The geographical region located between the cities of Kraków and Częstochowa in southern Poland (see the map below) is called the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland or Polish Jura (short for Polish Jurassic Highland). It is famous for a rich ecosystem, and its untouched parts are protected as nature reserves. Here you can see landscapes with white limestone rock formations that were formed milions of years ago in the Jurassic period of Mesozoic era, surrounded by patches of flat meadows and hilly areas, with wild forests preserving a great variety of protected species and plants. Various fossils from the Jurassic period were found here, as well as early human settlements from around 12,000 years ago in many of the region’s attractive cave formations full of flint rocks.
Nowadays the region is a popular destination for nature lovers, and also for castle lovers interested in early Polish history – the region houses over 20 of ancient Polish defensive castles that were protecting Kraków’s northwestern borders at the beginning of the previous millenium.
The castles are connected as a so-called ‘Trail of the Eagle’s Nests‘ (in Polish: Szlak Orlich Gniazd). Nest of an eagle is quite a common symbol from Polish mythology. It is referencing one of the oldest of Polish legends which tells a story about Lech (semi-legendary founder of the early tribe of Polans from around 6th century AD) who chose a location for the tribe’s first capital city after he saw a beautiful sight of a magnificent white eagle flying up from its nest, contrasted with red evening sky (read more about the legend here). In general, an ‘Eagle’s Nest’ is a symbol of the oldest centers of the early Polish state – of the medieval Piast dynasty who started using the image of the white eagle as the Polish coats of arms.
Most of the castles located on the Trail of the Eagle’s Nests are in preserved ruins nowadays. They were destroyed in the past centuries during the many wars Poland went through or simply abandoned, no longer needed as fortresses. Majority of them was built in 14th century during the reign of the king Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir III the Great), but many local tales stress out that the castles were erected over much older defensive structures of the early Polish state (or even of the early proto-Polish Slavic tribe of Vistulans). Each castle on the Trail has its own history and legends, making the whole Trail a unique and mysterious route to discover.
In this article you can read about a few interesting castles to see on the Trail:
- Pieskowa Skała – with a legend about a cruel alchemist
- Ojców – with a legend about lovers saved by a good king
- Ogrodzieniec – with a legend about a ghost of a black dog
- Bobolice – with a legend about twin brothers and a treasure protected by a witch
1. Pieskowa Skała Castle
One of the most well-preserved castles on the Trail of the Eagles’ Nests is Pieskowa Skała Castle. It is located in Prądnik Valley that belongs to small Ojców Nature Reserve (meaning roughly ‘Nature Reserve of the Fathers’), only around 40 minutes by car from Kraków. It is also one of the southernmost castles located on the Trail.
This castle was largely rebuilt during the era of Renaissance and nowadays hosts a museum where you can see reconstructed interiors used by Polish magnates in that era. The castle was eventually serving only as a hunting mansion. Its main courtyard is surrounded by beautifully renovated renaissance galleries, and one of terracess which had been cut into stone shows reconstructed renaissance gardens.
Legends say that count Piotr Szafraniec, owner of the Pieskowa Skala Castle in 15th century, was experimenting with alchemy and black magick. His passion was to find a way of obtaining gold from common metals. He was also an atrocious man. Pieskowa Skała was famous for lavish feasts organized by count Szafraniec. He loved inviting merchants, but when the guests were coming back drunk to their chambers, hidden traps were opening under their feet in the floor and they were falling down onto sharp rocks. This way the count was collecting valuable goods, left by the merchants on their way, for his mysterious experiments.
Another tale is connected to one of castle’s towers, named ‘Dorotka’. It is said that the count Szafraniec fell in love with a charming girl named Dorota and decided to imprison her inside one of the tower’s rooms to starve her until she agrees to marry him. People say that she lasted there for a long time thanks to her faithful dog that kept bringing pieces of food to her doors, sneaking between legs of guards who got to like the kind-hearted girl. But eventually Dorota jumped off the window upon hearing that the evil count managed to capture and kill her true love.
Close to this castle you can see some of the Polish Jura’s most important symbols – single limestone rock named ‘Hercules’ Bludgeon’* and a pass called ‘Cracovian Gate’.
*The ‘Hercules’ Bludgeon’ is a modern name. In the oldest of the local tales this ‘Bludgeon’ belonged to king Krak, founder of the city of Kraków, who stuck his weapon into the ground as an offering for gods after the victory over the Wawel Dragon.
2. Ojców Castle
This castle is located not far from the Pieskowa Skała Castle and close to a village of Ojców which gave the name also to the Ojców Nature Reserve.
Ojców Castle (name can be loosely translated as a ‘Castle of the Fathers’) is said to be one of the oldest and most mysterious on the Trail of the Eagles’ Nests. According to old local legends, there was once a defensive Slavic fortress built by duke Wiesław who was related to evil king Popiel (known from the old Polish legend about the Mouse Tower – read more about it here). The fortress was said to be a typical West Slavic type of a gord (gród), using the natural shapes of the landscape and protected by high walls built skillfully of wood, soil and clay. The stone structure, remnants of which we can see nowadays, was erected only during the reign of the king Kazimierz in 14th century.
There are many legends about the past events in the Ojców Castle. One of them tells about duke Skarbimir who owned the castle in 12th century, during the reign of the king Bolesław Krzywousty (Boleslav III the Wrymouth). Skarbimir had one sister, who lived in the nearby Ogrodzieniec Castle (see below) with her beautiful daughter Witychna (or Witysława). Once he visited the sister’s castle and fell in love with the young Witychna, who at that time was promised (engaged) to her great love named Piotr Szczebrzyc.
Not caring about the convenances nor blood connections the old Skarbimir proposed to Witychna. She refused, but Skarbimir couldn’t forget her and jealousy was eating him up inside. Eventually he kidnapped the young maiden and imprisoned her in one of his best chambers in the Ojców Castle. He was desperate and wanted to keep her inside until she agrees to marry him out of her own will.
Piotr didn’t wait long and tried to free the love of his life, but got captured by Skarbimir’s people and jailed in the castle’s dungeons. Moreover, Skarbimir started planning to cut Piotr’s head off in front of Witychna so that she would stop having the faith in her fiance. Thankfully, informations about these plans made their way to the ears of the king Bolesław, who ordered his knights to free the young couple from captivity. They made it right on time. Skarbimir lost all of his titles and was blinded for his disrespectfulness. King Bolesław personally blessed Witychna and Piotr during their wedding day, and gave them the ownership rights to the Ojców Castle where they lived happily until their late age.
This legend was so popular in the past, that it became the main plot line of a romantic drama ‘Narzeczona z Ogrodzieńca’ (transl. ‘Fiancée from Ogrodzieniec Castle’) written by the female poet Jadwiga ‘Deotyma’ Łuszczewska in 19th century.
3. Ogrodzieniec Castle
The ruins of the Ogrodzieniec Castle are the biggest and probably the most interesting on the Trail of the Eagles’ Nests. This castle was built over and between natural shapes of limestone rocks, and looks like growing out of the stone formations, not caring much about regular geometrical order. In the past it had a long system of defensive walls with towers surrounding the whole hill, and some parts of it can be still seen on the site.
In the present day it is a popular destination for wedding photoshoots, and many various events are organized among these romantic ruins such as concerts, folklore or medieval fairs, and fantasy gatherings. The castle is in a state of preserved ruins, with only some parts renovated for safety reasons.
The Ogrodzieniec Castle had a turbulent history which left numerous tales and legends behind. It is haunted by many various ghosts and demons, and the local community was always afraid to go to the ruins at night. Old people from the nearby villages claimed that horses and cattle were always refusing to go close to the ruins even though the greenest and tallest grass is growing on that hill. Sometimes a ghost of a black dog is seen running around the castle.
The popular legend about the black dog from Ogrodzieniec date back to 17th century when the castle was under ownership of count Stanisław Warszycki. The count was known as a brave warrior who fought in victorious battles during the Swedish Deluge (Swedish attacks on Poland in 17th century), as a great host who always had time for his guests, and as a generous patron for local artists and poets.
But the count Warszycki had also a deep dark side which he tried to hide from the world. He was extremely cruel towards his enemies and political opposition. It is said that he changed some of the castle’s underground caves into torture chambers and loved to witness and supervise the torment of the victims personally. He was also atrocious towards his women. According to old stories, his first wife was often whipped on the courtyard in front of the whole staff for her ‘insubordination’, and his second wife was bricked alive inside one of the castle’s walls. The count had one daughter, but on the day of her wedding he refused to hand out the rich dowry – this great treasure is said to be still hidden somewhere in secret caves under the castle.
Local tales say that he didn’t die of a natural cause. A devil or czort (Slavic demon comparable to a devil) captured him one day, and the count Warszycki was turned into a black dog with burning red eyes. He comes back to his old castle in this form to guard the dowry treasure.
4. Bobolice Castle
Bobolice Castle was rebuilt by the current owner just a few years ago, and the whole process of renovation and rebuilding had lasted for over 12 years. It remains one of the most interesting castles on the Trail to visit. The rebuilt parts of the castle have undoubtely a trace of a modern touch (what makes the investment controversial among some scholars) but still maintain to reflect the building’s carefully researched former look and late-medieval spirit.
The castle hosts many events and is known as a good concert destination. You can also rent its chambers for a wedding or other events.
Old local legends say that the Bobolice Castle and a nearby Mirów Castle belonged once to two brothers named Bobol and Mir. They were twins and even their closest servants couldn’t tell them apart. They were taking part in many wars and were both wealthy, hiding the captured treasures in a long secret tunnel that is supposedly connecting the two castles under the ground. These treasures were guarded by a skillful witch, and the brothers often asked her for advices or charms.
One day the count Bobol returned from a skirmish not only with treasures but also with a captive – young woman named Agnieszka. He placed her in a luxorious underground chamber by the secret tunnel, but quickly noticed that his brother Mir was becoming overly interested in the beautiful woman, and she as well was asking way too often about his brother. First time in his life Bobol felt such a strong jealousy. As it turned out, not without a reason.
Full of suspicions, Bobol sneaked into the tunnel when the witch was out for an annual sabbath, and found Mir together with Agnieszka in her bed. Bobol flew into fury. He killed his brother in a violent fight, and walled the entrance to the chamber with Agnieszka remaning inside.
Later on Bobol couldn’t live consciously, thinking about the terrible crime he commited blinded with anger. He started drinking heavily and one day, when he was drowning his sorrow in wine, a single lightning appeared from a dark cloud and killed him on the spot. Legends say that the beautiful Agnieszka is still living in the underground chamber, guarded by the witch and her magick.
Want to read more legends about other castles from the Trail of the Eagles’ Nests? Let me know by leaving me a message, and I will translate more informations for you! :)
References to read in Polish:
Check also other Polish legends I described on my blog:
- Lech, Czech and Rus, legend about founder of Poland and the first Polish capital city
- Warsaw Mermaid who protects Polish capital city
- Wawel Dragon, legend from Kraków
- Evil king Popiel and a Mouse Tower
- Mr Twardowski, a Renaissance alchemist who made a pact with a devil
- City turned into stone
Please leave a proper credit and a link to this article in case of quoting. With regards, author: Lamus Dworski.
6 thoughts on “Mysterious trail of castles in the Polish Jurassic Highland”