The Castle in Wieliczka (Polish: Zamek Żupny, Wieliczka) was built in the 13th century in the north-western part of the city. It was the historical seat of the mine’s management board between the 13th century and 1945. Currently, the facility is made available to tourists and is the seat of the Cracow Saltworks of Wieliczka. In the Cracow Saltworks Museum, as part of visiting the castle, visitors can see a permanent archaeological exhibition about the history of the city with an interesting model and a rich collection of salt shakers. Also worth seeing is the representative room, known as the "Izba Grodzka", completely preserved in the Gothic style, with the rib vault supported by one pillar, with a collection of paintings donated by Dr. Stanisław Sęk. In the courtyard there is the oldest shaft from the 13th century and a tower and defensive walls from the 14th century - the only preserved fragments of the city's medieval fortifications. Various types of events and artistic events are often organized here. In June 2013, the Saltworks Castle was entered on the UNESCO World Heritage List, as an extension of the salt mine entry.
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The Żupny Castle was established at the end of the 13th century as the administrative center of one of the largest enterprises in Europe at that time - the Kraków Żup. For nearly 700 years, i.e. until 1945, it was the seat of the management board of the salt mine and saltworks in Wieliczka and Bochnia. The żupny administrator - the administrator of the Żupy appointed by the king - was responsible for the proper management of the property. The first Cracow żupnik was appointed in 1333. He was a Frenchman, Wojciech Porinus.
The castle was the center of the daily life of the employees of the Wieliczka mine: from the tower they were called to work, and from its warehouses were separated tools and tallow necessary to illuminate the mine corridors. Here, the miners also received their salaries, as well as meals - in the so-called Żupna kitchen, which was the first mass catering facility in Poland. In addition, the castle premises housed a court, a prison and a chapel, as well as the apartments of the most important city officials. In the Austrian times, the Castle first began to serve tourists, because tickets to the salt mine were sold there.
The present appearance of the castle comes from the end of the 18th century, during the reconstruction carried out by the Austrians after they occupied Wieliczka in 1772. Fragments of the perimeter wall and a gothic four-sided tower in the north-west corner have survived from the original castle. During the warfare in January 1945, the central "House among the Żupy" was destroyed to the cellars and remained a ruin until 1976. The reconstruction of the castle in the gothic form was completed in 1984. In addition to the original medieval cellars, the Gothic hall, formerly known as the town hall, characteristic of the era of Casimir the Great, was recreated. It has a unique rib vault supported on one pillar. The castle is open to visitors, and in the reconstructed castle interiors there is the Krakow Żupy Museum.
The Żupny Castle complex consists of several buildings from different years. It is a central, northern and southern building, a medieval tower that used to be a fragment of Wieliczka's fortifications, as well as the remains of the aforementioned żupny kitchen and a mining shaft from the 13th century.
Central Castle - "House among the Żupy" is the oldest building. In the past, it performed the most representative function. Here was the Grodzka Chamber (after changes called the Gothic Room) and the richly equipped Royal Chamber with portraits of kings on the walls and their coats of arms painted on the window panes. The courtly past of this building is evidenced by decorations in the form of portals, frames, vault keystones or decorative blendes dating back to the times of Casimir the Great. Currently, there are exhibitions: archaeological (in authentic castle cellars), historical, the largest collection of valuable salt shakers in Poland and a room for temporary exhibitions.
Northern Castle - "Żupny House" is an economic part, which additionally housed, among others, chapels and living quarters of the highest officials of the żupy. On the ground floor there were, among others, the Pea Żupne prison, the tallow yard (tallow, that is animal fat for lighting the mine, was used here), a mining tool store, a room for storing silverware and church apparatus for the aforementioned chapel. In the mid-nineteenth century, a wooden porch for communication was added along the building. Currently, it houses the Krakow Żupne Museum in Wieliczka, research laboratories, a saline archive, a library with a large collection of mining publications and a café. Until 1780, the Central and the North Castle were connected, at the height of the first floor, by a wooden room used for communication and with a representative function. Its walls were decorated with 24 portraits of żupnik.
South Castle dating back to the nineteenth century. In the past, it housed offices, apartments for guards, a coach house and a warehouse for fire-fighting equipment. Currently, there are: a room for temporary exhibitions and educational activities, workshops and a restaurant.
The tower dates back to the 14th century. The tower was part of the medieval city fortifications built during the reign of Casimir the Great. In addition to shooting ranges, there was a prison and temporary chambers of the żupny chaplain. The remaining 18 towers of the city fortifications, unfortunately, did not survive.
In the castle courtyard there are walls of the ground floor of the żupny kitchen from the 15th century. The first mass catering facility in Poland, where administrative employees, miners and Prasol people who came for salt received free food. She performed this function until the 1880s. After the kitchen was closed, the żup employees received an equivalent for meals.
Near the House of Żupa there is the first mine shaft in Wieliczka. Unfortunately, its depth has not been checked. The excavation work was completed at a depth of approximately 7 meters and it was assumed that it was abandoned before it led to a salt deposit.
Currently, the Żupny Castle, as the seat of the Krakow Żup Museum in Wieliczka, is a place of permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as research and organizational work. It was there that the visitors of the most valuable collection of salt shakers in the world, consisting of unusual objects from all over the world, were made available to visitors. The castle archive houses a priceless book collection, a saline archive and a cartographic collection of over 3,000 objects.
Noteworthy is also the representative room, known as the "Town Hall", completely preserved in the Gothic style, with a ribbed vault supported on one pillar, with a collection of paintings donated by Dr. Stanisław Sęk. It is also worth seeing the archaeological exhibition or an exhibition about the history of the city with an interesting model.
In addition to the exhibition in the Żupny Castle, the Krakow Żup Museum in Wieliczka also has a second one: on the third level of the Salt Mine, 135 meters deep. It presents all aspects of the brewing and mining activities carried out in the Krakow Żupy. The exhibits presented in historic excavations create a unique mining open-air museum. At the exhibitions you can admire, among other, a collection of wooden treadmills - machines moved centuries ago by horses employed in the mine, geological specimens, painting and sculpture. The Museum Route also presents objects related to the work of former Wieliczka miners, as well as their traditions and everyday life. All this is presented in monumental, amazing salt chambers.