The Olsztyn castle ruins, Olsztyn
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The Olsztyn castle ruins

Olsztyn

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The castle ruins in Olsztyn are one of the most well-known and picturesque remnants of the legendary complex of castles which had once towered over the Cracow-Częstochowa Upland; at the same time, these ruins are also one of the most significant fortified structures in the Cracow region from both a research and historical standpoint. The complex is one of the oldest medieval castles in the entire Cracow-Częstochowa Upland, formed in a process of gradual transformation of medieval hillforts, which were either extended or built from the ground up by King Casimir the Great in order to safeguard the Silesian border. Today, the value of the Olsztyn castle stems mostly from its picturesque quality and the natural links between the castle ruins and the surrounding landscape as well as the presence of a substantial number of archaeological relics of the various constituent parts of the castle complex. These relics include both the parts of the castle, which was gradually expanding from the 13th century onwards, the vestiges of the early medieval hillfort as well as traces of Palaeolithic settlement on the Castle Hill. Having remained in a state of permanent ruin for more than 300 years, the complex still presents an immense historical, artistic and research value, with the mere sight of its ancient, age-worn walls producing a powerful emotional response.

History

Before the existing castle was built, the site thereof was most likely occupied by a wooden hillfort surrounded by an earthen rampart; this hillfort was later consumed by the flames in the mid-13th century. Neither the identity of the founders of the hillfort nor its intended function have been determined. The construction of the original brick and stone castle in the mid-13th century or the early 14th century began at the initiative of one of the erstwhile dukes of Cracow, or a local knight known as Przemił. The spatial layout of the castle, known as the Przymiłowice citadel at that time, was dictated by its defensive functions, resulting in a compact structure perched on the apex of the hill, consisting of a monumental keep surrounded by a ring of defensive walls. The further extension of the complex, i.e. the construction of the middle and lower castle, was largely dependent upon the existing terrain. Numerous rock outcroppings scattered across the hill have been incorporated into the walls of the complex. Two additional rings of defensive walls were constructed around the complex in the late 13th and early 14th century.

In 13094, the castle remained under the control of duke Władysław the Elbow-high, who, according to one of the existing theories, planned to convert the castle into a fortress designed to fend off incursions and attacks from the territories of Bohemia and Silesia; at that time, incidents of this kind were relatively frequent, with armed raiders seeking to plunder the local settlements or subjugate new territories for themselves. The first phase of the project, implemented at the initiative of Casimir the Great before the year 1341, most likely involved the extension and adaptation of the castle to the ever-increasing military needs. In 1370, the castle, along with the entire Wieluń region, was taken over by duke Władysław Opolczyk and became the centre of the ducal domain, while in 1391 it was reincorporated into crown lands. In 1406, Jan from Szczekociny became the new tenant of the castle. In the early 15th century, certain unspecified construction works were performed inside the high castle; in addition, the defensive walls were extended upwards and adapted for the use of firearms, including cannons. The round, western tower was likewise extended upwards through the addition of an octagonal brick section at the very top. The castle was subsequently reconstructed during the times of Mikołaj Szydłowiecki, who was the administrator of the castle until 1532. Based on an inventory drawn up in years 1532-1533, we can conclude that the castle consisted of three gates - including the main gatehouse - as well as a brick palas (palatium), an unfinished chapel, various utility spaces, a tower in the middle as well as stables and a brick kiln. The funds for the adaptation works were provided by Piotr Opaliński. Virtually no traces of this stage in the castle’s existence have been preserved, however, with the exception of the chapel ruins. However, the general outline of the castle after the redesign was not much different from that of the Gothic era. A number of new structures were added during that period, including the so-called stone keep, perched on a rock outcropping east of the high castle.

During the years when the crown marshal Mikołaj Wolski remained the owner of the castle, the overall condition thereof has deteriorated significantly. The description of the castle prepared by the royal dignitaries shortly after Wolski’s death shows the immense scale of neglect which precipitated the castle’s gradual descent into a state of ruin. The poor technical condition is believed to have been one of the main causes of the fall of the castle in 1656, when it was overrun by Swedish forces; the castle itself has been ransacked and destroyed and has remained in a state of utter ruin ever since. The subsidence of gradually eroding rock base caused further damage to the structure. Before 1729, the ruins were partially demolished in order to obtain building materials for the reconstruction of the Olsztyn church, which was heavily damaged by fire. In the 19th and the 20th century, the process of gradual demolition of the medieval walls continued; however, an increasing number of people have started to recognize the uniqueness of the ruins and the need to preserve them for future generations. During World War I, the ruins sustained further damage as a battle between Austrian and Russian forces erupted in their immediate vicinity in November 1914.

Description

The castle ruins are perched atop an expansive hill, towering above the village of Olsztyn which lies at the foot of the hill, north-west of the castle itself. The castle complex consists of the remnants of the so-called high castle, located at the apex of the rock outcropping, i.e. in the north-eastern part thereof, as well as the ruins of the middle castle, positioned east of the high castle, and the lower castle occupying the south-western part of the hill. Of what had once been the main, southern entrance into the castle, only relics of monumental pillars of the now-vanished bridge remain. There are also remnants of the foundations of the non-fortified gatehouse near the Sołtysia Tower, their total length being approximately 5 metres. Today, the access path leading to the ruins is located north of the complex, i.e. in the direction of the village. The complex was originally surrounded by three rings of stone defensive walls, surviving mostly in the form of foundations, as well as by early medieval earthen rampart to the south and fragments of the moat stretching to the north and to the south of the castle. The first of the two rings of walls, following an irregular outline, is situated at the apex of the hill, with parts of it rising directly from the bedrock below. This section of the wall was designed to circumscribe the area of the high castle. The western part of these defensive walls doubled as the lower section of the structure of the castle itself, while the eastern section of the walls adjoined the fortified tower. The walkway running along the crest of the wall facilitated served as a transfer route connecting the residential section of the castle and the fortified tower. Very little of these walls has survived to the present day, including mostly the north-western part thereof, supported by buttresses which were added at a later date, as well as fragments of the south-western section. The second ring of defensive walls surrounded the courtyard of the middle castle, adjoining the monumental structure of the high castle to the north-west. A group of rock outcroppings surmounted by the so-called stone keep were located to the south-east. Despite their fragmentary nature, the remnants of the second ring of walls remain the best-preserved of all, especially their north-eastern and south-eastern sections. The third ring of walls, filling the space between the monadnocks to the east, surrounded the extensive site of the lower castle, designed on an irregular plan, as well as of the so-called eastern lower castle, positioned to the north-east of the middle castle, near the main entrance into the complex. Along the northern boundary of the complex, the second and the third ring of walls followed the same course. The western section of the third ring ran in a straight line, along the edge of a rocky crest, reaching all the way to the Sołtysia Tower at the south-western edge of the hill, while the eastern section of the same wall incorporated numerous rock outcroppings into its structure. The wall then carried on into the northern section of the complex, forming the north-eastern boundary of the original castle grounds, running around the main gatehouse with the bridge leading into the middle castle. This section of the wall was preceded by a dry moat, still discernible among the surrounding terrain. The northern section of the lower castle ended with a peripheral wall, running directly adjacent to a deep moat. Vestiges of this wall are still visible today. The castle originally featured four fortified towers, out of which only two have survived to the present day. The first of these towers is a cylindrical structure perched at the top of the monadnock, on the site of what would later become the high castle. The second, quadrangular tower, commonly referred to as the Sołtysia or Starościńska Tower, is situated in the south-western part of the hill, with only the lowermost storey of the original structure surviving to the present day. Both names of the tower are a reference to local officials, the sołtys (village administrator) and the starosta (alderman). Only vestigial remains of the third fortified tower remain, while the fourth tower is believed to have stood near the now-vanished main gatehouse, even though this cannot be certain, for no traces of this structure have been preserved. The high castle consists of the aforementioned cylindrical tower as well as the few remaining ruins of Gothic structures, including the chapel. The foundations of the fortified tower, designed on a square floor plan, are made of limestone; the tower shaft itself, however, was designed on a circular plan, with the uppermost section being an octagonal structure made of brick, added at a later date in the castle’s history. Almost nothing remains of the medieval buildings which had once formed this part of the castle, with the exception of the water cistern at the foot of the keep, discovered in the course of emergency works intended to prevent further damage to the castle. Remnants of a three-storey residential wing, somewhat confusingly referred to as the artillery tower, have been preserved to the present day; these, however, originate from a later period, i.e. the 16th/17th century. The state of preservation of this structure is likewise only fragmentary, for only the northern corner has survived, along with the entire north-eastern wall and a section of the north-western wall with two windows and embrasures. The north-eastern base of the castle wing is adjoined by a second edifice, consisting of both a two- and a three-storey section. This building, positioned below the crest of the monadnock, constitutes a functional part of the lower castle. Only the peripheral walls of the castle wing have survived, reaching up to the level where the roof had once been. The interior is devoid of any interior partitions, be it of a horizontal or vertical nature. Remnants of a small building adjoining the defensive wall have survived on the south-eastern side of the yard. Neither the buildings nor the layout of the middle castle have been preserved to the present day. All that remains is a unique network of hallways and tunnels hewn in solid rock, connected to four rock caverns which have been adapted as utility spaces. It is suspected that the area of this part of the castle had once been the site of numerous residential and utility buildings; however, none of them have survived. The so-called stone keep - a residential building designed on an elongated rectangular floor plan, perched at the top of an expansive monadnock at the eastern side of the large castle courtyard - had also formed an integral part of the complex. However, nothing of this structure has survived intact, with the exception of the wall base. Neither have the buildings which had once formed the so-called lower castle been preserved in any substantial form. Based on the inventories of the castle, we can conclude that the complex also included a pair of residential towers or keeps. The existing sources also contained references to a brickyard, stables, houses of the local craftsmen as well as a mill and a smithy, the relics of which have been discovered in the course of archaeological surveys. During the archaeological studies conducted in the 1960s, traces of the lower sections of three 14th-century smelting furnaces have been discovered; these furnaces are known to have played an essential role in iron production and slate processing.

The site is accessible for a fee.

compiled by Agnieszka Olczyk, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Katowice, 05-08-2014.

Bibliography

  • Antoniewicz M., Zamki na Wyżynie Krakowsko-Częstochowskiej w przestrzeni społecznej XIV-XV wieku, [in:] Zamki i przestrzeń społeczna w Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej, Warsaw 2002, pp. 284-285.
  • Borowska-Antoniewicz J., Antoniewicz M., Opis zamku Olsztyn sporządzony przez rewizorów królewskich w 1631 r., “Ziemia Częstochowska“ 1999, no. 26, pp. 187-198.
  • Błaszczyk W., Zamek w Olsztynie. Krótki rys historyczny i wyniki badań archeologicznych z roku 1959, “Ziemia Częstochowska” 1961, no. 4, pp. 65-78.
  • Błaszczyk W., Zamek w Olsztynie, “Ziemia Częstochowska”, 1961, no. 4, pp. 65-78.
  • Błaszczyk W., Badania nad genezą zamków w Olsztynie pow. Częstochowa i Ogrodzieńcu pow. Zawiercie, [in:] Z pradziejów regionu częstochowskiego, Częstochowa 1962, pp. 48-6.
  • Błaszczyk W., Badania archeologiczne na terenie zamku w Olsztynie przeprowadzone w latach 1959 i 1960. Badania archeologiczne na Górnym Śląsku w latach 1959-1960, “Biuletyn Śląskiego Instytutu Naukowego” 1962, no. 32, pp. 65-78.
  • Błaszczyk W., Badania wykopaliskowe na średniowiecznym zamku w Olsztynie powiat Częstochowa, “Fontes Archeologici Posnaniensis” 1970, no. 21, pp. 266-268.
  • Bogdanowski J., Dawna linia obronna Jury Krakowsko-Częstochowskiej. Problemy konserwacji i adopcji dla turystyki, “Ochrona Zabytków”, 1964, no. 4, pp. 3-36.
  • Guerquin B., Zamki w Polsce, Warsaw 1974, pp. 236-238.
  • Katalog zabytków sztuki w Polsce, Vol. VI, woj. katowickie, issue 4: Powiat częstochowski, I. Rejduch-Samkowa, J. Samka (eds.), Warsaw 1979.
  • Kołodziejski S., Badania wykopaliskowe reliktów cysterny na zamku olsztyńskim koło Częstochowy w r. 1997, “Ziemia Częstochowska” 1999, no. 26, pp. 179-184.
  • Laberschek J., Nieznane karty z przeszłości zamku Olsztyn, “Almanach Częstochowy 1994”, Częstochowa 1995, pp. 19-30.
  • Nabiałek K., Średniowieczne dzieje zamku Olsztyn i początki osady Olsztynek, “Studenckie Zeszyty Naukowe UJ. Zeszyty Historyczne” 2000, no. 4, pp. 127-137.

General information

  • Type: castle
  • Chronology: XIII/XIV w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Olsztyn
  • Location: Voivodeship śląskie, district częstochowski, commune Olsztyn
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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