Eagle-nest Castles is a chain of medieval strongholds picturesquely elevated over the utterly scenic landscape of the rolling Krakow-Czestochowa Upland graced with profusion of fancy limestone rocks, gorges, cavities, etc.
King Casimir III the Great (1333–1370) erected most of the once formidable fortresses to protect what was Poland’s western frontier, at the time perilously close to the country’s capital city, Krakow.
Later on the king’s castles passed into the hands of various aristocratic families, together with the adjacent land. New owners usually did their best to adapt the medieval fortresses as stately manor-houses and family nests through successive overhaul, expansion, refurbishment, renovation, etc. without compromising the defenses as long as possible. Nonetheless eventually the proud eagle-nest castles largely turned into picturesque ruins over the centuries.
Eagle Nests’ Route, connecting several of the most interesting strongholds, starts in Krakow and has its end in Czestochowa.
Ojcow Castle or rather what remained of it at a village of the same name in the heart of the Ojcow National Park: the Gothic gate housing tiny local museum, the octagonal tower of stone, and ruins of the chapel. Popular as a tourist destination since the 18th century, the village of Ojcow was a fashionable health resort through the second half of the 19th century. A few buildings in the period’s so-called ‘Ojcow style’ last, e.g. two former hotels: one turned into the Nature Museum, the other into the post office.
Pieskowa Skala Castle , called ‘a pearl of the Polish Renaissance’, at the Ojcow National Park’s northernmost end, among forests on a hill overlooking the picturesque Pradnik river valley, dates back to the mid 14th century. In the 16th century it underwent a refurbishment after the fashion of the north-Italian Renaissance. Since 1970 it has been home to a European art museum, a branch of Krakow’s Wawel Royal Castle.
Rabsztyn Castle , overlooking a village of the same name, replaced a wooden fort of the end of the 13th century. At the turn of the 17th century a much larger Renaissance lower castle-palace was built next to the upper mid-14-century Gothic stronghold. In 1657 Swedes burned the Rabsztyn castle. Nowadays scenic ruins feature outside walls up to the second and remains of the Renaissance gate.
Smolen Castle remained in ruins at the village of Smolen: the Gothic gate, part of the eastern wall with the sentry gallery, and tall watchtower. The castle hill has been listed as the landscape park since 1959.
Ogrodzieniec Castle , 2 km east of the 4,600 Ogrodzieniec town, stands among fanciful limestone crags atop the greatest (504 m) elevation of the Krakow Upland, granting splendid panorama. In 1545 the grand Renaissance castle-palace of Krakow’s powerful and fabulously rich Boner family replaced the king’s mid-14th-century fortress. The castle was abandoned in 1810, but great deal of its fortifications, towers, and other structures still can be seen thanks to a secure tourist route running through the imposing ruins.
Mirow and Bobolice Castles , twin strongholds connected by a ridge, lie 1,5 km from each other. The former was first a wooden fort, turned into a Gothic fortress in the 14th c., turned a manor-house in the 16th c., abandoned by 1787. The latter was knights-robbers’ hideout first, next the 14th-century king’s frontier fort, then an aristocratic manor between 1500 and 1661 when deserted.
Olsztyn Castle above a town-like village of the same name dated back to the late 13th century but was made a formidable Gothic stronghold by 1349. In its tower one of King Casimir III the Great’s rebellious barons was starved to death in 1360. In the mid 15th century the fortress was turned into a palatial residence, ravished by Swede forces in 1656. Its ruins consist of the 14th-century 35-m-tall round tower (once the starvation-death dungeon), adjacent remnants of the residential quarters with a large cave underneath, and the square watchtower.