he oldest and most important stronghold on the western borderlands of Poland was probably erected in the 9th century. The fortress of Mesirici is mentioned for the first time in the chronicle of the Bishop of Merseburg, Thietmar, who described the expedition of the Emperor
Heinrich II der Heilige (d. 1024) going to war with polish duke Bolesław Chrobry (the Brave, d. 1025). According to the chronicler, he was supposed to stay in a nearby monastery, but out of respect for the ashes of the holy brothers, he was ordered to save the captured Piast stronghold. This means that already then there was a center here which played the role of an important watchtower on the western borders of the Polish state. It also served as a base for Piast expeditions to Western Pomerania and Brandenburg, and guarded the Warta river crossing as well as trade routes leading from Wielkopolska towards Germany and Silesia. Its importance can be proved by the fact that the first Benedictine abbey in Poland, mentioned in Sancti Adalberti Pragensis episcopi et martyris vita prior, was located nearby. According to the authors of this book, the abbey in Międzyrzecz was founded by St. Adalbert (one of the three main catholic patrons of Poland), and the monks living there, who were murdered in a robbery on the night of 10/11 November 1003, were declared the first martyrs of Poland.
SITUATION ON THE POLISH-SILESIAN-BRANDENBURG BORDERLAND IN THE XIV CENTURY, ORIGIN: A. MICHALAK: ZDOBYCIE MIĘDZYRZECZA...
he early medieval stronghold had a circular or irregular oval shape. It was protected by ramparts of a hook construction, which were about 20 meters wide and 10 meters high. Adjacent to it was a lower town, where archaeologists have discovered the remains of dwelling houses, blacksmith and glass workshops, baths and a stable. Chambers capable of containing large quantities of grain were also found, which would indicate that food had to be stored here for planned war expeditions. Międzyrzecz came under the influence of Brandenburg and Pomerania in the middle of the 11th century, but was taken away from them by the Polish Duke Bolesław Krzywousty in 1094.
Gall Anonim (court chronicler) when describing the battle for Międzyrzecz noted that the knight Wojsław was wounded in the head during the siege of the castle. His life was saved by the prince's physician, who took out from his head a spearhead with a piece of bone. This description is considered to be the first documented procedure of skull trepanation in Poland.
SKELETON OF A LATE XI CENTURY WARRIOR SHOT FROM A BOW PROBABLY DURING A SIEGE OF THE CASTLE IN 1094
WOODEN SCULPTURES OF ST. ADALBERT AND PIAST WARRIOR IN FRONT OF THE CASTLE IN MIĘDZYRZECZ
hen Bolesław Krzywousty died, Międzyrzecz was incorporated into the Greater Poland district, ruled by his son Mieszko III the Old (d. 1202). During the reign of duke Mieszko, the castle was invaded and burned by the troops of the German king
Frederick Barbarossa, although some historical sources state that it was abandoned and burned by its own crew as well as other strongholds on the line of the Odra River. Probably under the rule of duke Przemysław I (d. 1259) a castellany was established in Międzyrzecz and the town's fortifications were strengthened, and during the reign of his brother, Bolesław the Pious (d. 1279), they were further expanded. But before they were completed, the town was invaded by the Margrave of Brandenburg, Otto V der Lange, who conquered it, although he failed to take the stronghold. At that time the fortress probably already had a brick tower.
GATE BUILDING AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE MANOR COURTYARD
THE COURTYARD IS DECORATED WITH WOODEN STATUES OF THE FIVE MARTYRS
t the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries the town passed many times from Piast to Brandenburg hands and vice versa, and only in 1321 as a result of fights and diplomatic efforts it again merged with Poland for a long time. The castle became the seat of the starosty, although it was still a structure dominated by wooden buildings. It was not until around 1340, on the initiative of king
Kazimierz the Great, that the erection of brick curtain walls, residential buildings and fortification elements began. This work continued for the next three or perhaps even four decades. The new castle, in addition to the office of the starost, housed a permanent royal military garrison. Due to its key location (border), it was maintained in a state of constant combat readiness and in later years was subject to many modernizations. Documents mentioning some of the starosts of Międzyrzecz from that period have survived. In 1390 Wojciech from Szadów was referred to, in the years 1399-1403 Florian from Korytnica, then Sędziwój Ostroróg of
Nałęcz Coat of Arms (1403-12, 1413-18, d. 1441), Piotr Tarchała (1412-13), Jan from Rydzyna (1418-23), Niemierza from Lubosz (1449-66) and Piotr Świdwa from Szamotuły (1466-73, d. 1473). In 1426 the castle was visited by king
A PRESENT-DAY WOODEN BRIDGE LEADS TO THE CASTLE
uring the war between king of Hungary
Hunyadi Mátyás and king of Bohemia
Vladislav II Jagellonský and his allies: emperor
Friedrich III Habsubrg and
Kazimierz Jagiellończyk, king of Poland, in 1474 Międzyrzecz was invaded and conquered by the Hungarian army supported by Silesian troops, in total numbering about 3000 men. We don't know exactly who commanded this attack. According to some historians, however, the head of the siege was another supporter of the Hungarian king, Hans II the Mad, Duke of Żagan (d. 1504). According to others - Międzyrzecz was occupied by Hungarian magnate Szapolyai István (d. 1499) and Friedrich, the duke of Legnica (d. 1488). With the help of Hungarian support and (presumably) taking advantage of the treachery by the burgrave Sędziwój Żydowski, the invaders captured the town, which according to the Polish chronicler Jan Długosz was carelessly guarded. The castle surrendered without a fight and perhaps that is why it was not burnt down. Shortly after this battle, a truce was signed, and the strongholds and towns captured during the war returned to their rightful owners.
VIEW FROM THE CASTLE WALLS TO THE MANOR COURTYARD
ess than half a century later, during the last Polish-Teutonic war, in 1520, the stronghold was conquered by Wolf von Schönburg's mercenary troops numbering about 10 thousand soldiers, which were heading through Międzyrzecz towards the Prussian lands of the Order. As a result of an intense bombardment by twenty German cannons, the castle walls were destroyed, the buildings completely burned, and the castle crew murdered. However, the strategic location of the town made it necessary to rebuild it very quickly. So still in the first half of the 16th century the castle was not only rebuilt but also modernized. It was equipped with defensive towers and galleries, a gate, residential buildings and a decorative Renaissance attic. A little later, in the 60s of the 16th century, two characteristic round bastions were built at the entrance gate, which today are a symbol of Międzyrzecz and the most recognizable part of the stronghold. These bastions were probably erected when Stanisław Ostroróg of
Nałęcz coat of arms (d. 1568) held the post of Międzyrzecz castellan and Jan Służewski of
Sulima coat of arms (d. 1580) was the head of the local starosty.
THE STAROSTY BUILDING (ON THE RIGHT) AND THE OUTHOUSE, XVIII CENTURY
THE STAROSTY BUILDING, VIEW FROM THE SOUTH
n 1574 the castle hosted the first elected king of Poland,
Henri de Valois (d. 1589), who was on his way from Paris to the capital Kraków. At the end of the 16th century the stronghold in Międzyrzecz began to lose its importance and declined, and the greatest work of its destruction was done by the Swedes or Brandenburgians, who occupied the town in 1655-56. Although there was no fighting here, even the short stay of foreign crews ended with its devastation and the looting of everything of value. In 1691 the then starost
Piotr Opaliński of
Łodzia coat of arms (d. 1691) made an attempt to rebuild the seat of his office, but he died soon and the works were stopped. According to the description from 1699, the castle was already abandoned and very neglected: all the buildings belonging to the residence are deserted, the upper and lower buildings have no doors, stairs and gates. Due to the fact that the building was uninhabitable, starost Maciej Radomicki of
Kotwicz coat of arms (d. 1728) built an adjacent
manor house called Kasztelanówka and in 1719 moved the office of the Międzyrzecz starosty there.
THE CASTLE IN MIĘDZYRZECZ ON A WATERCOLOUR BY CAROL ALBERTI, 1795
VIEW OF THE RUINS IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE XIXTH CENTURY, EDWARD RACZYŃSKI "WSPOMNIENIA WIELKOPOLSKI..."
nly the dwellings for the servants were left in the castle. Some of the surviving rooms were also used as workshops and warehouses. Lack of investment caused further deterioration of the fortress, which is evidenced by Alberti's watercolors from 1795 depicting destroyed castle walls and missing roofs of the buildings. After the second partition of Poland, the ruins were taken over by the Prussian administration and leased to the former ambassador of the Kingdom of Prussia,
Girolamo Lucchiesini (d. 1825). He soon purchased the property, but due to his departure to Austria sold it to a certain Sturzel from nearby Międzychód. Then the castle came into the possession of the von Dziembowski family and remained in its ownership until 1945. The first of the family was here a Prussian captain Steffen August von Dziembowski (d. 1859), after whom the property and 40 thousand thalers was inherited by one of his three sons, also Steffen (d. 1900), a captain of the Prussian army and a deputy to the Landtag. His wife, Marie Constanze, née Kalckreuth, died in 1927 in the building of the present museum. In 1900 their eldest son Steffen Konstantin became the owner of the estate. After his childless death in 1914 the property was taken over by his sister's husband Ludwig Friedrich von Tempelhoff and nephew Conrad von Tempelhoff, who managed it until January 1945.
RUIN IN THE INTERWAR PERIOD
n the interwar period, attempts were made to adapt the castle ruins for cultural purposes, i. e. theater performances were organized in the courtyard. However, the first research and renovation work was conducted here only after World War II. In 1954, an extensive archaeological excavation began, during which the remains of an early medieval castle were discovered. Several thousand artifacts of great historical value were also found, including 33 whole shoes, an almost complete skeleton of an 11th century warrior (see photo above), and a 3rd century
gemma with the image of the Roman emperor Gordian III (d. 244), one of only two of its kind preserved in the world. After the excavations ended, the castle walls were reinforced and the residential building and bastions underwent reconstruction. In the 1970s and 1980s, a new bridge was built and the bastions were covered with characteristic tent roofs.
VIEW OF THE CASTLE FROM THE EAST, IN THE 1960S AND TODAY
he castle was situated to the west of the town in a naturally defensible environment among marshy meadows and floodplains,
on a mound. Early medieval wooden-earth fortifications were used for its construction. With the exception of the northern side, where the straight line of the walls runs along the hillside, all the other sections of the curtain were built on the ramparts of the early medieval castle. However, due to the risk of these ramparts subsiding, the Gothic walls were stabilized by supporting them on deeply dug stilts. This resulted in a horseshoe-shaped layout, imposed by the shape of the hill and the location of older fortifications.
PLAN OF MIĘDZYRZECZ IN THE MIDDLE AGES: 1 . THE CASTLE, 2. THE LOWER TOWN, 3. THE PARISH CHURCH, 4. THE OBRA GATE,
5. THE HIGH GATE, 6. THE MILL GATE, 7. OBRA RIVER, 8. PAKLICA RIVER
resumably, the first brick components of the castle were the 13th-century gate and the cylindrical tower standing next to it. In the middle of the 14th century the wooden-earth fortifications were replaced by a wall about 2.5 meters thick and 145 meters long, made of brick and probably topped with a crenellation. A residential house stood in the western part of the courtyard. The layout of the castle was complemented with wooden utility buildings attached to the walls. It was probably not until the 15th century that two small
half-open towers were added to the western part of the walls (near the residential house), and in the eastern part - a quadrilateral building, which could have been used as a gate tower. The castle was surrounded by a moat fed by the Obra River, about 12 meters wide, over which a wooden drawbridge was built on the eastern side of the stronghold.
GATES LEADING TO THE CASTLE COURTYARD
WESTERN FRAGMENT OF WALLS WITH FOUNDATIONS OF THE OLDEST RESIDENTIAL BUILDING
he Gothic castle functioned until 1520, when, after being destroyed by German invaders, it was rebuilt in the Renaissance style by the decision of
Zygmunt Stary (Sigismund the Old), and adapted for the use of firearms and artillery. The castle wall was then thickened and equipped with
loopholes, while the archaic medieval towers were probably demolished. It is also possible that the Gothic western house was demolished as well, and its functions could have been taken over by a new three-storey building situated in the southeastern part of the courtyard. Next to it, by the southern part of the wall, stood a half-timbered kitchen and accompanying wooden utility buildings.
PLAN OF THE CASTLE ACCORDING TO B. GUERQUIN (WITHOUT THE NORTHERN BASTION): 1. ENTRANCE GATE, 2. SOUTHERN BASTION, 3. GATE BUILDING/GUARDHOUSE, 4. RESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS (16th c.)
VIEW OF THE CASTLE FROM THE WEST
n the second half of the 16th century
the gate tower was adapted to a guardhouse. The entrance to the castle was moved a few meters to the south and a new gate and a pedestrian wicket were built. These changes were caused by the decision to build two artillery bastions with a diameter of about 11 meters and a height of about 9 meters, which were added to the eastern curtain and flanked the northern, eastern and southern sections of the walls and secured a short passageway leading to the castle. The bastions were equipped with
shooting stands for ten cannons and posts for small arms, from where up to a hundred soldiers could fire simultaneously. These 16th century fortifications aroused justified admiration and placed the stronghold in Międzyrzecz among the best fortified castles in the western part of Poland.
NORTHERN BASTION, VIEW FROM THE NORTHEAST AND GALLERY ON THE SECOND FLOOR
urrently, the Gothic castle is represented by the perimeter walls, remains of the western dwelling house, as well as the foundations of the cylindrical tower. The lower parts of the Renaissance buildings and the older gate, partially incorporated into the northern bastion and restored, have also survived. The most characteristic elements of the castle's architecture are two massive bastions situated on both sides of the entrance gate, which in the second half of the 20th century
were covered with cylindrical roofs inevitably associated with hudge Chinese hats. There is almost no exhibition in the castle. Apart from a small
torture chamber in the southern bastion, we visit only the bare walls.
VIEW FROM THE COURTYARD TO THE GUARDHOUSE AND THE GATE (ON THE RIGHT)
"TORTURE CHAMBER" IN THE SOUTHERN BASTION
useum exhibitions, although only to a small extent directly related to the history of the castle and its inhabitants, are located in the former starost's building and the manor outbuilding standing nearby. They house the Museum of Międzyrzec Land, which presents archaeological collections, ethnographic exhibitions devoted to the culture of the indigenous Polish population and their cultural heritage, as well as exhibits of great historical and artistic value, including militaria, old prints, portrait paintings, sacral sculptures, etc.
MUSEUM IN MIĘDZYRZECZ, FRAGMENT OF HISTORICAL-ETHNOGRAPHIC EXHIBITION
articularly noteworthy is Poland's largest collection of Sarmatian coffin portraits and epitaphs, depicting Polish noblemen living in the Międzyrzecz region in the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as noblemen of German origin who, living on the outskirts of of Poland, adopted this typically Polish custom. This collection also includes a globally unique gallery depicting deceased children. In addition to the ruins of the castle and the museum buildings, the museum complex also includes a gatehouse reconstructed after war damage, an 18th-century manor inn (located behind the island) and a historic landscape park, where the main walking route was created by a magnificent plane tree alley.
EXHIBITION OF COFFIN PORTRAITS, CHILDREN'S PORTRAITS BELOW
Tickets are required for entry to the castle and museum. The entrance to the park and the manor courtyard is free.
The exhibits are free to photograph. Flash may not be used.
It is forbidden to bring animals both to the ruins and to the museum. You can walk your dog in the park, but it should be on a leash.
There are no official flight bans in the area. Watch out for trees and birds, which especially during the breeding season need some peace and quiet.
iędzyrzecz is a small town located about 50 km southeast of Gorzów Wielkopolski. There is a rail station here (1.5 km from the ruins). The castle is located slightly west of the center, on Podzamcze Street.
parking on Młyńska street (300 meters from the ruins) or parking nearby on Garncarska street. You can ride a bicycle in the park.
Access by bicycle according to directions as above.
1. S. Adamczyk: Międzyrzecz i Skwierzyna na pograniczu dziejów, 1995
2. W. Dramowicz: Z dziejów rodu Dziembowskich herbu Pomian z powiatu międzyrzeckiego, NRHA 2/7
3. L. Kajzer, J. Salm, S. Kołodziejski: Leksykon zamków w Polsce, Arkady 2001
4. A. Michalak: Zdobycie Międzyrzecza w 1474 roku w świetle wybranych militariów
5. T. Jurek: Słownik historyczno-geograficzny ziem polskich w Średniowieczu
6. A. Wagner: Murowane budowle obronne w Polsce X-XVIIw., Bellona 2019
IN THE CASTLE PARK
Castles nearby: Świebodzin - ducal castle from the 13th/14th century, rebuilt, 26 km Łagów - castle of the Knights of St. John from the 14th century, 29 km Zbąszyń - remains of bastion castle from the 15th-17th centuries, 34 km