Historia
Historia

History of the castle

The defence structures of the Saltworks Castle in Wieliczka comprise buildings located in the north-western part of the city, which, from the end of the 13th century to 1945, were the seat of the Cracow Saltworks Board, i.e. the salt mines and the Saltworks in Bochnia and Wieliczka. They constitute the only facility of this type in the entire country and at the same time are an excellent example of Medieval and modern architecture related with development of salt mining in Europe.

“The House Amidst the Salt Mine”

Zamek Żupny, I poł. XV w.

Saltworks Castle, 1st half of 15 C

The building located in the centre of the castle complex was the seat of the manager of Cracow’s Saltworks. The oldest part of the facility is its eastern section, erected at the end of the 13th century. In the 14th century, its western part was extended by a one-storey building with a unique richness of vaults. In the 16th century, it was extended once again in a Renaissance style: its western part was extended with a second storey, new vaults decorated with coffers, beams and an attic topping the walls were also added. The oldest part was built with the use of sandstone from the Beskidy Mountains, and the extension of the castle was made with the use of bricks. In January 1945, the castle was demolished to the cellars and remained in ruin until 1976. Reconstruction of the building was completed in 1984. Apart from the original Medieval cellars, there is a Gothic Room, characteristic of the time of Casimir the Great, with ribbed vaults supported by a single pillar, which was a unique solution in lay construction. The original keystones are worth paying attention to, as well as the three ribs and fragments of stone-work embedded in the reconstructed vault. The premises house an exhibition devoted to the history of Wieliczka from prehistoric times to the 20th century and the sole collection of saltshakers in Poland.

“The Salt Mine House” (Northern Castle – the seat of the Museum)

Construction had already commenced in the 1st half of the 14th century and was completed in the 15th century. The ground floor housed utility rooms, and on the first floor, there was a chapel and residential chambers for high-ranking officials. The cellars featured a prison known as the “groch”. The building retained its form, but lost its rich furnishings (furniture, floors). It is adorned with portals and window frames. After renovation was completed in 1992, it housed the Cracow Saltworks Museum. The northern wall of a communication passage connecting “The Salt Mine House” with “The House Amidst the Salt Mine” features the coat of arms of the Boner family (salt makers from the 1st half of the 16th century).

Oldest defence walls from the end of the 13th century

The oldest oval-shaped defence wall of the castle, made of sandstone from the Beskidy Mountains and dating from the end of the 13th century, surrounded the original area of the castle (44 x 52 m); in the centre, there was a 16 x 10 m structure and an entrance in the vicinity of the north-eastern corner.

Southern Building (Southern Castle)

The ground floor was constructed between 1834 and 1836 after demolition of wooden utility buildings. The first floor was added in 1905. It housed offices, apartments for guards and janitors, a coach house and a store of fire extinguishing equipment.

Kitchen Walls

The kitchen walls date from the 2nd half of the 15th century. The four pillars in the middle are the remains of a kiln structure. This was the first mass catering facility in Poland, where mine employees and salt carriers received free meals.

Tower

This unique 14th century tower functioned as a castle fortification and along with the walls of the castle complex created a defence system for the city on the north-western side. It housed a prison, a shooting gallery and, temporarily, the living quarters of the chaplain of the Saltworks. The tower balcony and windows provide a beautiful view onto the castle courtyard. It is worthwhile to pay attention to the numerous items discovered during archaeological research within the range of the castle, such as ceramics, knives, horseshoes, spurs, stirrups, iron bolts and axes, as well as stone and cast-iron cannon balls.

Mining reserve with the oldest shaft in Wieliczka

The mining reserve with the oldest shaft in Wieliczka dates from the middle of the 13th century. The 3.40 x 2.40 m shaft was reinforced with wooden beams and a stretcher structure supported on four poles. In its fill, apart from ceramics, wooden pegs, whetstones, iron hooks and fragments of a shaped clay bowl, two ropes made of linden phloem were also found (a signalling line and a transportation line). Iron wedges for separating salt rocks were found in the vicinity of the shaft.

Castle was added in 2013 to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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