The castle of Bielsko was built in the second half of the 14th century on the site of an earlier wooden watchtower, initially as a small building added to the town’s fortifications, which probably were built in the first half of the 14th century on the initiative of prince Kazimierz I. The castle belonged to the Cieszyn dukes and served as their defensive residence in town. Prince Przemysław I Noszak is assumed to be its founder. It passed into private hands in 1571, first to the Promnitz family, then the Schaffgotsch family, and then the Sunnegh and the Sułkowski families.
Towsn fortifications were recorded for the first time in a document of Bolesław I of 1424, which generally referred to walls, gates, moats and bridges. It was also noted then that the town employed gate guards. The Bielsko castle appeared in written sources even later, because it was not until the document of Kazimierz II from 1489.
In 1646, during the Thirty Years’ War, the castle was captured and burned by the Swedes. It was damaged again during the great fires of the town in 1659 and 1664, when the town walls also had to be damaged. In the second half of the 17th century, it was rebuilt, but at the same time transformed into an early modern palace. In the following centuries, major and minor renovations were carried out, of which the last reconstruction of the Sułkowski family in the 19th century completely blurred the original appearance of the castle.
The earliest phase of the castle was a limestone building, added to the north-eastern corner of the Bielsko defensive walls. It was a structure on a trapezoidal plan, 13×25 meters in size, with two pillars supporting the roof and with the eastern part protruding beyond the outline of the walls. The castle was separated from the town side by a wall and a ditch, and in the immediate vicinity of the castle building there was the town Lower Gate.
The castle was closely integrated with the town fortifications. They consisted of a fairly low (over 4 meters high), but thick wall (1.9 – 2 meters wide), preceded by a moat 8 meters wide and 3 meters deep. Its internal slope was reinforced, at least in the southern part, with three lines of diagonally driven wooden piles. The wall was built of large and medium-sized, roughly worked limestones, connected with good-quality lime mortar. It probably did not have towers, there were only two town gates in the line of fortifications: Lower gate from the east and Upper Gate from the west. The Lower Gate was in the shape of a tower with a passage in the ground floor, about 4 meters wide, erected on a square plan with a sides of 10 meters and a height of about 13 meters. The Upper Gate had the shape of a rectangle with dimensions of 7 x 11 meters with a 3-3.5 meter wide passage closed with a drawbridge, hidden into the trapdoor opening. Additionally, on the north-west side there was a narrow gate leading to the suburban pastures.
In the fifteenth century, the tower of the Lower Gate of the town walls was included into the castle, which, after walling up the passage, received a pointed portal in the side wall, allowing for further communication with the interior. Then, in the south-west corner, a two-storey tower house was erected, defending the entrance to the castle from the south, i.e. from the town side. There, the perimeter of the walls was closed, connecting the tower with the former gatehouse, and the wall in the south-eastern part was reinforced with another tower. In front of the southern wall, a second, external defensive wall was also erected and a dry moat about 10 meters wide and about 3.5 meters deep was dug.
In the 16th century, the castle was adapted more to the role of a residence, at the expense of its defensive values. Two additional, relatively large, two-story buildings were built at that time, one on the west side and the other on the east side. They were connected by porches (wall-walks) of defensive walls with the neighboring, older buildings, closing the space of the inner courtyard of the castle.
After 1521, the town was reinforced with a second, external defensive wall. The second line was built at the base of the town’s slope and protected it from the north and west. The wall was erected in a manner analogous to the original one, made of unworked limestone laid in layers. Its thickness in the foundation parts oscillated around 1.8 meters. This wall, like the main defensive circuit, also did not have towers.
In the look of today’s Bielsko-Biała castle it is hard to imagine its medieval appearance. Only in the northern wing survived the stone framework of the pointed entry. A portal in the side entrance to the gate, has also been preserved. From the original castle walls we can only see fragments, including a stone arrowslit. In today’s palace, the Historical Museum of Bielsko-Biała is open from Wednesday to Friday from 9:00 to 16:00 and on Saturdays, Sundays and Tuesdays from 9:00 to 15:00.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Przybyłok A., Mury miejskie na Górnym Śląsku w późnym średniowieczu, Łódź 2014.
Webpage muzeum.bielsko.pl, Odkrywanie bielskiego zamku.