The Old Castle, originally built as the manor house of the Osten and Blücher families, currently serving as the municipal library, Płoty
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The Old Castle, originally built as the manor house of the Osten and Blücher families, currently serving as the municipal library

Płoty

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One of the most valuable residences of the Pomeranian landed gentry, tracing its origins back to the 14th century. The so-called “Old Castle” in Płoty is characterised by an excellent quality of design and remains part of a highly unusual complex consisting of two aristocratic residences positioned next to one another.

History

The origins of the castle as well as the town of Płoty itself are shrouded in mystery. The situation is even more complicated due to the fact that the remnants of as many as two medieval castles and one 16th-century manor house complex have all survived in the area of what is now known as the town of Płoty. The information available in the existing publications devoted to the history of the town and the castle remain highly inconsistent and tend to omit many aspects of the issue. The present study shall therefore serve as an attempt to create a logical compilation of all the available data. According to historical sources, the town of Płoty (formerly known as Plathe, Plate, Plote, Platho or Platow) was originally chartered in 1277 based on the Lübeck law by Dobiesław from Otok, a knight who professed to be of Slavic descent. A fortified castle is known to have stood in the immediate vicinity of the town back then. Dobiesław’s good fortunes, however, began to wane as early as 1283, in connection with the war between Pomerania and Brandenburg. In 1283, under the treaty of Vierraden (known as Czworokół in Polish), the House of Ascania, who ruled Brandenburg at the time, have acquired the right of ownership to what was known as “Castrum Plote dicti”; they were also entitled to raze the castle to the ground if Bogusław IV, the duke of Pomerania, chose to hand it over to Ludwik Wedel.

One may assume with a high degree of probability that the remnants of the fortified structure which survive on the Rega river bank are what remains of the first castle in Płoty, erected by Dobiesław from Otok. The castle, designed on a rectangular plan, consisted of massive, steep ramparts, which led to it being erroneously described as a hillfort in recent literature. The town itself, chartered by Dobiesław in 1277, was thriving in the shadow of the castle. According to the oldest publications, the castle and the town were both destroyed in 1465 as a result of an armed raid organised by the patricians of Kołobrzeg and intended, as it seems, as a form of punishment. An interesting fact is that the area of the earlier town, located near the castle in the northern part of the Rega river meander, was habitually referred to as “the old town” well into the 18th century. Remnants of the walls of the now-vanished buildings were still present on the site back then. Yet one may also assume, with a high degree of probability, that the fortress inside the Rega river meander located north of the town itself was either never properly finished or remained in use for a very brief period of time. It is believed to have been abandoned shortly after 1283, after Dobiesław of Otok fell from grace; the castle which has been destroyed during the raid launched by the burghers of Kołobrzeg was in fact a more recent structure, located in the southern part of town. That would go a long way towards explaining the fact that no pottery fragments have been unearthed in the courtyard of the earlier castle. The fact that the Płoty castle remained uninhabited for many decades after the fall of Dobiesław of Otok also seems to be confirmed by the document which conferred the rights to the local fiefdom to a knight named Heydebreck, issued by duke Warcisław in 1320. In this document, no mentions are ever made of a castle of any sorts, despite the mentions of the town of Płoty and the local church both being present. It follows that Henning Heydebreck, referred to as Henning Heydebreck de Plote (from Płoty) during a certain period in his life, had to build a worthy residence for himself, for which a site located in the southern part of town was ultimately chosen. A church was also built next to the castle; this church later on became the centre around which a new village began to form; following the fall of the old town in 1465, this village grew to become a small town. This theory seems to be confirmed by the layout of this new settlement, which initially had no market square to speak of (this state of affairs would only change in the 18th century).

The exact time of construction of the structure known today as “the old castle” in the southern part of town remains unknown. Some researchers believe that this castle was originally erected back in the times of Dobiesław of Otok and was later extended on numerous occasions. However, it now seems more likely that the castle was first constructed in its current location by Henning von Heydebreck after the year 1320. Initially, the castle was a four- or five-storey residential keep accompanied by a yard circumscribed by curtain walls. The castle was also protected by a set of ramparts and a moat. In 1367, the castle in Płoty remained in the hands of the Osten family. The castle underwent numerous modernisation works as the years wore on. According to Kwilecki, following the havoc wrought by the raiding party from Kołobrzeg in 1465, the castle was later extended. The former residential keep was redesigned and expanded through the addition of a new wing (currently serving as the main body of the building), positioned north-east of the existing structure. Parts of the old curtain wall were incorporated into the new wing. The newly erected part of the castle featured an oriel projecting towards the north-east. The walls were pierced with loophole and arrow-slit embrasures, some of which have survived to the present day. The basement featured vaulted ceilings of the barrel type. The second-floor interior of the oriel featured a diamond vault. According to Radacki, the castle was reconstructed following the damage it sustained in 1465, although the new, north-eastern wing was only added somewhere around the year 1540. In 1577, Weddig von Osten sold to Herman von Blücher “a new house or castle in Płoty, positioned on a rampart and surrounded with peripheral walls, along with the buildings in the castle grounds, the entire inventory within as well as half of the town itself”. Judging by its architecture, one may conclude that the most recent substantial extension and modernisation works were completed in the early 17th century. During that period, the medieval castle underwent a comprehensive redesign, thus becoming an early modern residence. The walls of the 14th-century castle were either torn down or modified, with a new, four-storey tower with a staircase being added on the north-western side thereof. Once the redesign was complete, the castle consisted of a three-storey corps de logis (the former north-eastern wing) with a tower as well as a lower, two-storey south-western wing which, according to some of the researchers, originally also housed the castle chapel. The walls of the southern part of the main body of the castle (the former north-eastern wing) as well as the south-western wing (the chapel) could all trace their roots to the 14-the century castle which preceded the newly extended residence. The oriel projecting from the north-eastern wall became an avant-corps; a second avant-corps was added on the south-eastern side, initially conceived as the dansker (latrine). It was also during that period that the arrangement of the windows of the corps de logis (the former north-eastern wing) was changed, with the former embrasures being bricked up. The residence now featured uniform architectural detailing the style of which was a mixture of Late Renaissance and Mannerism. The windows were now framed by profiled surrounds. The walls of the ground-floor level of the tower and the north-eastern avant-corps were accentuated with decorative rustication, while the windows received new, triangular pediments. The tower façades were crowned with a prominent cornice resting on corbels. It was also during that time that a grand, opulent chamber known today as the Knight Hall was built and furnished. Both the ground-floor and first-floor rooms now featured vaulted ceilings of a highly sophisticated design, with plafonds at the centre. The interiors boasted ornate door joinery and fireplace surrounds, with the walls being graced by painted decorations. Towards the end of the 17th century or in the first half of the 18th century, the tower was extended upwards by two additional storeys. During that period, the north-eastern avant-corps was crowned with a Baroque gable, its edges following a convexo-concave outline. On the fifth floor of the tower there was a somewhat mysterious chamber with a relatively opulent décor, featuring a niche flanked with pilasters. Interestingly enough, the chamber could only be accessed from the garret above. The purpose of this unusual chamber has never been determined. It is likely that it may have served as the meeting place of some clandestine organisation - perhaps the Rosicrucians - that were gaining in popularity in Prussia at the time. The secret chamber is believed to have come into being after 1739; it is also likely that its existence was linked to the activities of Matthias Konrad von Osten.

Following intense negotiations in 1731 and 1739, Christian Ludwig von Blücher finally sold the old castle along with the accompanying grounds and a part of the nearby town to Matthias Konrad von Osten, the secret supreme financial counsellor and senior president of the Marchian Electoral War and Domains Chamber (Oberpräsident der Churmärschen Cammer) and an eminent collector of various Western Pomeranian artefacts. His collection included, among other things, numerous paintings and drawings depicting the Pomeranian dukes and other famous local residents, town landscapes, maps, coins and artefacts linked to the Slavic roots of the region. In addition to being an avid collector, Matthias Konrad was also the author of numerous publications. It should be added at this stage that his article about the maps of the Pomeranian region was later incorporated into the statistical description prepared by Bruggeman, considered to be the fundamental source of information about the history of Western Pomerania.

The map of the town of Płoty, created in 1738, includes the depiction of an early modern knightly manor house, still surrounded with ramparts and a moat. The entrance to the castle courtyard and the bridge spanning the moat were both situated on the north-eastern side of the castle itself. The castle grounds (Schlossfreiheit), consisting of a walled complex of residential and utility buildings with the main entrance gate, were situated in the forefield of the earthen fortifications, on the northern side of the castle. After 1740, the south-western wing of the castle was demolished. After the Seven Years’ War came to an end, the castle was abandoned. The von Osten family have decided to move their primary residence to a new manor house located nearby; today, this complex is habitually referred to as the “New Castle”. During the 19th century, the Old Castle was adapted to serve as a boarding school. The building was lost to the blaze in 1860. With only makeshift measures being taken to prevent further damage, the castle stood abandoned and empty right until 1945; the very last member of the von Osten family died in 1895. The eldest of his daughters - Elisabeth, married Philip von Bismarck, nephew of the great chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The Płoty manor and the two residences which they comprised were inherited by Karl Bernhard, the son of Philip von Bismarck. In 1906 he was granted the title of a count by the emperor William II, accompanied by the right to add a by-name added to his surname, so that he could now refer to himself as “von Bismarck-Osten”. During the war, the north-eastern corner of the castle was damaged, leading to its ultimate collapse in 1957. In years 1957-1965, the castle was reconstructed and adapted to serve the needs of the Szczecin branch of the Provincial State Archive. For reasons which so far remain unknown, the tower was now crowned with a volute-shaped gable designed in a manner reminiscent of the Baroque style where in fact no such structure had existed there before.

Description

The “Old Castle” in Płoty is located in the southern part of town. An impressive manor house and palace complex known as the “New Castle” is situated in the vicinity of the older building, tracing its roots back to the medieval period. The residence is perched atop a steep hill, towering above the Rega river which meanders among the countryside below. Remnants of earthen ramparts and a moat can still be found in the immediate vicinity of the castle. To the south lies the courtyard, circumscribed by fragments of the now-vanished curtain wall.

The castle was designed in a style which combines Late Renaissance and Mannerist influences. The castle was designed on a rectangular floor plan, with a tower adjoining the south-western side of the main body and a pair of short avant-corps which project only slightly beyond the outline of the structure. The three-storey corps de logis is topped with a hip roof, while the tower features a gable roof. The north-eastern avant-corps features a three-sided roof, while a gable roof was used for the south-eastern one. The brick and stone walls vary in terms of both structure and age. All façades of the castle are topped with a crowning cornice. A cornice supported by corbels separates the third and the fourth storey of the tower. The façades of the north-eastern avant-corps are divided by cornices which run between the individual storeys as well as at the window sill level. The façades of the tower and the north-eastern avant-corps are enlivened by the presence of ground-floor rustication with deep grooves between the faux ashlar blocks. Both the façade of the said avant-corps and the tower are topped with decorative gables designed in the Baroque style, although the one crowning the tower was in fact added during the period after World War II. The windows are framed with profiled surrounds, while the lintels are topped with triangular pediments positioned above broad roll-mouldings. The entrance, positioned in the north-eastern façade of the tower, was designed as a splayed portal topped with a round arch supported by small impost blocks. The arch above the entrance is adorned with a keystone and flanked by rustication in the form of faux stone ashlar blocks. The exposed remnants of embrasures and other vestiges of now-vanished architectural features can still be seen in the walls of the castle.

The interiors follow a single-bay layout, with the staircase positioned inside the tower. In addition, there is also a single flight of steps within the thick north-eastern wall, leading from the so-called Knight Hall to the cellar below. The cellar itself features vaulted ceilings of the barrel type. The representational rooms on the ground floor and the first floor feature vaulted ceilings of a highly sophisticated design, with plafonds at the centre. The chamber located inside the north-eastern avant-corps, on the other hand, features a Late Gothic diamond vault. The most impressive of all the interiors is undoubtedly the grand ground-floor chamber known as the Knight Hall. Its vaulted ceiling are supported by a column with an ornate capital adorned with four sculpted lion heads. The room also features an imposing architectural fireplace surround, its ornate upper section framed with volutes and accentuated by a circular panel in the middle. The room also features sumptuously decorated postwar replicas of the original Renaissance doors. A smaller room, most likely conceived as a kitchen, adjoins the southern side of the Knight Hall. This room comes equipped with a hooded chimneypiece as well as metal meat hooks attached to the ceiling. The first-floor level is divided into a series of smaller rooms. A Mannerist architectural fireplace surround graces the chamber in the northern corner of the castle. Back in the 1950s, Late Renaissance painted decorations dating back to the early 17th century could still be found inside this chamber, with fragments thereof also present in other first-floor rooms. Lamentably, all these decorations have been destroyed during the renovation works conducted at a later stage. A curious secret chamber can be found on the fourth floor of the tower, featuring a niche flanked with pilasters, each of which is crowned by a Tuscan capital with impost blocks.

The site is open to visitors.

compiled by Radosław Walkiewicz, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Szczecin, 26-04-2015.

Bibliography

  • Allgemeine Encyklopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste in alphabetischer Folge. Dritte Section 0-Z. Leipzig 1834. Entry: “Osten”
  • Berghaus H. Landbuch des Herzogtums Pommern und des Fürstenthums Rügen Stettin 1874, Band VII, Teil 2,
  • Brüggemann l. W. Ausführliche Beschreibung des gegenwärtigen Zustandes des Königlich-Preußischen Herzogtums Vor- und Hinterpommern. Stettin 1784, Band I, Teil 2,
  • Lemcke, H. Die Bau- und Kunstdenkmäler der Provinz Pommern. Stettin 1912
  • Radacki Z. Średniowieczne zamki Pomorza Zachodniego. Szczecin 1976
  • Wójcik K. Płoty, in: Zamki i Rezydencje na Pomorzu. Szczecin 2006
  • Zielko I., Kroman K. Zamek w Płotach. Szczecin 1959. Historical and architectural documentation (collection of the Regional Office of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Szczecin).

General information

  • Type: castle
  • Chronology: XIV w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Płoty
  • Location: Voivodeship zachodniopomorskie, district gryficki, commune Płoty - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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