When I watched the Witcher series on Netflix, I had a feeling I knew the castle from somewhere. After a little bit of Googling, I found out it was Ogrodzieniec Castle, which is located less than an hour away from my family home! So when my boyfriend and I went for a short family visit, being Witcher’s fans, we couldn’t resist visiting the castle.
Trail of the Eagles’ Nests
Ogrodzieniec Castle is one of the most magnificent fortresses of the Trail of the Eagles’ Nests – a stunning biking and walking trail leading through medieval castles located between Kraków and Częstochowa. It used to be a defensive line on the borders of the Kingdom of Poland, the construction of which was most likely commissioned by Casimir the Great. This king significantly transformed Poland, improving its security and welfare. There is this saying that he “found Poland wooden and left it bricked”, reflecting his contribution to improving medieval Poland.
The Eagles’ Nests consisted of 25 castles erected on high, hard-to-reach limestone rocks, hence the name that refers to real eagles’ nests, which are also built in the highest, inaccessible places. There are a dozen more towers, watchtowers, and other fortified buildings along the way. As Kraków used to be the Polish capital, it was crucial to defend the surrounding densely inhabited areas and significant trade routes. Presently, most of the castles are ruins, with a couple of them that got renovated.
Ogrodzieniec Castle itself is located in Podzamcze, 2 km away from Ogrodzieniec. It stands proudly on hard limestone and dolomites of Janowski Mountain – the highest hill of the Jura (515.5 m above sea level).
In the 12th century, there was a small settlement with only a few wooden huts, sheltered on three sides by rocks and a palisade from the north, protecting against the raids of Czech and Silesian princes. Later, after the Tatar invasion in 1241, a gothic stone castle was erected in place of the settlement. The castle moved from one hand to another quite often until the family of Boners, one of the wealthiest families in Poland during the Jagiellonian times, became its owners. They rebuilt the Ogrodzieniec castle into a stunning and magnificent Renaissance residence. The slow decline started when Swedes attacked and destroyed it in the 16th and early 17th centuries. After the attacks, Stanisław Warszycki took over the castle. Even though he rebuilt and improved it, he became famous not for renovations but for his cruelty, earning him the title of Polish Dracula. In 1810 the last owners left the Ogrodzieniec castle, which caused it to fall into ruin.
Interestingly, in 1885, the ruins of the castle were visited by Aleksander Janowski, called the creator of Polish tourism. He thought that visiting interesting places could promote patriotism and encourage citizens to care for their country. Inspired by the local view, he founded the Polish Sightseeing Society (later PTTK) in 1906. His “name” is borne by the mountain on which the Ogrodzieniec fortress stands.
Nowadays, you can visit the magnificent ruins of what used to be one of the most imposing castles in the Eagles’ Nests Trail. Most tourists go around on their own, though there is a possibility to have a guided tour (you have to book it beforehand through the website).
I loved the castle, though I wish there would be a little more information regarding its history and what different chambers were used for. In the courtyard, we found some small stand selling Podpłomyk (literal translation: under the flame), simple flatbread baked on stones heated up in a fire. There was also a restaurant, but it was closed when we visited.
But Ogrodzieniec Castle is not only stone walls. Ruins in Podzamcze are also a place of many annual interesting outdoor events. The castle organizes nights with ghosts where tourists can walk through the castle and hear scary stories. There are also reconstructions of the knights’ battles and different medieval fairs. During the winter, the castle is illuminated with lights shining brightly in the deep night. Check out the official website to find information about current events.
The settlement on the Birów Mountain
Less than 2 km away from Ogrodzieniec Castle, on the neighboring hill, you can find a reconstruction of the Slavic settlement. The rocky, scenic hill with a good view of the surrounding area and adjacent Ogrodzieniec Castle has been a place of settlement since the Neolithic times. Archaeological research and numerous finds like tools made of horn and flint, arrowheads, horse horseshoes, and clay vessels show that the area was inhabited by people as early as 30,000 years ago. In the Middle Ages, on top of the hill, there was a wooden stronghold with a burial mound located at the foot. The top parts of the hill, creating a basin surrounded by limestone outliers, acted perfectly as a natural defense system. The settlement was burnt down in the first half of the 14th century, which was probably related to the fights between Władysław Łokietek and the Czech king, Wenceslaus II.
The complex is open to visitors from May to September. It consists of a wooden and stone embankment, a gate tower, a watchtower, an observation tower, and a hut with a museum exhibition. There is a possibility to rent an audio guide at the ticket office. No idea how good it is because I didn’t know about it when I was there 🙂
Both places, Ogrodzieniec Castle and the settlement on the Birów Mountain, have a ticket booth selling tickets to both attractions. It is possible to buy a combined ticket and visit both places within a day.
Check out the official website for current ticket prices.
You will have no problem finding a parking place in the neighborhoods. Almost all fields in the area have been turned into parking lots 🙂
Some complains 🙂
The road leading to the castle is lined with stalls selling cheap Chinese toys, taking a little out of the general experience. You get stalls in all the touristy places, but I wish there would be more handcrafted souvenirs than plushy octopuses and snowglobes. Hard to explain to your friends why you got them an octopus as a castle souvenir 😛
Also, while we walked from the castle to the settlement, we encountered a gathering in the city square asking for signatures to push a law stoping all kinds of abortions. It is a scorching topic in Poland right now, where the government is trying to implement one of the harshest abortion laws in the world. Regardless of your views, the castle and its area, where many kids visit, is not a place to display pictures of mutilated embryos and babies.