Ania drove and drove selflessly (if interestingly) until we found hills, then wonderful pillars of limestone and then Pieskowa Skała above a wildflowered hillside.
Pieskowa Skała castle, built by King Casimir III the Great, is one of the best-known examples of a defensive Polish Renaissance architecture. It was erected in the first half of the 14th century as part of the chain of fortified castles called Orle Gniazda (Eagles Nests), along the highland plane of the Polish Jura extending north-west from Kraków to the city of Częstochowa.
The castle was rebuilt in 1542–1544 by Niccolò Castiglione with participation from Gabriel Słoński of Kraków. The sponsor of the castle’s reconstruction in the mannerist style was the Calvinist, Stanisław Szafraniec, voivode of Sandomierz.
Old and new fortifications blending one into the other into a unified whole.
A courtyard full of flowers, and below a lovely formal garden to be admired from a height.
A display of ‘English’ paintings in three rooms, all of them copies of Constable and Reynolds among others, or attributed to most questionably. Wonderful faces staring down at us from the inner courtyard.
A wonderful collection of gothic art.
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From there Ania drove us to Ogrodzieniec Castle, a very different kind of place though also part of this same group of fortifications along the Jura. We walked up a long road lined by stalls selling the most wonderful and terrible of Polish kitsch — at its best funny painted wooden cats and owls which I rather coveted, at its worst plastic Uzis and AK-47s. There was a house of horrors to the right, a fun fair to the left, the screaming of children, rides, balloons. The castle was crawling with people, and more selling of kitsch in the main courtyard but at times its atmosphere and history were recoverable. It is most beautiful:
Established in the early 12th century, during the reign of Bolesław III Wrymouth (Polish: Bolesław Krzywousty), the first stronghold was razed by the Tatars in 1241. In the mid-14th century a new gothic castle was built here to accommodate the Sulimczycy family.
One of its owners created a beautiful marble room for his lady, which was destroyed — among several waves of destruction — by Swedish troops during The Deluge. Fitting, then, perhaps, that I am slowly getting through the first half of the second book in Henryk Sinkiewicz’s trilogy. A beautiful view of what they were fighting for apart from wealth and fame and power…
The other view is looking down on the gauntlet of consumption, and the miniature park created so you don’t actually have to visit real castles but can see them all in one place.
Pieskowa Skała is castle as national history and heritage, Ogrodzieniec is castle as camp and consumption. As theme park.
Hopeless to feel any of the other famous history of the place among a horde of holiday makers:
According to some investigators of paranormal phenomena, the Ogrodzieniec Castle is a place haunted by mighty dark powers. There have been locally famous reports of the “Black Dog of Ogrodzieniec” being seen prowling the ruins in the night-time. Witnesses have claimed that the spectre is a black dog much larger than an ordinary dog, and is supposed to have burning eyes and pull away a heavy chain. The dog is believed to be the soul of the Castellan of Cracow, Stanisław Warszycki. Interestingly, his soul also haunts the ruins of the Dańków Castle, where it appears as a headless horseman.
They did try, however. Perhaps.
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It has been a funny time, days spent listening and coming to grips with this entirely-new-to-me new materialism, speculative realism, weird realism and object-oriented ontology — theories that I think are sometimes useful, sometimes so not useful. I am so grateful, though, that I was able to come to this conference, and even more so for a lovely weekend spent with new friends and getting to know such a beautiful place.
And yet the news. God the news. The shootings of the police in Dallas, two more black men killed by cops, latinos killed by cops, violence soaring so this from facebook on Friday:
news relentlessly unfolds and violence and injustice and death and lives twisted by this world we’ve created, and hearts breaking and so my love goes out to everyone but especially to all those whose skin is darker than mine, I am thinking and worrying about you so much, every day, I hope you stay safe and stay whole. Take care of one another, know where we stand and who we stand with and fight to change things for the better in ways big and small wherever we are…I suppose that is all we can do?
It is hard to know even how to react anymore. Much of our conversation here has been about the turns to the right, the rising of violence. Poland has its own worries…it is good to find people who stand against this tide.
More posts on Poland: