Wars were depressingly common in 17th century Poland, but the Deluge ─ the Swedish invasion of 1655 ─ was easily the most destructive, rivalling World War II. Many towns were left in ruins, never to fully recover. Czersk, too, suffered considerable damage at the hands of the northern invaders.
Victory at Warka
On April 7, 1656, Polish troops led by Stefan Czarniecki won a great victory at the Battle of Warka, smashing the Swedish army led by Grand Duke Frederick of Baden. It was the first victory of the Poles over the Swedes in open battle, demonstrating that the Swedish cavalry unsupported by infantry and artillery couldn’t cope with Polish mounted forces. After a long march across the springtime floodplains, the Poles forded the shallow river Pilica and caught the Swedes by surprise, who were hoping to gain a head start after burning the bridge. The decisive moment in the battle came when the Polish hussars, supported by dragoons, broke the dense ranks of the Swedes. The whole Swedish baggage train was captured ─ over 200 wagons filled with food and plunder.
Swedes take Czersk
While most of the Swedes fled in disarray towards Warsaw, the Karlsruhe-born Grand Duke Frederick and a company of dragoons stormed Czersk, occupying the town and castle. The small garrison of Polish troops put up only token resistance and were forced to surrender. The Polish troops chasing the Swedes headed directly to Warsaw, bypassing Czersk. Without cannons and infantry, they were not equipped to take a castle. After two days, the Swedes left the castle of their own accord, setting fire to the town as they went, destroying the churches: Holy Spirit with hospital, St. James, and the Assumption, and blowing up part of the castle walls and towers.
End of an Era
Soon afterwards, Czersk suffered further destruction at the hands of the Cossacks and the Hungarian army of Rakoczi. It never recovered from this absolute devastation. The glory days of Czersk castle had come to a violent end.
The records of the survey carried out in 1660, after the Deluge and the ousting of Rakoczi's troops, show that the town and castle were deserted. The towers stood open to the elements, the south wall breached, the residence and chancellery had no roofs or windows. In short, it was a ghost town. The surveyors noted pitifully that even the vineyard growing “behind the castle toward the village of Tatar, which was previously bountiful, bears no crops now that it has been ravaged by the enemy.”
Before the Deluge Czersk had 206 houses, afterwards only 22. It never recovered.
The Bishop of Poznan Stefan Wierzbowski founded a new town nearby, on the ruins of the village of Gora. He called it New Jerusalem (now Gora Kalwaria). But for Czersk it was the end.
By 1750 only three walls of St. Peter's were left standing in the courtyard. A 1765 survey noted that the walls around the castle were incomplete and ruined. Although the castle was already a ruin, its buildings were still used for some time.
Then Poland was wiped from the map
After the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, Czersk found itself under Prussian rule, and the Kaiser’s officials carried out their duties using suitable castle chambers. This did not stop the general dilapidation of the castle, which began to be treated as a source of building materials.
Most probably, the present parish church near the castle was built from castle bricks around 1805/6. The Prussian authorities gave the bricks to the parish as compensation for taking away the village of Linin, which belonged to it. After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, which ended the Napoleonic Wars, the victorious powers handed Czersk over to the Russians. The Mayor of Czersk mentioned in a report of 1820 that the Russian Army was taking bricks from the castle to build baths for the barracks in Góra Kalwaria. When that building was acquired, the rubble was found to contain bits of weapons and firearms, plus ammunition from various eras, everyday objects as well as numerous bones and ceramics.
The Artists Arrive
In the 19th and early 20th century, the Warsaw 'Illustrated Weekly' and Krakow 'Friend of the People' magazines wrote about and showed illustrations of the castle's picturesque ruins, calling them the tumbling stones. Czersk castle was immortalized, among others, by Michał Elwiro Andriolli, a great Lithuanian-Polish patriot of Italian descent who had fought the Russians in 1863.
Treasure hunters were attracted from far and wide by half-forgotten knowledge, illustrations of picturesque ruins, legends and stories that triggered the imagination. The locals were far more down-to-earth people and simply pillaged the castle and ruins for free building material. Both caused extensive damage.
Research and conservation work
Conservation work finally got underway in 1908, under the architect Kazimierz Skórewicz, co-founder of the Society for the Care of Historic Monuments. Moves were taken to safeguard the upper floors of the Gate Tower. Shortly afterwards, Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, a distinguished researcher of Wawel Castle in Cracow, conducted an architectural-functional analysis of the castle and produced a project paper on reconstruction of the towers. He placed the results of his work in a publication Three Castles of Ours, illustrated with photographs and drawings. His drawings are still reproduced in books about Czersk castle.
Further research and conservation work took place between 1927 and 1930 under the direction of Antoni Karczewski. In 1934, in the depths of the Depression, the broken vaults of the Gate Tower were reconstructed with reinforced concrete ceilings, as designed by architect Jan Lukasik. World War II caused more damage and halted all work in the castle.
PICTURESQUE RUINS (19th-20th century)
After losing its role as the Prince’s main residence and becoming property of the Crown, the castle in Czersk was directly managed by royal intendants, an office called Starosta in Polish. Mostly, they performed their duties from the buildings in the castle.
Negligence by the Intendants
The intendants had long suffered a bad reputation. Over one century earlier, Bona Sforza, the widowed Queen and owner of Czersk, commissioned an audit of her estate. Her officer visited Czersk and described in detail the condition of the castle, drawing attention to the size and condition of the residential and functional buildings and highlighting the poor state of repair of the church. He also noted that the expensive dressed stone blocks previously stored in the castle had been stolen and, as it was then written, “suspicion lay on the intendants.” She certainly ruffled the feathers of some important Polish men on more than one occasion. And modern-day Polish historians still often use the propaganda of Bona’s day to blacken the name of his powerful woman.
Sometimes the post of intendant passed from father to son, which resulted in a failure to draw up an itemised list of property falling under his administrative remit. Sources show that the condition of the castle continued to deteriorate, as only the living quarters, law court and archives were properly maintained. The surveys of 1660 and 1765 both mention the disastrous condition of the roofs, the collapsing defensive walls and the destruction of the church. The surveyors themselves note that not everything could be explained by the ravages of time and wars. The lack of care by the intendants was self-evident.
Story of the Two Franks
1762 is a key date in the castle’s history. It saw the renovation of the castle buildings, construction of the archives and, most importantly, the building of a new brick bridge. “Franciszek Bielinski” is responsible for these investments. But there were two people of that name, an uncle and nephew. Uncle Frank was Grand Marshal of the Crown, the other the intendant of Czersk (and a writer, diplomat and future general). So, which Frank built the bridge over the castle moat? Until recently, it was assumed that it was Marshal Franciszek Bielinski. His relationship with Czersk was indeed strong ─ he was a Member of Parliament for the Czersk area, and he also built the local town hall and church. Moreover, he was a great builder of things in Warsaw. Marszałkowska Street in Warsaw was named in honour of Marshal Bielinski.
Intendant Franciszek Bielinski and the Bridge
The Latin word nepos means “nephew”. So, wielding great power, the Marshal engaged in nepotism ─ including finding a good job for his nephew, Franciszek Onufry Bielinski. Naturally, it wouldn’t happen nowadays … . The ambitious twenty year-old presented his plan to expand Czersk castle to a special committee, a plan costed at 24,368 zlotys. It was Nephew Frank who oversaw the work, but not everything went to schedule for the youngster. Public procurement. He managed to do only some of the planned renovation and remodelling work, but he did completely deliver the key project of building a new road to the castle. This included a new brick arcade bridge over the moat, the one leading to the castle to this day.
An enchanting legend is told about the bridge. Under the last, smallest arch there was at one time a little metal door. Apparently, it opened into a secret passage leading to the treasure chamber of the castle ...
ROYAL INTENDANT BIELINSKI AND CASTLE BRIDGE (1762 - 1766)
Presumed condition of the castle after the damage done by the Swedish army during the devastating invasion of the 1650s.
All models are based on available scientific studies, archaeological results, preserved images and available sources from the era and illustrate the current state of knowledge about the history of Czersk.
Subsidised by the National Centre for Culture under the programme Kultura w sieci
Delivered by the Cultural Centre in Góra Kalwaria