Castle, currently museum, Łęczyca
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Castle, currently museum

Łęczyca

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The town castle in Łęczyca is a typical architectural settlement from the times of Casimir the Great. From the beginning, it was a royal residence, and thereafter, a seat of the staroste of Łęczyca. Three Polish kings visited it: Władysław II Jagiełło, Casimir IV Jagiellon, Sigismund III Vasa. Jagiełło stayed in the castle 36 times. The reason for such frequent visits of the sovereign were state matters (most commonly court cases), wars with the Teutonic Order, and comitia maiora. Along with municipal fortifications, the castle formed a single defence system, although it was separated from the town by a moat and a drawbridge. Due to its size, the structure is a dominating feature in the town’s panoramas from the east and north.

History

It was founded by Casimir the Great, probably shortly after 1345, when the land of Łęczyca still belonged to prince Władysław the Hunchback but it was no longer his main headquarters (the king - in agreement with the prince - could commence the construction of the defensive complex already at that time), or in years 1357-1370 (maybe in 1365), after death, in 1357, of the last prince of Dobrzyń and Łęczyca region, and after the Principality of Łęczyca was incorporated to the Kingdom of Poland. At the same time, the whole town was surrounded by fortifications, and the castle - incorporated into the town walls - occupied the south-eastern corner and was separated from the town by walls and a moat fed with water of the river Bzura, and constituted a separate fortification. The castle is built on an artificial mound, 5 m high. In the Middle Ages, the complex was comprised of: the main, corner tower, called the Nobility Tower, the gatehouse, a residential building in the south-eastern corner, called the Old House (residential building on an elongated rectangle floor plan, with two storeys, with the southern part intended for the eyes of guests - with one of the rooms or both rooms on each storey - and the northern, two-bay part, separated from the former with a hall, with three small rooms on each floor), unspecified wooden buildings and a peripheral wall surrounding the whole complex. In 1406, the Teutonic knights burned down the town and the castle. However, it was quickly rebuilt and already in 1409, king Władysław II Jagiełło convened a sejm there, at which decisions were taken in relation to the incoming war with the Teutonic Order. The castle in Łęczyca had its times of greatness under the rule of Władysław II Jagiełło and his son, Casimir IV Jagiellon, who visited the castle very often, among other things in connection with the Polish-Teutonic wars in those times. After the battle of Grunwald, part of Teutonic prisoners awaiting ransom were held in the castle, as well as western knights, so-called Teutonic Order guests. The castle hosted sejm for a couple of times thereafter (in 1420, 1448, 1454, and 1462), and it was also the headquarters of the next king, Casimir IV Jagiellon, during the Thirteen Years War with the Teutonic Order (1454-1466). Shortly after the sejm of 1462, the buildings were consumed by fire and the castle remained partially in ruin for the next hundred years. The castle of Łęczyca was a place of temporary stay of queen Elizabeth of Austria and her son Vladislaus, the future king of Bohemia and Hungary. The third Polish sovereign to visit the castle in Łęczyca was Sigismund III Vasa who stayed there during the trip to Cracow for the coronation. The fire in the castle in 1462 and the barmkin in 1484 significantly deteriorated the condition of residential buildings, tower, and walls. In the years 1563-1565, the then staroste of Łęczyca, Jan Lutomierski, Treasurer of the Crown, and castellan of Sieradz and Łęczyca, founded a full-scale renovation of the castle, transforming it into a staroste residence. The peripheral walls were renovated, reinforced, and extended upwards, defensive galleries running along the walls were repaired along with the gatehouse, to which a staircase was added. The drawbridge was repaired and extended upwards by one storey. The Old House was renovated, extended upwards by one storey, and provided with a basement, and its Gothic windows were extended to allow more light into the interior, which was provided with a new décor.Between the gate and the northern wall, a three-storey residential house was built (8 x 16 m and approx. 18 m in height), called the New House - it was joined with the gatehouse from the north, along the western defensive walls. The extended gatehouse and the New House were covered with a common roof. The Nobility Tower was extended and topped with a Renaissance parapet. The extensive works, financed from the king’s own funds, not only transformed the interior and the external appearance according to the style prominent at that time and residential requirements of the 16th century, but also significantly extended usable and residential space. The conversion at the request of Jan Lutomierski was the only such thorough undertaking in the history of the castle. In the end of August 1655, the castle in Łęczyca and the town were seized by the Swedish army led by general Robert Douglas. The fire and the epidemic ravaging the castle at that time made it easier for the aggressor to take the castle defended under command of staroste Jakub Olbrycht Szczawiński. During the fights, the castle was taken and retaken a couple of times. Finally, on 7 October 1656, it was retaken by the Polish army lead by king John Casimir - after heavy artillery shelling and bloody attack, during which the complex was significantly damaged (the eastern part of the castle, with the Grand House, the north-eastern corner of defensive walls, and kitchens). At the initiative of the nobility of Łęczyca, works were undertaken aimed at the reconstruction and securing of the building from falling into ruin, which were conducted partially to 1681, but already in 1705 - during the fights of Stanisław Leszczyński, supported by the Swedish army of Charles XII, against Augustus II the Strong - the castle was completely devastated. The damages were so serious that the building remained in ruins from the time of the Swedish deluge. In 1769, the ruined castle and the town were taken in fights with Bar confederates by Russian general Iwan Drewicz. The castle further dilapidated in the second half of the 18th century - the New House was abandoned, and the Old House, still used for some time to store municipal and land archives, fell into such a decline that the archives were taken to a Dominican monastery, and the building was partially dismantled. At the same time, still in 1779, efforts were made to secure the castle, e.g. the gatehouse was renovated, but nevertheless, collapsed already in 1788. As a result, in 1789, works to secure the main tower and to cover it with a roof were undertaken. As a result of the second partition of Poland of 1793, Łęczyca was incorporated into Prussia, and became a border town. The invaders decided to make a modern fortress from Łęczyca, surrounded by bastion fortifications, and to rebuild the castle. After the third partition of Poland, however, the border was shifted, and these plans were abandoned. Before that, a bulwark was created in front of the south-eastern corner of the castle. The peripheral walls were lowered and an additional gate was made in them, and the walls of the Gothic house were dismantled. In 1814, part of the Nobility Tower collapsed, and the Prussian fortification was dismantled in 1809 by the Austrians. After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the fortress was taken over by the Military Committee of the Kingdom of Poland, and then handed it over to the Engineering Directorate of the Polish Army, to use is as a warehouse and a gunpowder laboratory. In the New House, the captain of the engineers resided, and it also contained warehouses. In the preserved part of the Old House, in turn, a gunpowder laboratory (“gunpowder house”) was placed. In 1831, the town became the owner of the castle ruins, and they were administered by the mayor of Łęczyca who, using the castle as a public construction material repository, started to sell bricks from its walls. After 1834, the castle walls from the north and partially from the east, as well as part of the New House, and the tower, collapsed. In 1841, the town became a legal owner of the castle, and during the next years of the 2nd half of the 19th century, local citizens used its remains as a source of cheap construction material. This activity was stopped as a result of an outside intervention - the municipal administration gave up dismantling the castle, which - in a reduced form - survived until 1918, when Poland regained independence. The surviving walls were protected in the interwar period. During the World War II, the castle did not suffer further damages, and after the end of the war its remains were secured and partially reconstructed. In 1945, the structure was used by a scout corps (hufiec). In 1964, reconstruction works were commenced according to the plans of architect Henryk Jaworowski, and lasted until 1976. The works consisted in reconstruction of the main tower with distinctive Renaissance battlements and the western part of defensive walls with the gatehouse and a Renaissance residential building (New House). The buildings were designated to be used as a seat of the Museum in Łęczyca, existing since 1948. In October 2012, securing works were undertaken with regard to peripheral walls of the castle and gaps in the walls were filled.

Description

The remains of the castle of Łęczyca are located in the south-eastern corner of the chartered town, at the intersection of the contemporary H. Sienkiewicza and Belwederska Street. The Gothic castle was built by a specialised workshop - it reveals inspiration derived from Joannits architecture of the northern region. The current form of the structure is a result of reconstruction works conducted in the 2nd half of the 20th century. Currently, the castle complex is comprised of: residential wing (New House), full perimeter of the curtain walls, castle tower (Nobility Tower), gatehouse, and gunpowder house. The castle buildings occupy a quadrangular plot of land (42.5 m from the south x 44 m from the north x 59 m from the east x 63 m from the west), delimited by two straight and two angled curtain walls. In the south-western corner, the main tower is located (built on a square floor plan with the side of 9.5 m), passing in the upper section into an octagon, and topped with a parapet. In the northern part of the western curtain wall, in the quadrangular gatehouse, which is slightly advanced in relation to the wall face, there is the main passageway. The gatehouse is adjoined by a disproportionally narrow New House whose walls fill the north-western corner. In the central part of the eastern curtain wall, a small two-storey building is located, called gunpowder house. The spectacular western wing is comprised of a gatehouse providing access to the courtyard, with a three-storey New House, and connected with the main tower with a wall approx. 10 m high. The southern wall has partially survived to a similar height, the northern and eastern walls are significantly lower. A spatial dominant feature of the complex is constituted by the very high tower topped with a parapet. Between the walls, there is a cobbled courtyard, currently used for cultural purposes. At the level of foundations, the castle was built of erratic stones, and walls above the ground are made of Gothic brick. The wall faces were often converted throughout the period of usage of the castle. The main tower (Nobility Tower) up to the height of the peripheral walls (two fifths of its height) is built on a square floor plan. It is octagonal in the upper section and topped with a conical tented roof with a Renaissance, plastered parapet, and made of brick. Inside, there are brick stairs and platforms. On the ground floor, there is an entrance to the hall from the north. The tower may be accessed also via galleries on the defensive walls - from the New House and the gatehouse. The ceilings are made of wood. At the level of the crownwork of the walls, under the upper section of the tower, there are rectangular window openings semicircular arches in their upper sections. The quadrangular gatehouse and the New House added to it are made of Gothic brick laid in the Polish pattern. The structures are three-storeys high and covered by a common roof clad with roof tiles. The roof truss and the ceilings are made of wood. On the ground floor, there are barrel vaults. The New House, built on a quadrilateral floor plan, features a one-bay interior layout. From the south, it adjoins the gatehouse building through which, at the first floor level, rooms within the walls can be accessed. Entrances to the building are on the ground floor of the eastern façade and in the gateway. The western façade in the section of the New House has three axes, with rectangular window openings circumscribed by late-Renaissance stone surrounds at the level of the second and third storey, and in the section of the gatehouse - one axis. In this section, the western façade is slightly advanced in relation to the wall face, with a pointed-arch opening of the entrance gate in a two-storey high pointed-arch niche. Above the gate, at the second floor level, there is a small round window. At the level of the third floor, there is a rectangular window opening finished in the same way as in the New House. Under the roof eaves in both parts of the façade, there runs a plastered band. The gunpowder house is a single-storey building with high basements, made of brick and covered by three gable roofs laid with roof felt. The roof truss is maid of wood, and the rooms on the ground floor and the basements are covered with barrel vaults. The interior layout is comprised of two bays. The architectural form of the building is random and uses the relics of the earlier Old House building. Entrances to the building are located in the western façade in a shallow, lowered avant-corps with a triangular gable, and in the northern façade in a semi-circular niche, preceded by a wooden platform with stairs. In the southern wall of the building, by the walls, there is an entrance to the basement. The window openings are rectangular and topped with segmental arches. The defensive walls are made of brick, with three-stepped buttresses and vaulted galleries approx. 0.7 m in width and approx. 3 m in height, enabling traffic between all buildings of the castle. The gallery walls are approx. 0.5 m. The walls are covered with small roofs laid with roof tiles. In the upper section there are narrow, rectangular window openings with semicircular arches, secured from the outside with wooden shutters. The castle is the seat of the Museum of Łęczyca which presents permanent and temporary exhibitions relating to the history of the town, castle, art, and folklore of the region.

The historic monument is accessible. It may be visited in the working hours of the Museum in Łęczyca.

compiled by Jolanta Welc-Jędrzejewska, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Łódź, 19-08-2014.

Bibliography

  • Kajzer L., Zamki i dwory obronne w Polsce centralnej, Warszawa 2004.
  • Kajzer L., Salm J., Kołodziejski S., Leksykon zamków w Polsce, Warszawa 2001.
  • Katalog zabytków sztuki w Polsce, t. 2: Województwo łódzkie, Warszawa 1954.
  • Rosin R. (red.), Łęczyca. Monografia miasta do 1990 r., Łęczyca 2001.

General information

  • Type: castle
  • Chronology: XIV w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Zamkowa 1, Łęczyca
  • Location: Voivodeship łódzkie, district łęczycki, commune Łęczyca (gm. miejska)
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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