Castle of the Week 126 - Tenczyn Castle
Seated atop a volcanic outcrop about 25 kilometers west of Kraków, Tenczyn Castle was once one of the largest castles in Poland. In its prime it was often regarded on par with the royal residence at Wawel Castle in Kraków in terms of beauty and magnitude. In its ruined state today, it remains a breathtaking monument to Poland’s medieval past.
The first lord of Tenczyn was Andrzej, of the prominent Topor family, Voivode of Krakow (Voivode was a commanding rank in the Polish military). He chose a new name for his family line - Tęczyński - meaning “of Tenczyn”; to mark his affiliation with the new castle he had built.
The castle was constructed of stone on a site previously fortified in timber by his father, Nawoj of Morawica, after 1319. Initially, Tenczyn Castle had three round towers and one square gate tower, all linked by curtain walls with residential buildings in the north and east side of the bailey.
Tenczyn has been mentioned in written sources since the beginning of the 15th century. Numerous medieval expansions are well documented, such as a new Keep in the north-west corner of the bailey, redesign of the east wing for representative purposes, and new apartments in the north wing. A notable manuscript dated from 1404 also denotes construction of a chapel on the site.
The castle’s importance and high defensive quality were confirmed when it was chosen as a place of imprisonment for some of the highest ranking officials of the Teutonic Knights Order, who were taken hostage by the Polish king after their defeat at the battle of Grunwald in 1410. To commemorate that event, one of the castle’s towers was named Grunwaldzka.
In 1570, the castle was totally renovated by Jan Tęczyński, Voivode of Kraków, making it one of the finest examples of the Polish Renaissance. It became a lush noble residence with attics crowning it towers and modern galleries surrounding its main courtyard. In 1610 he completed the renovations by adding a splendid chapel and artillery emplacements making it a thoroughly modern fortress.
Squat, round, multi-storey artillery towers and bastions were added to the south and the east. A magnificent round barbican led to a sixty meter long vaulted entrance tunnel which created a unique defensive feature. All of the castle’s walls were enhanced to facilitate the increasing use of gunpowder in warfare.
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An Old Map From a Text Book
Jan Tęczyński died in 1638, leaving no male heir and only one daughter. She soon married Łukasz Opaliński with Tenczyn as her dowry. The castle then served as an administrative centre for the Opaliński family’s estate but was no longer to be a family seat.
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Plan of Tenczyn Castle
A – High Castle (Inner Bailey)
In 1656, during the Swedish invasion of Poland, known as “the Deluge”, Tenczyn was captured by Swedish troops through deception and without a fight. They plundered the castle looking for treasure and eventually burned it during their retreat in 1657. It changed hands a few times, and went respectively to the Lubomirski, Sieniawski and Czartoryski families, who all failed in their efforts to return the castle to its former splendour.
Lightning struck one of the castle’s towers in 1768 leading to a devastating fire that sealed its fate. There was nothing left to rescue - Tenczyn was abandoned and locked up. In 1782, the burial remains of the last of the Tęczyński family were removed from their original place in the castle’s chapel to the local parish church in the village of Tenczynek. In 1787, the castle ruins were visited by the last of the Polish kings, Stanisław August Poniatowski.
Conservation work began in the early 20th century and continued after World War II when Tenczyn was nationalised by the Polish state, resulting in the castle’s preservation as a “permanent ruin”.
Author’s Note: Special thanks goes to Michal Ryszard Koskowski & Maciej Stepowski for making this article possible. It was Maciej who spearheaded the project providing translations into English and sharing some of his excellent personal photos of the castle. Michal provided content and English translations for the article. Both really have a desire to preserve this great piece of Poland’s history for future generations to enjoy.
Write-up by Duke of York.
*) denotes a former staff member.