The Piast Trail Part 2 – From Gniezno to Kalisz
The second part of the Piast Trail, stretching from Wągrowiec to Kalisz, abounds in a number of monuments and attractions that can be used by both adults and young people, for whom a direct encounter with history will be a valuable adventure. It is in this part of the trail that we find Gniezno, the first capital of Poland, Ostrów Lednicki, where most likely Mieszko I was baptized, as well as reconstructed medieval castles, such as the one in Ląd on the Warta or in Kalisz Zawodzie, where festivals related to with the Slavic culture.
The first traces of settlement in these areas date back to 8 or even 10 thousand years ago, and the first stronghold was built on Lech Hill in 941 AD. Gniezno quickly expanded Mieszko I, making it the main stronghold of the Polanie state. After 966, the first Polish ruler had a church built in the castle in which he buried his wife – Dobrawa, and a stone castle with a chapel. In 1000, a convention was held in Gniezno, attended by the son of Mieszko I – Bolesław I the Brave and the German Emperor Otto III. At that time, the archbishopric and metropolis of Gniezno were created, and the local temple was elevated to the rank of a cathedral. In 1018, a fire consumed the outer bailey together with the cathedral church, which was rebuilt into a Romanesque cathedral by 1025. In 1025 the coronation of Bolesław the Brave as the king of Poland took place in Gniezno, and in 1038 the Czech prince Brzetysław I entered the city, leaving only ruins behind. This event made the next king of Poland, Kazimierz the Restorer, moved the capital of the state to Krakow. Gniezno itself, as the cradle of the Polish state, deserves a separate text and it is worth stopping here for a longer time, because the multitude of historical attractions and museums can compete with many Polish and European cities.
The largest of the five islands on Lake Lednica, situated in its southern part, is likely the site of the Baptism of Poland. Today, there is an archaeological site on the island and, since 1969, the Museum of the First Piasts. The island is one of the most important places connected with the history of Poland. During the reign of Mieszko I and Bolesław the Brave, it was one of the main defense and administrative centers of Poland. There are remains of the hillfort and elements of the oldest complex of pre-Romanesque palace and sacred architecture in Poland, with baptismal basins and a free-standing cemetery church. Both buildings were erected during the reign of Mieszko I, i.e. before 966. The heyday of Ostrów Lednicki ended after the invasion of Brzetysław I Czeski in 1038, which Ostrów Lednicki turned into a pile of ash. After this event, the church was rebuilt, and the settlement was surrounded by a new wooden and earth embankment, up to 9 m high. However, the island did not regain its former function and rank, although the stronghold survived until the 14th century.
Situated in the very center of the Gniezno region, the stronghold played an important role in shaping the Polish state. One of the largest medieval centers was located here, several times larger than the more famous today Gniezno or Ostrów Lednicki. As a result of extensive archaeological work, the embankments and the interior of the stronghold were cleared of wild vegetation, a museum pavilion with an exhibition hall, library and archaeological workshops, stylized as a historic entrance gate, was also erected. The area of Grzybowo was almost 5 ha, and the area of 2.2 ha was surrounded by a 16 m high rampart with a base of about 27 m. Wood research used to build the embankment showed that the stronghold was probably built around 930. The oldest ceramic vessels found by archaeologists in Grzybów date back to 915. The most valuable find, however, were silver Arabic coins from the 9th century! Grzybowo is also worth visiting because of the numerous events taking place here, the purpose of which is to popularize the Old Slavonic culture, traditions and customs of the first Piasts, such as: craftsmanship shows, knight tournaments, as well as the staging of a battle to defend the city.
Located to the north-east of Środa Wielkopolska, Giecz stands today slightly to the side of today’s main communication routes. On the outskirts of the village, among arable fields, there is a hill called “Grodziszczek”. This is the site of the stronghold, situated on the peninsula of the lake, which does not exist any more, through which the small Moskawa River flowed. To this day, fragments of the defensive fortifications of wood and earth have survived, with a base width of about 30 m and a height of up to about 8 m. foundations of the ducal seat with a chapel (rotunda), the construction of which was interrupted for unknown reasons at the foundation stage. The stronghold in Giecz is now an Archaeological Reserve and there is a museum building here, where you can see an exhibition presenting the results of works, showing the special importance of this place for the Piast dynasty. An educational settlement with examples of residential buildings at the time was built near the stronghold. Interactive classes, workshops and field games for children, adolescents and adults take place there.
The royal city of Pyzdry, once situated on the trade routes from Toruń and Poznań to Kalisz and further to Małopolska, was once one of the most important cities in Greater Poland. The Warta River, which used to float food and other goods, favored the settlement in this place. In 1331, when the future king, Casimir the Great, was staying in the city, the Teutonic army was attacked, as a result of which the castle was destroyed. The later king of Poland, however, ordered the reconstruction, and he surrounded the city with walls and built a castle, which was one of the largest in the then Kingdom of Poland. However, it was completely dismantled by the Prussians (after a huge fire in 1768) and today there is no trace of it. The proud past of Pyzdry is evidenced today by numerous historical mementoes exhibited in the existing Regional Museum. It is located in the building of the post-Franciscan monastery, located on a slope. In the museum you can also admire the preserved gothic frescoes and a set of baroque paintings made by the Poznań Franciscan Adam Swach. It is also worth stopping for a moment to admire the magnificent view of the Warta valley from the courtyard in front of the museum.
Ląd by Warta River
The Cistercian monastery complex in Ląd by the Warta River is one of the most valuable monuments in the country. The monastery, which is a branch of the abbey in Łekno, is situated on the right bank of the Warta River, next to the stronghold guarding the crossing of the river on the trade route from Kalisz to Gniezno. From the Gothic monastery, erected in the 14th century, the walls of the patio, the hall, chapter house, cellars and the oratory of St. James, where you can admire a set of frescoes from around 1372, which are among the most valuable monuments of Gothic painting in Poland. The real pearl is the late Gothic carved triptych with figures of the Mother of God with the Baby Jesus, St. Catherine, St. Barbara, St. Stanislaus the Bishop and St. Nicholas – it is the so-called sapphire altar with lockable side wings. Lovers of medieval history and culture, visiting Ląd by Warta River at the turn of May and June, can take part in the Festival of Slavic and Cistercian Culture. In reconstructed Slavic then you can meet medieval merchants, itinerant craftsmen and brave warriors, and medieval pilgrims roam the monastery. The main attractions were organized with children in mind, but adults will certainly be interested in concerts, popular science lectures and historical performances.
In the early Middle Ages, Konin was situated on an important trade route leading from southern Europe to the Baltic Sea. Part of the trail was the road connecting Kruszwica with Kalisz, and Konin was exactly halfway along this road. In times when there was no GPS navigation and landmarks were marked on primitive maps, travelers found their position using road poles, placed in strategic places. The column that can be admired in Konin is the oldest object of this type in Europe, outside the territory of the Roman Empire. To this day, little is known about the creation of the pole. It was probably established in 1152 at the request of the founder Piotr Włostowic, called Dunin, who for his services to Bolesław Krzywousty received numerous lands in Kujawy and assumed the dignity of the voivode.
According to researchers, the Prosna River Valley in Zawodzie is one of the oldest areas of continuous settlement in Poland, dating back to the end of the Palaeolithic. The settlement “Kalisia” is identified with the vicinity of Kalisz, even marked on the map of the Greek geographer Ptolemy from the 2nd century AD. In the second half of the 9th century, a stronghold was built in the area of today’s Zawodzie district in Kalisz, which was one of the most important forts in the country during the early Piast monarchy. 28 castles were built around Kalisz within a radius of 30 kilometers. It was here that the routes from Silesia through Greater Poland to Pomerania and from Greater Poland to Lesser Poland and Mazovia crossed. After being destroyed by the Teutonic Knights in 1131, Zawodzie remained forgotten for hundreds of years, and there were only legends in the society about the lost collegiate church and golden coffins of the Piasts.
It was not until the second half of the 1950s that archaeologists discovered a stronghold hidden under the layers of earth in the area of Kalisz, which now houses the Archaeological Reserve. Based on the research, fragments of the hillfort have been reconstructed, the interior of which is led by a road that runs next to a reconstructed medieval hut, through a wooden bridge on the former moat and a log gate with a palisade and a stockade on both sides. A wooden defensive tower was also erected within the defensive embankment that has survived to this day. Inside the settlement, you can see a number of exhibits and performances, as well as models and reconstructions. The most important is the reconstruction of the Collegiate Church of St. Paweł, one of the few brick churches at that time, where Mieszko Stary and his son Mieszko Mieszkowic were buried. You can also admire the reconstructed residential huts: a saddler, a weaver widow, a servant’s hut, a knight’s, blacksmith’s and potter’s hut, and the hut of the comes, i.e. the magnate who manages the castle.
The reserve hosts archaeological workshops, live history lessons, historical reconstructions, “Piast feasts” and other outdoor events, during which the Piast rulers, knights and their ladies, warriors, craftsmen and even st. Wojciech come to the city.
The town in Zawodzie was certainly one of the most important in the Piast times, and according to some scholars, it was from Kalisz that the expansion of the Piasts began, and it is here that the beginnings of Polish statehood should be sought.