Chęciny – Royal Castle

History

   It is not possible to determine the exact date of the creation of the Chęciny castle. It was probably built at the end of the 13th century to protect nearby mining settlements. It is known that it existed already in 1306, when Władysław Łokietek gave it to the Cracow bishop Jan Muskat. The takeover of the castle probably did not happen, as in 1308, the starost of Chęciny – Wacław, appeared in the documents. In the following centuries, the castle served as an important administrative and military center. Councils of noblemen and knights were held here, castle played an important role as a place of concentration of troops heading for war with the Teutonic Knights. Due to the inaccessibility of the castle, the treasury of the archdiocese of Gniezno was deposited here. During the reign of Casimir the Great, for many years it was used as a state prison. They were imprisoned here, among others, more important prisoners captured after the battle of Grunwald, including Michael Küchmeister – the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order. Andrzej Garbaty, a half-brother and a fierce enemy of king Władysław Jagiełło and Hińcza of Rogowo spent as prison 10 years in the castle, as an chronicler Jan Długosz wrote, “thrown into the dirty tower in Chęciny, he almost died from the stench in prison.” The castle was also the residence of the queens and widows: Adelaide, the second wife of king Casimir the Great and Elisabeth, the sister of the king, who ruled in the name of his son, Louis I of Hungary. During the plague raging in 1425, Jagiełło’s son, Władysław, found shelter in the castle walls.
   Over the centuries, the appearance of the castle has changed, although the works from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were rather gradual extensions and repairs. The report from 1569 mentions the need for repair and the difficulties because of the lack of water. The works on the digging of the well were also mentioned. In 1607, the castle was conquered and ruined during the Zebrzydowski rebellion. Soon, however, repairs were started on the initiative of the starost Stanislaus of Ruszcza Branicki, who rebuilt the stronghold in the renaissance style. In 1657, the castle was ravaged by Rákóczi’s army, but later it was still used by the staroste. The next, Swedish destruction in 1707 was already so serious, that the castle was finally abandoned in the eighteenth century.

Architecture

   In the light of recent archaeological research, the original, oldest castle from the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries consisted of a cylindrical tower located at the highest point of the hill, on the south-western side of its peak flattening. The wall thickness was 1.4 meters, and the diameter was about 9 meters. It was free-standing, squat and probably not too high. It was surrounded by a stone perimeter wall with a hypothetical gatehouse on the eastern side. Interior buildings probably were wooden, attached to the inner faces of the wall.
   In the second phase associated with the king Casimir the Great foundation, the original tower was demolished and a new foundation was erected, consisting of a perimeter wall with a polygonal plan similar to a rectangle (10 x 50 meters) with two cylindrical towers from the east and west and a two-story rectangular building extended in front of the eastern tower. The west tower was connected with a two-storey residential building occupying the entire south-west corner. Its warimng was provided by a hypocaustium furnace, thanks to which hot air was released into the chambers. The eastern tower was located in the highest point of the area, secured the gate and probably played the role of the bergfried. The entrance to the castle led through a gate located in the eastern section of the wall, over a wooden, partly draw-bridge.

   Most likely, in the second half of the 14th century, the economic back-up in the form of a lower castle was built. Another elongated courtyard was than added to the west of the old perimeter of the walls. It was surrounded by a wall with a polygon plan, crowned probably with a battlement, and strengthened by a quadrangular tower in the north-west corner. It was covered with a hip roof, and its upper part might have a wooden superstructure (maybe in the form of a hoarding). The south-west corner was filled with a storied, stone building with a wicket gate. In the south-eastern part, relics of the building on the square plan were discovered, and inside the circle plan. It was probably a castle kitchen with a centrally placed chimney. The remaining part of the building of the lower castle was made up of wooden, economic houses located along the perimeter walls.
   In the next phase of the extension dated back to the 15th century, a rectangular residential building was erected by the northern perimeter wall of the upper castle and the gate was reinforced by a foregate, over which the chapel was established.
The extension of the upper castle in the 15th century included the modernization of the eastern gatehouse. The entrance then led through a five-span, timber drawbridge, supported by stone pillars.
Probably in the times of king Władysław Jagiełło, characteristic brick superstructures of cylindrical towers were made, topped with machicolations and covered with shingled, conical roofs.

Current state

   The castle has survived to this day in the form of a magnificent ruin, along with the full circumference of the outer walls, three towers and relics of residential buildings. There is an viewpoint in the eastern tower. Opening hours can be found on the official site of the monument here.

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bibliography:
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, L.Kajzer, S.Kołodziejski, J.Salm, Warszawa 2003.
Wróblewski S., Zamki i dwory obronne województwa sandomierskiego w średniowieczu, Nowy Sącz 2006.
Zamek królewski w Chęcinach na tle Europy Środkowej. Geneza, funkcje, znaczenie, red. B.Wojciechowska, S.Konarska-Zimnicka, Kielce 2018.

Webpage zamek.checiny.pl, Historia Zamku Królewskiego w Chęcinach.