Cieszyn – castle and rotunda of St Nicholas

History

   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.

Architecture

   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 from the 11th or 12th century served as a castle chapel and earlier as a hillfort church. It is made of flat limestone blocks on a circular plan with a horseshoe apse. The height of the nave is 13 meters, the apse is 6,8 meters, and the total height of the rotunda is about 15 meters. The entrance portal was placed on the west side of the nave. Inside, in the northern, specially thickened part of the nave, a single-speed staircase leading to the matroneum was placed in the wall thickness – a kind of balcony supported on two columns and four semi-columns. Its present appearance is the effect of post-war reconstruction. At the top of the stairs there is a walled romanesque portal which decorated the passage to the palatium. In the apse there are two romanesque windows.

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. It presents a very high level both in terms of construction technique and spatial program. The castle is open to visitors every day during the winter from 9 to 16 and in the summer from 9 to 19.

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