Strzelce Opolskie – castle and town defensive walls


   Strzelce appeared for the first time in written sources in 1271. Before the construction of a stone buildings, there may have been here a hillfort and a small hunting manor, from which hunts were arranged to the surrounding dense forests. The very name of the settlement indicates that it was the seat of princely shooters, guarding security on an important trade route connecting Kraków and Wrocław. The town, which grew up on the site of the timber hillfort, quickly became a significant center thanks to its convenient location.
   The stone princely castle was probably built at the beginning of the 14th century on the initiative of Bolesław I of Opole. It was mentioned for the first time in 1303 as “Castrum Strelecense”. After the separation of the Strzelce Duchy, which existed for almost the entire 14th century, it became the seat of an independent ruler – Albert of Strzelce. The ruler surrounded the town with walls, which he connected with the castle (the first record of them comes from 1327). He took care of the development of his capital, giving it Magdeburg municipal law, enriched with the privilege of charging fees from passing merchants and led an active international policy. He strengthened his relations with the Hungarian kingdom, among others, by serving on behalf of king Louis to the Pope in Avignon and with the king of Poland, Władysław Łokietek, with whom he was related. Thanks to this, the town and the castle were away from all disputes and wars. After the death of Albert in 1370, the duchy and the Strzelce and castle went to the Piasts of Niemodlin dynasty, and after their expiration in 1382 to the Dukes of Opole.
   During the Hussite Wars and the invasion of 1430, the castle and town did not suffer, due to the intercession of pro-Bohemian prince Bolko IV of Opole. Also, no damages occurred during the passage of Polish troops of prince Kazimierz towards Prague. In the later fifteenth century, the castle was rebuilt, and after the death of the last prince of Opole, Jan II the Good in 1532, it became the property of the Czech king Ferdinand Habsburg. Two years later, it was pledged to Georg Hohenzollern-Ansbach. On this occasion the urbarium was written down, according to which the castle was in a bad technical condition and required urgent renovation.
   Since 1562, Strzelce found itself in the lease of the Redern family. Georg von Reder began a long renovation and renaissance reconstruction of the castle, stretching almost to the end of the sixteenth century. In the following centuries, the castle was used and transformed into a palace residence by the great Silesian families, among others Collons and Promnitzs. The last major reconstruction took place in the 19th century. During World War II the palace was destroyed.


   The castle was built in the southern part of the town, near its defensive walls, 900 meters long, covering an area of approximately 5.7 ha. Its main and oldest element, dating to the second half of the 13th century, was a four-sided tower, built of limestone tiles, sand-lime mortar-bonded. It was a residential building with dimensions of 13.9 x 16.1 meters. The thickness of its walls was not very large, as it ranged between 1.7 and 1.8 meters, while the height can be estimated on the basis of comparisons to other buildings of this type at about 17 meters. It was probably covered with a hip roof with a ridge. The interior was two-space, divided symmetrically by a partition wall running transversely to the long axis of the building. The floors were separated by wooden ceilings, and the lowest level was illuminated by slit opening 9 cm wide and less than a meter high, embedded in the frames widely splayed inwards (such a opening has survived in the northern wall of the eastern room). Vertical communication was probably provided by a spiral staircase embedded in the thickness of the wall (mentioned in 1534).
   The two southern corners of the tower touched the defensive wall, which was probably not a town wall, but a wall delimiting the small courtyard of the ducal estate. From the southern side, the castle was protected by an earth rampart, 7 meters wide, surrounding the entire town on the section from the Kraków Gate to the Opole Gate. There were two lines od ditches on the outer and inner sides of the rampart, although the areas were swampy and difficult to access. Their width was not less than 10-11 meters, while the depth was about 2.7 meters from the crown of the rampart. The earth walls were the remains of an older stronghold, perhaps associated with the Lusatian culture population.
   The town wall was built of local, flat limestones. Its core was made of rock fragments plentifully poured with lime and sand mortar. The wall thickness was from 0.9 to 1.3 meters, and the height was over 6 meters. Active defense was provided by porches placed in the crown, supplemented by at least one open half-tower in the south and closed tower in the north-eastern part of the town, near the church of St. Nicholas. The closed tower had at least 9 meters above the ground level. In addition to military functions, it may also have been a dominant feature in the northern part of Strzelce, representing a visual and symbolic counterbalance to the castle. The defensive wall was preceded by a moat, which in the north-eastern and eastern parts was fed with water from a nearby stream. Two gates led to the town, both in the form of small buildings erected on a square plan.

   Around the first quarter of the fourteenth century in order to allow the castle to be expanded to the south, an internal ditch was filled up to the middle rampart over a distance of about 35 meters. A second quadrilateral tower was erected on this site, added to the northern face of the defensive wall, about 4 meters from the older tower. The tower’s plan had a trapezoidal shape with dimensions of 9.6 x 13.5 meters. Its lowest floor was occupied by a single chamber, topped with a slightly pointed barrel vault, supported by a central, massive pillar. A bent passage with a pointed arched entrance led into the room, partly in the thickness of the older curtain wall.
   After expansion, the southern edge of the castle was marked by a wall 10.5 meters south of both towers. On the extension of the east wall of the older tower up to the south wall, a four-arch wall of the new east wing was erected, with arcades spanning from 3 to 3.5 meters. Together with the southern wall and the west wing, it closed the courtyard in the corner of which the well was placed. Its surface was paved with granite river pebbles.

Current state

   The medieval castle has not survived to our times. Remnants of a residential tower are located in a preserved gatehouse, similarly in early modern buildings you can find the lowest floor of the fourteenth-century tower and some parts of its upper floors. Its pointed entry arch has also been preserved. The early modern palace, despite the announcement of the restaurant, is since the war in a state of ruin. However, four fragments of the town walls on the eastern and western sides of the former perimeter have survived to this day. At the church of St. Lawrence, you can see a defensive tower converted into a free-standing belfry.

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Gaworski M., Zamek i park w Strzelcach Opolskich, Opole 2004.

Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Przybyłok A., Mury miejskie na Górnym Śląsku w późnym średniowieczu, Łódź 2014.
Romanow J., Wyniki badań sondażowych w zespole zamkowo – pałacowym w Strzelcach Opolskich [w:] Badania archeologiczne na Górnym Śląsku i ziemiach pogranicznych w latach 2005-2006, Katowice 2007.