Książ Castle (Fürstenstein in German), located in Lower Silesia, is the third-largest castle in Poland and one of the biggest in Europe, with over 400 rooms (about 600 if you include service rooms). The castle stands proudly atop a steep cliff overlooking the nearby verdant valleys, covered with trees and flowing creeks. The beautiful gardens and baroque exterior makes it difficult to think of Książ as anything but the perfect fairytale castle. Once called “The Pearl of Silesia” or “The Key to Silesia”, the Książ of today not only offers beautiful vistas for its visitors but also tells its fascinating story, filled with wartime secrets and scars from the ravages of war.
There is a lot to see and do in the vicinity of the castle that you should reserve at least a day to see it. Thanks to my tremendous planning skills, we spread our time there over three days ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I didn’t prebook tickets, and they sold like fresh buns on Sunday morning, resulting in me having to buy them for the following days.
A short history of the castle
The Książ castle was built at the end of the 13th century (1288-1292) by Bolko I, who also built many other defense fortifications in the area. In its turbulent history, the castle passed from hand to hand, for some time being a Czech, Hungarian, Prussian or Russian property. Ultimately, however, it returned to Polish hands. More than once, the castle was changed either due to wars or remodeling.
On 11th June 1509, Johann von Haugwitz sold the castle and the lands to the knight Kunz von Hoberg (later known as Hochberg). From then on, the castle belonged to his lineage for centuries, being significantly reshaped twice until the Nazis confiscated it in 1941. They started the third renovation of the castle, destroying significant parts of it and drilling tunnels underneath as a part of the mysterious project RIESE. The Russians, who came after the Nazis, continued to devastate the building, resulting in utter destruction. The ravaged castle continued decaying, plundered by the local population until 1956 – 1962, when the conservator of monuments started a slow restoration process, which continues to this day. Some of the paintings and items from the castle found their way back after the turmoils of war, but significant parts of them are still missing, maybe lost forever. What is left are old photographs, giving testimony of the splendor the castle once had.
Książ castle (Fürstenstein)
There are different tours available for those that want to see how the castle looks inside, and it might be challenging to decide what to chose. We got so captivated with the history of the place we ended up going to all of them. So what is the difference between them:
Most visitors choose the day tour with audioguide, where they can roam the rooms and halls of the castle at their own pace. That was also the tour we opted for, as we wanted to learn more about the history of this fascinating castle.
I must admit, it was the best audioguide system I have ever used. It was dangling on my neck, and I didn’t have to bother to switch between tracks when I moved around as everything was done automatically. I could just focus on the story and the room I was in. The history was kept interesting, without too many boring details that would make me wanna skip ( I still remember some tour couple of years back, where the audioguide kept telling me dates of furniture creation in every single room, brrr). Kudos to them! Plus, the audioguide was in English (and many other languages). One tour without me having to whisper translations into my boyfriend’s ear 😀
The tour led through the oldest medieval-Renaissance part of the castle, in which there are rooms such as the Hunters’ Hall, the Black Courtyard, the Knights’ Hall, and the Konrad Hall, known once as the small ballroom. We also had the opportunity to see the baroque part and exquisite Maximilian Hall, which is the best-preserved baroque representative hall in Lower Silesia. There were a couple of exhibitions showcasing some paintings and photographs of Książ and family from before the war.
After roaming around the halls, we finished the tour in the castle gardens. The first terraces at the castle were built in the 18th century, but the final shape was given to them by Princess Daisy at the beginning of the 20th century. Fourteen terraces occupy an area of over 2 hectares, and even though not all of them are accessible for tourists, those that are, make for a beautiful finale of the trip.
We wandered the eerie corridors of this enormous castle in almost total darkness, with only torchlights illuminating the halls. Guide told us many stories about the castle, and once in a while, a ghost showed up to tell us theirs.
But what differentiates this tour from the daily one is that we accessed areas off-limits to the everyday visitors. The guide led us to the 4th, 5th floor and the underground tunnel meant for deliveries. While the 4th floor was living quarters of over 300 servants, the barren 5th floor was once one of the best-equipped kitchens in Europe. Both floors showed how the castle looked after Russians withdrew and the enormity of the destruction they left behind. It showcased how much effort was put into renovating the building and how much more work is still left.
If you are interested in a small night adventure, remember to book the tickets beforehand on the Książ Castle website. They sell out quite quickly in the busy summer months. Interestingly, there are different night tours with different themes, so check out the description before booking.
Unfortunately, this tour is only in Polish, so you either need to have a translator like my boyfriend did (yey me for my new instant translation skills), or you have to deal with not understanding it. However, the story is a massive part of this tour, so it’s a shame it is not possible to do it in English.
Underground tourist route aka Project RIESE
The one-and-a-half-kilometer underground route led us to through underground corridors created by Nazis during II WW. When the Nazis took over the castle in 1941, they started remodeling the castle and building the tunnels underneath it as part of the RIESE project, which was one of the most mysterious construction projects of II WW. Out of four objects that are open to visitors (Osówka, Włodarz, Walimskie Drifts, and the Książ Castle), Książ is the most finished one, with 70% of corridors hardened with concrete. It is rumored that Książ was supposed to be headquarters for the Supreme Command of the Third Reich and the personal bunker of Adolf Hitler.
According to the notes of Adolf Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, as well as other available documents, it is possible that the tunnels were even twice as extensive as those which we already know about – that is, 3,200 square meters, according to measurements of the concrete brought to the castle. The investigations into the mystery and discovery of new corridors are hindered because of seismic equipment and some fancy NASA toys hidden underneath the castle. But who knows, maybe we will find mysterious treasures left by Nazis hidden in some secret chamber one day.
There was an audioguide available in English for rent at the ticket office, though we skipped it as we got used to just winging it with live translations. My only complaint was that they played a lot of videos (which were pretty cool), which were missing English subtitles. It wouldn’t pose a significant effort to add them, and all foreigners during my tour agreed that it would be a fantastic addition.
If you are interested in the underground tour, remember to book the tickets beforehand on the Książ Castle website. They sell out quite quickly in the busy summer months. It took an hour after the castle opened for them to be gone entirely for all tours during the day.
Książ Castle hosts different events throughout the year, which sounds quite interesting. In the spring, you can participate in the “Flower and Art Festival“, where visitors can admire the unique flower arrangements in the castle interiors made by world-renowned florists.
The castle also hosts the “Lower Silesian Festival of Mysteries“, where participants can engage in lectures, film screenings, exhibitions, and historical reconstructions.
During the autumn months, the castle organizes “Autumn Meetings with Art” where tourists can take part in painting exhibitions and classical music concerts.
Finally, when it starts getting dark outside, castle gardens will start shining with illuminations portraying knights, royal peacocks, and fountains of light.
So make sure, before your visit, what else might be happening in the castle. You might be in for a pleasant surprise!
After you are done touring the castle, check out the viewpoint 10 minutes away from the castle grounds, from which you can see the beautiful Książ castle tucked among the trees. We managed to get there right before the sunset and were welcomed by a marvelous display of colors!
Hochberg’s walking path
It is a 5 km picturesque path that leads along the Pałecznica River gorge to the ruins of old Książ castle and then back to Książ. Thanks to me wanting to see a million things during the day, we didn’t have that much time, and we only managed to walk and then run part of the path. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the hike immensely. There were almost no people on the trail, and given a chance, we would love to try hiking the whole loop. There are many signs along the way, so you will not be lost.
Old Książ Castle (Alte Burg Fürstenstein)
Old Książ Castle was built in the 1794 – 1797 for Hans Heinrich VI von Hochberg. This 18th-century building was styled as the then fashionable ruins in the Gothic style. Because who wouldn’t want some cool ruins on their property 🙂 To rebuild the ruins, the architect used different original elements from other historical buildings.
Archaeological research conducted showed that the ruins were built in place of a relic of a medieval castle. The researchers found that at the turn of the 9th and 10th centuries, there was already a stronghold here, and at the end of the 13th century – a brick stronghold, the founder of which was probably the prince of Świdnica and Jawor, Bolko I Raw.
The 18th-century castle’s had several rooms, including a prison with a torture chamber, a courtroom, an arsenal, a bedroom, a picture gallery. The owners of Książ used it to receive distinguished guests and organize parties and games. In the mid-nineteenth century, the castle was transformed into a tourist facility. A restaurant, kitchen, and sleeping rooms were on the ground floor, and the castle functioned as a small museum.
During II WW, the underground of Stary Książ was supposed to be used to produce weapons. There are speculations that here the Germans were implementing a project called “Chronos”, under which the device “Die Glocke” (Bell) was to be created. In May 1945, when the soldiers of the Soviet Army took over Książ, the castle burned down completely. To this day, small fragments of the main building, chapel, tower, two renaissance portals, and pointed windows have been preserved. The corridors of the castle have been bricked up, and the cellars have been filled in.
We kind of hoped to see the Książ castle from the ruins, but dense forest made it impossible. However, thanks to my drone, I could take pictures of both castles in the setting sun’s light.
The Palm House in Wałbrzych was founded on the initiative of the last representative of the Hochberg family at the Książ Castle – Jan Henryk XV. The prince built it for his wife Maria Teresa Cornwallis – West, called Daisy, who was a lover of beautiful flowers and original plants. On an area of 1,900 square meters, in addition to a palm house, there are also greenhouses, Japanese-style gardens, a rosarium, a fruit and vegetable garden, and a shrub-growing area.
During the light festival, the palm house is illuminated with decorations of animals and plants.
The palm house is located 2 km away from the castle, and you can buy a combined ticket to enter the palm house and the castle.