The first permanent settlements in the area of the later stronghold were established at the turn of the 8th and 9th centuries. Around 865, it was replaced by a small hillfort situated in the promontory part, and in the 10th century there was already a settlement complex, including a stronghold and several settlements situated at the crossing of trade routes. At the end of the 20s of the 10th century, Giecz, unlike other important Greater Poland strongholds, such as Poznań and Gniezno, was not burned down and rebuilt, but only significantly enlarged. This unusual fact was used to theorize that it was the center from which the Piasts dynasty conquered the remaining Polish strongholds.
During the first Piasts, Giecz secured important centers in Gniezno, Poznań and Ostrów Lednicki from the south, playing a role similar to that of the strongholds in Ląd and Łekno located in the north. For the first time in written sources it appeared in the chronicle of Anonymus called Gall from the beginning of the 12th century, who noted that Giecz was able to deploy 300 armored and 2,000 shield-bearers. The chronicler made a description of selected four strongholds, with Giecz ranked fourth after Poznań (1,300 armored and 4,000 shield-bearers) and Gniezno (1,500 armored and 5,000 shield-bearers), and on a par with Włocławek in terms of the number of shield-bearers. These numbers did not prove that hundreds of warriors were permanently in the stronghold, but that the stronghold district was able to mobilize a similar number of armed men. The Giecz stronghold was therefore perceived as an important military and administrative center.
In the 80s of the 10th century, a stone palace complex with a chapel-rotunda was built in the strongholds area. For unknown reasons, however, construction was stopped after the stone foundations had been laid. At the beginning of the 11th century, in the northern part of the hillfort, a stone church of St. John the Baptist, with architecture unprecedented in Poland, was built and expanded between the end of the 11th and 13th centuries. This expansion was probably carried out in connection with the reconstruction from the destruction caused by the invasion of prince Bretislav I of 1038. According to the Czech chronicler Kosmas, the stronghold’s garrison was to surrender without a fight, and the population was kidnapped and settled in Bohemia. When leaving Giecz, the Czechs burnt the remaining buildings.
In the second half of the 11th century, the stronghold was rebuilt and enlarged, which regained its place under the rule of Kazimierz the Restorer. Presumably, in the second half of the 11th century, it became the seat of a vast castellany. Unfortunately, in the first half of the 13th century, Giecz was damaged by the war between Władysław Odonic and Henryk the Bearded princes. Nevertheless, the stronghold still enjoyed great importance, as evidenced by the convention of the princes of Greater Poland, which took place here in 1253. It was not until the next century that the importance of the stronghold began to decline slowly. It was most likely related to the change in the course of trade routes and the emergence of new urban centers in the vicinity. Probably at the beginning of the fourteenth century, perhaps due to the Teutonic Knights invasion, the stronghold was abandoned.
The stronghold was established on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the waters of a lake that no longer exists. In the 9th century, it was placed in the northern part of the later foundation, occupying the area of a circle or ellipse with a diameter of about 45 meters. In the 10th century, it was enlarged, giving the shape of an oval with dimensions of about 200 x 140 meters. As a result of the reconstruction, the ramparts of the oldest part of the stronghold were strengthened, widened and covered with stones, and from the south stronghold was surrounded by a new wooden and earth rampart. In this way, a two-part stronghold was created with a clearly separated ducal part. The transverse rampart separating the northern and southern parts of the hillfort was most probably demolished at the end of the 13th century, making Giecz once again a single-unit complex.
St. John’s Church was built in the northern part of the stronghold, made of large erratic stones bonded with fat clay, in the opus emplectum technique. In the first phase, it was a single-nave structure, ended with a semicircular apse from the east. The external length of the nave was about 19 meters, width was 11 meters, and the apse was set on a circular plan with a diameter of 2.5 meters. The thickness of the walls at the ground floor was about 1 meter. The entrance was in the south wall of the nave.
An interesting and unique element of the building in Poland was the underground reliquary crypt of an unknown saint, located under the presbytery. It consisted of a rectangular, almost square chamber to which led two 7-step, narrow (about 1 meter wide) passages, symmetrically placed on both sides of the choir stairs. They turned at right angles towards the interior of the crypt, joining the wider western passage oriented perpendicular to the axis of the church. In the western wall of the passage there was a rectangular niche about 2.5 meters long at a height of 0.4 meters. From the east, an almost square chamber with two or three deep niches adjoined the passage, fitted into the apse. The crypt was lowered in relation to the nave floor by about 1.2 meters, and its floor was made of a gray-yellow lime mortar. The walls were covered with plaster, while the two entrances with stairs were topped with arcades and closed with doors set on iron hinges.
Later, between the end of the 12th and 13th centuries, a westwork inspired by Ottonian architecture was added to the church: two towers and a square inter-tower block measuring 4 x 3.7 meters. The towers had a diameter of 6.5 meters and housed spiral staircases 1.2 meters wide each. The whole structure was built in the opus incaertum technique of carefully selected flat stone slabs, bonded with gypsum mortar. The only entrance to the westwork led from the side of the nave through a doorway located on the axis of the church. During the reconstruction, a wall was also created at the north-west corner of the nave, probably being an element of an unfinished annex or an attempt to expand the church into a three-nave basilica. The eastern part of the church was also expanded, surrounded from the outside, including the apse, with a closely adjacent wall, about 1.6 meters wide. At the same time, the entrance to the northern passage of the crypt was pierced from the outside, allowing entry to it bypassing the nave of the church. The entrance was 2 meters high, only 0.8 meters wide and topped with a semicircle. A very original solution for the underground part of this entrance was to limit the space not with stone walls, but with wooden formwork of the wall and ceiling.
Today in Giecz, one of the central hillforts of early medieval Poland, an archaeological reserve is established. Its most important elements are: fortified settlement with an area of approx. 3,6 ha with earth ramparts having a base of approx. 30 meters and reaching up to 9 meters in height and foundations of a palatium. In the former outer bailey, it is worth seeing the fully preserved romanesque church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Nicholas. In the museum you can visit an exhibition presenting the history of the city and castellany of Giecz, as well as the most important archaeological monuments excavated during archaeological research in the city and neighboring sites. In 2011, an educational settlement was also opened. Ticket prices and opening hours can be checked on the official website of the museum here.
Krzysztofiak T., Wczesnopiastowski kościół pw. św. Jana Chrzciciela na grodzie w Gieczu w świetle najnowszych odkryć [w:] Początki architektury monumentalnej w Polsce, red. Janiak T., Stryniak D., Gniezno 2004.
Olejniczak K., Grody i zamki w Wielkopolsce, Poznań 1993.
Rodzińska-Chorąży T., Krypta kościoła grodowego pod wezwaniem świętego Jana Chrzciciela w Gieczu – analiza formy i funkcji [w:] Magistro et Amico. Księga Pamiątkowa dedykowana prof. Lechowi Kalinowskiemu, Kraków 2000.
Wyrwa A.M., Gdecz-Giecz. Scire est reminisci, Dziekanowice-Lednica 2014.
Website giecz.pl, Gród.