Małopolska small towns full of great history

View at the Hangman's House Museum, Biecz
There are towns in Małopolska from which kings ruled the state and where the most important decisions for Poland were made. There’s a unique atmosphere of narrow streets leading to large markets, a bit inconsistent with the number of inhabitants, dozing old tenement houses, ancient churches, attractive figures of saints, and patriotic monuments testifying to the civic deeds of former residents. This is the atmosphere of many Małopolska towns, where today you can find not only monuments of old times, but also great museums, galleries, tourist infrastructure and the power of local culinary products. Nearby, there are some of the wildest mountains - the Low Beskids, but also numerous health resorts. This is a great idea for a day trip for the whole family. For example, let's look at four such cities.

Biecz, the city of kings

Biecz was mentioned at the beginning of the 11th century in the chronicle of the famous German bishop Thietmar, which proves that it was already an important place on the map of Poland at that time. The seat of the castellany, that is today's poviats, had municipal rights from 1257, being among the oldest towns in Małopolska. It owed its development to trade routes and royal privileges ordering passing merchants to put out some of the goods for sale on the spot. With time, it grew so strong that the fourteenth-century Biecki poviat included as many as 11 towns and 264 villages. Courts operated here, including those with seats in only three places - Krakow, , Nowy Sącz and Biecz. It is hard to believe, but Polish kings from the Piast and Jagiellonian dynasties built three castles and a sumptuous manor here, spending a lot of time in them. It was here that King Władysław Łokietek found his refuge in the most difficult times of the struggle for the unification of Polish lands. Therefore, it can be assumed that at that time it was the centre of the state, its informal capital. Queen Jadwiga, who even funded a hospital for the city, would come to Biecz. The end of glory, as in the case of many Polish towns, was brought by the Swedish Deluge. We recall that the Swedes almost completely destroyed almost 200 cities, robbing priceless works of art from churches and private palaces. It is estimated that we lost about half of our national property then. After the period of decline, the town slowly developed, which was influenced not only by the railway line that arrived here in 1884, but also the emerging oil industry building on the periphery of the basin, at the turn of the 20th century one of the world's first mining and crude oil processing sites.

Today, it is an extremely charming city full of monuments, closed in its medieval urban form, with 16th and 17th century churches, 15th and 16th century houses and tenement houses, and a complex of defensive walls dating back to the beginning of the 14th century, together with defensive towers constituting the city's showcase. All this makes it one of the most interesting cities in Małopolska. You can spend the whole day there and will certainly not have enough time to see everything.

 

Miechow. Polish Jerusalem

In Miechow there is a faithful copy of the tomb of Jesus Christ, and in centuries past pilgrims from all over Europe came to visit it. Where did the copy of the grave come from? From his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the owner of the city, Prince Jaksa, of the Gryf coat of arms (died around 1176), brought the knightly order of the Holy Sepulchre, which guarded the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. According to legend, he also brought soil from Jerusalem in sacks from under Christ's grave, and on this land the first buildings were built the monastery of the Holy Sepulchre of Miechów, the medieval shape of which we can still see today. It was in this monastery that, after the occupation of the Holy Land by Muslims, the Holy Sepulchres built a faithful replica of Christ's tomb. The tomb, created around 1530, is located in the chapel, in the cloisters, and corresponds exactly to the biblical description. The internal dimensions are very similar or identical to the Jerusalem prototype. You can also see a copy of the Shroud of Turin here. Thanks to the Holy Sepulchres and their contacts in Europe at that time, pilgrimages from sometimes distant cities came to Miechów instead of Jerusalem.

The Holy Sepulchres were instrumental in the development of the place, because as early as 1290 Miechów was granted city rights. The first Romanesque church was replaced with a three-span gothic one, rebuilt later, but you can still see its gothic form.

But ancient artefacts are not the only attractions of the city. It is worth visiting the Manor House "Zacisze", built of larch in 1784, one of the most valuable structures of this type in Poland. An interesting offer is proposed by the very actively operating Art Exhibitions Office "U Jaksy". It is here that the works of one of the greatest scandalists of the interwar period, Stefan Żechowski, are gathered. Żechowski (1912-1984), a somewhat forgotten, interesting painter, became famous in the 1930s with bold illustrations for the controversial novel Motory by Emil Zegadłowicz. The artist also made many paintings in a dreamlike, erotic atmosphere. The Gallery of Żechowski's paintings is the most complete survey of his work. The gallery itself is located in the basement of the former monastery of the Holy Sepulchres and is the oldest, unchanged part of the building.

The city has its own architectural symbol. This is the body of the Holy Sepulchres’ Church with an original and unique tower topped with a sphere representing the Earth.

After visiting the city (interesting Museum of Miechów Region), it is worth going for a while to the nearby ones - Racławice, in which Tadeusz Kościuszko, at the head of units made up of Polish peasants, defeated the Russian army during the Kościuszko Uprising on April 4, 1794. Due to the participation of peasants, this event is symbolic for Polish struggles for their own state, which Russia, Prussia and Austria wanted to tear apart and share among themselves. The battlefield is clearly visible from the mound that commemorates it, made for the glory of Kościuszko. There is also an interesting monument to the future hero of the American independence struggle.

Not that far from Miechów is ... the cabbage capital of Poland, that is the Municipality of Charsznica, where almost 10 percent of our cabbages are grown. Charsznicka cabbage and pickled cucumbers can be found in the best Polish delicatessens and restaurants. And while we are on the subject of food, the famous lentil soup, made according to the recipe of the Holy Sepulchres, is prepared by the farmers’ wives' association in Szczepanowice, near Miechów.

Located just 45 kilometres from Krakow, Miechów has only 12,000 inhabitants and is well connected by rail with the capital of Małopolska.

 

Wiśnicz. The power of magnate life and the first cookbook

Located in the undulating area of the Wiśnicz Foothills, it impresses from afar with the fantastic shape of the castle from the 14th century. There are few places in Poland with such a picturesquely situated palace complex. The spaces of the castle in Wiśnicz give a sense of how the greats of the world lived at that time. This place (the villages of Nowy Wiśnicz and Stary Wiśnicz) developed from the 12th century, and their history is connected with powerful Polish aristocratic families. Wiśnicz owes most to the Lubomirskis, whose representatives held the highest state and military functions in Poland. One of them was Stanisław Lubomirski, one of the most important people in the country after the king, the victorious commander of the Battle of Chocim (1621), in which Polish troops defeated Turkey, the owner of many lands in Małopolska. Hardly anyone knows it, but it is to Stanisław Lubomirski that we owe the castles in Łańcut, Sandomierz and the famous Villa of Decius in Cracow. It was he who expanded Wiśnicz castle, giving it today's Renaissance-Baroque shape. He also founded the local church and monastery for Discalced Carmelites and a parish church.

Wiśnicz castle is the second largest palace complex, after Wawel, in Małopolska, and you need to spend two to three hours visiting it. We will not be delighted with rich furnishings here, but we will be astonished by the spaces and details that have been saved, the exhibition devoted to the tools of torture, and the exhibition of works by the famous sculptor Prof. Czesław Dźwigaj. There is a perfectly preserved pentagonal fortification around the castle. Another interesting feature is the baroque entrance tower in the form of a triumphal arch. The castle itself and the cities later belonged to great families: Sanguszko, Potocki and Zamoyski, and returned to the Lubomirski family at the beginning of the 20th century. After 1945, the communists deprived them of their property, but even now the youngest generations of the family are returning to their seat, where family celebrations and even princely weddings are held. Nowy and Stary Wiśnicz, charming towns on the Leksandrówka river, are among the most beautiful places in Małopolska. We mustn’t forget the culinary sensation. Polish culinary arts and the career of potatoes in our country began here. The court chef of the Lubomirskis was Stanisław Czerniecki, of unknown social origin, first an enlisted soldier, then a chef, and finally a royal secretary, landowner and sub-captain.

He, in Wiśnicz, in 1682, prepared "Compendium ferculorum, or a collection of dishes", that is, the first Polish cookbook, with over three hundred dishes, among which for the first time appeared potatoes, then called tertofell. Czerniecki's work was a culinary bible for Poles for almost 200 years, certainly until the times of Lucyna Ćwierczakiewicz's famous "365 dinners for 5 zlotys" from the end of the 19th century. The strength of the "Compendium" is evidenced by the fact that, according to its author's instructions, the judge in "Pan Tadeusz" held his famous feast.

And we were there...

 

Stary Sącz. Holy city of holy people

Even against the background of Małopolska towns, Stary Sącz has a unique aura, and owes it to two exceptional people from royal families. Kinga, also called Kunegunda, was the daughter of Hungarian kings, and Bolesław, later called the Shy, was the last Piast from the Małopolska line of the founders of our country. Their marriage was more political and military, but they were united by common issues - abstinence from corporeal life and extraordinary care for the economy. So right after the wedding they took a vow of chastity and ... developed Małopolska. It was Bolesław who founded Kraków under Magdeburg Law, granted city rights to Bochnia, and reformed the management of the salt mine in Bochnia (description of the salt mine in Bochnia) and Wieliczka salt mine (description of the salt mine in Wieliczka). Kinga took care of the land of Nowy Sącz, especially Stary Sącz, whose history began when Kinga and Bolesław founded a monastery of Poor Clares here. The stone structure was built around 1250, starting the long history of the monastic city. When one stands today in the monastery courtyard, one will enter the interior of the church, whose walls remember the Piast and Hungarian princess who later became a saint. The thickness of the walls, and cramped, cold spaces take us several hundred years into the past.

How did the story of Kinga and Bolesław end? In admiration of her virtues, including economic ones, and compensation for the dowry, which was used to rebuild the Krakow land after the Mongol invasion, Bolesław gave her the entire area of Nowy Sącz (then the area of the triangle between Biecz, Limanowa and Slovak Podoliń). She brought Hungarian miners who revolutionized the mining of salt in Małopolska mines, and also took Hungarian Spiš for Poland. After Bolesław's death, Kinga devoted herself to the religious life. She joined the Poor Clares and ruled the city and her lands together with her sisters. Only a few  decades after her death (1292), efforts were made for her beatification. She was blessed only at the beginning of the 20th century and was canonized by John Paul II in the meadows of Starosąd in 1999. Her relics rest in the convent church.

Looking today at Stary Sącz (description of Stary Sącz), located on  the Dunajec River, stepping on the stone-paved market square, strolling along narrow streets among centuries-old houses, we feel halfway between the present and the old times. It's worth feeling it.

One of the greatest Polish opera singers, who performed all over the world, Ada Sarii, also grew up in Stary Sącz. For over 35 years, the Ada Sari International Vocal Art Festival and Competition has been held here.

 

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