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History of Chęciny Castle

The end of the 13th century/the beginning of the 14th century is believed to be the most probable date of building this stronghold in the town of Chęciny, when Wenceslaus II of the Přemyslid dynasty, the son of a Czech king, was the king of Poland. A written note about the castle appeared in documents from 1306, when Władysław the Short returned from exile after the unexpected death of Wenceslaus II and took over Cracow, promising to the Chapter of Cracow to give back the Castrum (stronghold) of Chęciny with surrounding villages. However, as early as in the summer of 1307, suspecting Cracow's Bishop Jan Muskat of plotting, he took the stronghold and transformed it into an important political and military state centre.

In the first half of the 14th century knights from Lesser Poland and Greater Poland, dignitaries and officials arrived several times in Chęciny Castle at meetings which, according to some historians, became a model for developing later the Polish Sejm. In 1318, fearing the invasions of Teutonic knights, Archbishop Janisław sent treasures and sacred items from Gniezno Cathedral, which played a role of Poland's spiritual centre for many centuries, for safekeeping in the castle. Built in the times of Władysław the Short, also the castle chapel often gave shelter to the royal treasures. In 1331 an army gathered at the walls of Chęciny stronghold, which then set off for a bloody fight against the forces of Teutonic Order at Płowce.

After the death of Władysław the Short, the castle was inherited by his son Casimir III the Great; in the time of his rule the stronghold in Chęciny was greatly extended and fortified. It was in that period when the massive towers were constructed in the castle; they became a symbol of royal power. Casimir himself preferred the Wawel Royal Castle; however, the stronghold of Chęciny did not lack interest among dignified owners. In that way for several years the stronghold was transformed into a residence for the king's second wife, Adelaide of Hesse, until 1356, when Casimir annulled that marriage due to the lack of offspring. In 1370 the castle was owned by a sister of Casimir III, Elizabeth of Poland, who ruled over the Kingdom of Poland as a regent for several years.

By the end of the 14th century, when Władysław II Jagiełło was on the Polish throne, a prison was built behind the walls of Chęciny stronghold where his half-brother, Andrzej Olgierdowic, who joined a coalition with king's opponents, ended up soon. In 1410 when the Teutonic knights were crushed in the Battle of Grunwald and the Battle of Koronowo, a numerous group of imprisoned known knights was held in the castle prison, including the future Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Michał Küchmeister von Sternberg. In 1425, during a bubonic plague, the walls of Chęciny Castle provided shelter for an under-age son of Jagiełło, the future King Władysław III of Varna.

In 1465 a great fire took place on the castle premises. As a result, it took a long time for the stronghold to regain its magnificence. In the second half of the 16th century, a day before her departure from Poland, Queen Bona Sforza, the widow of Sigismund I, was behind the castle walls; she took countless treasures to Italy. According to one of the legends, the old bridge over the River of Czarna Nida, which was not far from the castle, collapsed under the weight of twenty wagons. As a result, Queen's treasures shine in the water of this river in the rays of the setting sun until today, while the ghost of the Queen wanders in the Chęciny Castle with hope to find a helper who could take her chest out...

Soon after the escape of Bona Sforza, another fire broke out in the castle. As a result, the building lost its importance and was in such a pitiful condition that in 1588 it was decided to move the county's archives from the castle to the parish church. In 1607 during Zebrzydowski's Rebellion, Chęciny Castle was taken over by the rebels who did great damage to this historic building, destroyed the arsenal and fortifications. Several years later starost Stanisław Branicki got down to building a castle which in that period gained an appearance of an aristocratic residence in a spirit of the late Renaissance. In the years of the «Swedish Deluge» the castle was damaged due to the actions taken by the troops of Charles X, then the army of George Rákóczi, the Prince of Transylvania, who turned out to be an ally of the Swedish king.

In 1707 Chęciny Castle was retaken by the Swedish army which plundered and burnt it. As a consequence, the semi-destroyed building collapsed in the end. The last cannon firing from its walls took place in July 1787, during an honorary salute in honour of King Stanisław August Poniatowski. After the third partition of Poland the castle was owned by Austrians who did not worry at all about the fate of this old building. The local residents also grasped an opportunity to take construction materials from the castle ruins for their own purposes. The necessity to rebuild the stronghold as a historic building was discussed in 1840 when a delegation which inventoried Polish historic monuments and architecture arrived in Chęciny.

Several articles were published in magazines and newspapers about the history of this old castle to which an open letter by famous writer Henryk Sienkiewicz relates. The first renovation work was carried out behind the walls of Chęciny stronghold in the 1880s. However, the pace of work was very slow. In the First World War period on the top of the hill, in one of the castle towers, the Russian troops made a watch point which was destroyed together with the tower by shellfire. Rebuilding started after the Second World War and in the years 1948-1949 when the castle complex regained its high towers. By the end of the 1950s the castle walls were partially renovated and 10 years later battle scenes were shot near the castle for the famous film by Jerzy Hofman «Fire in the Steppe».