The fortified burgh of Czersk, erstwhile capital of southern Mazovia, was modest in size. Most of the population lived outside the walls in a trading settlement. When Czersk was granted a town charter in the mid-14th century, a market square was laid out at the crossroads of three trade routes: to Pomerania, Ruthenia and Silesia. At the foot of the hill, there was a crossing over the Vistula together with a customs post that collected duties on goods transported by boat.
The townspeople worked mainly in trade and crafts. Excavations have revealed fragments of finished products and remains of workshops: a smithy (9th /10th century), pottery, carpenter’s, cobbler’s, weaver’s, horn worker’s, mason’s and even traces of a goldsmith's workshop. Items found include: knives, awls, pins, tongs, sickles, scratch ploughshares, fishing hooks, bucket hoops and handles, spear and arrow heads, crossbow bolts, swords, spurs, bridle bits and horseshoes. Other finds: pottery, awls used for leather work, remains of spinning wheels and weaving looms. The 11th century goldsmith's produced personal adornments such as finger rings, and rings for Slavic headdresses. Crucibles and casting moulds shaped to form rosettes have also been found.
Prince Janusz I the Elder, builder of the present castle, confirmed Czersk’s town rights in 1386 and extended its privileges, aiding the town's development.
Czersk flourished economically in the 16th century under the rule of Queen Bona Sforza. Many craftsmen worked in the town, there was a brewery, and workshops produced woollen carpets and valuable worsted style cloth called londryn.
Weaving is an ancient craft, with the oldest looms dating back to the Neolithic period. These were vertical looms - the warp was stretched from the top part to the lower frame. In the 8th century, the first foot looms appeared in Europe - these horizontal looms were easier to use and could make intricate patterns. For weaving narrow bands, e.g. a woven belt, a tablet was used.
Weaving involves passing a horizontal weft thread through vertical warp threads. The weft is wound on a shuttle. Single-shuttle looms were used to make single-colour or striped fabrics, while multi-shuttle looms could create multi-coloured and patterned cloth. The choice of yarn weight and texture depended on the desired result, while the way the weft is passed through the warp determines the pattern.
Only natural materials were used until the 20th century, sourced from plants (flax, hemp, nettles) or animals (wool, silk). Gold and silver thread were also used in luxury brocades.
Weaving is still a huge industry worldwide and the third most environmentally damaging economic activity.
Wood was one of the first raw materials worked by man and there is evidence of carved wooden vessels from the Neolithic period. The evolution of civilisation was closely linked to the development of techniques and tools for working wood.
Wood was used to create basic tools, household utensils, agricultural tools, parts of weapons, cult objects, and in time entire settlements, including streets and palisades.
Castle Hill was once home to a settlement made of half-timbered pit houses, set into the ground. In time, a stronghold was built - post and log houses surrounded by a wood-and-earth rampart. Archaeologists have found evidence of these houses - pegs and axes used in construction.
The largest wooden item found in the Czersk area is a 30m boat from the late 15th century - a flat-bottomed river barge for grain transport. It is well preserved. It’s longer than the ships on which Columbus reached the Americas.
Bobbin lace appeared in Poland in the 16th century with the arrival of the Italian Queen Bona Sforza, wife of King Sigismund the Old. Queen Bona brought masters of this handicraft from her homeland, where it originated. Bobbin lace was used to decorate clothing, liturgical vestments, underwear and home interiors (napkins, tablecloths, curtains).
To make bobbin lace you need a cylinder-shaped pillow of linen stuffed with hay or sawdust, a frame for the pillow, spools called bobbins, threads, and a pattern on paper.
The technique consists in braiding and twisting the threads wound on the bobbins over a pattern pinned to the pillow. This technique can be used to make openwork with varied patterns. Linen, cotton or silk threads in white, cream, grey or beige are used. Gold and silver thread can also be used. Bobbin lace is called the "queen of laces", as it requires patience and manual skills.
Handmade lace is very labour-intensive and therefore expensive. It has now been replaced by machine-made products, and the profession of the lace-maker has disappeared.
Leatherwork is a broad term covering all activities relating to the preparation of animal skins (tanning) and the manufacture of leather items such as: shoes, furs, bookbinding, bags, bellows, gloves, saddles and horse tack. The names of the leatherworking professions testify to the wide use of leather as a raw material in niche markets like sheaths for swords and knives, and belts to fasten armour. Illuminated manuscripts were made on extremely thin, delicate parchment, produced from goat or sheep skins.
Due to the faeces and urine used in tanning, leather processing took place away from where most people lived; hence the names preserved to this day, such as Garbary (Tanner’s Lane) in Poznań, Gdańsk and Wrocław.
Archaeological remains testify to the existence of leather workshops in the Czersk area. In a grave from the period of the Przeworsk culture (2nd century BC - 3rd century AD), leather working tools were found, and fragments of leather objects, e.g. a shoe, were preserved from the Middle Ages. Leather cuttings were discovered during excavations on Warecka Street near Czersk market square, pointing to the presence of a cobbler’s workshop.
Everyone used iron tools. Blacksmiths forged tools for everyday use, crafts, farm and fieldwork, as well as weapons and armour. They still shoe horses to this day.
Blacksmiths were respected and feared, having mysterious powers to harness Earth, Wind, Fire and Water to turn bog iron ore into metal. Their aura was enhanced by the fact they lived and worked just outside the settlement, to reduce the risk of a village fire. Everyone lived in wooden, thatched houses.
In legends, the blacksmith appears as a person of great strength with a quick mind. He makes deals with the devil and always manages to outwit him. There is a grain of truth in every legend: the work of the blacksmith was both physically and mentally demanding.
Knowledge, experience and mastery are decisive elements in the process of transforming stone into iron. The blacksmith's most important tool is a sharpened mind.
Dyeing is the art of colouring fabrics. Colour influences moods and emotions, it carries information and has a strong symbolic meaning. The oldest known dyes come from the Neolithic period - as used in cave paintings and primitive make-up. Cloth-dyeing started as weaving developed, with dyes typically made from locally available raw materials. In Poland these included: dyer’s madder root, oak bark and birch leaves. Royal red was obtained from the insect Polish cochineal (Porphyrophora polonica). Polish cochineal was once a highly lucrative Polish export and was used until the mid-19th century; the Polish for ‘June’ comes from the insect. Contrary to stereotypes, medieval clothes were not only grey and brown - strong, bright colours were valued. Full-blooded colours were a sign of wealth, as they required a lot of dye and several stages. Yarn, too, was dyed, for weaving patterned cloth and for use in haberdashery. Fibres of animal origin (wool, silk) take colour well. Vegetable fibres (linen, hemp) are difficult to dye, but were often bleached in the sun and used to make white cloth.
This is a manufacturing process involving pouring liquid metal into moulds to make objects of a desired shape. It dates back to 5000 BC, the Bronze Age. The first cast artefacts were found in what is now Iraq, Iran and Syria. The smelting of non-ferrous metals has been known since 7000 BC. At the heart of the foundryman's workshop is a charcoal fired furnace made of clay or stone. Bellows inject air to raise the temperature to about 1000-1100 Celsius. In antiquity and the Middle Ages copper alloys, silver, gold, tin and lead were usually processed this way. The best quality castings were made with the lost wax technique: a wax model was pressed into a wet clay mould. The mould was fired and the wax flowed out leaving a cavity, which was then filled with liquid metal. After cooling, the mould was broken to reveal the cast metal object. This was an expensive, time-consuming process. A cheaper, quicker method was to use reusable two-piece moulds made of stone or metal, and with tin and lead alloys, even wood and antler.
Gilding is a decorative technique for covering surfaces with a very thin coat of gold or silver in the form of leaf or powder.
Gilding is a truly ancient art - the Indians mastered the skill of creating gold leaf by 3000 BC. The technique was developed by the Phoenicians, the Chinese - who developed the technique of gilding porcelain - and the Egyptians. The art of gilding is known from ancient Greece and Rome, where temples were decorated with gold leaf. In the Middle Ages gold became a symbol of divine brilliance and was also treated as a new colour. This gave rise to illuminated books, from the Latin illuminare. In the early Middle Ages, initials and decorative lines were illuminated (eg. Book of Kells), whereas by the late Middle Ages there were elaborate compositions and miniatures on the margins of pages.
Byzantium was famous for mosaics made of glass cubes covered with gold flakes. The tesserae were arranged at different angles, giving a glittering allure to the mosaic.
Modern leaf comes in various forms in addition to pure gold and silver: alloys of metals such as copper and zinc are used in composition leaf, also known as Schlagmetal.
Archaeology shows us that spinning is one of the oldest technological processes, dating back to the Palaeolithic. It is made up of a series of operations to produce yarn from twisted plant or animal fibres. It is more complicated with plants, because the hard stalks need to be softened to extract fibres suitable for spinning. The steps in the process are: cleaning, screening for suitability, carding, combing and spinning.
Originally, the fibres were rolled between the fingers, twisting them into thread. Then people started using a spindle - a stick-like tool made of wood. In the Neolithic period, a whorl (a disc) was attached to the spindle to help it turn around fast and it has remained unchanged ever since. The raw material was mounted on a stick, called a distaff. The spinning wheel, combining a spindle with a large wheel, was known to the Arabs in the 11th century. The technology spread and was refined in the late Middle Ages and early modern times. For centuries, spinning was an extremely important, if poorly paid, branch of manufacturing. It was mostly carried out by women, called spinsters.
Since the dawn of time, spinning has been associated with destiny and magic. In Greek mythology Clotho spins human fate, and in a fairy tale a witch's spindle brings ageless slumber to Sleeping Beauty.
Since the dawn of time, man has surrounded himself with beautiful objects made of precious metals - gold and silver. Since these materials were expensive and hard to come by, they were processed by master craftsmen with great knowledge and experience, handed down the generations. Vessels made of precious metals, jewellery and other goldsmith items reflected the social and material status of their owner.
An early mention of goldsmiths' workshops can be found in the 11th century work of the Benedictine monk Theophilus: " An essay upon various arts in three books". He describes the basic techniques of the goldsmith's craft: soldering, forging, granulation, filigree and repoussé. The author relies on centuries-old knowledge known in Europe since antiquity and developed in a similar form until today. Thanks to this knowledge we can make rings, earrings, plates, necklaces, chains or even rich crowns encrusted with the most beautiful precious stones. We know of many examples of rich jewellery and semi-finished goldsmith products from our country - in medieval Poland there were goldsmith and jeweller's workshops connected to local centres of power, where they had access to rich materials and markets.
Delivered by the Cultural Centre in Góra Kalwaria
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