Cieszyn – castle and rotunda of St Nicholas


   The gothic castle in Cieszyn was built on the Castle Hill, which was previously the site of the Golęszyce hillfort and later castellan hillfort. The existence of castellany confirms the document from 1155 and 1223, and the first castellan, Jan, was noted in sources in the years 1228 – 1239.
   In the 70s of the 12th century, the Cieszyn and Racibórz castellany became part of the principality of Mieszko the Tanglefoot, separated from him by Bolesław the High after the rebellions of the junior princes and the imperial intervention. Probably it was then that a stone rotunda was built in the area of the hillfort. It was built during the castellany’s existence or in the first years of the Cieszyn Duchy. This principality was extended by Kazimierz the Just, and at the beginning of the 13th century it was merged with the Duchy of Opole.

   The initiative to build a brick castle is attributed to the first duke of Cieszyn, Mieszko. In the fourteenth century, its successors were modernized and extended stronghold: son Kazimierz I and grandson Przemysław I Noszak. The castle acting as a center of power survived in good condition until the Thirty Years War. Destroyed by the Swedish army, it was not rebuilt, and the ruins were gradually dismantled.


   The castle was built on a relatively high hill (300 meters above sea level) on the northern side of the Olza River. The slopes descending towards it were steep, as were the western and northern slopes, the latter towering over the valley of the Bobrówka stream. A slightly gentler approach led from the east, where the gradually decreasing ground was designated for the outer bailey, and finally reached the terrace on which the settlement and later the fortified town of Cieszyn developed.
   The Gothic castle was divided into the upper and lower parts.
The lower one was a three-story building, containing utility rooms, an armory, apartments for court service, dungeons and stables. In the upper castle there were residential buildings with representative ducal chambers. Rotunda acting as a castle chapel remained in the courtyard, surrounded by a triple wall with towers. In addition to the chapel in the courtyard, there was a tower standing to this day, constituting the place of the last refuge, as well as performing residential, prison and watch-keeping functions. It was built of stones on a plan similar to a square. In its present form, it has eight floors, the top is crowned with machicolation and bay windows.
Romanesque rotunda of St. Nicholas served as the castle chapel and the church. It was built of flat limestone ashlar, in the opus emplectum technique, with a filling in the form of rubble bound with lime mortar. It was created on a circular plan with a diameter of 6.3 meters, with a horseshoe apse with a diameter of 2.8 meters. The height of the nave to the crown of the walls was about 13 meters, and the apse was 6.8 meters. The first one was topped with a dome made of flat, concentrically arranged stone tiles, while the apse was topped with a conch. The rotunda was originally illuminated by small, two side splayed Romanesque windows, (slits at the height of the staircase), widened in the 14th century. The entrance portal, semicircular with a smooth tympanum, was placed on the western side of the nave.
   Inside the rotunda, in the northern, specially thickened part of the nave, a 0.6 meter wide single-flight staircase was placed in the wall thickness, leading to the gallery, as well as to the Romanesque portal at the top of the stairs, which led to the palas. The gallery, a kind of balcony supported by two columns and four semi-columns, was originally topped with two bays of the groin vault. The apse was connected with the nave by a step, creating a kind of chancel arch.

Current state

   Until today, from the original Cieszyn castle survived the so-called the Piast Tower, the romanesque rotunda, the remains of the ground floor of the gate tower, relics of the 16th century kitchen and the lower part of the corner, round tower. Rotunda of St. Nicholas is one of the oldest and most valuable monuments of Polish construction, with the original perimeter walls preserved almost completely. It presents a very high level both in terms of construction technique and spatial program, but the present appearance of its gallery is the result of post-war reconstruction. The castle is open to visitors every day during the winter from 9 to 16 and in the summer from 9 to 19.

show this monument on map

return to alphabetical index

Jagosz-Zarzycka Z., T., Rodzińska-Chorąży, Rotunda na Górze Zamkowej w Cieszynie – prace badawcze w 2013 roku [w:] Średniowieczna sakralna architektura w Polsce w świetle najnowszych badań. Materiały z sesji naukowej zorganizowanej przez Muzeum Początków Państwa Polskiego w Gnieźnie 13-15 listopada 2013 roku, Gniezno 2014.

Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Sztuka polska przedromańska i romańska do schyłku XIII wieku, red. M. Walicki, Warszawa 1971.
Świechowski Z., Architektura romańska w Polsce, Warszawa 2000.

Świechowski Z., Sztuka romańska w Polsce, Warszawa 1990.
Tomaszewski A., Romańskie kościoły z emporami zachodnimi na obszarze Polski, Czech i Węgier, Wrocław 1974.