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Castle in Olsztyn

Olsztyn castle is the oldest building in the town. It was built in the 14th century and originally consisted of two wings. The archaeological research proves that the fortress was built from scratch, on a raw piece of land, where no traces of any earlier settlement have ever been found.

The castle belonged to the chapter of the Warmia diocese, which along with the bishop of Warmia was subjected to the military protection of the Order of Teutonic Knights until 1454. For that reason the castle played quite an important role during the wars between the Order and Poland. In 1410, after the battle of Tanneberg, the castle surrounded to the Polish king, and in 1414 after a short besiege it was seized by Polish troops. During the Thirteen Years' War (1454-1466) the castle changed hands several times. In 1521 the Teutonic Knights threatened the castle and the town. Owing to the defence measures taken by the castle administrator, Nicolas Copernicus, they gave in after one, unsuccessful attack.

Nicolas Copernicus stayed at the castle as the administrator of the chapter property in 1516-1519 and 1520-1521. He lived in the north-east wing, in a large chamber with a view from two windows of the Łyna river and the castle mill. The third window overlooked the castle court. One door led to the castle wall walk and another to the chancery. In the early 16th century both rooms received beautiful crystal vaulting, which was rather low, but four hundred years later the rooms were made higher by lowering the floor.

As the administrator, Copernicus made many rural inspections around the chapter land estates in order to oversee the settlement matters. He made notes in a book called 'Settlement on deserted land'. The original book, which contains a number of hand-written notes made by Copernicus, is kept at the Archives of the Warmia Diocese in Olsztyn. Being the chapter administrator, Copernicus was mainly responsible for the proper management of the chapter real estates and timely collection of fees and taxes. He also oversaw the chapter's forests and towns.
Despite the burden of all those duties, Copernicus continued his scientific research. While residing at Olsztyn Castle he dealt with the reform of the monetary system in Royal Prussia. As a result, a few years later he wrote his 'Treatise on the minting of coinage'. Here, in the castle of Olsztyn, Copernicus also carried out observations of the movement of the planets, and the findings he made in Olsztyn were included in his life's work 'De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium'. In fact, the astronomer wrote the manuscript of the first chapter of that work while living at Olsztyn Castle.
On the wall of the arcaded wall walk, above the door leading to the living quarters of the castle administrator, visitors can see the most precious reminder of Copernicus' times - an astronomical chart made by Nicolas Copernicus. He used it to establish the spring equinox. At the Council of Nice in the 4th century, the equinox was dated on the 21st March, but in the times of Nicolas Copernicus the actual equinox fell on the 11th March. Thus, there was a ten-day gap between the astronomic time and the calendar. Because the church holidays were set up according to the equinox, it was necessary to reform the calendar. But although Nicolas Copernicus did establish the right moment of the equinox, the calendar reform was not carried out until many years later. Actually, in Poland it took place in 1582, long after the death of the astronomer. In that year the 4th of October was followed by the 15th October - which meant that the Julian calendar was replaced by the Georgian one.
Within the castle walls, as part of the south-west wing, there is St Anna's Chapel, built in the first half of the 16th century and consecrated by Bishop Martin Kromer in 1580. The external wall of the south wing is topped with very well preserved machicolations - protruding wooden walks with murder holes, through which castle defenders hurdled stones or poured boiling hot water or tar on heads of attackers.
In the 18th century Olsztyn castle began to lose stature as the seat of the chapter administration had been moved to Frombork. Also its defensive function began to vanish. When some of the castle walls had been demolished, in 1758 a new palace wing was built, facing the town. In the years to follow the castle served different purposes, including a prison. When the regency of Olsztyn ( a large administrative district in Prussia) was created in 1905, the castle was adapted to house an apartment for the president of the regency.

In 1945 the castle became the seat of the Masurian Museum, later renamed into the Museum of Warmia and Mazury. Visitors can see the fine first floor of the north wing, including such rooms as the castle administrator's living chamber, the chancery, the refectory and the old chapel. Upstairs they can see the storage and defensive top floor of the castle. Another building opened to the public is the corner watchtower, from which everyone can admire the views of the town.
Today the castle is a popular venue for concerts, art exhibitions, lectures, scientific sessions, film shows (examples include cyclic summer meetings called Thursdays with Copernicus, concerts of the Olsztyn-based chamber music ensemble Pro Musica Antiqua, a series of meetings named Biographies).
The Museum in Olsztyn is known for its unorthodox forms of sightseeing. On certain days or nights visitors can look into rooms which are usually closed to the public; they can try on medieval armoury or costume. The youngest visitors are invited to take part in special workshops.

Museum of Warmia and Mazury
Muzeum Warmii i Mazur

ul. Zamkowa 2, 10-074 Olsztyn, Poland
tel. 089 527 95 96, fax 089 527 20 39

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