Niedzica Castle, also known as Dunajec Castle, was erected between the years 1320 and 1326 by Kokos of Brezovica on the site of an ancient stronghold surrounded by earthen walls in the Pieniny mountains. The Niedzica Castle stands at an altitude of 566 m, on a hill 300 m upstream from the Dunajec River mouth. The outline of Niedzica Castle can best be viewed from the ruins of Czorsztyn Castle on the other side of the lake. It is known as one of the most picturesque castles in the country and adorns the covers of many books.
The castle was an important centre of Polish-Hungarian relations since the 14th century. It was a place where the money lent by the Polish king to the Hungarian king Sigismund had to be returned following an agreement signed in 1412. Once the loan was paid back, the Polish king returned the 16 Spiš towns given to him by Sigismund as collateral. For centuries the castle was a border-post with Hungary. At the time of the Turkish invasion five hundred years ago, a deal was struck at Niedzica to make it a Polish protectorate.
The castle was built by a Hungarian known as Kokos from Brezovica with family rights dating back to 1325. In 1470 it became the property of the aristocratic Zápolya family. However, in 1528, the entire county including the castle was given away by John Zápolya aspiring to the Hungarian throne, and became the property of Viliam Drugeth who received it as a reward for his support. Sixty years later it became the property of Hieronim Łaski and his son Olbracht. At the end of the 16th century the castle was bought by Ján Horváth from Plaveč. The fortress was renovated many times in the fifteenth, sixteenth, eighteenth and in the beginning of the 19th century by its successive owners. The last Hungarian inhabitants remained there until in 1943 when the coming of the front in World War II inspired the Salamon family to abandon it. The last countess left with her children two years before the Red Army marched in. The final reconstruction of the castle was completed in 1963 under the supervision of the Polish Ministry of Culture. It has served as a historical museum ever since.
A new artificial reservoir, the Czorsztyn Lake, was created in 1994 by damming the Dunajec River downstream of the castle. The castle now stands approx. 30 m above the upper water level. The castle hill consists of limestone rock saddled on shale and marl found much below the current bed of the Dunajec River. Studies and analyses show that rock strata forming the limestone bank are weather-resistant, and provide secure foundation for the castle in spite of visible surface deterioration. In order to secure the stability of the hill, a number of reinforcing works were effected in the strip between the high- and low-water marks. The works include concrete reinforcement of rocks, substratum (weathered shale and marl) replacement, and surface protection elements on the hill. The castle and the hill are subject to constant monitoring.
Although in large part only ruins remain of what used to be the Gothic castle in Niedzica, its dungeons and a number of rooms survived, as have some of the paintings — including the Crucifixion that once adorned the chapel — and furnishings which are not entirely as they were in the 1930s. The architectural design consists of a densely packed complex of buildings with a courtyard surrounded by residential wings with arcades, towers and fortified walls.
The museum in Niedzica holds archaeological artifacts related to the castle, remnants of the masonry that once adorned its interiors, prints and engravings with views of the castle from various periods, and historical documentation. The museum's collections include ethnographic exhibits from the Spiš region, a collection of antique clocks, 18th and 19th century pistols, hunting rifles, and taxidermied game. In 1996, a new collection was added. Because of the fortress's Hungarian origins, Ákos Engelmayer, Hungarian ambassador to Poland (1990-1995), donated his collection of Hungarian-related items of historical interest from Poland, such as maps of Hungary from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, engravings depicting various Hungarian kings and castles, as well as cities and battlegrounds; which it is hoped have become the largest collection of Hungarian-related materials outside of Hungary. The castle is a great place to visit. The views are magnificent, particularly to the south over the Pieniny mountains.References:
German crusaders known as the Livonian Brothers of the Sword began construction of the Cēsis castle (Wenden) near the hill fort in 1209. When the castle was enlarged and fortified, it served as the residence for the Order's Master from 1237 till 1561, with periodic interruptions. Its ruins are some of the most majestic castle ruins in the Baltic states. Once the most important castle of the Livonian Order, it was the official residence for the masters of the order.
In 1577, during the Livonian War, the garrison destroyed the castle to prevent it from falling into the control of Ivan the Terrible, who was decisively defeated in the Battle of Wenden (1578).
In 1598 it was incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Wenden Voivodship was created here. In 1620 Wenden was conquered by Sweden. It was rebuilt afterwards, but was destroyed again in 1703 during the Great Northern War by the Russian army and left in a ruined state. Already from the end of the 16th century, the premises of the Order's castle were adjusted to the requirements of the Cēsis Castle estate. When in 1777 the Cēsis Castle estate was obtained by Count Carl Sievers, he had his new residence house built on the site of the eastern block of the castle, joining its end wall with the fortification tower.
Since 1949, the Cēsis History Museum has been located in this New Castle of the Cēsis Castle estate. The front yard of the New Castle is enclosed by a granary and a stable-coach house, which now houses the Exhibition Hall of the Museum. Beside the granary there is the oldest brewery in Latvia, Cēsu alus darītava, which was built in 1878 during the later Count Sievers' time, but its origins date back to the period of the Livonian Order. Further on, the Cēsis Castle park is situated, which was laid out in 1812. The park has the romantic characteristic of that time, with its winding footpaths, exotic plants, and the waters of the pond reflecting the castle's ruins. Nowadays also one of the towers is open for tourists.