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Cieszyn castle – according to the classification system of medieval defensive architecture –is an example of towered castles which were built as modifications of early medieval strongholds and the medieval seats of castellanies. Nevertheless many castles were also built in completely new locations.
Within a castellan’s stronghold there would have been living quarters, mainly wooden ones most probably, servants’ and guards’ quarters as well as kitchens, bathhouses and stores.
Fortified elements played a very important role at that time, among them the round keep, described by J. W. Früschmann, the author of the 17th century panorama of the castle, as the “Old Tower”. The other tower, rectangular in shape, providing accommodation and serving a defensive function, was called by Früschmann the “High Tower”. This tower, now called the Piast Tower, was located in the eastern part of the upper castle and was protected by a ring wall. Apart from those types of towers the castle also possessed gate towers, flanking towers and corner towers as part of its fortifications.
The Piast Tower is a square, thirty-metre-high structure consisting of 4 parts. The first part is underground, reaching almost 6 m below the present level of the ground with side of 9.45 m; the second, lower, part, which is 10.4 m high and of 9.1 m side; the middle one – 15 m high and 8.5 m wide; and finally the upper part, most complex, which forms a four-metre-high battlemented gallery projecting beyond the walls. Openings through which missiles could have been dropped on enemies, without leaning out, from a machicolation supported on stone corbels. In the High Middle Ages the tower had a high sloping roof which left only enough room for a narrow passageway used by guards which ran inside the battlements. The quoins of the upper part formed four circular turrets and were decorated with 4 stone coats of arms with the Piast eagle most probably sculpted by the renowned Prague workshop of Peter Parler.
The tower is built of coarse sandstone extracted from the nearby quarry near Mistrzowice (today Mistrovice in the Czech Republic). The ground course of the tower, its quoins and the load-bearing elements of the machicolation are made of blocks of hewn stone. The width of the emplecton walls is 2.5 m at the bottom but they narrow to 1.5 m higher up depending on the position of the stone stairs in relation to the walls. Inside the tower there are seven floors built from wooden platforms supported by beams fixed in the walls connected by stairs, either wooden or stone. The stone stairs were created by narrowing the walls on the inside of the tower which resulted in the weight on the foundations being reduced as well as enlarging the usable floor area on each floor. For example, the lower floor is a square of 4.3 m side with an area of 17 m², while the fifth and sixth storeys measuring 5.7 x 5.4 m respectively have areas of 31 m². This difference is reflected in the function of particular storeys. The lowest ones, below ground level today may have served as cells, above them were stores, the middle part was used as living quarters and finally the top part for defence. Light entered through windows of different shapes and sizes, although all were narrow, in keeping with the tower’s defence function. It seems that only a few of the present windows date from the time of the tower’s construction. Through the centuries different events left their mark on the tower’s appearance. For example the fires which took place in 1484, 1520, 1552, 1570 and 1603 all affected the tower. Evidence of fires as well as repairs following them are mentioned in the reports of the Austrian conservation commission by Dr P.P. Gabriel in 1869 which also includes one of the few known vertical sections of the tower. Undoubtedly the greatest damage was caused by the Thirty Years’ War, during which in 1647 the Austrian army besieged the Piast Castle which was occupied at that time by the Swedish army. The consequent damage resulted in the castle gradually falling into ruins. Neither the quoin turrets nor the steeply pitched roof can be seen in pictures of the tower executed after the time of the siege. It even seems probable that the whole top gallery projecting out from the walls was severely damaged. In the 18th and 19th centuries the tower in effect lost its importance as a defensive structure and became a clock tower offering panoramic views as can be seen in graphic representations dating from that time. Comprehensive restoration carried out in the 1980s gave the tower back its most probable original appearance.
The role the tower played is clearly depicted in different panoramas of the town and the Castle Hill. The oldest picture of the Piast Tower, together with the Rotunda, appears in a woodcut by Sebastian Münster in his work Cosmographie dating from 1541. There is a high tower with a battlemented gallery projecting from the walls, and topped with a steep roof. There is a rectangular entrance on the ground floor. The tower looks similar – although its details are much clearer – in Sciographia Cosmica by Daniel Meissner in 1637. There are turrets on the quoins at the top and several windows in the walls. During the Thirty Years’ War an anonymous military draughtsman sketched the Castle Hill in a similar way from the south and north. These faithful representations seem to be the most accurate.
Let us reconsider the functions of the tower; probably most precisely described using the term “donjon”, which combines both defensive and dwelling aspects. The lack of comprehensive archaeological excavations of Cieszyn Castle prevents the making of final conclusions concerning the Upper Castle at the time of its construction. Neither any illustrations nor written descriptions survive from that time. Comparisons with castles of similar type, but in a much better state of preservation, are not sufficient since the plans of each castle, obviously following certain principles, still depend on the profile of the land on which they were built. For that reason our reflections are still partially only suppositions. So what was tower’s function? It served the purpose of defence and functioned as a watchtower, so the castle guard would have spent most of their time there. It is possible that the commander of the castle guard used the upper part of the tower as his living quarters. During times of war, the spacious rooms of the upper part with relatively comfortable living conditions could even have been temporarily used by the prince, his family and important members of the court. The prince’s living quarters were probably located nearby or even next to the tower together with other building used by the court. We have no evidence of any safe exit through an underground passage, as some stories claimed. Neither is there any knowledge of an exit used in the case of fire and leading from an upper storey to an adjoining building. So there are still a lot of questions to be answered and issues to be considered which we may have to wait for – if we ever find out at all.

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