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Pieskowa Skała Castle

"I was built for defence purposes and entrusted to the Lord's protection, for nobody can defend anything without His help." Pieskowa Skała is the only castle that has survived intact on the Trail of the Eagles' Nests. Crowning majestically the calcareous rock, it has been protected by Hercules' Mace for centuries. As one of the most characteristic places in Poland, it has witnessed muggings, plunders, dark magic, alchemy and unfulfilled love. One of the oldest Polish noble families was raised and met its end here. Insurgents fought here, and orphans from Zamojszczyzna persecuted by the Nazis hid here. And today? Today Pieskowa Skała is the most picturesque place of the Prądnik valley, where you can commune not only with nature but also European culture developed over five centuries.

History of the castle

We are on an ancient trade route. As early as in the 13th century Cracow was one of the main centres of European trade in goods. The route at which we are was used for driving Moldovan cattle, transporting Silesian silk, Hungarian copper, salt and lead from Cracow or wax from Lviv. Such routes had to be guarded by special garrisons stationing at courts and later in castles. Such a situation is explained by a tradition saying that in the Early Middle Ages there was a wooden garden here or on Bukowiec Hill opposite. These are only assumptions since no traces of it have been found. On the other hand, the first note about Pieskowa Skała Castle comes only from 1315, when Władysław the Short allows a Mikołaj to set up a village among Kosmolów, Sułoszowa and Pieskowa Skała Castle. It cannot be ruled out that the establishment of a town by Henry the Bearded in 1228, connected by some historians with Grodzisko, concerns Pieskowa Skała. Apart from the father's castle, the castle became one of the main fortifications on the trade route connecting Cracow with Silesia, in particular with Wrocław.

In front of the castle, the most loyal guard and protector has been standing for centuries, a calcareous loner called “Hercules' Mace" because of its shape. Just behind it stands the castle. A building that today enraptures had a turbulent history. Its walls contain nearly all art styles present from the time of its construction until the 19th century. (more)


What can you see there?

Despite the castle's splendour and majestic appearance, we will not see here nearly any Gothic or Renaissance remains. This is a result of numerous reconstructions and cataclysms. We are heading to the castle from the east, climbing tens of steps situated at the foot of a calcareous hill. We are going our way to a curtain wall connecting two bastions. In this wall is an entry leading to the castle's lower courtyard. Its structure was made in the form of a Roman triumphal arch but the side entries were bricked in. Over the entry are coats of arms of the Zebrzydowski family: "Radwan", "Szreniawa”, "Gryf” and "Herbut”. We are going to the lower courtyard through a gate with a rustic frame. On one of the bastions is the "Zamkowa" Restaurant established already in 1970.

Further, we see the castle with a round Gothic tower on the right, made of Jurassic limestone, most probably at the end of the 15th century, in which 57 arrowslits are placed on ten levels, and on the left a clock tower covered with a renovated Baroque tented roof. An avant-corps was added to the protruding Renaissance two-storey loggia crowned with an attic. An 18th century outbuilding reaching the north-east bastion adjoins the tower from the right. Above the outer courtyard, from the south, is an Italian garden with boxwood hedges. We are reaching the gate leading to the arcaded courtyard of the upper castle. On the left Renaissance window frames have remained. Under one of them a sentence was carved in stone: "I was built for defence purposes and entrusted to the Lord's protection, for nobody can defend anything without His help".

Through a Gothic pointed arch portal we are going to an entrance hall on a circular plan with a diameter of six metres. This is a lower part of the tower built here in the 14th century. We are going through another portal to an arcaded courtyard on an irregular trapezium plan. It is surrounded by arcaded-pillar galleries protruding to the gate. There are 21 mascarons, a reflection of Netherlandish art. The remains of paint on them and the walls mean that in the castle's golden era everything was covered with rich polychrome. On the courtyard there is a 45-metre deep well whose bottom reaches the Prądnik River. It was the main water intake for its residents until the castle was plumbed in. On all the castle's floors are enfilade chambers that align with each other. You can get to a chapel dedicated to St Michael from the galleries on the second floor. The chapel was constructed on a square plan, and a covered dome was built when Mikołaj Zebrzydowski managed the castle.

As we are leaving the castle, we are heading to a beautiful park landscaping where we will see the remains of farm buildings.

In the 1960s in Wawel Castle it was decided to prepare a permanent exhibition in the castle on the rock. Then it was decided that the chambers would not be renovated and a display in the form of a gallery would be made. The museum rooms were arranged in 2000. The exhibition shows changes in European art which occurred from the Middle Ages until the 19th century.

The first floor presents the oldest exhibition items. In the Gothic Room we can see reredoses, sculptures and tapestries from Poland, Pomerania, Germany and Silesia. In the Renaissance Room we will see Netherlandish tapestries, Italian maiolica, works from Urbino and Venetia and 16th century furniture with Moresque ornaments. In the Baroque Room, apart from furniture, candlesticks, candle holders and tableware, we can see numerous paintings of the Dutch School, including by Bartholomeus van der Helst. The last room on the first floor presents late-Baroque art. There are grand French beds, portraits and a series of Gobelins of Biblical and ancient themes (Alexander the Great) made in French Aubusson.

We are visiting the second floor in the Rococo Room. Here we will find French chests of drawers and chaises longue or Gobelins. The walls are decorated with Italian paintings, in particular Venetian paintings by, among others, Giandomenic Tiepol. In the next room where we see numerous pieces of furniture, sofas, musical instruments and portrays, works of Classicism, the Empire or Biedermeier style were collected. Another room has items connected with Romanticism and Realism in art, i.e. styles which were developed in the second half of the 19th century. Among most valuable relics of the past is “The Rape of the Sabine Women” painted by Eugene Delacroix. The History Rooms, apart from furniture, are full of paintings by Siemiradzki and Chełmoński. In the next room dedicated to the Art Nouveau style, apart from utility art, we will find works by Jacek Malczewski or Wojciech Weiss. The whole exhibition ends with a room presenting the art of the interwar period.

The castle's name

It is likely that “Pieskowa Skała” originates from the German term "peskenstein”. It was a derivative of the shape of the calcareous rock resembling a dog. Others seek the etymological source of the name in the following old-Polish words: “Pieś”, “Pieśko”, “Piech”. These were diminutives of the name “Piotr”, the first castle's owner, Piotr I Szafraniec.

Opening hours

The opening hours given below concern the museum exhibitions. The last entry is an hour before closing the museum.
  Monday closed
  Tuesday-Thursday 9.00-17.00
  Friday 9.00-13.00
  Saturday-Sunday 10.00-18.00
April and October:
  Monday closed
  Tuesday-Thursday 10.00-16.00
  Friday 10.00-15.00
  Saturday-Sunday 10.00-16.00
 Monday closed
  Tuesday-Friday - open after booking a visit for a group of minimum 15 people one day earlier
  Saturday-Sunday 10.00-16.00 (open at 10.00, 11.00, 12.00, 13.00, 14.00, 15.00)

By Wojciech Zabielski