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Ducal tower at Siedlęcin

One of the most important and most impressive old gems of the Polish Middle Ages is located in the small village of Siedlęcin in Lower Silesia, to the north of Jelenia Góra, where the Kaczawskie Mountains border the Jelenia Góra Valley and where a Bóbr River crossing was located. It was here that Duke Henry I of Jawor, son of Bolko I the Strict, built a residential tower in the second decade of the 14th century. Today this tower is still the biggest and the best preserved building of this kind in Poland, and one of the best preserved buildings of this kind in Europe.

This rectangular tower, measuring 22.2 x 14.35 m, was originally crenellated, i.e. it had characteristic battlements. The current roof is a later addition from the 16th century. In Siedlęcin Tower you can see, among others, the oldest wooden ceilings in Poland, dating back to 1313-1314 according to a dendrochronological analysis: trees which were cut down in 1313 were used to build the beams above the ground floor; while trees which were cut down in 1314 were used for the beams above the first, second and third floor. However, this does not make this tower exceptional. The wall paintings which you can admire on the second floor, on the walls of the former Great Hall, are the most precious treasure and undoubtedly the most interesting element of the tower's furnishings. They are the oldest secular polychromes in Poland and their main theme is one of the Arthurian legends: the story of King Arthur’s favourite knight, Sir Lancelot of the Lake. Today they are the only wall paintings of this legendary knight in the world which still survive in situ.

It is unknown when exactly Duke Henry ordered to make them. One of the hypotheses involves Duchess Agnes of Austria, wife of Henry's nephew – Bolko II the Small, Duke of Świdnica. The creators of these paintings might have arrived in Silesia together with the Duchess. That would mean it was not until 1338 that these paintings were made (a close similarity of the Siedlęcin paintings to those located nearby Zurich and Konstanz indicates that the author/authors might have come from Switzerland). However, as suggested by Jacek Witkowski, an outstanding expert in Siedlęcin Tower and European court culture, the manuscript of the romance about Sir Lancelot, which perhaps was an inspiration for these paintings, might have been bought by Duke Henry during his trip to Cologne, where he maintained friendly relations with the Rhineland aristocracy, or by his wife, Duchess Agnes, during her pilgrimage to Western Germany, to Trier and Cologne. The recent findings suggest that these paintings were made in the second decade of the 14th century, in the third decade at the latest. They were made by using the al secco technique, i.e. in contrast to murals, they were applied on a dry plaster. They depict, among others, Camelot Castle and Queen Guinevere's court, the abduction of Queen Guinevere by Meleagan and her rescue by Lancelot. There is also a painting of Lancelot sleeping underneath an apple tree and Lionel sleeping on guard, St Christopher, the patron saint of knights, a knight and a maiden, and a knight and a married woman. The unfinished scenes show a duel between Lancelot and Sagramour and the healing of Urry de Hongre. When the tower was taken under the care of Chudów Castle Foundation in 2001, the polychromes had already been in a very bad condition. They were saved only thanks to the extensive conservation carried out in 2006. It must be emphasised that Henry I of Jawor was the first Polish duke who funded Arthurian paintings. His financial problems, which we know about from historical sources, might have resulted from this ambitious project.

 

 

When Duke Henry died in the spring of 1346, his nephew, the abovementioned Bolko II the Small, took possession of the tower. After the death of the latter his widow, Duchess Agnes, took care of the tower in 1368. However, after only a year she sold it to Jenchinow von Redern, a courtier. Since then Siedlęcin Tower was in the possession of knightly families, which is reflected in the tower's name. It had been known as the "Knightly" Tower for a long time. But since Chudów Castle Foundation took care of the tower and its founder was identified, efforts have been made to adopt the right name. This name should result from the position of the person who funded Siedlęcin Tower and its construction, not from the one who later lived there; it should be the "Ducal Residential Tower in Siedlęcin".

Since 2008 annual seasonal archaeological surveys have been conducted in the tower under the patronage of the Jagiellonian University. These surveys keep leading to new findings and discoveries. Thanks to the grant obtained in March 2015, a project entitled "The Ducal Residential Tower in Siedlęcin in view of surveys – a summary of the results for the seven hundred years of the Tower" is being prepared to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the construction of the tower. As part of the project, a work summarising the seven seasons of surveys in Siedlęcin Tower is to be published in 2016.

Siedlęcin Tower is open every day from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm during peak months (May-October), and from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm during off-peak months (November-April). Guided tours are available.