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The Kamieniec Castle

The Kamieniec Castle is one of the main symbols of the Krosno region, the seat of the Kamieniecki family and the place of the most famous feud over a border in Polish history, immortalised by Aleksander Fredro in the most widely known Polish comedy.

The castle is situated on a hill rising above the Krosno Valley and if the wonderful panorama was the only attraction it offered, it would still be worth visiting. As you climb up the winding path to the castle, remember that before it inspired the comedy “Zemsta” (“Revenge”), it was the seat of the famous Kamieniecki family. The family took its name from the castle, used the Pilawa coat of arms, and gave the Kingdom of Poland its first Great Hetman in history.

The defensive character of the place was first appreciated by Casimir III the Great, who set up a small watchtower there, which was later given by Władysław II Jagiełło to Klemens of Moskorzew, of the Pilawa coat of arms. Klemens, who was the Deputy Chancellor of the Crown, a knight and diplomat who, for example, oversaw the renovation of the Kraków Academy and defended Vilnius from the Teutonic Order, built the oldest part of the stronghold, the so called High Castle, and the adjacent settlement outside, later remodelled into the Middle Castle. The castle chapel, where the guardian of the Krosno Franciscans St John of Dukla celebrated Mass, was also built around that time and has survived to our times. The residence must have been finished in 1399, as this is when Klemens received King Jagiełło there.

The branch of the Pilawa family who settled at the Kamieniec Castle quickly integrated into the local community. Klemens’ grandson Henryk was very popular among the local nobility and consistently used the name Kamieniec while holding the highest local office of the castellan of Sanok. He also worked diligently at multiplying the family fortune and left his six sons a true magnate’s inheritance and the significantly extended castle.

The oldest of Henryk’s sons, Mikołaj, gained renown as the Grand Crown Hetman and the Voivode of Kraków, Jan Kamieniecki, one of the middle sons, became the castellan of Lviv, and the youngest, Marcin, the Voivode of Podole and the Crown Field Hetman. Mikołaj was perhaps the most outstanding member of the family – closely connected to the court of the Jagiellonian kings, he made a brilliant career, turned out to be an excellent commander and became the first Grand Crown Hetman in history for his services in war. He died without an heir in 1515 and was buried in the vault of the Wawel Cathedral, leaving the Kamieniec estate to his brothers Marcin and Klemens. This was the first time when the castle was divided, while still in the hands of one family.

However, the brothers belonged to the last generation of the “great” Kamienieckis. The main representative of the following generation, Marcin’s son Jan Kamieniecki, cavalry captain of the defence of Potok, is known primarily not for his achievements but for his magnificent tomb in the Franciscan church in Krosno, carved by Giovanni Maria Mosca. And for the dispute over the castle with the Boner family.

The Kamieniec family, active in politics and war, gradually mortgaged their property, mainly to the rich banker from Kraków Seweryn Boner, who eventually demanded the castle as repayment of the debt. The Voivode of Podole Jan, orphaned by his father at the age of six, was sued.

He fought for his right to the Low castle he inherited from his father, as the High Castle had already been taken by Boner from his paternal uncle Klemens. The lawsuit dragged for almost thirty years, occupying the attention of the local nobility, who gave their full support to the Kamieniecki family, who had done so much for the country. In the end, the Low Castle, remodelled in Renaissance style, passed to Jan Firlej, Grand Marshal of the Crown, when he married Zofia Boner. The Kamieniecki family managed to reclaim the High Castle, but only for a short time as they soon sold it to the Skotnicki family.

The beginning of the 17th century was the apogee of the dispute between those two families, who added the temperament of the new, expressive epoch to the old feud. It was their dispute over the wall dividing the two castles, confirmed by court documents, that served Aleksander Fredro as subject matter for the plot of his famous comedy “Zemsta”.

The historic feud ended like the one in Fredro’s play. The feud and the misunderstandings that have accumulated thorough the years were put an end to in 1630 by the wedding of Zofia Skotnicki, daughter of Jan, castellan of Połaniec (the prototype of Rejent Milczek in the play), and Mikołaj Firlej, son of the Voivode of Lublin Piotr. Their children were the only lawful heirs to the Kamieniec Castle until 1770. Unfortunately, by then, the castle was in ruin.

The heyday of the castle ended in 1657 with the raid of George II Rákóczi, Prince of Transylvania and ally of the Swedes, who conquered and plundered the castle. Abandoned by the Firlej family, it was completely destroyed by the Swedes during the Great Northern War in 1702. The Bar Confederates stationed in the ruins in the 18th century. In the 19th century, the ruins of the castle became home to a mad Romantic Jan Machnik who announced that he was the lord of the castle and inspired Seweryn Goszczyński’s Gothic novel “Król Zamczyska” (“The King of the Castle”).

The last heiress of the castle from the Firlej family, Weronika, gave it with her hand to Józef Scipio del Campo, and their daughter brought it into the Jabłonowski family. Weronika’s granddaughter in turn, Zofia Jabłonowski, after her turbulent divorce from the influential Count Stanisław Skarbek, married in 1828 the writer Aleksander Fredro, whom her family did not approve of. It is thanks to this controversial marriage that the writer not only became the lord of the castle, but also gained access to authentic court documents on the dispute between the Firlejs and the Skotnickis that were kept in Jabłonowski’s archives. Unfortunately, neither he nor any of the subsequent owners had the castle rebuilt.

The ruins of the Kamieniec Castle are now on a long-standing lease, and their owner and custodian Andrzej Kołder is gradually renovating and securing fragments of the castle, making them available to visitors. The two rooms of the restored part house a small museum where visitors can see memorabilia from the castle discovered during archaeological works and an impressive portrait of Mikołaj Kamieniecki, the greatest member of his family.

Thanks to Mr Kołder’s passion for history, the famous border wall was reconstructed. The castle chapel was also rebuilt and is again a place of worship centred around the unique Gothic altar. Newer but equally intriguing attractions include a fully interactive torture chamber and the Castle Ceramics Workshop, run by the younger generation of the Kołder family.

fot.: Zamek Kamieniec