Early medieval urban complex, Pilica
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

Early medieval urban complex

Pilica

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The urban complex of the town of Pilica is an example of a well-preserved medieval town, chartered in the second half of the 14th century. The town was erected in the Pilica river valley, based on a regular street grid with streets spiralling away from the market square in the centre. The design of the town takes into account the underlying terrain as well as the existing trade routes leading across the nearby Biskupice settlement situated north of the town itself, which had existed here before even the town was chartered.

History

Before the town was chartered somewhere around the mid-14th century, a medieval hillfort - the so-called Stara Pilica - had existed in the area, perched on the hilltop located east of the town. Later on, a settlement known as Biskupice was founded, forming part of the trade route connecting the Lesser and Greater Poland regions. The decision to charter a town on the site owned at the time by the Toporczyk family (who would later become known as the Pilecki family) resulted from the convenient location of the said site on the intersection of trade routes leading from the Sandomierz region to Silesia as well as from Cracow to Lesser Poland (Małopolska); in addition, the proximity of the system of fortifications in the form of the castles and watchtowers on the Cracow-Częstochowa Upland also played an important role. The course of the existing trade route defined the layout of the emerging town, with the so-called Cracow route, leading towards the Biskupice market square, becoming the diagonal axis of the new, centrally positioned market square. The design and layout of the town was based on a theoretical plan, partially adjusted to the existing terrain, based on a geometric grid of square sections. The side of each of these square sections measured 1 sznur (“rope”, a non-metric measurement unit used in Poland in the middle ages), i.e. ca. 48 metres). The town was designed as an open settlement, which meant that it had no fortifications. Much like in the case of most other towns chartered in the Silesia and Lesser Poland regions at the time, the market square served as the centre of the entire complex. However, the arrangement of the surrounding streets was quite unusual, with the streets spiralling away from the market square in a turbine-like fashion - a solution only seen in a number of towns in Lesser Poland which were chartered around the mid-14th by King Casimir the Great, i.e. Krościenko on the Dunajec, Tymbark, Lanckorona, Proszowice and Kłobuck. A parish church, oriented towards the east and towering above the rest of the town, was constructed on the tallest elevation, west of the market square. The remaining city blocks surrounding the market square, divided into regular parcels of land with narrow lanes positioned between them, were allocated for buildings of a secular nature, while the western part of the market square was to become the site of the town hall. The town of Pilica remained virtually unchanged within its original, medieval boundaries until the early modern age, i.e. until the new owners of the town, the Padniewski noble family, decided to move their primary residence here from the nearby Smoleń in the early 17th century, which resulted in an accelerated development of the suburbs and the establishment of the monastery of the Canons Regular in Biskupice. At that point, the 14th-century chartered town was incorporated into the grander scheme of the new Padniewski family residence, thus becoming one of the first towns the functions and layout of which were subordinated to its manorial status, with other towns that served similar functions being Zamość, Pińczów, Książ Wielki and Nowy Wiśnicz. An area known as Krakowskie Przedmieście (Cracow Suburb) was established between the medieval town and the early modern residence, with the newly formed artificial lake serving as the southern boundary thereof. This lake was designed as part of a system of fortifications devised by the town’s next owner, Stanisław Warszycki. From that moment onwards, the overall urban layout of Pilica remained virtually unchanged, although the individual buildings were exchanged as the years went by.

Description

The primary features of the historic urban layout, i.e. the size and shape of the centrally positioned market square, the turbine-like arrangement of the streets (slightly modified to accommodate the features of the surrounding terrain as well as the pre-existing streets from the times before the town was chartered), the division into four city blocks surrounding the market square, encompassing the parish church, as well as the links to the pre-existing layout of the Biskupice trade settlement (positioned north of the town and linked to its centre by the Św. Barbary street) and to the early modern palace complex located to the south-west, have all been preserved intact and are easily discernible. The original, medieval layout of the parcels of land forming the city blocks around the market square (plots of land with the width of ca. 6.5 metres, with gablefront buildings and narrow access lanes) has been partially distorted due to the fact that many parcels of land would be merged at a later date, most likely following the devastating fire which swept across the town in the 17th century. The medieval, oval-shaped plot of land with a surface of 4 square ropes (the rope or sznur being a medieval measurement unit equivalent to ca. 48 metres) designed to accommodate the parish church, positioned on an axis running in parallel to the diagonal axis of the entire urban complex, has been preserved intact.

Most of the historical, wooden buildings from the times of the town’s foundation, including the town hall, have been lost, with many of them being destroyed during a great fire in 1876. As a result, only a few of the early modern townhouses from the 17th and 18th century have survived to the present day. Much of the buildings are modern structures, albeit designed to fit in with the historical scale of the town - hence their single-storey or two-storey layout and side-gabled arrangement. The buildings around the market square and on the Barbary, Markowska, Partyzantów and Żarnowiecka streets are tightly clustered, with very few of the narrow lanes separating the medieval parcels of land remaining intact. Most of the backyards are occupied by compact utility outbuildings consisting of one or three wings, although in some cases low, free-standing utility buildings are present, surrounded by small gardens (a feature mostly seen in the south-western city block). The most valuable building in the area protected by the inscription into the register of monuments is the complex of the parish church of St. John the Baptist, comprising a 14th-century church, a bell tower from the first quarter of the 19th century as well as an 18th-century fence. A tourist information pavilion was recently erected in the southern part of the market square, based on the remnants of an early modern town hall discovered in 2001. The overall design of the new building was intended to evoke the possible appearance of the town hall, which was most likely destroyed in the 17th century. Parts of the market square pavement were also replaced in the course of implementation of this project.

The site is open to visitors.

compiled by Agnieszka Olczyk, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Katowice, 6-08-2015.

Bibliography

  • Katalog zabytków sztuki w Polsce, Vol. I: woj. krakowskie, issue 12: powiat olkuski, J. Szablowski (ed.), Warsaw 1953, pp. 23-28.
  • Pilica. Studium historyczno-urbanistyczne, compiled by Z. Beiersdorf, J. Zgrzebnicka (Historical Monument Conservation Workshop (PP PKZ) - Cracow branch office), Cracow 1972, Archive of the National Heritage Board of Poland - Regional Branch Office in Cracow.
  • Prus Konstanty, Z przeszłości Mikołowa i jego okolicy, Mikołów 1997.

General information

  • Type: spatial layout
  • Chronology: 2. poł. XIV w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Pilica
  • Location: Voivodeship śląskie, district zawierciański, commune Pilica - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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