Olsztyn castle is the oldest building
in the town. It was built in the 14th century and originally
consisted of two wings. The archaeological research proves
that the fortress was built from scratch, on a raw piece of
land, where no traces of any earlier settlement have ever
The castle belonged to the chapter of the Warmia diocese,
which along with the bishop of Warmia was subjected to the
military protection of the Order of Teutonic Knights until
1454. For that reason the castle played quite an important
role during the wars between the Order and Poland. In 1410,
after the battle of Tanneberg, the castle surrounded to the
Polish king, and in 1414 after a short besiege it was seized
by Polish troops. During the Thirteen Years' War (1454-1466)
the castle changed hands several times. In 1521 the Teutonic
Knights threatened the castle and the town. Owing to the defence
measures taken by the castle administrator, Nicolas Copernicus,
they gave in after one, unsuccessful attack.
Nicolas Copernicus stayed at the castle as the administrator
of the chapter property in 1516-1519 and 1520-1521. He lived
in the north-east wing, in a large chamber with a view from
two windows of the Łyna river and the castle mill. The third
window overlooked the castle court. One door led to the castle
wall walk and another to the chancery. In the early 16th century
both rooms received beautiful crystal vaulting, which was
rather low, but four hundred years later the rooms were made
higher by lowering the floor.
As the administrator, Copernicus made many rural inspections
around the chapter land estates in order to oversee the settlement
matters. He made notes in a book called 'Settlement on deserted
land'. The original book, which contains a number of hand-written
notes made by Copernicus, is kept at the Archives of the Warmia
Diocese in Olsztyn. Being the chapter administrator, Copernicus
was mainly responsible for the proper management of the chapter
real estates and timely collection of fees and taxes. He also
oversaw the chapter's forests and towns.
Despite the burden of all those duties, Copernicus continued
his scientific research. While residing at Olsztyn Castle
he dealt with the reform of the monetary system in Royal Prussia.
As a result, a few years later he wrote his 'Treatise on the
minting of coinage'. Here, in the castle of Olsztyn, Copernicus
also carried out observations of the movement of the planets,
and the findings he made in Olsztyn were included in his life's
work 'De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium'. In fact, the astronomer
wrote the manuscript of the first chapter of that work while
living at Olsztyn Castle.
On the wall of the arcaded wall walk, above the door leading
to the living quarters of the castle administrator, visitors
can see the most precious reminder of Copernicus' times -
an astronomical chart made by Nicolas Copernicus. He used
it to establish the spring equinox. At the Council of Nice
in the 4th century, the equinox was dated on the 21st March,
but in the times of Nicolas Copernicus the actual equinox
fell on the 11th March. Thus, there was a ten-day gap between
the astronomic time and the calendar. Because the church holidays
were set up according to the equinox, it was necessary to
reform the calendar. But although Nicolas Copernicus did establish
the right moment of the equinox, the calendar reform was not
carried out until many years later. Actually, in Poland it
took place in 1582, long after the death of the astronomer.
In that year the 4th of October was followed by the 15th October
- which meant that the Julian calendar was replaced by the
Within the castle walls, as part of the south-west wing, there
is St Anna's Chapel, built in the first half of the 16th century
and consecrated by Bishop Martin Kromer in 1580. The external
wall of the south wing is topped with very well preserved
machicolations - protruding wooden walks with murder holes,
through which castle defenders hurdled stones or poured boiling
hot water or tar on heads of attackers.
In the 18th century Olsztyn castle began to lose stature as
the seat of the chapter administration had been moved to Frombork.
Also its defensive function began to vanish. When some of
the castle walls had been demolished, in 1758 a new palace
wing was built, facing the town. In the years to follow the
castle served different purposes, including a prison. When
the regency of Olsztyn ( a large administrative district in
Prussia) was created in 1905, the castle was adapted to house
an apartment for the president of the regency.
In 1945 the castle became the seat of the Masurian Museum,
later renamed into the Museum of Warmia and Mazury. Visitors
can see the fine first floor of the north wing, including
such rooms as the castle administrator's living chamber, the
chancery, the refectory and the old chapel. Upstairs they
can see the storage and defensive top floor of the castle.
Another building opened to the public is the corner watchtower,
from which everyone can admire the views of the town.
Today the castle is a popular venue for concerts, art exhibitions,
lectures, scientific sessions, film shows (examples include
cyclic summer meetings called Thursdays with Copernicus, concerts
of the Olsztyn-based chamber music ensemble Pro Musica Antiqua,
a series of meetings named Biographies).
The Museum in Olsztyn is known for its unorthodox forms of
sightseeing. On certain days or nights visitors can look into
rooms which are usually closed to the public; they can try
on medieval armoury or costume. The youngest visitors are
invited to take part in special workshops.
Museum of Warmia and Mazury
Muzeum Warmii i Mazur
ul. Zamkowa 2, 10-074 Olsztyn, Poland
tel. 089 527 95 96, fax 089 527 20 39