he castle and the town are strongly connected with rock salt exploration carried out in this region of Małopolska. The first traces of this activity can be found in the 13th century mine shaft located within the medieval castle courtyard. According to tradition, the founder of the castle was Duke of Cracow,
Henryk IV Probus (d. 1290), who, soon after the discovery of rich salt lodes, strove to create the necessary infrastructure to develop and protect the interests of this very profitable venture. It was then that the Wieliczka Castle was built. For over 650 years it functioned as the seat of the salt mine management and various workshops connected with the extraction of white gold, its storage and processing. Workers were summoned to work from the castle tower, tools and materials were stored in the castle warehouses, as well as salaries were paid and some officials lived here. In the times of polish king Kazimierz the Great (mid-14th century) the castle was also the royal residence.
NARROW COURTYARD BETWEEN THE MIDDLE (ON THE RIGHT) AND THE NOTHERN CASTLE (ON THE LEFT)
In medieval Poland, mines and salt works were called żupy solne, ans salt produced there - due to its high price - the white gold. These enterprises usually belonged to kings or princes and provided them with a very high income, which was often the primary source of maintenance of the court or state. For example, during the reign of Kazimierz the Great, almost 1/3 of the royal revenues came from salt trading. The direct supervision over the salt mines was exercised by the saltmaster (żupnik), an appointed royal official, who due to his function was not subject to the common courts of law and could be judged only by the king himself. His duties included managing the mines' finances, taking care of the sale of salt, paying the miners and administering the entrusted property. The deputy of saltmaster was called podżupnik or podżupek.
There are two main historical areas of salt mining in Poland: the Cracow salt mines (żupy krakowskie) with Bochnia and Wieliczka mines, and older, the so-called Russian salt mines (żupy ruskie), which included enterprises operating in Grody Czerwieńskie region (where salt was exploited probably since Roman times).
THE SALT MINE AND THE TOWN OF WIELICZKA ON THE MAP OF WILHELM HONDIUS FROM 1645
he castle was built on marshy terrain near the small river Srawa, which made very difficult to dig tunnels to seize it. At the end of the 13th century the stronghold had a form of a two-storey residential tower built on a rectangular plan with sides of 16x10 meters. Its ground floor was made of sandstone mined in nearby Biskupice, while the first floor was made only of wood. The tower, later called Dom pośród Żupy or middle castle, was surrounded by a stone wall forming a quadrangle 60 x 57 meters in size, which was protected from the outside by a moat about 2 meters wide. The entrance to the castle courtyard led through a gate located in the north-eastern corner of the wall. Intensive growth of the town of Wielka Sól (the early name of Wieliczka) was stopped in the early 14th century by a civil war, during which troops under the Cracow bishop Jan Muskata (d. 1320) burned and plundered towns allied with the prince
Władysław Łokietek (d. 1333), among them also the seat of Cracow's mines. When a few years later an uprising against Łokietek, called the Albert rebellion, broke out in Cracow, Wieliczka joined its supporters. The rebellion was quickly quelled and its participants mostly killed, but the prince saved the town, making only personnel changes in the local administration.
RECONSTRUCTION OF THE WIELICZKA CASTLE FROM THE TURN OF 13TH AND 14TH CENTURY, ORIGIN: CRACOW SALT-WORKS MUSEUM
Kazimierz the Great established the town under German law and thoroughly rebuilt the castle as well as incorporated it into the town's fortification system. In the first half of the 14th century a one-storey building with a square plan was added to the residential tower from the west. It presumably had some economic or military function. After 1350 it was raised and its basement and first floor received vaults supported by a single central pillar. The ground floor, later called the Grodzka Chamber, was given a representative character, which was probably dictated by the frequent stays of the ruler, who from then on visited the castle almost every year. Also by order of Kazimierz the Great, Wieliczka was surrounded by a one-kilometer-long wall, equipped with defensive porches and topped with crenellation. This wall was supported by 19 towers. Three of them belonged to the castle, which from then on became a key element of the town's fortification from the north-western side. After the death of the king Kazimierz, short visits to the castle were held, among others, by the Lithuanian duke
Vytautas (in 1386) and the Czech king
Zikmund Lucemburský and the Danish king
Erik III, who in 1424 headed for the coronation ceremony of
Sofija Alšėniškė - the fourth wife of
FRAGMENT OF MARCIN GERMAN'S TOWN PLAN FROM 1638, ON THE LEFT YOU CAN SEE ST. KLEMENS' CHURCH, AND ON THE RIGHT - THE CASTLE
t is possible that still during the reign of Władysław Jagiełło (d. 1434) the Royal Kitchen was built in the castle courtyard. It was a quadrilateral tower with a centrally located oven, supported by four stone pillars. The kitchen in Wieliczka is considered to be the oldest collective catering facility in Poland, as it was here that meals were served free of charge to the officials and employees of the Cracow salt mines, as well as to the drivers coming to collect salt. In the years 1473 and 1475 fires broke out in the town. They were so severe that King
Kazimierz Jagiellończyk (d. 1492), in order to help repair the town buildings consumed by fire, released the burghers of Wieliczka from rents and other obligations for a period of 10 years. During the reconstruction of the town the castle was also modernized. Its layout was enriched by a new building called Dom Żupny or northern castle, created by joining two smaller buildings standing in the northern part of the courtyard. Its ground floor housed utility rooms, workshops and warehouses, while the first floor was used as apartments for officials. Here, too, a prison with the intriguing name of Groch was located in the castle cellars.
DOM ŻUPNY (THE NORTHERN CASTLE), SOUTH AND EAST ELEVATION
he fires, that devastated Wieliczka in 1531 and 1535, stimulated another reconstruction of the seat of saltmastes, as a result of which the castle rooms were given a more representative character. In the middle of the 16th century the western wing was raised by one storey and the Royal Chamber was located there. At the same time, the northern and middle castles were connected by a large wooden room on the second floor, called Sala gdzie żupniki wymalowano (untranslatable: it was named after 24 paintings with images of the former saltmasters). On the first floor of the northern castle the chapel of St. Stanisław was arranged, so small that it could accommodate only a wooden altar, a priest celebrating mass, and one altar boy. All representative rooms were equipped with fireplaces, painted stoves, gilded candlesticks, and even special and very expensive windows decorated with royal coats of arms. As part of a sixteenth-century reconstruction, the roofs of the middle castle were decorated with Renaissance attics, and a watchtower with a porch was erected in its northwestern part, from where workers were summoned to work. The castle orchard, so far used as an economic resource of the castle kitchen, now became an ornamental garden.
GROUND FLOOR PLAN OF THE CASTLE BY JOSEPH FLECKHAMMER, 1780
he end of the 16th century and the following great economic crisis, intensified by epidemics and armed conflicts lasting for decades, started the collapse of the Wieliczka castle. As a result of another fire, the Royal Chamber was demolished before 1620 and the main representative room became the Grodzka Chamber. Cracks in the castle walls caused by collapsing mine workings and vibrations from heavy salt wagons passing nearby were also noted. The occupation of the town by the Swedish and Transylvanian armies in the middle of the 17th century led to further degradation of the saltmaster's seat, which was robbed of its valuable furnishings and devastated. In the years 1670-85 the middle castle (which was in danger of collapse) was rebuilt, as a result of which the Grodzka Chamber has been divided into four smaller rooms. This layout was repeated at the basement and first floor. The western wing of the northern castle was also renovated.
Maria Kazimiera Sobieska (d. 1716), queen of Poland, lived upstairs there when she stayed in Wieliczka for a short time in 1685. In addition, the Royal Kitchen, which had been destroyed during the wars, was demolished and its function was taken over by chamber in the northern castle.
NORTH ELEVATION OF THE CASTLE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE XIXTH CENTURY, M. A. SEYKOTT
VIEW OF THE TOWN AND THE CASTLE IN DRAWING BY KARL RYBIčKA, 1843
he Northern War (1700-21) left its mark on Wieliczka Castle, which declined again. Its interiors have been restored in the 1720s and 1730s, and the woodwork, stoves and floors have been replaced. One of the rooms of the middle castle was assigned for the magistrate's court, and several other rooms housed senior officials. Rooms for officials were also located on the second floor of the northern castle, the ground floor of which was occupied by a guardhouse, cashier's office, kitchen and storerooms. In later years it housed also a laundry rooms with mangle, chancellery and chancery. The fragment of the wall connecting the tower with northern castle was modified: a new wall equipped with loopholes replaced the older, partially wooden structure. While the walls and the tower were being repaired, a second prison, called Głębszy (the Deeper One), was arranged under the tower for those convicted of serious crimes. The modernization of the castle was accompanied by changes in its closest vicinity: the garden was enlarged and rearranged, and on its upper terrace in later years flowerbeds were created to form, in rococo style, the initials SAR, which means the abbreviation of Stanislaus Augustus Rex.
IN FRONT OF THE CASTLE GATE, 1912
SCENE WITH THE CASTLE IN THE BACKGROUND, 1930S
fter annexation of Małopolska by Austria (1772), the castle was adapted for the needs of administration of the mine and the apartments of its governor, which consisted of seven living rooms, two rooms for servants as well as a hallway, kitchen and pantry. Around 1780, the wooden hall suspended between the middle and northern castles was dismantled, and a little later new staircases were built, and the roofs modified. In the following years the purpose of individual rooms was changed depending on current needs, for example, for some time the northern castle was used by the army and police, and the former carpenter's shop was occupied by a jail. In 1834-36 the wooden outbuildings separating the castle from the garden were removed and replaced with a one-storey
classical pavilion, known as the southern castle, with a caretaker's chamber, coach house and fire station. The castle complex survived in good condition until January 1945, when the middle castle was destroyed by the Soviet air force. The buildings in the western part of the courtyard were also heavily damaged. After the war the entire area fell into ruins and only the part of it that survived the war functioned for some time as a medical clinic and a kindergarten. In 1976, restoration of the monument began and was fully completed twenty years later.
he castle consists of: Dom Pośród Żupy (middle castle), Dom Żupny (northern castle), the southern castle, relics of the Royal Kitchen, a Gothic tower and a defensive wall. Dom Pośród Żupy is the oldest part of the complex as its eastern section hides the walls of the thirteenth-century residential tower, the first seat of the saltmasters. This is the most representative part of the castle; here the Grodzka Chamber was located, as well as the richly furnished Royal Chamber with portraits of kings on the walls and their coats of arms painted on the window panes. A long and narrow courtyard separates Dom Pośród Żupy from Dom Żupny, which was built of stone and brick in the 15th century, on an L-shaped plan with the use of older buildings and an oval defensive wall. This one-storey building was placed on a steep slope, which caused the basements in the northern and western parts to be above the ground. Over the centuries it had various functions: it housed a tallow (as a light source) warehouse, a storehouse for mining tools, a laundry, a kitchen, a mine cash office, a guardhouse, also apartments for mine officials, a chapel and even a prison. In the past, the middle and northern castles were connected at the level of the first floor by a wooden hall used for communication and representation. After it was demolished in 1780, the only link between two main buildings of the castle complex is a narrow porch added to the first floor of the southern elevation.
DOM ŻUPNY (ON THE LEFT) AND DOM POŚRÓD ŻUPY, FOUNDATIONS OF THE ROYAL KITCHEN IN THE FOREGROUND
GOTHIC TOWER IN THE WESTERN PART OF THE CASTLE
n the western part of the castle, outside the original 13th-century wall, the Royal Kitchen stood, built of stone on a rectangular plan. It served meals free of charge to employees of the administration, miners and carters coming to collect salt. The building stopped performing its original function in the 16th century and was demolished at the end of the 17th century. Today we do not know much about its appearance and layout except that in its central part there was an oven, of which the foundations have survived. The kitchen was situated next to a Gothic tower, which in the past formed a part of the town's fortification, consisting of stone walls, nineteen towers and two gates: Krakowska in the north and Kłosowska in the south. Today, this irregular quadrilateral building, built of broken stone, remains the only surviving element of these fortifications. In the southern part of the former courtyard stands the so-called southern castle, a classicist building erected in the 1830s on the site of wooden outbuildings. Its interiors were used as a chancellery, a carriage house and a warehouse for fire-fighting equipment and, in more recent times, as a kindergarten. On the south elevation of the building, a stone portal has been preserved in place of the historic passage to the castle garden. This garden was established in the 1560s to separate the castle from the burgher houses, which was supposed to protect it from fire.
PLAN OF WIELICZKA CASTLE, BLACK COLOR MARKS THE WALLS OF THE XIII-CENTURY CASTLE:
1. DOM POŚRÓD ŻUPY (MIDDLE CASTLE), 2. DOM ŻUPNY (NORTHERN CASTLE), 3. ENTRANCE GATE,
4. ROYAL KITCHEN, 5. GOTHIC TOWER, 6. CURTAIN WALL, 7. SOUTHERN CASTLE (NOT SHOWN ON THE PLAN)
owadays, this carefully renovated castle houses a museum. Since 2013, together with Wieliczka mine, it belongs to the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List, which emphasizes the great historical value of this place and is a tribute to the effort that was put into its restoration. In the interior of Dom Pośród Żupy, historical exhibitions were organised, which are strictly connected with the past of this place as the seat of the saltmasters, as well as the production of salt and its use in everyday life. In the fourteenth-century castle cellars there is an archaeological exhibition. One of its thematic motifs are architectural details of the medieval stronghold, cannon balls found during archaeological research, and a model of the castle showing its oldest, still tower-like form. The ground floor of the building is occupied by the Gothic Hall, whose vault, like those in churches, is based on one central pillar. This room, the most representative in the whole castle, is decorated with images of saltmasters, administrators and high salaried officials, among others: Sebastian Lubomirski, Jan Gotfryd Borlach and Józef Russegger.
FRAGMENT OF THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXHIBITION
IN THE GOTHIC HALL
ext to the Gothic Hall there is the Renaissance chamber with a small exhibition documenting the beginnings and history of Wieliczka. It contains information about the town's former craftsmen's guilds and the old town education system; there is also a splendid model of Wieliczka made on the basis of 19th century plans. The top floor of the middle castle is occupied by the temporary exhibition room and the exposition with which the museum is identified, and of which it is most proud. It is, of course, Poland's largest collection of several hundred salt shakers, salt cellars and spice dishes from all over the world. These tiny works of art include examples of decorative craft, ceramics, glass, stones, bone and the nacre. The oldest exhibit in the Wieliczka collection is a gothic salt cellar in the shape of a cup, dating back to the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries. There is also a large number of products made of world-renowned Meissen porcelain and coming from the well-known Polish porcelain factory in Ćmielów.
SALT SHAKERS AND SALT CELLARS EXHIBITION
he northern castle now houses the administration, workshops, storage rooms and an archive with a cartographic collection of over 3,000 volumes. This part of the castle is not visited, but it does not mean that our tour is over. It is now worth to go to the outer courtyard, and then to the Gothic tower, whose interior is decorated with an exhibition documenting the changes in its architecture and function over the centuries. When we stand on the porch of the former town tower, we can look from a slightly different perspective at the entire castle with relics of the royal kitchen in the foreground. The tour of the castle ends in the south wing, where today there is a restaurant and some rooms have been made available for exhibition purposes.
Free entrance to the castle courtyard and the tower. To enter the museum, you need to buy a ticket.
Photography for non-commercial purposes is free; this includes museum exhibits (we don't use flash, of course).
Pets are not allowed in the castle (including the courtyard).
The castle is located in the center of town, so be careful not to fly over gatherings of people. Probably the best time for this activity is early morning.
HOW TO GET THERE?
he castle is situated on Zamkowa Street, about 200 meters north of the Market Square and about 400 meters east of the Daniłowicza Shaft, where the main entrance to the mine is located. Wieliczka-Rynek-Kopalnia train stop is only 300 meters away from the castle gate.
Most parking spaces are located near the mine. The parking lots are marked with numbers. The biggest one, parking lot no. 2 (near the train stop) is the closest to the castle.
1. P. Cembrzyński: Przyczynek do studiów nad funkcją zamków w średniowiecznych miastach górniczych..., 2019
2. E. Giżycka, I. Pawłowska-Pich: Tajemnice Zamku Żupnego w Wieliczce, 2009
3. L. Kajzer, J. Salm, S. Kołodziejski: Leksykon zamków w Polsce, Arkady 2001
4. K. Ochniak-Dudek: Zamek Żupny w Wieliczce - historia i architektura
5. R. Sypek: Zamki i obiekty warowne Jury Krakowsko-Częstochowskiej
VIEW FROM THE TOWER, ON THE RIGHT WE CAN SEE THE SOUTHERN CASTLE
Castles nearby: Kraków - Wawel Royal castle, 14 km Niepołomice - the Royal castle from 14th-16th century, 15 km
Dobczyce - the ruin of Royal castle from 14th century, 16 km Tyniec - fortified Benedictine abbey from 11th century, 22 km Myślenice - gothic tower ruin from 14th century, 27 km
IT IS WORTH SEEING ALSO:
Being in Wieliczka you must visit the famous salt mine. After descending to a depth of 130 meters we enter a world of underground corridors, salty lakes, mysterious excavations and beautiful chambers with a huge Warsaw Chamber and extraordinary St. Kinga's Chapel. During the walk along the 3.5 km route we can also learn about old mining tools and methods of mining and transporting salt. We can also find out that the walls of the mine are indeed salty :-)