The Olza in Cieszyn
A town on the Olza River
The vicinity of the Olza River was an important factor which in the 11th century convinced the founder to establish a fortified settlement on the hill right next to the river. Nearby, there was also a convenient river crossing with a mild descent and low water level. Over time, the fortified settlement became the seat of the castellan who ruled over the nearby areas on behalf of Polish dukes. For a long time, the settlement was built solely of wood and earth. The first brick-built structure was a rotunda. According to various hypotheses it was erected in the 11th or 12th century. Today, such places of worship are rare in Poland. There is a list of only 11 known rotundas and in most cases only their foundations survived to this day. The rotunda in Cieszyn has an apse and was made of flat limestone chops. The height of the nave is 13 m, the apse is 6.8 m, whereas the total height is almost 15 m. The rotunda in Cieszyn is one of the most valuable historic monuments in Poland and it is depicted on the current Polish banknote with the face value of PLN 20.
The castle of Dukes of Cieszyn
At the end of the 13th century, political events and the family relations of the Dukes of Opole led to the creation of the Duchy of Cieszyn, with its capital in Cieszyn. The first dynast from Cieszyn was Mieszko I. His descendants ruled the Duchy of Cieszyn until the second half of the 17th century. On the hill towering above Cieszyn there was a castle, the residence of the Cieszyn line of the Piast dynasty. The fortress was surrounded by a thick wall and a fence. It was erected in the Middle Ages and in the early modern period it was only reconstructed or renovated. The transformation of the castle into a brick-built Gothic fortress must have began when Cieszyn became the residence of the local dukes. Reconstruction works were most probably continued by subsequent dukes throughout the 14th century. It was also then that the rotunda was reconstructed. Its level was adjusted to the Gothic castle by raising the floor by two metres. Also, the Romanesque window was bricked in and replaced by a larger Gothic one. The castle was made up of two parts: the Upper and Lower castle. The duke’s chambers, the representative chambers and the kitchen were in the upper part, in the lower castle there were rooms for servants, a stable, and the castle prison. Unfortunately, no documents describing the interior of the castle survived to this day. Historic sources mention only the tafelstube where the castle court sat. A remnant of the upper castle is the Piast tower, the only preserved fortified tower out of four which belonged to the upper castle. The tower was built of crushed rock in the first half of the 14th century, and in the second half of the century an upward extension was added and decorated with four corner shields with the Piast coats of arms. Another upward extension was added during the rule of duke Casimir II (1477-1528). The tower was also covered with a hip roof. Today, the tower is 30 m high and there are 120 steps leading to its top.
In the years 1488, 1570 and 1603 fires broke out in the castle. But the most severe damage was caused by the Protestant and Catholic occupations during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). Many European countries were engaged in this conflict. The ducal residence in Cieszyn served as a fortress and quartered the troops of the feuding sides. John George of Brandenburg, Protestant Duke of Krnov (1621), was the first to seize Cieszyn castle, but it was then taken over by the Danish troops led by the Count of Mansfeld (1626). However, it was the Swedish occupation in years 1645-1646 and the final siege of the Habsburg army that caused the greatest damage to the castle.
At the beginning of 1645, Swedish troops started another offensive against the Emperor’s army. Its aftermath was the seizure of almost the whole of Silesia. At the end of that year, a corps led by general Hans Königsmarck reached Upper Silesia and the Duchy of Cieszyn was seized by Swedish troops led by colonel Johann Reichwald, who entered the territory of the Duchy at the end of October of that year. Two locations were of strategic importance: the capital of the Duchy and fortifications in the Jablunkov Pass, which blocked access to Silesia from Upper Hungary. For fear of more numerous incoming Protestant forces, the imperial troops led by colonel Dewaggy of Adlersfeld withdrew from the Duchy of Cieszyn. Only a crew under the command of captain Eberech stayed in Cieszyn castle. Duchess Elizabeth Lucretia also left the duchy. She moved to Kęty in the Kingdom of Poland along with her court, or rather a part of it.
The Swedes came from Moravia and approached Cieszyn on 26th October 1645, before noon. Their arrival took the inhabitants of the town and the troops quartered there by complete surprise. At the beginning, townspeople did not even know what army was approaching. Two Swedish companies gathered in front of the Upper Gate. Attacking the castle from this side was easier due to flat terrain. The remaining troops spread around the town, thus tightening the encirclement. At this point, the defenders of the town knew that it was the Swedish army. As part of the siege, the Swedes started numerous fires in the town itself and in the suburbs. A group of townspeople attempted to escape through the city gate called the Mill Gate, located on the side of the Olza River. Some of them fell into the hands of Swedish soldiers. Everything they had on them was stolen or destroyed. Moreover, most imperial soldiers deserted and there was none to defend the city gates, so they were opened. The forces of colonel Reichwald marched through the town and stopped in front of the castle, where Eberach and his small troop locked themselves in. Most of his men were Cieszyn Vlachs. They deserted during the night of 27th October, jumping through the palisade. Eberach was left without his army and surrendered the next day. The castle was seized by a Swedish troop of 120 infantrymen and dragoons.
It is difficult to estimate the number of Swedish soldiers in Cieszyn. In the beginning, it was at least a few companies. Reverend Józef Londzin, a historian from Cieszyn, claims that Cieszyn was conquered by 20 companies. When the main military forces left, a troop of 120 men stayed in the town and seized the castle. At that time, the number of Swedish soldiers was constantly changing. Subsequent troops came and went. The only mentions which survived to this day suggest that in January 1646 a troop of 50 Reiters rode through the town and that lieutenant colonel David Senckler came from Bytom with 24 Reiters. Officers were quartered in the ducal castle, the inn run by Krzysztof Lehmann, the mint, and at the armourer’s. It needs to be added that the brothers Adam and Jakub Bleichers, the orphans of a townsman from Cieszyn, served in a Swedish company under the command of Rochow. The company stationed itself on the earthworks in the Jablunkov pass.
When the new year came, Swedish troops began to prepare themselves for the attack of the imperial army which was expected to take place in February. Because of that, the inhabitants of Cieszyn had to bear additional costs related to supporting more guards, as well as buying candles and torches. Catholic troops under the command of Dewaggy, which were made up of three regiments (Moncadi, Monterez and Mörder), 2500 men in total, arrived in Cieszyn on 6th March 1646. Krzysztof Lehmann, the city wachtmeister, was supposed to let them in at the alleged order of the duchess, but he did not obey and informed the Swedish commandant about the whole affair. On 6th March 1646, the fight for Cieszyn began. Despite Lehmann’s betrayal, the imperial army seized the town. The Swedish defenders locked themselves in the castle. Since there was no element of surprise, the imperial army did not manage to capture it straight away. Under the circumstances, it was necessary to lay siege to the castle, which resulted in significant casualties suffered by the besieging army. It is depicted on two copper plates, found at the beginning of the 20th century by Franciszek Popiołek, a historian from Cieszyn, and published in his works. The Swedes defended the castle for seven weeks. During that time, the Habsburg army dug three tunnels to lay mines. One of them, laid near the bridge next to the Water Gate, exploded and caused serious damage, also to nearby houses. As the result of these actions, the Swedes surrendered on 21st April 1646. Under an agreement, the Swedes were supposed to go free, each soldier with his weapon and bundle, with the exception of the Swedish soldiers who had served in the imperial army and the “city guard” (most probably the aforementioned K. Lehmann). When the Swedish occupation ended, the condition of the Piast residence was so catastrophic that the duchess had to live in three tenement houses on the market square. She died there in 1653.
After this tragic period, the castle was never restored to its former glory and slowly fell into ruin. What contributed to this situation was the fact that Habsburgs became the new rulers of the Duchy of Cieszyn. They were interested mostly in taxes and revenues from their estates in the duchy. The upper castle was in the worst condition, the lower castle was used by the new rulers of the Duchy of Cieszyn as the seat of the so-called Teschener Kammer, an institution run by officials who were governing the estates belonging to the Habsburgs. During the rule of Kaspar Tłuk, the first regent of the Teschener Kammer, a small brewery was established on the Castle Hill. Over time, it became a serious competitor to the brewery in town and ultimately led to its bankruptcy in the 19th century.
In 1766 the Duchy of Cieszyn passed to Maria Christina, the daughter of the empress Maria Theresa, and her husband Albert, Duke of Saxony and Cieszyn and Polish prince, the son of Augustus III. It foreshadowed changes which were about to affect the former Piast residence. The premature death of duchess Maria Christina made Albert change his plans. He gave up his projects related to Cieszyn and moved his extraordinary art collection to Vienna, where it remains until today (Albertina).
The hunting castle
In 1822 the duchy passed to Archduke Charles of Austria, who carried out major investments on the Castle Hill. Charles entrusted the reconstruction of his residence in Cieszyn to Joseph Kornhäusl, an outstanding Vienna architect. The area of the upper castle was levelled and a romantic park was created. The rotunda was reconstructed and acquired a neoclassical look. The lower castle was altered as well and in 1840 it was replaced by a hunting castle. The neoclassical building was simple and modest. The two-floor building was directed towards the town and Głęboka Street, and on the Castle Hill there was an English garden. Next to the palace, from the town side, stood an orangery. Concerts were given there by famous musicians of the time, such as Franz Liszt. The building was demolished in 1966. Another major project undertaken by J. Kornhäusl was building a brewery on the north side of the Castle Hill. For those times, it was quite modern. Large cellars of the brewery were located in the hillslope and destroyed the cellars of the castle. In 1914, the last structure was erected on the Castle Hill on the initiative of Archduke Friedrich. These were artificial ruins built on the spot where a bergfried tower stands today.
In October 1918, on the brink of Polish independence, the castle became the seat of the National Council of the Duchy of Cieszyn, whose aim was to take over Cieszyn Silesia and annex it to Poland after its rebirth. In the interwar period, the castle was the seat of the Board of State Forests.
During the Second World War Germans were going to create a museum in the hunting palace. They ordered Herbert Eras, an architect from Wrocław, to prepare plans for extending the palace. The plans survived until today and show that Eras was going to close the square in the north part of the castle, connect the villa which stills stands there with the castle, and create a new wing by adding another building to the villa on the side of the Piast tower. From the side of the tower, the wing was made up of garages, whereas the courtyard was closed by a wing with stables. However, these plans were not brought to life. Throughout 1942, archaeological research was conducted on the Castle Hill, but it encompassed only a small area near the rotunda. It was led by Georg Raschke from Racibórz.
In 1947 a music school took up a part of the hunting castle on the side of the Olza River. It still operates today as the Ignacy Paderewski State Music School. Archaeological research was resumed in late 1950s and early 1960s. It was led by professor Alina Kietlińska. Unfortunately, the scope of research was limited and focused on the rotunda and its immediate surroundings. As the result, the rotunda was restored to its original, Romanesque look.
The castle hill today
Major archaeological and restoration works took place in late 1980s and early 1990s. Due to a landslide on the hill, a bergfried and the castle kitchen were discovered under artificial ruins. Today, the foundations of the abovementioned kitchen, adjacent to the castle wall, and the reconstructed tower stand in this place. However, the tower lacks a finial. Further archaeological research in the area of the rotunda enabled archaeologists to uncover the foundation of the gate to the upper castle and paving in the gate. For a couple of years, new research has been conducted inside the rotunda. The turn of the 21st century was marked by projects which made it possible to restore the hunting castle. Apart from the State Music School, a city institution Śląski Zamek Sztuki i Przedsiębiorczości (Silesian Castle of Art and Business), now called Zamek Cieszyn (Cieszyn Castle) has operated in the hunting castle since 2005.
Panorama of Cieszyn, engraving by Daniel Meissner from Sciographia cosmica, Nuremberg, 1637, (Cieszyn Silesia Museum Collection)
Rotunda in 2014 (Photo Renata Karpińska)
Rotunda before restoration (Cieszyn Silesia Museum Collection)
Piast tower, 2014 (Photo Renata Karpińska)
Bergfried tower, 2014 (Photo Renata Karpińska)
Hunting castle, a postcard, 1903,
Cieszyn castle, a fragment of Cieszyn,s panorama, I. Chambrez de Ryvos, oil painting,1801, (Cieszyn Silesia Museum Collection)
Orangery (Cieszyn Silesia Museum Collection)