A legacy of its turbulent past and of its strategic importance in trade and imperial objectives, Poland has many impressive castles, palaces and country houses. Constructed as regional defences or as celebrations of the wealth and success of certain families, many of these historic buildings have often been left to decay after partial destruction during one of many invasions, although some have stubbornly survived intact or have been beautifully renovated. These delightful structures can be visited during a trip through Poland and are often the major highlight of a day’s exploring. Here are ten of the best castles in Poland:
Malbork. This Gothic brick castle complex was completed in 1406 by the Teutonic Knights, a Catholic order of crusaders. It formed their headquarters and served as one of the Polish royal residences. Malbork was the largest brick fortress in the world. Located in the north of Poland, it can be visited from Gdańsk.
Książ. This castle sits on a wooded hilltop in the city of Walbrzych, in southwestern Poland. A stunning architectural creation with a wealth of history. Reputedly haunted by the ghost of the last princess to live here, Książ was seized by the Nazis as a future residence for Hitler and tunnels underneath the castle are said to contain hordes of Nazi treasure.
Łańcut. A complex of historical buildings. This country mansion in the south-east of the country was the property of several important families, whose immense wealth and prestige led to the construction of this dazzling palace. Łańcut Castle is one the most famous aristocratic residences in Poland and fascinates with its impressive architecture, beautiful parkland, magnificent interiors and rich art collections.
Czocha. A lovely eclectic collection of styles, this castle in south-western Poland started as a defensive fortress and was subsequently remodelled by future inhabitants, including a German cigar manufacturer. The interiors were ransacked many times, but the building is now a hotel and museum and hosts a College of Wizardry.
Krzyżtopór. The immense, ruined castle in southern Poland was originally built by a nobleman, Krzysztof Ossoliński. The castle was partially destroyed during the Swedish invasion known as The Deluge in 1655 and then reduced to ruin during a war with the Russians in 1770. The design was based on an Italian palace and once contained 52 rooms, including ventilation and heating. The ceiling in one of dining rooms was made up of an aquarium containing exotic fish.
Wawel. In Kraków, the castle was, for centuries, the residence of the kings of Poland and the symbol of Polish statehood. It is now one of the country’s premier art museums. One of the largest castles in Poland, Wawel employs nearly all European architectural styles of the medieval, renaissance and baroque periods.
Niedzica. This 14th century defensive castle is beautifully situated on a hill overlooking the Dunajec River. It is known as one of the most picturesque castles in the country. On the border with present-day Slovakia, it was a centre of Polish-Hungarian relations for many years and was built by a Hungarian noble. The dungeons and many rooms have survived, and an excellent museum contains many Hungarian items of historical interest.
Rogalin. This village in western Poland is famous for its 18th-century Baroque palace of the Raczyński family, and the adjacent Art Gallery, housing a permanent exhibition of paintings by Polish and foreign artists of international renown including Claude Monet the famous Jan Matejko's painting of Joan of Arc. The lovely palace is surrounded by a protected natural area known as the Rogalin Landscape Park.
Krasiczyn. Completed in 1631, this is a marvellous Renaissance building surrounded by picturesque gardens. The construction work was overseen by Italian architects, and the details were completed by craftsmen from nearby Przemysl. The castle has, over the centuries, belonged to several aristocratic Polish families and now contains a unique hotel.
Moszna. In Silesia, near the Czech border, this magnificent, fairy-tale castle is often described as one of the most beautiful castles in the world. Begun in the 17th century, a mix of architectural styles have been added to the design and the chequered history of the building is as diverse. Within a large park, the castle is a charming place to visit.
This is not an exhaustive list, just examples of some of the treasures that can still be found amongst Poland’s large collection of castles and palaces.