The Sandomierz hillfort, built in the second half of the 10th century on the Castle Hill, was one of the main princely residences. Since the 12th century it served as the castellany center, and in the 12th-13th century the capital of the principality. The basis of its economic development was the location at the intersection of trade routes of regional and international significance, as well as open settlements developing around it, initially tribal and later servile.
The peak period of the development of the stronghold was in the second half of the 12th and the first half of the 13th century. After the death of prince Bolesław III Wrymouth in 1138, Sandomierz belonged to the district senior, from which a section for Prince Henry was separated. However, no significant investment activity was associated with the times of his rule in the years 1146-1166. After the death of Henry, the district was divided, and Sandomierz temporarily provided salaries to the wife of Bolesław Kędzierzawy, Princess Maria. Only after the death of Bolesław in 1173, thanks to another ruler of this district, Kazimierz the Just, did construction activity develop. This ruler enrolled as the founder of the collegiate church, the largest temple in Sandomierz, also near the hillfort a suburban settlement began to develop. At that time, in order to expand the area of the hillfort, the first leveling of the hill was made in order to make new earth fortifications.
In 1241, the Sandomierz stronghold was conquered during the Mongol invasion and again destroyed by Tartar and Ruthenian army at the turn of 1259 and 1260. In the latter case, the siege lasted three days, and the fortifications were successfully invaded by the attackers mainly due to possession of siege engines. As a result of destruction, slaughter and abductions, most of the settlement in the former suburbs disappeared, especially on the Świętojakubskie and Świętopawelskie hills. The main stronghold after rebuilding resisted the Ruthenian-Lithuanian invasion in 1280, as well as another Mongol invasion a few years later. In 1328, the tenant of the Sandomierz estate, Andrzej Ciołek, promised to spend some of the income on repairs, but probably condition of stronghold was getting worse, and most likely the wooden fortifications and buildings did not meet the requirements of the full Middle Ages.
The major reconstruction of the stronghold into a stone castle probably began after the great fire of Sandomierz in the years 1349—1352, on the initiative of king Casimir the Great. Originally it was a separate defensive post, but after the erection of the town walls in the second half of the 14th century, the castle and the town formed a joint fortification system, although the direct connection between the town walls and the castle could have taken place a little later.
The castle once again was rebuilt around 1520 on the initiative of king Zygmunt I the Old. Under the direction of Benedict of Sandomierz, another ranges were than started. Further renaissance works continued in the years 1564-1565 during the reign of king Sigismund Augustus and in the years 1586-1597 on the initiative of king Stefan Batory. In 1655 the castle was captured by the Swedes, who withdrew a year later and blow up the building. The survived west range was rebuilt at the end of the 17th century. It served as the seat of the starost, the court, the archives and the treasury. In 1825, the Austrians rebuilt it to the prison and the seat of the criminal court. Liquidation of the prison took place only in 1959.
The stronghold from the 12th-13th century was located on a hill on the left bank of the Vistula. Probably at that time it covered both hills: Cathedral and Castle Hill. The latter was on the plan of an oval with a diameter of about 90 meters with a relative height of the slopes of up to 18 meters. In its immediate vicinity there was the old riverbed of the Vistula, and on the eastern side a narrow valley whose edges marked the slopes of Castle and Świętojakubskie hills. Its bottom flowed the Piszczele stream.
The stronghold from the second half of the 12th century consisted of a wood and earth rampart with a chest structure, preceded by a ditch on the foreground side, and a fore-embankment with made of obliquely driven piles. During the reconstruction of the rampart in the second half of the 12th century, the insufficient space inside the embankments resulted in the foundation of fortifications not at the top, but on the slope of the hill. Probably the internal buildings of the hillfort included some brick structures, e.g. a building in the form of a palas, the supposed relics of which date back to around the middle of the 12th century. In the area of the coutryard there could also be a castle church of St. Nicholas.
The rampart of the stronghold was destroyed during the first Mongol invasion in 1241, but it was quickly repaired and expanded. A second circumference of the embankments at the base of the hill was erected at that time, as well as a second, irrigated moat. In the construction of the older rampart, built on the slope, oak wood was used, in the younger phase, pine was used at the base of the hill. This could prove the lack of good raw material and the already advanced depletion of forests. The lower moat constituting the outer stage of the fortifications, located at the foot of the hill, was 5 meters wide and 2.5 meters deep.
In the borough on the Cathedral Hill, with fortifications similar to the main one, before the mid-12th century a collegiate church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the church of St. Nicholas were built. Their location is disputable, but it is most commonly assumed that the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary had to stand near the later Gothic temple, and the church of St. Nicholas as a castle chapel perhaps on the Castle Hill. Separation of the fortifications of the Cathedral and Castle Hill followed the reconstruction of the destructions of the Mongol invasion of 1241, probably at the beginning of the second half of the 13th century, when a ditch was dug with a bridge leading over it. The Cathedral Hill was almost twice as large, but was a few meters lower than the Castle Hill. Its maximum uplift was in the northern part, where the Romanesque collegiate church built of white stone blocks and covered with shingles and later a Gothic cathedral stood. The area fell slightly towards the south-west, where there were wooden huts.
The second borough could stretch from the north on the Collegium Gostomianum, the third hill on the edge of the Vistula valley. There were found remains of palisade fortifications created from obliquely driven piles and ditches, but without an earth or wooden rampart. Inside the ward bounded by a palisade, there were densely spaced residential and utility buildings, of which only cavities and cellars have survived. During the eleventh century or the beginning of the twelfth century, the palisade was partially rebuilt, a grate-chested rampart was built and perhaps a gate tower in the north-eastern part of the hill, where the descent towards the Vistula. In the central part of the courtyard, in the place of one of the older houses, in the 11th century a wooden building was erected on a rectangular plan with dimensions of 5 x 5.5 meters. It was once identified as the church of St. Peter, is now considered a wooden residential tower. The church, on the other hand, was probably located in the western part of the borough, above the gorge, while the central and eastern parts were covered by wooden residential and economic buildings at the beginning of the 12th century. Probably already in the first half of the thirteenth century, the fortifications and the so-called a residential tower were pulled down, thus preparing a place for a new, much larger parish church around which the cemetery. Even before the invasion of 1259, there was a complete transformation of the character of the Cathedral Hill’s buildings, which at that time had primarily a sacred and burial function.
Early medieval settlement also developed on the Świętojakubskie Hill adjacent to the Castle Hill. The buildings were loose there, and the huts were located close to the edge of the Vistula embankment. The houses were built on a square plan with dimensions of about 5 x 5 meters, semi-dugouts because they were dug into less than 120 to 140 cm. A specific feature of these buildings were wooden stairs formed in the ground (in passages) leading to their interior. The walls were lined with planks, and in the above ground part they were constructed of wicker covered with clay. The gable roofs were supported on four-sided or round columns situated in the corners and in the middle of each wall. The larger huts also had a central pole. Some houses were equipped with dome stoves built outside the hut, others had clay stoves (or hearths) situated in their eastern or northern corner. Residential buildings were accompanied by utility rooms in the form of basements dig in the ground.
The layout of the Gothic castle due to the destructions and reconstructions is not fully explained. Its outline was probably irregular, with lines aligned to the form of the hill, wherein a part of the perimeter from the town side was probably made of timber. The entrance to the castle was located on the side of the town and was probably in the north-eastern corner. The fortifications of the original castle included an octagonal tower with walls in the ground floor 3.6 – 3.9 meters thick. It housed a small cylindrical basement with an interior diameter of 3.5 – 3.6 meters, and the length of the octagonal side was 4.1 meters. The tower was located in the north-eastern corner of the castle, next to the gate.
The earliest castle house stood on the south or east side of the site. In the inventorys it is identified as standing opposite the Vistula. Apart it, the building of the former palas was still functioning until the end of the 15th century (recorded in 1510 as “domus lapidea”), as well as the church of St. Nicholas, sometimes connected with the castle chapel, located in the southern part of the hill in the surrounding cemetery. Around 1480, a diagonal tower called the “chicken foot” was added to the southern building at the western corner. Perhaps around 1480 or a little later, the southern building was also extended to the east and west and ended with a second, small corner tower. During the reign of Sigismund I, around 1520-1526, the two-story building of the southern wing was built or rebuilt and the western wing was extended.
There were a kitchen and a brewery on the outer bailey between the castle and the outer bailey, and at the river, at the foot of the castle, an water mill and a granary. The kitchen and brewery were located on the eastern slope, in the vicinity of the Kraków Gate. Perhaps in the time of king Casimir the Great there was a connection of the castle with the brick town walls of Sandomierz, by a earth rampart crowned with a timber palisade.
Until modern times only renaissance, west range of the castle has survived, which eastern façade additionally has a classicist style. The interesting western side is flanked by two towers, from which the south comes from the 15th century. At present, the Castle Museum in Sandomierz is located in the castle, which also offers accommodation on commercial terms and allows accommodation in hotel rooms. Prices, opening times and other information can be found on the official website of the castle museum here.
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