Nowy Wiśnicz – the great history of a magnate town

Castle in Nowy Wiśnicz
Magnificent monuments, rich history, beautiful nature: this is how Nowy Wiśnicz can be described in a nutshell. It is one of those wonderful Galician towns that some say have a unique atmosphere, while others say that time stopped here long ago.

Nowy Wiśnicz is a small town in the Małopolska region in the Bochnia district. It lies on the road from Bochnia to Limanowa. It has around 3,000 permanent residents. It will surprise you to know that there are a great many beautiful and still little-known sights here that are certainly worth seeing and exploring. Almost every corner of Nowy Wiśnicz can delight. Although the castle is a pearl known all over Poland, those who think that it is the only site worthy of attention here are mistaken; there is also the delightful Market Square with its magnificent Town Hall. Just beyond the Market Square rises the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary: a wonderful Basilica. Jewish cemetery, the former monastery of the Discalced Carmelites, or the ‘Koryznówka’ Museum of Jan Matejko Memorabilia. One could go on and on, but let us start with ...

A bit of history of Nowy Wiśnicz

The origins of Nowy Wiśnicz date back to the Kmita family, who built a defensive castle here in the 14th century. At the end of the 16th century, the Wiśnicz domains were bought by Sebastian Lubomirski. The glory years began under Sebastian’s son, Stanisław Lubomirski. Stanisław began to build at the foot of the castle a town, which was granted town rights by King Sigismund III Vasa in 1616. It was to be called Nowy Wiśnicz, in contrast to a nearby village several hundred years older called Stary Wiśnicz. Lubomirski also funded the construction of the town hall and the parish church, and after the Polish victory at Chocim (1621), also the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites as a token of gratitude. Crafts, commerce, new housing and public buildings were springing up. After the founder’s death, the town slowly began to decline. Successive owners did not show due care for either the castle or the town. The Swedish Deluge contributed further to this decline. The Swedes destroyed and plundered the castle in 1655. Already after the first partition of Poland, the local area came under the Austrian rule. Emperor Joseph II declared the Carmelite Order suppressed and the monastery was turned into a prison, which is still there today. The town suffered another great loss in 1863, when a great fire destroyed most of the local wooden houses. In 1934 Nowy Wiśnicz lost its municipal rights, which were restored 60 years later. During the Nazi occupation, a huge part of the population was murdered, including almost all the Jews.

Tolerance in Nowy Wiśnicz

Religious tolerance was present in the city town its very inception. This is evidenced by the fact that in addition to Catholics, Jews lived here and were allowed to build a synagogue and a school. According to the Lubomirski’s will: ‘And this town shall indeed be free for all who wish to gather therein, to establish themselves therein, and to dwell therein (...), and to carry on therein trade and commerce and the various trades and all other occupations worthy of good citizens.’ Stanisław Lubomirski agreed that Jews, who had been expelled from the nearby Bochnia in 1605, should live in Wiśnicz. They were assigned a separate suburb in Nowy Wisnicz, where they could purchase property. They built a synagogue, a cemetery and a school in their neighbourhood. Trade and crafts flourished in Nowy Wiśnicz, fairs were also held to which merchants from far away arrived. The town developed, growing into an important centre, it was frequented by important personalities. Polish kings came to the castle, followed in later times by famous Polish artists, e.g., Jan Matejko, who visited Nowy Wiśnicz. Thanks to Lubomirski, Nowy Wiśnicz was for years regarded as the most Jewish town in this part of Galicia.

Castle in Nowy Wiśnicz

The castle in Nowy Wiśnicz is a gem among the castles of the Małopolska region. It stands proudly on the hill above the town. It is beautifully integrated into the picturesque and colourful hills of the Wiśnicz foothills, delighting with its fairytale appearance. Wiśnicz castle is one of the most valuable works of the early Baroque residential and defensive architecture in Poland. In the Małopolska region, it is second only to Wawel in terms of size. The stronghold is in very good condition. A museum has been created in the interiors and offers an exhibition on the history of the fortress and its reconstruction. There are photographs depicting what the castle looked like years ago, in addition to 19th- and 20th-century furniture, models of various castles and artworks by students of the Nowy Wiśnicz High School of Fine Arts. Also open to the public is the huge ballroom, the plafond room with its gilded ceiling, the acoustic room once used as a place of confession, the castle chapel and the crypt with an exhibition of six sarcophagi, including that of Stanisław Lubomirski. There is a legend associated with the castle. It tells of Tartar prisoners captured at Chocim by Stanisław Lubomirski. The captives were used in the reconstruction of the Wiśnicz castle. However, the Tartars, known for their love of freedom, could not bear imprisonment and forced labour – they tried to escape by attaching wings of branches and bird feathers to their arms. The escape ended tragically. According to legend, some captives crumbled to the ground next to today’s High School of Fine Arts, some in Kopaliny and some in Bochnia. According to one version of the legend, columns were erected in the places where they fell and still stand there today.

Where the first cookbook in Polish was written

And then there is the extremely important fact that the first cookbook in Polish was written right here, at the court of the Kraków Voivode Aleksander Michał Lubomirski. It was written at the castle in Wiśnicz by the cook Stanisław Czerniecki and published in print in 1682. These were true culinary wonders, accompanied by stories of taste, smell and preparation. ‘Among all human qualities, people also have this attribute from nature, that they fall in love with various tastes, not only motivated by the appetite, but also by proficiency, skill, and knowledge,’ wrote master Czerniecki.

In the words of the experts, this is a book with a Sarmatian soul and great culinary genius. Stanisław Czerniecki wrote his book at Wiśnicz Castle and, although he represented Sarmatian culture, he liked taste innovations and experiments, but also warned against unwise borrowings from abroad. The book contains 333 recipes for meat, fish and dairy dishes, as well as quite a few side dishes useful in the cuisine. When preparing them, Czerniecki did not neglect the saffron, cinnamon and nutmeg flower. He broke old habits by adding musk, sultanas and vinegar to the dishes he prepared. Czerniecki begins his story with a broth. Although at the time of his writing, broth was not considered a soup, but a rich meat dish, it is thanks to him that it became known as the Polish soup and found its way onto our tables. In his work, the chef prepares the broth in 16 ways. Each section also contains addendum regarding additions. In the chapter on fish, for example, he describes a dozen marinades and a recipe for pike that is boiled, fried and baked. However, the most significant message from Czerniecki is his understanding of the role of the chef. It is not only someone who prepares the food, but above all who makes the atmosphere of feasting and turns eating into a separate performance.

Monastery of the Discalced Carmelites

Near the castle on the hill is the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites, an outstanding work of early Baroque, along with the temple of Christ the Saviour and bastion fortifications. The monastery was founded by Stanisław Lubomirski, the governor of Kraków, as a votive offering for his victory over the Turks at Chocim in 1621. The work was led by Lubomirski’s court Italian architect, Maciej Trapola. The monastery received rich furnishings in gold and silver, as well as landed property. The monks also had an impressive library. In 1655 the monastery, like the castle, was occupied by the Swedes, who looted and destroyed the building. The year 1783 brought the abolition of the monastery by the Austrians. The monastery’s goods and treasures were seized and taken to Vienna, and the monks moved to Lviv. The Austrian authorities set up a court and a criminal prison in the monastery buildings. Since the end of World War II until today, the former monastery of the Discalced Carmelites in Nowy Wiśnicz has once again served as a prison for repeat offenders. Once a year it is possible to enter the prison grounds and see the remains of the temple, located on the monastery grounds. Such an opportunity arises during the Weekend with the Monuments of the Bochnia District, organised every year on the first weekend of September.

Parish Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary 

It was founded by the town’s founder, Stanisław Lubomirski. The church, together with the vicarage and bell tower, was built between 1616 and 1621. It is a brick-built, single-nave building, while the interior of the church is vaulted. The temple is an example of early Baroque architecture. Next to the church is a historic 17th century vicarage with a tower that once served as a bell tower. The bells now ring out from the bell tower built in 1957. Valuable furnishings include a baptismal font made partly of wood and partly of brass. The beautiful wooden gilded tabernacle dates from the 17th century. The organ, confessionals and stalls are also historic and valuable. The stained glass windows were made by Zygmunt Gloger and Czesław Dźwigaj. Czeslaw Dźwigaj is also the creator of the statue of Saint John Paul II and the statue of Our Lady of the Apocalypse. Both works stand in the church square, with a statue of Christ the King commemorating the Jubilee Year 2000 and made by the same author nearby.

Town Hall 

It is located on the Nowy Wiśnicz market square. The town hall, founded by Stanisław Lubomirski, was built between 1616 and 1620. It was originally a single-storey building with a gallery and a Baroque bulbous-shaped roof. After the fire of 1863, a first floor was added and the tower was reshaped. Currently, the ground floor houses the Town Council meeting rooms, the ground floor houses the Registry Office and the Municipal Public Library, and the basement houses a gallery and café.

Koryznówka  – Museum of Jan Matejko Memorabilia

It is here that Matejko recharged his batteries, alone as well as with his wife and children. The house was erected by Leonard Serafiński, husband of Joanna Giebułtowska, sister of Jan Matejko’s wife. Koryznówka is located above the castle, by the road leading to the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites and the prison buildings. Koryznówka is a wooden, stylish little building, inhabited continuously by the same family (just like the famous ‘Rydlówka’ in Bronowice). The collections housed here are mainly family heirlooms. The interiors are authentic, not stylised for a museum display. The great artist Jan Matejko used to draw here, among other things, the old architecture of a small Galician town that no longer exists. The Jan Matejko memorial museum was opened in 1981. It operates as a branch of the District Museum in Tarnów. The manor house is divided into two sections: a front section with a small but charming garden for visitors and a rear living area for the private use of the owners. The manor house is entered through a porch into a vestibule-corridor, from which we can go into two rooms. The rooms to be visited, including the original furnishings and objects, reportedly look as they did in Matejko’s time. So we can feel exactly like Matejko and see the same things as he did.

Natural assets of Nowy Wiśnicz

The town is beautifully situated in the area of the Wiśnicz-Lipnica Landscape Park. There are several nature reserves and protected sites in the immediate vicinity:

  • Kamień-Grzyb Nature Reserve, with a boulder approximately 7 metres high,
  • The Brodziński Stones Natural Monument with a group of interestingly shaped rocks made of Istebna sandstone,
  • Chronowskie Rocks. 


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