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"A PERSON THAT SAVED AT LEAST ONE LIFE WAS NOT BORN FOR NOTHING"

DEFENCE CASTLES AND MILITARY SETTLEMENTS OF JURA

Knight's castle ruins in Mirow

                                                            Knight's castle ruins in Mirow

 

The defence castles of Jura were located high on the limestone hills and functioned as a defence line between the indigenous Polish land and the disputable territory of Silesia, from where invaders often attacked. The castles were a great point of defence as well as a base from which the Polish army could explore the region. Some of the castles built by Polish kings were seats of castellans – officials who on the given territory had the power of the today’s head of police and border guards as well as the judge in current issues.

It was the castellan’s duty to enforce peace and safety on the roads travelled by merchants, pilgrims and messengers, who were under constant threat from gangs of muggers.

The fortresses and knight’s castles of Jura, built from limestone high on the rocks were extremely difficult to conquer with medieval siege techniques.

The castles were destroyed by Swedes, who during the ‘deluge’ shattered the walls and turned most of the castles into ruins.

 

                                         Magnate castle ruins in Podzamcze/Ogrodzieniec

 

Some of the castles of Jura were impressive seats of nobility. A good example of that is the castle in Ogrodzieniec that was sometimes referred to as little Wawel because of its size. The castle was expanded by the Boner family – king’s bankers who also owned profitable paper mills in Balice and Kamień and a salt mine in Wieliczka. The castles of Jura had their legends, tales, ghosts, phantoms and myths.

It is said that a ghost of a black dog dragging a chain can be seen by the walls of the Ogrodzieniec castle at midnight, meeting which of course brings bad luck. Rumour has it that it is the damned soul of castellan Warszycki, a merciless man who set up a special place to torture his subjects and had his own wife whipped for disobedience.

It is also believed that a ghost of a sad lady in white appears at the castle in Bobolice. It is said to be a soul of a noble’s wife, who was bricked up alive by her jealous husband for infidelity, which she did not commit. That is probably the only ghost in Poland meeting of which brings good luck.

 

                                 Reconstructed from the ruins of the royal castle in Bobolice

 

Those of the castles of Jura which became part of the Russian partition were not taken care of. After the January Uprising had been mercilessly suppressed, the land (including castles) that belonged to the gentry who took active part in the uprising, was divided between peasants. That was aimed at humiliating the gentry. Peasants, on the other hand, treated the ruins of castles as a storage of building materials and that’s how they acquired stones to build their houses and cowsheds.

Similarly, the local towns were dealt with. Those that gave shelter to the members of the uprising were deprived of municipal rights (which led to other restrictions and consequently destruction) and turned into villages. Even today some villages in Jura bear traces of their former prosperity prior to the fierce act of the invaders.

Just as some of the former towns are granted municipal rights again, some of the castles have chances to be rebuilt.

The first castle to be preserved in the form of permanent ruin was the one in Ogrodzieniec, which work was financed from the national funds.

Recently, a Polish senator Jarosław Lisiecki came up with an idea to rebuild the castle in Bobolice. As he is a wealthy man he managed to reconstruct the castle in just a few years and today we can admire the building in all its glory, probably just as medieval travellers and merchants saw it while passing by.

 

 Royal Castle in Olsztyn

 

 

  The royal and knight’s defence castles of Jura are not only a source of legends, but also witnesses of the Polish fight for freedom and of many historical events. A castle in Olsztyn near Częstochowa is a good example of that. At the time of  the Casimir III the Great’s rule the voivode of Poznań was starved to death in the castle’s dungeons. It is said that he got only a jar of water and a sheaf of hay daily, which symbolised that traitors deserve to be treated like animals. He survived 40 days but his moans and curses can be still heard in the castle.

Another important event took place in 1587 when the castle was besieged by the army of Maximilian III, Archduke of Austria, who pretended to the Polish throne. Kacper Karliński, the castellan of the castle, promised the king that he would not surrender. The defence of the castle was paralysed when they saw the castellan’s young son tied to one of the shields of the invaders. Still, the castellan first took the shot and killed his son. The castle withstood the attack and the invaders left, seeing such desperation and resistance on the part of the defence.

 

 Slavic settlement reconstructed on the Mount Birów

 

Apart from the royal and knight’s castles built out of stone, in Jura there were many older settlements that made advantage of the natural defence settings on the hills. For example a Slavic settlement on Góra Birów became an inaccessible fortress thanks to the steep rocks that circled the trough in which the settlement was situated, though it was only secured with an earth and wooden dike and a wooden fence that closed the entrance.

This defence settlement was burned out in the 14th century during the fights between Ladislaus the Short and Wenceslaus II of Bohemia.

What can be seen on Góra Birów today is the reconstruction of the medieval fortifications, houses and equipment of people who used to live here...

 

What is interesting is that the inaccessible, limestone rocks of Góra Birów today are a popular training venue of rock climbers and cave explorers.

A place that granted safety to our ancestors, today shapes the courage and fitness of teenagers.