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Tykocin – the historical town complex - Zabytek.pl

Tykocin – the historical town complex

Tykocin – the historical town complex

History monuments Tykocin


woj. podlaskie, pow. białostocki, gm. Tykocin - miasto

Tykocin is a multicultural town of the eastern borderland, which saw its glory in the times of the First Polish Republic.

The centre was shaped under the influence of Christian and Jewish religious communities, for whom the residential, sacral, and public space was delineated by the charter law in the 15th century, followed by, in the mid-16th century, the so-called Wallach Reform, and in the 18th century - the urban planning concept introduced by hetman Jan Klemens Branicki, who modelled it upon monumental French solutions exposing scenic values of towns. The spatial layout established in the Middle Ages and extended in the Renaissance and Baroque eras has survived nearly unchanged in Tykocin. Monuments from the 17th and 18th century have also survived to this day and the most valuable ones include an Alumnate from 1633-1636, i.e. a centre for the war invalids which is the only such feature preserved until now in Poland, and the Grand Synagogue from 1642 with colourful wall paintings inside, belonging to the oldest synagogues that survived World War II. Ecclesiastical monuments and a relatively well preserved smalltown residential development from the 18th-20th century create an inimitable climate of the town.

Tykocin played an important role in the Polish culture and was also significant for the history of the Polish Jews, as in the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century the kehilla (municipal office) of the region was located there. Some of the rabbis of Tykocin were famous scholars, cabalists, and orators. Rebeka Tiktiner, a scholar active in the 16th century, whose works were published in Prague, also came from Tykocin.


The first mention of Tykocin in the historical sources comes from a document from 1423, in which Tykocin was referred to as oppidum - a small town. In 1425 the town received town privileges under the Chełmno law (similarly as Łomża). In that year Tykocin fell under the Lithuanian reign, while in 1433 the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Sigismund Kęstutaitis, granted the Tykocin estate together with the town to Jonas Goštautas (died in 1458), the governor of Smolensk and later the voivode of Trotsk and Vilnius. In 1479 Martynas Goštautas (died after 1483), the voivode of Kiev and later the land marshal of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and voivode of Trotsk, founded a Bernardine monastery on an island surrounded by river marshes, while the Goštautas family erected their small castle on a neighbouring island. The castle was burned down during a war between the Radziwiłł and the Goštautas families around 1519. 

In 1522 Albertas Goštautas (died in 1539), voivode of Vilnius and chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, brought the Jews from Grodno to Tykocin and granted them town land named Kaczorowo, where soon afterwards one of the wealthiest and most important Jewish communes in the Republic of Poland developed (the district kehilla in Tykocin was the second most important one in the 17th century, after the kehilla of Cracow in Kazimierz district, and the fifth most important in the 18th century, after Brody, Lvov, Leszno and Kazimierz). Kaczorowo - the land located in the western part of the town - developed over time into a separate district with a religious centre, its own marketplace and a cemetery that functioned between the 16th century and 1941. The quarter enclosed by Browarna, Piłsudskiego (formerly Wielka), Kozia and Sokołowska streets, with a centrally situated synagogue from 1642 (2 Kozia Street), is connected by a joint axis with the Old Market Square, forming the Piłsudskiego Street. 

When after the heirless death of the member of the Goštautas bloodline in 1542 Tykocin fell into royal hands and Sigismund II August established the forestry district and a starosty of Tykocin, in the second half of the 16th century a defensive castle was erected (by design of Hiob Bretfus), one of the most massive fortresses of the Jagiellonian country, hosting the main arsenal. 

The period of Tykocin’s glory fell on the 16th and 17th century, when the town conducted large-scale trade with domestic and foreign centres. Apart from land-based trade routes running through Tykocin, the Narew river played an important economic and commercial role. In 1564 the town had its own mint. In 1569 Tykocin was incorporated to the Crown, together with Podlasie. Polish kings frequently visited the town, especially Sigismund II August, Sigismund III Vasa, Władysław IV Vasa. The starosts of Tykocin included, among others, a famous humanist Łukasz Górnicki (died in 1603), an author of, among others, “The Polish Courtier.” 

In the second half of the 16th century the Wallach Reform was carried out in the town, the consequence of which was, among others, the rearrangement of the main market square and delineation of the New Market Square to the east from the chartered market square. Demarcation of the New Town and construction of a tserkva there was related to the settlement of an ever greater number of Ruthenian people of the Greek Orthodox denomination (in the early 19th century the worshippers of the Eastern Church no longer lived in the town). 

The starost of Tykocin, Krzysztof Wiesiołowski (died in 1637), Grand Marshal of Lithuania, founded a shelter for war invalids in 1633 (the so-called Alumnate), which has survived until now. During the Swedish invasion, the castle seized by the Swedish troops was recaptured by the Lithuanian forces in 1657 and partially blown up. In 1661 the Tykocin estate was granted to hetman Stefan Czarniecki for wartime merits. He passed the estate to his daughter, Aleksandra (died in 1673), wife of Jan Klemens Branicki, Court Marshal of the Crown. During the Northern War the town suffered considerable damage (fire in 1704, plague in 1706). In 1705, during a meeting with tsar Peter the Great in the Tykocin castle, king August the Strong established the Order of the White Eagle. 

Alterations of an outstanding artistic and functional value were introduced in the town during the reign of Jan Klemens Branicki (1689-1771), Grand Hetman of the Crown, voivode and castellan of Cracow. In the years 1734-1771 he changed the face of the town through extending it and founding new facilities, bringing artists related mainly to the Warsaw milieus: architects Tomasso (II) Belotti and Johann Heinrich Klemm, painters Augustyn Mirys, Szymon Czechowicz and Sebastian Eckstein and a sculptor Johann Chrysostomus Redler.

Reshaping of the centre of Tykocin in the mid- 18th century by Branicki drew inspiration from the then most modern examples of French urban development, and the Louis XV Square in Rennes, completed in 1744, apparently served as a model. Artistic values of the spatial arrangement were visibly accentuated through combining the values of the existing development with the new one. The Baroque arrangement of Tykocin was based on the medieval spindle-like network of streets and further developed. The new solution was considered as a system performing certain functions, introducing spatial order, but also as a system characterised by scenic and landscape values. 

The market square, arranged as a modern town square, remained a central point of Tykocin. Its frontages were developed in the form of low, unified residential buildings, while the eastern frontage was fully occupied by the Holy Trinity Church founded by Branicki. The church body was combined with a pair of belfries by means of semi-circular galleries and it terminates the market square’s frontage through creating a sort of an impressive, Baroque curtain wall. During Branicki’s reign, a treasury office and a monastery for missionaries were built, while in the southern part of Tykocin - a monastery complex of the Bernardine Order was erected, which was incorporated into the town’s structure in line with the principles of the Baroque urban planning: it is linked to the market square by Bernardyńska Street, at the same time functioning as a viewing axis running towards the monastery gate. 

The culmination of the urban composition of Tykocin was the placement of a monument of hetman Stefan Czarniecki (hetman and grandfather of Jan Klemens Branicki) in the market square. The monument created in 1763 in Warsaw by the royal sculptor Pierre Coudray or according to his model by the workshop of Johann Chrysostomus Redler, emphasised Branicki’s family ties with the national hero and indicated his title of a hetman. It was one of the few secular monuments in Poland at that time. 

Branicki also began reconstructing the Jewish district. The Grand Synagogue was redeveloped and renovated, the kehilla school and bet midrash (house of Talmudic studies) were erected together with merchant stalls, a new marketplace was delineated and developed (the Jewish Market, currently the Old Market Square) on the town canal (formerly Motława), where six free-standing houses with a frame structure and brick front walls were built in the western frontage. 

The alterations to the town’s spatial arrangement made by Jan Klemens Branicki have survived to this day. The buildings around the market square dates back to the 19th century, but the arrangement of plots, size and interior layout of some houses that relate to Branicki’s times have been preserved.

In 1795 (or 1794) a Roman Catholic cemetery was established to the south-east of the town, at a road to Białystok. In its immediate vicinity, a Uniate cemetery was demarcated. 

After the Third Partition of Poland Tykocin found itself under the Prussian regime, where it remained until 1807, when it was incorporated into the Duchy of Warsaw, soon to be included in the Kingdom of Poland in 1815. 

World War II brought tragedy to Tykocin. It is estimated that the town lost 60% of buildings and over 50% of residents, mainly Jews, who were murdered by the Germans on 25 and 26 August 1941. In 1950 the town lost its municipal rights and regained it in 1993. 


The historical town complex is located along the southern bank of the Narew river. The town has an elongated, spindly shape with a strip-like arrangement. Three main streets run on the east-west axis and form an irregular grid with streets intersecting them on the north-south axis. Roads from Knyszyn (north), Złotoria (south-east), Rzędziany (south-east), Jeżewo (south) and Zawady (south-west) intersect in the town. 

The town consists of three main parts: the oldest, centrally located part with a large market square (currently Stefan Czarniecki Square), separated by a town canal from the Jewish district called Kaczorowo, located in the western part and including a Jewish cemetery on the outskirts, as well as the New Town situated in the eastern part, including a Catholic cemetery on the eastern outskirts.

The centre of the town is occupied by an elongated, trapezoidal market square, facing the river with its longer side. In the middle of the market square there is a monument of Stefan Czarniecki. On a tall base covered with inscriptions (founding inscription and a fragment of privilege from 1661 granting Tykocin to Czarniecki) and crowned with a coat of arms, stands a statue of the hetman in an Old Polish attire, with a sword at his left side and a bulava in his raised right hand, plus panoplies at his feet.

The entire eastern frontage of the market square is occupied by a complex of the Holy Trinity parish church and a former missionary monastery, neighbouring from the north with the Poświętna Street, from the south with the 11 Listopada Street. The complex is the most important accentuation of the market square and the monument of Czarniecki stands on the axis of the main entrance. The complex consists of a Baroque Holy Trinity parish church (1742-1751), a former missionary monastery (1769-1771) currently hosting a priests’ house, and a fencing with a gate (1748). 

The Alumnate, a unique facility on the national scale, is located in the north-eastern corner of the market square, close to the bridge over the Narew river. Built in the years 1634-1643, it is the oldest preserved shelter for distinguished soldiers. It was redeveloped by J.K. Branicki in mid-18th century. In the south-eastern corner of the market square there is a hospital building from 1750 with a rectangular, one-storey body covered with a hipped roof. The building currently performs residential functions. 

The northern frontage of the market square was developed after being aligned in mid- 18th century by means of model, wooden and plastered houses joined by gates. In the first half of the 19th century, it was redeveloped with six residential buildings on plots with a preserved size and form of side-gabled houses linked by gates as previously. The houses stand on a rectangular floor plan and include a pass-through porch and a vestibule on pillars on the central axis. Plastered façades are topped with a cornice. The buildings are covered with half-hip roofs. 

The southern frontage features 20th-century side-gabled, one-storey houses covered with gable roofs. In the south-western part of the market square there is a two-storey, brick, Classicist building from the first half of the 19th century, located at the outlet of the Złota Street and with its gable facing the Czarnieckiego Square. It has two storeys, is covered with a gable roof and its façades feature a crowning cornice, while two of them (the northern one and partially the eastern one) are partitioned by pilasters. Windows are framed with decorative surrounds with cornices above.

In the western frontage of the market square, at the outlet of the Złota Street, there is a Classicist house the end wall of which faces the market square. It is a single-storey building made of brick, covered with a half-hip roof. Smooth, plastered façades are topped with a pronounced crowning cornice. It was erected at the turn of the 19th century according to model designs elaborated after the fire of the town in 1797.

In the southern part of the town, at the Klasztorna Street and on the axis of the Bernardyńska Street that runs to the market square, there is a complex of a former monastery of the Bernardine Order, which currently hosts a Social Welfare Centre of St Francis of Assisi. A Late Baroque building, surrounded by a wall, is divided into a representational part with a belfry-gatehouse, a courtyard with a statue of the Mother of God, and a monastic building with a rectoral church of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, as well as a utility component part with a stable and a gardener’s house.

The western part of the town features a former Jewish district Kaczorowo, located between Browarna, Piłsudskiego, Kozia and Sokołowska streets. A dominating point of the district is a synagogue with a neighbouring house of Talmudic studies. A complex of plastered brick and wooden, Classicist residential buildings, erected after the fire of the town in the late 18th century has survived at Piłsudskiego, Kozia and Kaczorowska streets. Those are single or two-storey buildings in a block arrangement or joined by gates, covered with half-hip and gable roofs in the planes of which eyelid dormer windows or wall dormers are visible.

The Grand Synagogue, located at the so-called Small Market Square (currently Kozia Street), is a dominating feature of the former Jewish district. It is a building erected in 1642, made of brick, plastered, initially following the principles of the Renaissance style, with a butterfly roof and an attic, considerably redeveloped in the mid-18th century, renovated in the first half of the 19th century and after World War II. Currently, it functions as a museum. It is the only preserved original synagogue with an authentic interior decor.

The house of Talmudic study is situated next to the synagogue, in the western frontage of the Kozia Street, and its façade faces the east. It was built in the fourth quarter of the 18th century in the Late Baroque style and functioned as a study house (bet-midrash) and a synagogue (currently referred to as the Small Synagogue). Destroyed during the war, it was rebuilt in the 1970s. Currently, it functions as a museum.

The New Town is situated in the eastern part of Tykocin and features a partially unobscured spatial layout from the mid- 16th century with the following streets: Zagumienna (formerly Nowa), Ogrodowa (a former road to Sanniki), 11 Listopada (formerly Czychrowska, Złotoryjska) and Szkolna (a former road to Glinki). Between Ogrodowa, 11 Listopada, Zacerkiewna and Zackiewicza streets, there is a rectangular former market square referred to as the Goats’ Square, which in the second half of the 16th century was occupied by a Bernardine convent and a church of St Mark (the northern frontage) as well as a graveyard and an Orthodox church of St Nicholas, since 1596 of Uniate denomination (the western frontage). Currently, the New Town is covered with contemporary residential buildings. 

In the northern frontage of the 11 Listopada Street, there is a residence of the treasurer of the Tykocin estate, referred to as the treasury residence, which currently hosts a culture centre. 

The eastern part of the town features a Roman Catholic parish cemetery established in the late 18th century. A rectangular plot is surrounded with a stone wall with a Gothic Revival, three-arcade, brick gate from the north. In the southern part of the cemetery there is a chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows. The north-eastern part of the cemetery includes a tomb chapel of the Gloger family from 1885. The eastern part of the cemetery features a chapel columbarium from 1841, made of brick and stone, with grave niches and epitaph plaques, as well as a Classicist tomb chapel from the mid-19th century, with semi-circular arcaded openings and covered with a low tented roof. 

In the western part of the town, at the intersection of 27 Maja Street and Holendry Street, there is a Jewish cemetery established in 1522. It was severely damaged during the war: a fragment of the wall was demolished and matzevot were removed. Several dozen granite tombstones (around 100) covered with inscriptions have survived to our times.

Prepared by the National Institute of Cultural Heritage

Category: urban layout

Building material:  not applicable

Protection: Historical Monument

Inspire id: PL.1.9.ZIPOZ.NID_N_20_PH.15741