Olsztyn Poland Travel Guide

Olsztyn Castle
Olsztyn Castle

Castle of Olsztyn

Olsztyn Castle
Olsztyn Castle

The castle in Olsztyn was under the Kingdom of Poland from the mid-15th century and Catholic Church officials of the Warmian Chapter were responsible for administrating it.

One of them was Nicolaus Copernicus, who in 1516-1521 administered the chapter’s property, including its nearby lands and the castle in Olsztyn. He was a canon, that is a member of the Catholic clergy, who professed his first vows, including the vows of chastity. But he wasn't a priest because he was never ordained.

Castle under Copernicus

During his administration of the Olsztyn Castle, another war with the Teutonic Order broke out. In 1519 he participated in unsuccessful negotiations with Albert of Prussia, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights. In January 1520, Copernicus was in Frombork when the Teutonic Knights attacked and torched the town.

As he began preparations to defend the castle against the enemy, the astronomer sent a letter asking the Polish King Sigismund the Old for military help.

Even though the Teutonic Order seized the letter, the insightful king sent Copernicus 100 armed men. Copernicus knew all too well that the men would not be enough to defend the castle. Still, he made solid preparations to fend off the attack. In fact he was so successful that in 1520, after one attempt, the enemy withdrew from its plan to conquer the castle.

Treatise on Coin

When he administered the castle, King Sigismund I the Old commissioned Copernicus to write a treatise on money, the result of which was "Monetae cudendae ratio" also called Treatise on Coin. In his paper, Copernicus proposed introduction of a unified monetary system and incorporated formulated the economic law which states that “bad money drives out good”.

He worked on his treatise on and off from 1517 to 1522. In 1528 he expanded his work, laying the foundations for a monetary policy. The title of the new document was “On the Minting of Coin.”

During his stay at the Olsztyn Castle, Copernicus also conducted astronomical observations. He was particularly interested in planets and issues related to vernal and autumnal equinox. To follow the equinox better, he constructed a special astronomical table.

Today the table is near the entrance to a castle chamber, which Copernicus once occupied and which houses an exhibition dedicated to the astronomer.

New Town Hall Olsztyn

Olsztyn New Town Hall
Olsztyn New Town Hall

From the Middle Ages the Town Council used to gather in the Old Town Hall. In 1911 it was decided to build a new Town Hall instead of yet another extension of the old building. The new place was on the site of a closed cemetery, in the very centre of the Upper Suburb.

Building of the Town Hall

The city architect Max Bolt designed the town hall. Paul Christian Zerach, a successor of Bold, was in charge of construction works, carried out by Albert Dylewski from Olsztyn.

A cornerstone was laid on 31 October 1912. In February 1915 clerks started moving in while the finishing works were still going on.

Clock faces disguised the clock opening in the tower. The clockwork came in 1923. The Town Hall has been a seat of the City Council since 1915. In the Polish times the President began to administer the city. Inside there are some prewar decorative elements preserved such as: a head of a Greek soldier or fluted columns.

Antique motifs decorate another column. On the ground floor hall, in a niche, there's a work by Bolesław Wolski, depicting historical monuments of Olsztyn.

Architecture of Olsztyn Town Hall

The Town Hall consists of three wings, a tower and an annex added from the West in the 20's of the 20th century. Volutes decorate the gables of wings. It's a plastered building, constructed on a stone shelf. The main entrance is in the tower, rising above the southern wing.

A semicircular portal has a keystone with a sandstone cartouche. In the cartouche there is the coat of arms Olsztyn valid during the Town Hall's construction.

The portal also has coffers with rosettes and stone fountains in the shape of bearded heads. Over the portal there is a terrace with a balustrade. A narrower tower structure with a double cupola and a spire tops a square tower with bevelled corners. In the square in front of the main entrance there is a sculpture entitled ”Maternity”, designed in 1978 by Kazimierz Zieliński.

East and Central Parts

From the East side two bays with reliefs depicting four elements: fire, water, earth and air decorate the longest middle wing. Between the windows of the Session Hall there are statues personifying civic virtues: Justice, Wisdom, Beauty, Strength and Diligence. A so-called ”Russian Bay” decorates the South – East corner.

It was once filled with reliefs by Max Krause, showing a victory of Germans over the Russian during World War I. The reliefs were then removed and replaced with copper screens by Bolesław Wolski.

In the central part of the wing, on the ground floor there is a well - preserved entrance portal leading to the lodgings of a burgomaster. A statue of a male with a book in his hand and a woman with a basket and a purse flank a semicircular portal. In a cartouche you can see a child playing with a rooster. In the northern wing, where there used to be a police station, in the keystone of the portal there is a sculpted bearded male head and in the shelf – a head of a lion.

Basilica of St James the Elder Olsztyn

Basilica of St James the Elder Olsztyn
Basilica of St James the Elder Olsztyn

Construction of the church started the same moment as the city's founding. In the 14th century the main body of the church and a 3-floor tower came to completion. In the 16th century vaults were constructed and in 1596 the tower became higher.

When the tower had seven floors , a tented roof with a Renaissance cupola covered it. In 1721 Piotr Olchowski from Reszel added both chapels next to the tower.

In 1807 Russian captives, brought here by the Napoleonic army and confined inside the church, kindled a fire.

It resulted in weakening the church's construction. In 1819 the vault above the organ gallery collapsed. The church, not renovated for years and threatening to collapse, closed in 1864.

A Prussian minister of preservation of historic monuments was in charge of its renovation between 1866-1868. Another fire took place in 1896, then the main altar burnt down. Between 1898 and 1900 Feliks Nowowiejski, a future composer of ‘Rota’, was an organist in this church.

The priest Jan Hanowski saved the building when he forced the Russian commanders to resign from burning down the churches of Olsztyn. Since 1965 the church has been a burial-place for bishops of Warmia. During the stay of John Paul II in Olsztyn, on 5 and 6 June 1991, the Pope celebrated a holy mass in the cathedral. In 2004, Pope John Paul II decided to give the arch-see the status of a Cathedral Basilica.

Inside the Basilica

In the chancel is the main altar made in 1896 by a Nuremberg firm of Rottermund. It's flanked by two Baroque statues of St James the Elder and St Andrew. Both of them survived the fire. Below them, in the niches there are: a tabernacle with a Gothic grating and a Renaissance painting of Christ as the Man of Sorrow, on the other side - a reliquary of St. Adalbert. A baroque, 17th – century, black marble font came to the chancel from a baptismal chapel. On the chancel arch beam there is an oversize crucifix, sculpted in 1680 by Isaac Riga from Konigsberg.

In the nave, at the pillars, there are Neo-Gothic statues of different saints: Adalbert, Anthony of Padua, Vincent, Notburga, John the Baptist, Barbara and Valentine and a pulpit made in 1913 in the workshop of Splieth from Elbląg. Sculpted images of Christ and four evangelists decorate the pulpit.

In the gallery there are organs of Siegfried Sauer from Hoexter, renovated between 2006-08. At the end of the left aisle you can find a late Gothic altar of the Mother of God of Mercy from the 16th century, at the pillars - altars of: the Mother of God of Ostra Brama and of the God’s Mercy.

Altars and Chapels

At the end of the right aisle there is a Renaissance altar of Crucifixion, above it - a small organ by Max Terletzki from Konigsberg. At the pillar you can see an altar of St. Joseph and at the outer wall - a 17th-century baroque altar of the Mother of God of the Rosary.

In the chapels next to the tower there are: two chandeliers ( with a head of a deer and with a statue of the Mother of God with the Infant Jesus), a statue of Christ as the Man of Sorrow, an altar of Mother of God of Częstochowa, commemorative plaques of Father Teodor Bensch and Father Jan Hanowski and a bust of a bishop Maximillian Kaller.

In the side vestibule there is an effigy of St. Florian and a stone 14th - century stoup. Roof supports have the shape of polychrome, bearded male heads, made of terracotta. Hanna Szczypińska from Piastów designed glass windows between 1974-76 and then made in the workshop of Mieczysław and Karol Paczka in Krakow.


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