Palaces and castles are the stuff of fairy tales, usually, but Poland has a host of them in varying degrees of decay. Once a powerful corner of Eastern Europe, the country suffered a Swedish invasion in the 17th century, devastation by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II and neglect during the Communist era. Over time, that’s led to a lot of ruined castles in the country.
In some cases, developers are now trying to reinvigorate these grand properties, turning them into museums where visitors can gaze at the ornate details and learn more about Polish history. Some are now hotels. But others are simply a shell, a ruin, merely hinting at what was there hundreds of years before. And while fans of decay may enjoy these the most, Polish developers are looking to turn things around, motivated by a sense of national pride in addition to profit. “Why should the Germans have their castles on the Rhine, the French their castles on the Loire, why should the Czechs have so many castles open to the visitors and why should the Poles have only ruins?” one of the rebuilders of a medieval castle told the Associated Press in 2011. Another developer noted that the medieval and Renaissance periods, from which many of the castles date, were a golden age for the country—“a time when Poland was known in Europe, when Poland mattered.”
Today, each of Poland’s castles bears the stories of a slew of owners and inhabitants. After all, a structure that’s lasted five, six, or even seven centuries has seen hundreds of people live and die there. Read on for seven of Poland’s most interesting sites of ruin and repair:
Krzyżtopór Castle in Ujazd
Once the largest castle in all of Europe, Krzyżtopór was built between 1631 and 1644. The design is said to be based on numbers found in the calendar. As Poland’s official travel site explains, “The castle had as many windows as there are days in a year, as many chambers as there are weeks, as many rooms as there are months and as many towers as there are seasons of the year.”
During Krzyżtopór’s heyday, even the horses were living in style, with troughs made out of marble and crystal mirrors in the stables. Other decadent features included a room with an aquarium for a ceiling, filled with exotic fish. Now the massive castle is in a state of ruin, which visitors can explore. Folks who want to relive the Middle Ages can also attend periodic events at the site—this summer’s have included a show of artillery (including cannons, muskets and harquebuses), dancing and jousting tournaments.