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Castle Ogrodzieniec

The highest rise in the Kraków-Częstochowa Highland is Janowski Hill which rises 515.5 m above sea level (according to the latest measurements). The Hill is named after Aleksander Janowski, founder of the Polish Tourist Society, who saved the ruins of this medieval castle from an irretrievable destruction in 1905. These ruins are the remains of Ogrodzieniec Castle built on a hillside. Polish novelist Adolf Dygasiński did not conceal his admiration for this place when he said that Ogrodzieniec is one of the most beautiful ruins in the world. Unfortunately, the current condition of the stronghold is caused by people's mindless activities throughout the 19th century. Earlier Ogrodzieniec Castle survived both natural disasters and invasions of enemies.

History of Ogrodzieniec Castle

Both the time and the fact that during the Middle Ages people did not attach any significance to maintaining and keeping in-depth documentation caused that the background of Ogrodzieniec Castle is not clear enough, it sank in the mists of time. Today’s knowledge was affected by the findings on Birów Hill, where there probably was a town older than Ogrodzieniec. Some of the tales connected so far with the most famous Eagle Nest should be ascribed to that town. The stronghold was known as the "Wolf's Jaw" and was built from wood and earth. It was probably constructed in the time of Bolesław Wrymouth, who ruled Poland between 1102 and 1138. This first wooden town was most probably burnt during the first invasion of the Tatars in 1241, and the Mongolian forces that attacked Hungary plundered and ravaged the southern territory of Poland. The name of the town may derive from a wall or a fortification.

During the mid-14th century, a brick castle was built on the ruins of the town. The construction was funded by King Casimir the Great. The stronghold was erected in a new Gothic style by unknown builders, probably between 1350 and 1370. It was to serve a residential role, but above all a defensive one because it was located on the Silesian-Polish border and – as a link of the Trail of the Eagle's Nests – was to defend the territories of the Piasts against invaders from the Czech Republic. Its first leaseholder was knight Przedbórz of Brzezie, of Zadora Coat of Arms (he was the progenitor of the Lanckoroński family; the last member of the family – Karolina Lanckorońska, founder of the Polish Institute in Rome, died in 2002). At first Przedbórz served as the provincial governor of Sieradz, and next he became the royal marshal and the king’s closest collaborator. (more)


 Architecture and current condition

 If you take a closer look at the structure of Ogrodzieniec Castle, you will find that it is undoubtedly the most interesting defensive and residential complex in the entire Kraków-Częstochowa Highland. During its construction, the builders did not follow strictly the geometrical arrangement because they had to use not only the hill but also the space between the protruding rocks, which now highlights the beautiful landscape.

The total capacity of the Castle is 32,000 cubic metres. It comprises several architectural elements, mainly in the Italian and French Gothic style. During the 15th century a stone tower and a residential wing were added on the south-eastern side of the hill. In the small inner courtyard there was a single row of shops or utility rooms which formed an enfilade on the other sides. Just behind the gate, on the eastern side of the rock was a fine entrance gate and stairs which led to chambers behind the entrance gate. This area was lined with galleries supported by columns and surrounded by balustrades, but none of the galleries ran around the courtyard.

During the rebuilding led by Seweryn Boner between 1532 and 1547, a Renaissance north-western wing was added. It housed fine dining rooms, and a deep well was sunk nearby, there was also a tank for drinking water. Additionally, the southern wing was extended by two lofty towers. Seweryn Boner can be considered the precursor of neo-Gothic because the towers he had built were not defensive, they were aesthetic and referred to the past period with their loftiness. The arrangement of the stronghold was very complex. There were official and residential chambers, a powder magazine, a larder, a treasury, and a library. A residential wing was added within the next few years. The wing closed the castle complex in the west, where the Boners' bedroom and a spacious rectangular pavilion, whose design drew on Wawel's Hen's Foot, could be found. This building served a defensive role. The lower floors housed a ball room, women's chambers, rooms for servants and a writing room. The main courtyard was surrounded by richly decorated galleries. The higher floors were wooden, but they were supported by marble columns. As Renaissance loggias, they were used as viewing balconies. Knights’ tournaments, balls and performances of theatre troupes were held in the courtyard.

There are two more courtyards in the area of the defensive complex: the tournament courtyard known as the Knights' Courtyard and the utility courtyard, where storehouses, workshops and a henhouse could be found. A three-hectare green field surrounded by a wall stretches around the Castle. It is the old outer castle. One could enter the outer castle through a gate with a drawbridge above a deep moat. A range of stables and coach houses was added near the gate during the 16th century. Only their foundations survived to the present day. A row of defensive walls was incorporated into beautiful calcareous monadnocks, i.e. free-standing rocks which were formed as a result of weathering. Tower rocks with a cave in the form of a tunnel can be found on the eastern side, and on the north-western side there is a murder hole – a rock recess nearby the old guardhouse. There probably were fortified shooting turrets used for watching the area on other monadnocks located outside the walls of the stronghold.

There was a dry moat with the Gate Tower between the outer castle and the upper bailey. At the gate there was a board, which was stolen during World War I, with the following inscription: "This was built from foundations by Seweryn Bonar of Balice, mine administrator, burgrave and representative of Ogrodzieniec, Ojców, Kamieniec, Cracow governor, starost of Bielsko, Czchów, Rabsztyn".

The stronghold had four high towers, all were cylindrical. The first is the Gate Tower, destroyed in 1914 by Russian artillery gunfire. The second is a Gothic bojnica known as the Convicts’ Tower, with partially preserved merlons.

In the Tower's dungeon there was a prison from which the Tower took its name. Today the third tower is the best preserved: the Renaissance Kredencerska Tower has a preserved viewing terrace from where you can enjoy the nearby view. Only the foundations of the last fourth tower survived, it was once incorporated into the lines of the walls of the south tournament courtyard.

Today Ogrodzieniec Castle is one of the greatest ruins in Poland. It is located on the highest hill of the Kraków-Częstochowa Highland known as Janowski Hill. It is a tourist site available to public for a small fee. The route which was specially prepared for this purpose is pretty complicated and can be quite difficult for those who are not skilled, so it is good to buy first a map in the cashier's office. The furnishings inside the Castle are not impressive, but there are not many original interiors. Despite its unquestioned charm, today's Ogrodzieniec is unfortunately a heavily damaged ruin. Some parts of Boner's bedroom, including a cleverly camouflaged secret box for valuables, survived. There is also a chamber which earlier was a library, a treasury, raw walls of official halls – most of them are roofless, barrel-vaulted cellars and Hajduckie Shops which today, after the reconstruction, house souvenir shops. One of the towers, the Kredencerska Tower, is open. There is a picturesque panorama of the surroundings with the reconstructed town of Birów located only 2 km to the north. You can visit the Castle without a guide, but you can also take a guided tour or organise various events and commercial tourist services in the ruins. The courtyard often serves as a platform for outdoor public events, fairs, tournaments and concerts.

Opening hours:
April 9.00-18.00
May-August 9.00-20.00
September 9.00-19.00
October 9.00-16.00
November 9.00-15.00
Ogrodzieniec Castle is closed from December to March. 

By Wojciech Zabielski