The time of building of the defensive walls of Nowy Sącz is not exactly known. There are many indications that the town walls were built shortly after the location of the town in 1292 on the initiative of the Czech king Wenceslaus II. The end of their construction probably occurred during the reign of Polish king Casimir the Great.
The period of the castle’s creation is unknown. Many authors attributed its construction to Casimir the Great, pointing out that as early as in the second half of the 14th century, the royal congregations took place in Nowy Sącz, and there in 1376 queen Elżbieta embraced the Polish rule in the name of Ludwik Węgierski. However, the old manor could serve this purpose. It seems that the stone medieval castle was erected at the turn of the 14th and 15th century, when the royal residence was not used, probably due to construction works.
In 1405, the defensive walls required repairs, as evidenced by the privilege of king Władysław Jagiełło. In the town defenses were vividly interested successive monarchs, who assisted the work at the walls with numerous privileges. With their help, after the mid-sixteenth century, modernization of the Nowy Sącz fortifications began, adapting them to the requirements of firearms. In 1555-1557, the Hungarian Gate was extended by erecting new towers next to it. Also other elements of the fortifications were remodeled, especially the towers. A large investment was the construction of a second, external defense wall, which gradually surrounded the town from the south and west. The works began in the second half of the 16th century and continued in the first half of the 17th century. The pace of the fortification works was temporarily impeded by the town fire in 1611, as a result of which the roofs on the walls and towers burnt down. During the reconstruction after the fire, the starosts Lubomirski carried out a general expansion of the castle. At that time, a wall was built from the side of the town, and in its eastern section a Castle Gate was erected, which from the town side entered the castle inner courtyard. The main range from the north and the towers received a renaissance decor with attics.
The new royal privileges in 1639 and 1649 and the war with Bohdan Chmielnicki in 1648 and the invasion of Poland by the Swedes in 1655 gave rise to intensification of fortification works. It included towers, gates, and work on the outside walls were also continued. In total, in the years 1646-1657 a considerable amount of over pln 1,000 was spent on town walls.
Reconstruction after the Swedish Wars completed the period of modernization of the defensive walls of Nowy Sącz. In the 18th century, the defensive walls of Nowy Sącz definitely declined. Some towers were used for housing and the material from fortifications was used to build houses. Planned demolition of fortifications began after the second partition of Poland. All three town gates and most of the walls were dismantled then. The castle also fell down, and its ruins were caused by fires and landslide in 1813, as a result of which its western part with the corner tower collapsed into the Dunajec river. The northern range of the castle was finally destroyed during the last war.
The fortifications line of Nowy Sącz created a rather irregular form, adapted to the terrain layout. In the northern part there was a castle on the promontory. Nowy Sącz belonged to the large towns of medieval Poland, had an area of 19 ha, enclosed by a line of walls over 1700 meters long. Along the walls from the town side there was a strip of land free of buildings, in the Middle Ages occupied only by a castle. The stone defensive wall was crowned with a battlement. Its location, usually along the upper edge of the escarpments, meant that from the very beginning, it was strengthened from the outside by buttresses. The dimensions of the wall were variable: from 1,4 to 2,3 meters in thickness and around 5,5 to 8 meters in height. During the modernization of the fortifications in the 16th-17th century, the culmination of the defensive wall has changed. The primal battlement were ended straight, and the defenders walkway received a shingled roof.
It is not known whether the fortifications of Nowy Sącz were provided with towers from the very beginning. This is suggested by laconic documents mentions, but from iconographic sources and seventeenth-century documents emerges a picture of early modern type of towers, adapted to artillery defense. In the 16th and 17th centuries, major construction works were carried out at the towers. It could consist of a thorough reconstruction of existing ones, as well as construction of new defensive facilities. From sources we know about five towers: three from the east (Potter, Brewery, and Cloth Tower), one in the south-west corner of the town (Stall Tower) and one from the west (Butcher). There were three towers in the castle, including the preserved Smith Tower. This list, however, is not full. The spacing of known towers is very rare, which is characteristic of early modern times. Only the castle towers stood at intervals of about 50 meters. In the early modern period, the towers had semicircular or quadratic forms. It were closed from the town side and had roofs covered with tiles. Its interiors were divided into two floors: in the vaulted ground floors there were weapons depots, on the floors were battle stations with timber scaffolds for setting cannons and devices for their pulling. In early modern times, individual towers and gatehouses were looked after by the guilds, from which these objects took their names.
Nowy Sącz had three gates. Two of them: Cracow Gate from the north and Hungary Gate from the south, lay on the main communication route. The third Mill Gate, led east. There was also a fourth, early modern Castle Gate leading from the town to the castle. The gates probably had the typical form of rectangular, transitive towers. Initially, they were very low, with a height of the defensive wall. The Hungarian Gate was enlarged first and the most. For it was turned towards the greatest threat, and moreover it was from the least defensive side. In the mid-sixteenth century, this gate received two semicircular towers flanking the passage, which were probably the end of foregate.
The castle was an urban stronghold, because it lay within the town walls at its northern end, in the most exposed point of the area. It was built in the place of the hillfort or maybe only the royal court. It was stretched over a hundred meters along the town walls, to which it was probably added. On this section there were three towers. These were adapted town towers or new buildings, erected during the construction of the castle. The role of the eastern one, Smith Tower is unclear. Probably it was not originally part of the castle buildings, because, as we know from later sources, it was defended by townspeople. One of the other two towers was called Nobilities and it housed a prison for the nobility. The castle also had the chapel and the main house, added to the perimeter wall between the Smith and the central tower. In the Middle Ages, the castle was probably not separated from the town by a wall, but it could be defended from this side by a moat and a earth rampart.
From the west, north and east the town was well defended by the slopes of the terrain. On the other hand, the southern side of the town, deprived of natural protection and defending the town from the greatest threat, was secured with an additional dry moat and earth ramparts. The outer zone of defense from the south was expanded, among others in relation with the construction of the external wall.
The best preserved relic of the defensive walls of Nowy Sącz is located in the eastern part of the town, behind the church of St. Margaret. It is over 20 meters long and 1,4 meters thick. To the south of it, at Zakościelna street, there is over forty meters of wall, completely reconstructed in 1918. At the northern end of the town there are the remains of the castle with the reconstructed square Smith Tower on renaissance forms. A fragment of the defensive wall adjacent to it has reconstructed timber porches with a roof.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Moskal K., Zamki w dziejach Polski i Słowacji, Nowy Sącz 2004.
Widawski J., Miejskie mury obronne w państwie polskim do początku XV wieku, Warszawa 1973.