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History of Pieskowa Skała Castle

We are on an ancient trade route. As early as in the 13th century Cracow was one of the main centres of European trade in goods. The route at which we are was used for driving Moldovan cattle, transporting Silesian silk, Hungarian copper, salt and lead from Cracow or wax from Lviv. Such routes had to be guarded by special garrisons stationing at courts and later in castles. Such a situation is explained by a tradition saying that in the Early Middle Ages there was a wooden garden here or on Bukowiec Hill opposite. These are only assumptions since no traces of it have been found. On the other hand, the first note about Pieskowa Skała Castle comes only from 1315, when Władysław the Short allows a Mikołaj to set up a village among Kosmolów, Sułoszowa and Pieskowa Skała Castle. It cannot be ruled out that the establishment of a town by Henry the Bearded in 1228, connected by some historians with Grodzisko, concerns Pieskowa Skała. Apart from the father's castle, the castle became one of the main fortifications on the trade route connecting Cracow with Silesia, in particular with Wrocław.

In front of the castle, the most loyal guard and protector has been standing for centuries, a calcareous loner called “Hercules' Mace" because of its shape. Just behind it stands the castle. A building that today enraptures had a turbulent history. Its walls contain nearly all art styles present from the time of its construction until the 19th century.

Let us take a look at the history of this picturesque building. Jan Długosz, a Polish chroniclers, says that the castle’s founder was King Casimir the Great. However, it is known that the brick building had already existed under his father’s rule. Most probably, Casimir extended it as one of many fortresses at the borderland of Poland and Silesia and the Czech Republic that was called the Trail of the Eagles' Nests. The building belonged to the monarch until 1377, it mainly served as a defensive structure. Then another monarch, Louis I of the House of Anjou, gave it together with the neighbouring lands to Piotr Szafraniec of Łuczyce. This deed of gift was a token of gratitude for the dynastic plans of the Hungarian on the Polish throne and compensation for an injury that Szafraniec had suffered because of a skirmish with a monarch courtier. As a result, he lost his ear. The donation is confirmed by the next monarch, Władysław Jagiełło, in 1386. The Szafraniec family became formal owners on 28 October 1422. Then the king gave them an ownership deed for bravery during the Battle of Grunwald and paying his own arrears.

What did the castle of that time, extended by the creator of so-called "Brick Poland", look like? The Gothic building was located on the most inaccessible north rock platform called Dorotka. There was a defensive tower with living quarters, a square base, octagonal at the top. The upper castle with small chambers adjoined it. The lower castle, today an arcaded courtyard, was occupied by utility facilities: stables and granaries; all of them were surrounded by a defensive wall with two towers from the east. The east side of the hill was the only way where you could get to the residence, which was the best place to attack it. The buildings were preceded by a moat across which a drawbridge ran.

The 16th century came. Hieronim Szafraniec, a close associate of Sigismund I the Old, serving as a royal secretary, becomes the property’s owner. It was him who started reconstructing the building, giving it the Italian Renaissance style. The main architect of these changes was Mikołaj Castiglione, Bartolomeo Berrecci's associate, the last builder of Renaissance Wawel Castle. Then the property served mainly as a residence, leaving aside the defensive aspect. Unfortunately, Hieronim did not finish his work started in 1542 or so. The next owner, a voivode of Sandomierz, Stanisław Szafraniec, Hieronim's cousin, was a donor of another changes. He had been the castle’s owner since 1557, which would indicate the date of the modernisation he started. The date 1778 written on the arcaded courtyard’s frieze indicates the end of work. The building development covered the earlier lower castle, making it the main castle, it was called the upper castle after that. The building was surrounded by a trapezium courtyard which was arcaded like the palace in Cracow. The main chambers were located in the south and west wing, in the east wing was a gatehouse and the north side was obscured with a screen wall whose aim was only to close the composition. When we look today at the castle from the valley of the Prądnik River flowing at its foot, we get an impression that this is an extremely high building. However, this is only an illusion since the south wall fell on a steep hillside so it received two additional storeys. One of them served as cellars, the other one as living space. You entered it from the courtyard. In addition, a viewing loggia was constructed, looking to the Italian villas and Danish pavilion on Wawel Hill. The whole was completed with architectural elements, Renaissance door and window frames, an attic and numerous mascarons. The castle and its furnishings are so rich that it was said that it looked like a royal residence. Let us just mention that like Renaissance Wawel Castle, gilded polychrome covered the inner side of galleries, column capitals and all arcades.

Let us take a look at the castle’s owners from 1377 to 1608. The Szafraniec family had its ups and downs. In the 11th century a Żegota of the Toporczyk family, a loyal knight of King Bolesław the Generous, returned to the bosom of his family after he had conquered Russian lands on the king's side and fought in the Holy Land. When he arrived many years later, nobody recognised him. At the same time Żegota's father died and his two elder brothers divided his estate, only between them, rejecting the claims of the younger brother. In such a situation Żegota turned his back on his family. He got rid of the two axes from the coat of arms, leaving only the image of an old horse. The new coat of arms was accepted by the king. The same ruler ordered the elder brothers to take Żegota back but Żegota refused. After that he was called “Zaprzaniec” because he renounced his family. The term “Zaprzaniec” in the 12th century evolved etymologically and was changed into “Szafraniec”. Soon the family was known in whole Poland thanks to its valour and loyalty to rulers. In 1377, as already mentioned, Piotr Szafraniec received a lease on Pieskowa Skała Castle and King Jagiełło finally ceded the ownership to the Szafraniec family in 1386. Piotr II was the next owner. He practised dark magic and alchemy that was proscribed by the Church. As Długosz wrote, he carried out his practices in the castle. Another person from the family did not render a service either to his family or the country. Krzysztof Szafraniec was into large-scale robbery. Together with his knight team, he prepared assaults on passing by merchants, robbed them, and sometimes killed them. Due to numerous complaints, he was found an outlaw by King Kazimierz Jagiellończyk and had to leave the country for a hundred years and one day; finally on the monarch's order he was beheaded on Wawel Hill. The next owner of the property was Hieronim. He was a Calvinist so he introduced religious and worldview novelties. This was not an obstacle to hire him at the court of Sigismund I the Old as a royal secretary. It was him who started a Renaissance reconstruction of this castle which after his death was continued by his son, Stanisław Szafraniec, who set up Calvin and Arian congregations in his residences. He surrounded himself with people of science and writers. Friendly contacts with Mikołaj Rej, who had highlighted the services of the Szafranice family many times in his works, were a token of his literary interests. Jędrzej was his successor, he died childless in 1608.

Let us return to the castle’s history. After the last member of the Szafraniec family died, the castle constantly changed its owners. At first it was owned by Maciej Łubnicki, then the Zebrzydowski family of whom Mikołaj was the initiator and leader of a rebellion against Sigismund III Vasa. In 1640 the castle became a property of Michał Zebrzydowski, a starost of the Lanckoroński family, who mostly improved the fortification system and to some extent changed the building’s form. A constant threat of attacks on the castle from the east side was the reason of reconstruction. Zebrzydowski added new fortifications which included two bastions connected with a curtain wall in which an entry gate ran to the lower courtyard.

Unfortunately, in 1655 the castle was affected by a disaster. The new Italian fortifications did not protect it against the Swedish Deluge and occupants had been plundering and looting the property for two years until 1657. Bigger strongholds were affected by the Swedish Deluge as well, even whole cities such as Cracow and Warsaw.

Ten years later the property was owned by the Wielkopolscy family. Emperor Ferdinand II gave them the title of "counts on Pieskowa Skała". They used this title until 1842. Unfortunately, the Wielkopolscy family did not reside in their residence which led to its further damaging. Another invasion of the Swedish army during the Northern War led to a decline of the property. The final straw in destroying it was the fire of 1718 that consumed the castle. Only the equerry of the Crown, Hieronim Wielopolski, moved from his family residence in Obory near Warsaw, with his wife, Urszula of the Potocki family, to Pieskowa Skała. It was not until 1768 that the new host got interested in the palace. He renovated and partially rebuilt it. Unfortunately, as a result, it lost its Renaissance appearance. The viewing loggia was bricked in then and the galleries were changed into a row of glazed corridors to heat the interior better. Almost all interiors, window and door frames were reconstructed, covered by ornament paintings. The east elevation of the castle and all elements of the arcaded courtyard were covered with colourful polychrome. A second floor was built over the outbuilding, and a three-storey building was constructed in the place where today the Italian garden is: stables were on the lowest floor, an entry under an arcaded bridge in front of a gate in the clock tower led to the stables, coach houses were built on today's outside courtyard level, while on the first floor were rooms for hunters. Probably at that time the castle obtained two Baroque tented roofs, one on the round tower and the other on the Dorotka Tower. Despite such a thorough reconstruction, Wielkopolski restored the castle’s splendour of an aristocratic residence. As a progressive man interested in collecting, he collected a set of valuable works of art, in that way he became the owner of “a museum of Poland”, established in a similar way to Dutch, Turkish and Chinese offices. The castle was then visited by famous figures, including Augustus III of Saxony, before he was crowned to Poland's king, and Stanisław August Poniatowski in 1787. After the death of the owner, the castle again became desolate. Urszula Wielopolska of the Potocki family came back to Obory. However, the family did not decide to sell the property until in 1842, when it fell into the ownership of Jan Mieroszewski, and later his son, Sobiesław August. Still, Pieskowa Skała was unlucky. In 1850 the castle burst into flames. After thirteen years the January Uprising broke out. Despite the fact that fights were held far from the castle, the castle itself became a shelter for soldiers from Marian Langiewicz’s troop.

The owner of that time, Sobiesław August Mieroszewski, started a rebuilding that lasted until 1877. Then the splendour of the residence, which it had in the time of the Wielkopolscy family, was restored. The interior was designed in an eclectic way. At that time two decorative neo-Gothic towers were built in the corners of the bastions from the outer courtyard, a wooden garden house in the Castle Park, several watch towers in the bastions and another floor was added to the tower near the entry gate, crowning it with a pyramid roof, which is above today's loggia. In 1887 the castle in that condition was owned by the last member of the Mieroszewscy family, Krzysztof, who sold the Pieska Skała property to Michał Wilczyński from Warsaw as early as in 1896, taking more valuable furnishings and works of art to Cracow. This was, as a matter of fact, the end of the golden era of the former aristocratic residence.

By the end of the 19th century the property was bought by a Chmurski, a lawyer from Cracow. At the foot of the castle he built a fine villa for holiday purposes. However, bad management of the castle led to debts. The debt was so high that in 1902 Pieskowa Skała was put for auction. The castle was bought by the Joint-stock Association of Pieskowa Skała Castle, established for this purpose. A hotel was established in the bought property, which operated until the outbreak of the World War II.

During German occupation the castle served as a shelter for orphans from Zamojszczyzna and Wołyń and for refugees after the Warsaw Uprising.

After the war the property was nationalised. It had been in the ownership of the Ministry of Agriculture for several years. Since 1949 a series of archaeological and renovation works started. It resulted in opening a museum which is a branch of the National Art Collections on Wawel.