Opole – castle on the Ostrówek

History

   The construction of a brick castle was initiated by prince Kazimierz I in 1228, thanks to which it was one of the oldest brick strongholds in Poland. It stood on the place of an old earth-timber  stronghold of the Opolanie tribe, existing in this place since the eighth century. The Kazimierz I foundation of of the town on the right bank of the Odra River in the years 1211-1217 caused the transfer of the inhabitants of the stronghold from the Pasieka Island to a new place, and on the promontory of the island called Ostrówek, it was possible to build the castle. Prince’s castellan Klemens of Ruszcza together with his brother Wierzbięta agreed to share the burden of work in return for nine villages and other profits. In 1228, the wooden buildings were replaced with brick ones and the construction of a defensive wall in place of ramparts started. The end of the main construction works took place in the times of the son of Kazimierz I, prince Władysław I, around 1260, when the monastery in Staniątka near Kraków was freed from the duties of participating in the construction.
   Work on the extension of the castle was continued by the founder’s grandson, Bolesław I, who in the years 1283-1289 erected the main castle house. Around 1300, a cylindrical Piast Tower was built, and in 1307 the bishop of Wrocław, Henry of Wierzbno, consecrated the castle chapel, for which he donated tithing from the village of Niewodniki. Prince Bolesław donated 6 lans in Gosławice.
   The castle was the seat of the Opole Piasts dynasty until the death of its last representative, John II the Good in 1532. On this occasion, the imperial commissioners of Ferdinand Habsburg, who then became the owner of Opole, made a list of the castle inventory. According to it, in the armory there were 13 armours, 3 helmets, 28 halberds, 260 landsknechstowskich javelins, 57 old handcannons, 23 new handcannons, 77 large handcannons, 34 new javelins and 14 forms for casting missiles. In addition, in the prince’s bedroom there were two beds with quilts, sheets and pillows, a table, two benches, a trunk and some glowing stone. The treasury had 600,000 florins, many valuables, 10 saltpeter stones, 4 powder stones, 2 brass boilers, a vessel for carrying water and a crate with bullets for handcannons, a pantry with a kitchen had: 19 boilers, two iron pans, 14 tin dishes, 12 tin plates, 17 spits, 3 mortars, 4 tin candlesticks. The cellar stored a barrel of old wine, two meads and four barrels of beer from Świdnica. There were 3 forged wagons, a light, horse-drawn carriage and 5 horses with harness in the yard. The Habsburgs seized movable goods to Vienna and gave the duchy in pledge.
   In 1552, the Duchy of Opole-Racibórz was granted to the duchess of Transylvania Izabela, daughter of king Sigismund the Old. When she came to Opole she found the castle neglected and deprived of equipment. Only Jan Oppersdorf took up the renewal and expansion of the castle in 1557-1566. On his initiative eastern and southern wings were rebuilt. At the end of the 16th century, the castle was enriched with fortifications that made it an early modern fortress during the Thirty Years’ War. Unfortunately, in 1615 it was destroyed by a fire, although in 1633 and 1634 it managed to repulse the siege of imperial forces of general Goetz. Yet after the war, castle was dilapidated and neglected, so the bad condition did not allow the Polish king Kazimierz to live in it when he arrived in Silesia in 1655. With time, the buildings of the castle began to be demolish. First, in 1730 the burned western wing was removed, and in 1838-1855 the castle walls were pulled down and the moat was filled up. Earlier, in 1737 and 1739 additional damages were provided by further fires. In 1928-1931, by virtue of the decision of the German authorities, the rest of the castle was pulled down, keeping only a cylindrical tower thanks to the protests of the Polish minority.

Architecture

   The castle was erected on the site of an older timber stronghold in the northern, marshy part of the Odra Island on Ostrówek, the promontory of the Pasieka Island. It consisted of a polygonal outline of brick defense walls about 2-3 meters thick, repeating the course of an older wooden – earth ramparts,  the four-sided tower situated in front of the walls on the north, and a four-sided, detached residential building measuring 12×15 meters, possibly of a tower-like character (keep) in the south-west corner of the complex.
   In the time of Bolesław I, in the 80s of the 13th century, the castle was significantly expanded. At that time, the representative and residential buildings were enlarged by a two-story castle house added to the keep from the north, in the upper floor of which in 1307 a chapel dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, the apostles Peter and Paul and Mary Magdalene was arranged.
   Around 1300, at the entrance gate, in the south-eastern part of the complex, a cylindrical tower was built, today known as the Piast’s Tower, which was a typical example of a bergfried, i.e. a tower of final defense. It was built of bricks and set on a 6-meter deep field-stone foundation. The thickness of its walls in the ground floor was over 3 meters, and the height was about 30 meters. It was not included in the perimeter of the defensive walls, but located in close proximity to them. Originally, the entrance to it was about 10 meters above the level of the courtyard, at the height of the first floor, and was accessible through a wooden gallery from the crown of the defensive wall. In case of danger, gallery could be easily dismantled, and the door to the bergfried itself was blocked with four bars set in openings in the wall (at the end of the Middle Ages, the original entrance was transformed into a window opening, and the new entrence was placed on the same level, but on the south-eastern side, so that it connected with a nearby building). Inside the tower, there was a round, high prison dungeon on the lowest storey, originally accessible only through an opening in the ceiling, and above a smaller, hexagonal room, perhaps a guardhouse, located at the entrance level. Both chambers were topped with brick barrel vaults, although the upper one was only from the end of the Middle Ages. Above, there were three more hexagonal floors, covered with wooden ceilings. To the second floor led a late gothic tunnel stairs created by fencing part of the room with a wall (originally only ladders were used to move). The top storey was used for active defense. It was probably topped with a battlement, covered with a steep roof with a short ridge (this is how it was depicted in a fresco from around the mid-fourteenth century).
   In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, more buildings were added to the perimeter walls in the southern and western part of the courtyard. The area of ​​the gate was also expanded, which in the times of Bolko II (1313-1356) was equipped with a gatehouse with a burgrave’s apartment on the first floor. The gatehouse protruded partially in front of the main defensive perimeter, and its outer corners were connected with the later outer wall of the zwinger. Next to the gate there were stables, supposedly able to accommodate as many as 80 horses, and in front of it, forming the eastern wing of the castle, the house of the duchesses, also known as the “Widow’s Court”. It is known that near the main tower there was a two-story kitchen and a bakery, in front of which there was a well, protected by a wooden casing.

Current state

   Today, the only remnant of the castle of the Opole princes on Ostrówek is the cylindrical tower known as Piasts Tower, which is the city’s symbol. Currently, it is squeezed between the former registry building and the amphitheater. Despite the fact that here and there you can read that the pre-war office building is one of the most magnificent examples of modernist architecture, it actually disfigures the castle surroundings and has nothing to do with the historical appearance of the island. The tower itself, after a recent refurbishment, has been made available for sightseeing, which is presented in an interesting way, despite the lack of significant exhibits. Unfortunately, during the restaurant, the ahistorical crown of the tower was not changed.

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bibliografia:
Kastek T., Krzywka M., Mruczek R., Wyniki badań archeologiczno – architektonicznych na terenie zamku piastowskiego na Ostrówku w Opolu w sezonach 2011-2012 [w:] Opolski Informator Konserwatorski, red. A. Molenda, I.Solisz, Opole 2013.
Lasota C., Małachowicz M., Wyniki badań architektonicznych “Wieży Piastowskiej”  w Opolu na Ostrówku [w:] Opolski Informator Konserwatorski, red. A. Molenda, I.Solisz, Opole 2012.

Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Popłonyk U., Opole, Warszawa 1970.
Zajączkowska U., Zamek piastowski w Opolu, Opole 2001.