became the seat of the Orthodox diocese, taking over this function from the town of Uhrusk. The buildings that had stood atop the “High Hillock” were eventually lost to the blaze during a fire which spread across the site in 1473. In the early 16th century, at the initiative of Jerzy Krupski, the alderman of Chełm, a new, wooden castle was erected on the hill, protected by a palisade and a number of fortified towers; the first mentions of this castle appear in a document dating back to 1510, in an inventory from 1545 as well as in other documents dating back to 1578. From 1611 onwards, the site has been referred to as the “alderman’s mansion”. Another mention of the building was made in an inventory dating back to 1769, where it is once again referred to as a wooden structure. Later on, in years 1765-1780, the complex was immortalised in a drawing made by T. Rakowiecki, where it is visible just below the “High Hillock”. Shortly thereafter, however, the wooden fort was lost forever, as it burned to the ground in 1788.

Condition and results of archaeological research

The very first, largely unprofessional “excavations” on the High Hillock were conducted at the initiative of bishop Metody Terlecki back in 1640. Much later, in years 1910-1912, a proper archaeological research programme began, led by P. P. Pokryszkin (member of the Imperial Archaeological Commission) as well as F. Korałłow; the results of the survey were later published in P. A. Rappoport in 1954. Subsequent archaeological and architectural studies of the site were conducted in 1966 and 1968 by J. Gurba, A. Gardawski, I. Kutyłowska, W. Zin and W. Grabski. In 1984 as well as in years 1993-94 and 1996-97, research operations and archaeological surveys were conducted by S. Gołub, U. Ruszkowska, T. and W. Mazurek as well as T. Dzieńkowski; archaeological and interdisciplinary surveys were performed in 2001 and in years 2010-2013 respectively by A. Buko, T. Dzieńkowski i S. Gołub.

The analyses have revealed that the “High Hillock” consists of a number of earthen layers of anthropogenic origin, their aggregate depth being approx. 6-7 metres; it has been determined that the artificial hill was created over periods of intense construction activities, especially during the early Middle Ages. A number of distinct phases of the functioning of the site have been identified. The earliest phase, linked to the construction programme initiated by prince Daniel Romanovych, encompasses the construction of the motte itself, the depth of the resulting earthen layer being between 2 and 2.5 metres, as well as the construction of a peripheral wall on the south-eastern part thereof, along its edge, thereby forming a rectangular courtyard with external dimensions of 22 x 33 metres and the surface of approximately 700 square metres. The foundations of this wall, about 2 metres thick, consisted of alternating layers of small stones and lime mortar, followed by large sandstone blocks; above the equalising layer, the overground section of the wall began, designed using a technique known as opus emplectum (an advanced construction art relying on structuring both sides of the wall with hewn stone blocks and filling area between them with split stones bound with mortar), with the surface of the wall being lined with blocks of green glauconite rock arranged in regular layers. In the northern section of the wall, traces of a monumental gateway have been discovered, with the path leading up to it being paved with flat stones bound with mortar; the outer walls of the gateway were adorned by a pair of flat lesenes. Within the peripheral walls, two buildings are known to have stood in the middle of the courtyard; however, the exact dimensions of these structures remain unknown. Both of them stand on the same axial line, with the eastern, bipartite structure possibly being the tserkva of St John Chrysostom; the other structure could possibly have been the keep, fulfilling both residential and defensive functions. During the second phase of the site’s existence, a tower, designed on a square floor plan (11 x 12 metres) was erected in the north-western section of the peripheral walls which have, by that time, fallen into ruin. The walls of this structure, between 1.5 and 1.6 metres thick, were made of grey sandstone and glauconite rock bound with lime mortar. Inside, a total of 6 functional and levelling layers have been identified, the oldest of them dating back to the 13th century, while the most recent one originates from the 14th century. During that time, the ruined peripheral wall was replaced by a fortified box rampart which surrounded the entire complex of structures that stood atop the motte; the box-like timber structures were about 6 metres wide and featured a chalk gaize infill. The sides of the motte were lined with gaize rock rubble, forming a protective coating; the rubble was obtained during the construction of the moat, the original width and average depth thereof being 15-20 metres and 5-6 metres respectively. During the third phase, after a devastating fire swept across the site, the extension works have begun, encompassing both the tower and one of the buildings located within the boundaries of the former peripheral walls. The subsequent stages were related to the use of the site during the late Middle Ages and in the early modern period; unfortunately, the details become somewhat sketchy at that point due to the levelling of the area, including, in particular, during the 19th century when the construction of the tserkva of St Cyril and Methodius began. In the course of site exploration, no traces of the 9th-century hillfort mentioned by the chronicler Jan Długosz have been identified; a secondary deposit of pottery fragments from that period had been found in the northern part of the mound, but no primary deposits thereof have been unearthed so far. In the northern part of the plateau of the mound, another notable discovery has been made, namely that of the remnants of yet another masonry structure - perhaps one of the other tserkvas erected during prince Daniel’s era.

During the surveys that spanned a number of years, a remarkable number of valuable moveable artefacts has been unearthed, most of them being pottery fragments. Among the valuable findings made on the site, one should also mention, among others, pieces of glass bracelets, a fragment of a silver ear cuff, cruciform pendants from the period between the 10th and the 13th century, early medieval cylindrical padlocks, various coins (including a Prague groschen from the times of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV [1346-1378] as well as a denarius minted during the reign of king Władysław Jagiełło) as well as ceramic floor tiles and pieces of stone architectural detailing.

The site of the burgstall is open to visitors.

compiled by Ewa Prusicka, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Lublin, 20-10-2014.


  • Buko A., Dobrowolski R., Dzieńkowski T., Gołub S., Patryk W., Rodzińska-Chorąży T., Palatium czy zespół rezydencjonalny? Północna część Góry Katedralnej w Chełmie (Wysoka Górka) w świetle wyników najnowszych badań, “Sprawozdania Archeologiczne“, vol. 66, 2014, pp. 101-154.
  • Dzieńkowski T., Średniowieczny ośrodek chełmski w świetle źródeł archeologicznych, “Analecta Archaeologica Ressoviensia“, Vol.7, Rzeszów 2012, pp. 371-458.
  • Dzieńkowski T., Sprawozdanie z badań wykopaliskowych na Górce Chełmskiej (stan.1), “Archeologia Polski Środkowowschodniej”, Vol. III, 1998, pp. 188-191.
  • Dzieńkowski T., Góra Chełmska we wczesnym średniowieczu [in:] Badania archeologiczne o początkach i historii Chełma, E. Banasiewicz-Szykuła (ed.), collective work forming part of the “Skarby z Przeszłości” cycle. Lublin 2002, pp. 73-83.
  • Dzieńkowski T., Gołub S. Góra Chełmska - centrum osadnicze we wczesnym średniowieczu, “Z Otchłani Wieków”, Vol. 58, No. 1-4/2003, pp. 109-112.
  • Gurba J., Kutyłowska I., Sprawozdanie z badań wczesnośredniowiecznego grodziska w Chełmie Lubelskim, “Sprawozdania Archeologiczne, vol. 22, 1970, pp. 231-240.
  • Rappoport P. A., Cholm, “Sovetskaja Archeologija”, vol. 20, 1954, pp. 313-323.
  • Ruszkowska U., Domniemane miejsce kultu pogańskiego na Górce Chełmskiej, “Z Otchłani Wieków”, Vol. 58, No. 1-4/2003, pp. 105-108.
  • Zimmer B., Miasto Chełm, Warsaw-Cracow 1974
  • Zin W., Grabski W. 1966, Wyniki badań architektonicznych nad wczesnośredniowiecznym Chełmem, “Sprawozdania z Posiedzeń Komisji Oddziału PAN w Krakowie”, July-December 1966, pp. 725-729.

General information

  • Type: hillfort
  • Chronology: XIII w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Chełm
  • Location: Voivodeship lubelskie, district Chełm, commune Chełm
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland


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