The existence of the royal court in Niepołomice is confirmed by a document from 1358. Later messages describe this residence as a castle. According to the chronicles of Janko from Czarnków and Jan Długosz, it was built by king Casimir the Great, for whom it was a favorite place to stay. Initially, the castle served mainly as a defensive function, protecting the crossing on the Vistula River and Kraków from the east and administrative function – here Casimir the Great dealt with matters of Niepołomice subordination.
The flourishing of the castle took place in the 15th century during the reign of Władysław Jagiełło. In Niepołomice, meetings of the king and his council were held regularly, as well as great hunting with the participation of foreign dignitaries. Hunting expeditions set off from the castle to the nearby Niepołomicka Forest. Władysław Jagiełło visited Niepołomice very often, at least once a year. It was connected with his country tours during which he visited more important towns, he examined individual areas and held king’s courts.
In 1442, the Niepołomice castle was granted by king Władysław of Varna to the brothers Piotr and Michał Dybacz. This resulted in the separation of the Niepołomice domain from the Kraków officials and the creation of the Niepołomice starosty. From 1454, besides the starosts, there was also in castle a customs official who took care of the ferry on the Vistula and forest guards.
The rebuilding of the castle began king Zygmunt the Old after 1506. At that time, a four-wing site was created with wooden cloisters. The final, renaissance shape of the castle was obtained during the reign of king Zygmunt August, who rebuilt it after a fire in 1550. The castle served as the royal residence until the death of Stefan Batory in 1586. Later starosts lived there, who modernized only the interior and the courtyard. Around 1637, the cloisters were rebuilt at the initiative of Aleksander Lubomirski.
In 1655, after being burned and plundered by the Swedes, the glory of the castle came to an end. In the 18th century, the Austrians adopted it for barracks, demolishing the second floor. In the second half of the 19th century, until the First World War, the castle served residential and warehouse functions. Since 1991, when it became the property of the Niepołomice Commune, comprehensive renovation works were commenced.
The Gothic castle consisted of a complex of buildings built of brick on a stone foundation, gathered around the courtyard and joined by a defensive wall. The castle consisted of two main towers on the projection of a quadrangle, one in the north-west corner, the other in the north-east. The first one was at least three-storey, without cellar, with a room in the ground floor topped with a vault based on a single pillar. The upper storey had probably only flat, wooden ceilings. The room in the ground floor was accessible from the level of the courtyard, to higher storeys entry was only through porches in the crown of the walls. The second, north-east tower was rectangular in plan, with cellar (originally it was the only basement in the castle) and had at least two overground storeys, although the large thickness of the walls indicates that it could have up to four floors. Vertical communication was provided by a spiral staircase in the south-west corner. There were two latrines in the western wall of the tower. On the upper floors, the ceilings were wooden, perhaps only in the ground floor, brick vaults were used. As the chapel was located in the castle (recorded in sources in 1350), it is sometimes assumed that it was located in that largest and most massive tower.
From the eastern side, the courtyard was limited by a one-bay, two-storey building without basements (perhaps at the ground floor it housed the stables, and above the rooms for servants). It is not known how many rooms it had, maybe five, just as after the subsequent rebuilding. The southern curtain was filled with an extended house, also with two floors, but probably with two bays. There was a small, four-sided tower in its south-western corner. The entrance to the castle probably led through a gate located in the western curtain wall.
The inventory from 1389 mentions a number of rooms functioning in the castle: the cellars, kitchen, royal bath, dining room, bakery, bedroom and the nearby farm. Information about the stables and the royal chamber comes from the following years. In 1388, the royal inventory stated that there were at the castle: 7 pigs, 100 bowls, 8 troughs, 5 pans, one mill on the Vistula River and one mill on Raba River.
The present castle completely lost its appearance from the medieval times of the last Piast and the first Jagiellonians. It is open to guests and tourists, it also houses a hotel and conference center. There is a museum in the castle chambers. The “Zamek” Cultural Center organizes recitals, concerts, performances, knight shows, and exhibitions. Current information can be found on the official website of the castle here.
Kozera M., Kościół parafialny i zamek w Niepołomicach, Kraków 1994.
Krasnowolski B., Leksykon zabytków architektury Małopolski, Warszawa 2013.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.