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Monday - 15 November 2021     Amielii, Idalii, Leopolda     "Życie tylko dla samego siebie jest korozją osobowości". Wiktor Hugo    
Portal -> Muszyna

Seen from the Muszyna castle…
At the banks of the Poprad River, a mountain rises steeply against the sky, shaped like a pyramid, and from its face protrudes a tower – the last remnant of a castle, like an arm of a giant who has once ruled the town and all the countryside . With these words, a traveller – known only by his initials A.G. – described the Muszyna castle in 1837. Today, both the Muszyna stronghold and the mountain present another view. After almost 180 years from the time when A.G. visited the town, all that has been left from the tower is the basement, and steep slopes of the mountain were transformed in late 19th century and during the following century.
Góra Zamkowa (Castle Mountain), protruding into the valley, surrounded by backwaters of the Poprad, Szczawnik and Muszynka (the latter known from the oldest documents as the Muszyna River) – provided a safe refuge, at the same time enabling the control over the whole valley. The defence of the place was heightened by steep, bare slopes. Grey rocks rising nearly 60 m over the valley must have disheartened those who would like to force their way into the castle. The location of the stronghold was really well chosen. This was to be the place providing safety and relative comfort to its inhabitants, and discouraging the intruders.
A tradition credits Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir the Great) with the foundation of the castle. Previously, Góra Zamkowa housed a small, wooden stronghold with a tower house placed centrally on the courtyard. Today, the remnants of these fortifications are still visible among the trees on one of the paths leading to the castle. History of this stronghold is mysterious. We do not know when it was built, nor in what circumstances did it cease to function. It is not clear as yet whether this stronghold had already existed in times when the name Muszyna first appeared in documents (i.e. in 1288), or was it erected later, perhaps already in times of Jan Muskata (bishop of Kraków in the years 1294-1320) who cared lot about fortifying his lands. The stronghold was probably destroyed deliberately when constructing the castle.
In May 1288, chancellery of Duke Leszek Czarny issued two documents mentioning Muszyna as one of moot questions between Paweł from Przemankowo bishop of Kraków and the successors of Wysz from Niegowić of Połkozic coat-of-arms (canon of Kraków and schoolman in the Wawel cathedral). Wysz, who became clergyman after the death of his wife, bequeathed his estates, including Muszyna, to the above-mentioned bishop. This testament was appealed against by Wysz’s nephew Mironieg, married to Wysz’s grand-daughter Bogusława. According to the concluded agreement, disputable villages, together with Muszyna, remained in the hands of the Kraków’s hierarch. Documents clearly speak about the village of Muszyna, while the stronghold is not mentioned, so perhaps it did not exist at that time. When bishop Jan Muskata declared himself against Władysław Łokietek, the Muszyna estates were taken over by the ruler as a retribution. They remained crown lands probably till early 15th century, when they became church’s property again. Around mid 14th century, Kazimierz Wielki founded a town in Muszyna and, most likely, commissioned the construction of a stone stronghold too. We know little about this period in the castle’s history, and it is probably going to remain so, as the Gothic castle was almost totally destroyed by the Hungarian invasion in 1474 and by later, Renaissance reconstruction. Most likely, a multi-storey tower was erected first, strengthened in the corners with massive buttresses. Its remnants can be seen even today. The construction of defensive walls, surrounding almost the whole southern part of Koziejówka, started later than the tower, although still during the same phase of construction activity. Their planned layout was a trapezium, with the height of about 60 m and maximal width of ca 30 m. However, this daring project was not finished at that time. In the half of the intended length, a monumental outer wall, closing the castle from the west, was erected. Other foundations were covered with soil.
The complex was separated from the rest of the mountain by a dry moat, made by excavating a natural depression. The entrance led through a wooden bridge, whose last segment was most likely a drawbridge. Unfortunately, the localisation of a gate has not been determined as yet. It could have been placed in the northern, thickest wall of the tower. We know little about buildings inside the walls in the initial phase of the castle’s functioning. In the 15th century, the structure was in poor shape and required serious repairs. One of such repairs is mentioned in 1454, in the letter of starosta (Latin: capitaneus) Jan from Wielopole to the councillors of Bardiów. He describes a disastrous condition of about one fourth of the castle, the necessity of walls repairs even in their foundation parts, and asks the councillors to deliver beer for people working day and night.
Life in the 15th-century stronghold was typical of frontier castles. The frontier was patrolled, toll was collected from traders going to Hungary, bands of marauders were hunted or… expeditions were undertaken to neighbouring Hungary to loot local merchants and burghers. Well, some of Muszyna’s starostas made themselves known by their adventurous lifestyle.
In 1474 Muszyna was invaded by Hungarians under Tomasz Tarczay, who destroyed the castle. Archaeologists have been conducing excavations there for several years and have discovered traces of this raid. Scorched and burned stones from the ruins of walls and levels of charred debris indicate enormous fire, which consumed buildings and weakened the walls, so that they either fell down themselves or must have been demolished. Traces of a siege are detectable too. Several crossbow bolt-heads found under the walls, fragments of hand cannon barrels, stone and metal balls, all these suggest a massed bombardment. The besiegers lost under the walls some of their personal belongings and coins as well.
When the hostilities ended, the reconstruction was decided. According to the provisions of the agreement concluded in Stara Spiska Wieś, it was to be financed by Hungarians. The works dragged on for years. A document dated on the 5th of February 1488 informs that Stanisław from Świeradzice, administrator of the Kraków diocese, together with capitular canons got obliged to send a delegate to Muszyna to oversee the reconstruction. Defensive walls were raised from ruins in their original layout, and a residential risalit was added from the south. To the western wall was added a mansion with three compartments in the basement. Some constructions were erected in the central part of the complex, too. A two-bay building adjoining the eastern wall was also restored, with outer and partition walls made of timber and plastered with clay. Inside this building, in both compartments were discovered the remnants of heating devices – stoves and open hearths. In the northern compartment archaeologists have unearthed the relics of a large kitchen stove with lower part encased in wood. Kitchen of similar construction was described almost two hundred years later in the inventory of the bishops’ mansion, but let’s not look too much ahead.
In 1508, the reconstruction was about to be finished. Mikołaj Lapiszpataky, starosta of Muszyna, who was the administrator of the bishop’s properties in Sącz at that time, wrote a letter to mayor of Bardiów Aleksy Gleckner asking for arrangements with a craftsman to make stone frames for windows and doors. Starosta describes precisely dimensions of the apertures, suggesting that they should be made simplici et forti, ut ad castrum (simple and strong as in the stronghold). At the same time, they were to resemble those from Bardiów’s town hall, i.e. they should be made in the Renaissance style. Only few small fragments of this masonry survived till our times. Sparse finds uncovered during the excavations allow us to assume that the castle was dressed with splendour worthy of Kraków’s bishops. The interiors were decorated with the marbles and magnificent stoves. Muszyna’s tiles strongly resemble those from Wawel, from the workshop of Bartosz, stove fitter from Kazimierz near Kraków, who worked at the commission of King Zygmunt Stary. The main entrance to the residence was perhaps decorated with a stone slab or cartouche bearing Abdank coat-of-arms. Its fragment was found during the excavations. This coat-of-arms was used by Jan Konarski, bishop of Kraków in the years 1503-1525, to whom should be attributed the completion of the Renaissance construction. In late 16th century, or in the beginning of the 17th century, the castle burned down again. Traces of intensive fire have been discovered by archaeologists over the whole area of the complex. After this cataclysm, residential buildings were not rebuilt and the castle was used only as a watchtower. Vast complex with a bishop’s mansion was erected at the foot of Góra Zamkowa. It was the place where staroastas lived, too. However, the castle was not forgotten. In 1647, bishop Piotr Gembicki recommended repairing the roofs and buildings. It was probably at that time that buttresses were added to defensive walls from the west and north, and the foundations of one of the towers’ buttresses were repaired. From the document we also know that the bishop recommended keeping a two-people watch, reinforced five times in periods of danger. Preparations for defence were made in the castle during the Swedish Deluge in 1655. Trunks and rocks were gathered. In later periods though, sources become silent about the stronghold. It is not mentioned in further inventories of church inspections. By the moment when bishop’s estates were taken over by the Austrian authorities in 1781, the castle had been probably significantly ruined, as it was not shown on the Austrian von Mieg’s map (1772-1782). On a cadastral map from 1846 there is only a signature next to the name “Zamczysko” – a term used in Old Polish to describe the already non-existing objects. In the 19th century, picturesque ruins attracted attention of numerous lovers of indigenous antiquities. The castle was many times described (Sz. Morawski, M. Maciszewski) and sketched (i.a. B. Z. Stęczyński, N. Orda, J. Matejko). However, these works should be viewed critically, through the prism of their authors’ artistic visions.
Archaeologists entered the ruins of the Muszyna castle several times. Their works were aimed first of all at exposing the walls almost totally buried beneath the ground. Thanks to their efforts, significant part of defensive perimeter and fragments of inner architecture are visible on the surface today. However, the excavations are not confined to revealing the walls. The excavated soil, together with artefacts it yields, is a subject of careful analysis. These findings inform us about construction activities, invasions, fires or living standard of inhabitants, composing the so far unknown history of the castle.
Excavation works have yielded several thousand fragments of tiles and ceramic vessels. Among them is a very decorative pottery from Bohemia and Hungary. A few thousand metal objects were discovered as well, being mainly hand-forged nails, sheets and small bars. A collection of militaria is very rich – especially numerous are crossbows elements (crossbow bolt-heads, hooks for drawing crossbows). There are also fragments –very rare in Poland – of barrels of hand cannon, one of the oldest types of firearms. The usage of firearms is also confirmed by metal balls of various calibre, and flints for flintlocks, used to ignite gunpowder. Frequent among the elements of horse and horseman equipment are horseshoes, bits, fragments of spurs and stirrups. Among dress elements and ornaments one should mention variously shaped belt buckles, rings and wedding rings. One of the latter, with a Gothic inscription in German “hilf gott maria” (Help God, Mary), was probably lost by a soldier from Tomasz Taraczay’s army when storming the castle in 1474. However, one of the most valuable finds is a fitting of a book-binding strap, decorated with Gothic letter “S”. The finds include also several Hungarian and Polish coins, among others, of Władysław Warneńczyk, Wladysław Pogrobowiec, Maciej Korwin, Jan Olbracht and Zygmunt III Waza.
The works on the castle are continued. Every season brings new, sometimes surprising discoveries. Though the excavations have not been finished yet, we can already claim that the Muszyna castle (at least in its Renaissance phase) was not only a frontier fortress. It was intended to be a castle both defensive and modern, reflecting the then current fashion and the position of its owners – bishops of Kraków.
Of course, the Muszyna castle has its legends about deep dungeons hiding treasures, and a secret tunnel to the market square. And as there is a grain of truth in every legend, the castle may still bring us many surprises…

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