Ostrów Lednicki – earth and wood stronghold


   Ostrów Lednicki is the largest of the five islands on Lake Lednica. It was inhabited at the end of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Neolithic hunters and shepherds, representatives of funnelbeaker culture founded their camps and permanent settlements on the island and at the southern edge of the lake. The community, numbering about a hundred people, dealt with agriculture, animal husbandry, hunting, fishing and gathering. At the beginning of the Bronze Age, the population of the lusatian culture settled in the south-western and northern areas of the lake. They mainly dealt with agriculture, cultivated small vegetable plots in the valleys. In the period of Roman influences, the population settled here, left traces of settlements, metallurgical furnaces and bloomeries in which iron was melted.
New settlements appeared in the 7th and 8th centuries on the lake. On the northern hill there was a stronghold with large homesteads, probably a center of tribal power of the population settling in this area. After the fire in the ninth century, it was rebuilt and inhabited until the end of the tenth century. In its place, half a century later, prince Mieszko I erected a new, large fortified hillfort with two bridges connected to the mainland. Stone buildings were built inside, probably the first of its kind in Poland. Craft and service settlements developed nearby bridges. During the reign of Mieszko I and king Bolesław Chrobry, the island was one of the main defense and administrative centers of Poland. It is possible that it was here that the baptism of the first historic ruler of Poland in 966 was made.
The end of Ostrów Lednicki’s greatness brought about the internal crisis of the state in the 30s of the 11th century and the invasion of Czech Brzetysław I in 1038, when the bridges were destroyed and the hillfort burned. After this event, the church was rebuilt and the settlement was surrounded by a new wood-and-earth ramparts with a height of up to 9 m. However, the island never regained its former function and rank, although the settlement survived until the 13th-14th centuries, and for some time Ostrów even served as the seat of the castellany. The status of the main center of power took over in this region of Pobiedziska. Later, Ostrów Lednicki was just a cemetery.


   A 2,5 ha hillfort was located in the southern part of the island. It was surrounded by a wood-and-earth ramparts, about 500 meters long and about 12 meters in original height, surrounding the inner ward, about 130 x 160 meters in size. In the northern part of the ramparts there was an entrance gate from the side of the outer bailey. Inside the hillfort on the courtyard apart from timber residential and economic buildings, at least two stone buildings were located: a palace with a chapel and a church. The palace and the chapel adjoining to it from the east, were built simultaneously, around 963-966, from the local stone material, split into flat tiles and joined with gypsum mortar.
The chapel was founded on the plan of the Greek cross. At the intersection of the naves were four pillars, each with a quarter section of the circle, which supported the centrally located tower and gave a convenient bypass in the arms of the cross. The eastern wall of the chapel was ended by an apse, and in the west there was an entrance to the palace. A deep hole of the well has been preserved in the south-western corner. Right next, the two steps of a circular staircase are the traces of the no longer existing tower, which provided communication with the chapel gallery. A simple second staircase led to the tower added in the 13th century, which ended the chapel from the west. Its lower storey has been preserved in the form of a vaulted crypt connected with a chapel. At the level of depositing of the oldest floor of the chapel, were placed pools used for baptismal liturgy. The baptizable pools were probably connected with the accompanying rooms: the changing room and the place where the rites preceding baptism took place, that is, the renunciation of Satan and the profession of faith. It could be located in a rectangular annex added to the chapel from the west, and separated from the palace by a narrow room, considered a stairwell. Reconstruction of the building around the year 1000 led to the liquidation of the northern pool and the change of the form of the southern one, which served its original functions until around 1038-1039.

   The palace erected on a rectangular plan measuring 32 x 14 meters has clearly separated rooms. The largest, located in the western part, was divided by three arches based on two pillars into two aisles. The remaining four rooms of the palace served various functions. The narrowest, in the middle part, bounded by two parallel walls, served as a wooden staircase. The palace’s floor essentially duplicated the division of the ground floor. The representative hall was probably located on the first floor in the western part of the palace.
The church was erected in the northern part of the hillfort, near the gate leading to its interior. It was orientated, aisleless, 13,5 meters long, with a rectangular chancel and three annexes from the north. The nave had a side 9 meters long, while the chancel dimensions were 3.3 x 5.5 meters. Inside, there were six graves, including two in stone chambers, placed in the nave in the axis of the church, in a place reserved for people with the highest social status. One of them was the burial of a child near whom a gold ring was found. The other graves were placed in the northern annexes, and together a rich collection of items of Christian worship was found there: a Byzantine reliquary, a reliquary box, an ivory comb and the remains of glass candelabra which illuminated the interior, as well as window glass. This church can be included in one of the first princely necropolis in Poland.
In the Middle Ages outer bailey was inhabited by the servants and part of the rulers druzhina. It had the character of an open settlement. Previous research has localized several buildings, made of wood and created in various techniques, a local road and two bridgeheads: the west “Poznań” bridge and the eastern “Gniezno Bridge”. Each of them consisted of boxes filled with earth and stones and was protected by a breakwater. Studies have shown that the “Gniezno” bridge was built in 962-965 during the period of large investments carried out by Mieszko I. It was 440 meters long and led to the west shore of the lake. Its basic structural elements consisted of two rows of supporting piles driven with bundles into the bottom of the lake, and longitudinal and transverse logs embedded on them, forming individual spans on which the planks were mounted on which it was possible to move. The width of the bridge was about 4.8 meters. The “Gniezno Bridge” bridge was shorter, about 170 meters long. It was built similarly to “Poznań” made of oak wood.

Current state

   The Piast hillfort at Ostrów Lednicki is one of the most important places from the period of the beginnings of the Polish State. Currently it is managed, together with located on the onshore open-air museum and museum in nearby Dziekanowice, by the Museum of the First Piasts in Lednica. On the island survived: the remains of the princely palas up to a height of 2.5 meters, foundations of the hillfort’s church and defensive earth ramparts of the hillfort to the height of 8 meters in the highest place. There are two rows of piles driven into the bottom of the lake in the place of existence of the the west bridgehead. In the northern part of the island there is a reconstruction of a peasant homestead, referring to the remains discovered in this area. In one of the huts equipment was reconstructed, and a furnace for firing clay pots was erected near the farm. The ferry included in the price of the ticket runs to the island with a frequency of around 0,5 hours. Information on prices and dates of opening can be found on the official website of the museum here.

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Jarzewicz J., Kościoły romańskie w Polsce, Kraków 2014.
Olejniczak K., Grody i zamki w Wielkopolsce, Poznań 1993.
Początki architektury monumentalnej w Polsce, red. Janiak T., Stryniak D., Gniezno 2004.
Świechowski Z., Sztuka romańska w Polsce, Warszawa 1990.

Website nid.pl, Ostrów Lednicki – wyspa.