Zamek obecnie. Fot. arch. UMIGU Muszyna

The castle in Muszyna once again towers over the surrounding area. The stronghold waited 300 years to be rebuilt

The castle in Muszyna – a fortress towering over the town, which for several centuries was just a ruin overgrown with forest hidden at the southern end of the Koziejówka range – has once again returned to the landscape and impresses with its silhouette. Rebuilt last year, the site was nominated by National Geographic Traveler magazine for the title CUDU POLSKI 2024.

The several-year-long efforts to restore the splendour of the castle in Muszyna were not an easy task. No plans, engravings, paintings or other source materials that would clearly define the original appearance of the fortress have survived to the present day. Only secondary materials or those depicting the far-reaching degradation of the castle and, eventually, its ruins, have survived. Due to the fact that Muszyna used to belong to the estate of the bishops of Kraków, attempts were made to search for documentation in the archives of Kraków, Vienna and even the Vatican, but this did not add much to the existing knowledge.

The castle in Muszyna today. Photo: arch. UMIG Muszyna

The final basis for the architectural solutions adopted was a series of archaeological and architectural studies. Thanks to these, the remains of the walls, which had been hidden underground for several hundred years, saw the light of day and the outline of the castle and its accompanying buildings became visible. It has also been partially established what the castle looked like at its foundations. A hypothesis regarding a Hungarian raid on the stronghold in 1474 has also been confirmed. Jan Długosz described the surrender of the stronghold in Muszyna without a fight, while Hungarian sources described a two-day battle, which was confirmed by finds of militaria within the castle and the stronghold. Interestingly, it is rare that archaeological finds are dated by period, e.g. finds from the 15th century, while in the case of Muszyna even a specific year can be indicated.

Castle in Muszyna after partial reconstruction. Photo Ffolas, CC BY-SA 3.0 PL, via Wikimedia Commons

The research results obtained in recent years provided the basis for establishing the supposed appearance of the castle and lifting the fortress from the rubble. In 2013, after the excavations had been completed, the relics of the walls were secured and the then ruins of the bastion were raised from the basement level to the first floor and provided a viewing platform with a beautiful panorama of the city. The ruin remained in this form until October 2020, when field work began to give the castle an architectural form and to rebuild some of the missing walls and structures. The task was undertaken by the company Przedsiębiorstwo Budowlane “BUDMEX”.

Ruins in 2013. Photo author: mamik/, Licence: CC-BY-SA 3.0

This was a logistically very demanding task. The location of the castle on a difficult-to-access hill forced the contractor to supply raw materials in a more limited way than is the case on normal building sites. The stones used to build the tower were crushed in the courtyard and the castle was successively erected, piece by piece. Now, the individual floors of the tower are no longer used for defending the borders, but for the historical education of all visitors to the fortress. On each floor, visitors can learn about the history of Muszyna, as well as legends about the castle or the town itself. The last floor of the tower, on the other hand, offers a panoramic view of the town and gives us an idea of why this particular spot was chosen for the location of the watchtower. In the southern part of the fortress, on the site of the former summer residence of the bishops of Cracow, there is an exhibition hall and a viewing terrace on its roof.

Zamek w Muszynie
Castle today. Photo arch. UMIGU Muszyna

The value of the works on the castle in Muszyna between 2019 and 2023 totalled nearly PLN 13.5 million. Only 22% of this amount was spent from the municipal budget. The remaining funds were obtained from external funds from EU Funds and government grants, as well as the Muszyna Key Association in Muszyna.

Castle now. Photo arch. UMIGU Muszyna

History of the castle in Muszyna

It is suspected that the castle was built in the 14th century, during the reign of King Casimir the Great. Over time it changed its appearance to keep up with the defensive and residential functions it was intended to perform. The Muszyna stronghold in its original form did not last long. Severe erosion of the rocks building the Koziejówka massif at this site, errors in the soil compaction and construction of the foundations, and the poor quality of the masonry work led to a major building disaster in 1455. At that time, the gate and the adjacent fortification wall to the north and south were destroyed.

Zamek w Muszynie
Drawing reconstruction of the castle in Muszyna in two construction phases: medieval (left) and early 16th century (right). The author of the drawings is Jerzy Serafin

Such massive damage was repaired in a makeshift manner due to a lack of resources. The effects of the 1455 catastrophe were felt sooner than anyone could have predicted. In 1474, Muszyn was invaded by the Hungarian army. The fortress burned down and was never rebuilt. Repair work on the fortress dragged on for years. The castle regained its full splendour only at the beginning of the 16th century, when it received a Renaissance makeover.

“Muszyna with the fork of Palocha castle in the Sandek region from the south…”. Public domain photo, via Wikimedia Commons

At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, the castle was consumed by such a massive fire that even the walls were burnt through. Most of the buildings were not rebuilt after this cataclysmic event, and the castle’s importance as a military facility declined markedly. The later history of the fortress is almost completely unknown. The neglected building probably became deserted in the second half of the 17th century. When the Austrian army occupied Muszyn in June 1770, the castle was already a ruin. For decades the castle walls served as a source of stone for the construction of other buildings. In the 1870s, a quarry was established just below the fortress, which worked for the construction of the Tarnów-Orlov railway line. The cutting of the stones may have accelerated the degradation of the walls.

Zamek w Muszynie
1905, castle ruins and railway bridge over Muszynka. Source: Polon Digital National Library

The desolation of the castle also had its share of treasure hunters, who were allegedly hidden in the vaults. For decades they had been digging through the ruins, dismantling the walls and pulling out the most interesting objects from the ground, and in the process destroying the remains of the earth layers that were valuable to science. Even before the Second World War, most of the castle had become overgrown with forest. Only fragments of the tower and sections of the fortification walls on the south side remained visible on the surface. Only archaeological work carried out in the 21st century gave an idea of the size of the castle, its shape, its defensive and residential character, its inhabitants, and the materials that were used in its construction.

The castle in Muszyna was among the other attractions nominated in the “Wonders of Poland” plebiscite of the National Geographic Magazine Poland. The nationwide competition aims to promote exceptional places in the country. You can support your favourites via the CUDA POLSKI website. Voting will continue until 5 June, and the winners of this year’s event will be announced on 10 June.


Read also: Architecture in Poland | Renovation | Monument | Curiosities | Travels

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