The Ojcowski National Park

The gorgeous landscapes of the Ojcowski National Park have earned it the title of Poland?s Switzerland. White rocks, evergreen forests, deep caves, the twitter of birds, the rushing torrents of wild streams and a picturesque castle ? it has it all. But one big cave and the castle are the foremost attractions. The Pieskowa Skala Castle dates back 700 years. Wladyslaw Lokietek, the king of Poland from 1320 to 1333, mentioned it in a document he wrote as a prince in 1315. He called it the Castle Penkenstein.
Henry the Bearded added fortifications. Then, in 1377, the castle became the property of the Szafraniec family, who used it as a base from which to ambush merchants arriving in the valley.
The chicanery cost Krzysztof Szafraniec his life. King Casimir Jagielonczyk ordered him decapitated on Wawel Hill for his plundering.
After 1640 the castle fell into the hands first of Michal Zebrzydowski and then of the Wielopolski family. The Wielopolskis were important in Polish history for their view that it would be pointless for the country to oppose three European powers? annexation of a third of Poland in 1772 ? that fighting the annexation would not result in Polish independence..
Russia, Prussia and Austria assumed control over 35 percent of Poland?s inhabitants on grounds that doing so would assure the stability of Europe. The Wielopolskis were loyal to the Russians, believing that a relationship with Russia would serve the country better than a relationship with either of the other powers.
Many of the castle?s owners added to it or restored portions that had fallen into disrepair.
During World War II the government transformed a luxury guesthouse on the grounds into an orphanage. The children were mainly from the Eastern borderlands. After the war, the Polish government took over the castle and began reconstructing it in earnest. The director of the project, Professor Alfred Majewski, a Krakow Polytechnic University professor who was also an architect and preservationist, created the splendid castle which exists today.
In front of the castle, balancing precariously on a point since before recorded times, sits the geological wonder known as the Crib of Hercules. Legend has it that, during the reign of the Jagiellonians, there lived a sorcerer named Twardowski, who had entered into a contract with the Devil. According to the contract, Twardowski was to enjoy a long, powerful life until such time as he entered Rome, at which time the Devil would claim him.
The Devil was to perform three tasks for the sorcerer. One was transporting a stone to the Pradnik Valley, where it would be placed upon its tip. According to legend the Devil had to take a bath in holy water and build a castle using grains. Legend also has it that the contract was consummated when Twardowski inadvertently found himself in an inn named Rome. Today, though most people attribute Hercules? Crib to atmospheric and geological conditions, older inhabitants of the region swear by the legend.
The castle contains a 28-thousand-volume library that originally belonged to the Sapiehas, a royal family that basically ran the city of Krasiczyn in eastern Poland from 1835 until 1944. The castle also contains a museum with fine examples of Polish painting, sculpture and ceramics.
If you would like a cup of tea during your visit, you can relax in the Castle Café. From the terrace there is a picturesque view of the Italian Garden, reconstructed in the 1950s by Professor Gerard Ciolek, another Krakow Polytechnic professor who was an architect, garden planner and garden art historian, planner of gardens.
In a scenic park that adjoins the castle grounds is a neo-Gothic 19th Century summerhouse. Between the woodland paths of the valley, blue-colored ponds reflect sunbeams.
But the tranquil beauty of the park hides a dark history. It was in these idyllic surroundings that some of the bloodiest battles of the January Rebellion took place.
The rebellion, in 1863, was against Russia. It started when young Poles began a spontaneous protest against conscription into the Russian army.
Thousands of rebels took part in the fighting. When the Russians finally crushed the rebellion in 1864, they sent almost 10,000 Poles to exile to Siberia.
A monument commemorates 65 Polish rebels who lost their lives in the park, along with Andrzej Afanasjewicz Potiebnia, a Russian captain who supported the rebellion.
One of the most popular attractions in the area is Lokietek Cave, also called the Royal Cave. The largest of the park?s caves, it is 130 meters beneath the valley floor.
Two large chambers and their connecting passages run for some 320 meters. Inside, along the ceiling approaching the Main Passage, inexplicable spiraling holes are visible.
Next come the Knights? Hall and the Kitchen, the oldest areas that humans used. Here, tangles of tree roots have poked through the cave walls from the ground above.
The largest hall, the Bedroom, includes an enormous column, which some refer to as the Eagle and others as the Bed of Lokietek. According to legend, Wladyslaw Lokietek, who was to become the king of Poland, slept upon this column for six weeks sometime in the late 13th and early 14th centuries while hiding from the Czech kind Waclaw II.
It is said that whoever touches the column while whispering their fervent wish will see the wish fulfilled. In winter, small, icy stalagmites, ?ice peasants,? form at the entrance to the cave.
Joseph Cyra, who wrote a set of sonnets extolling the wonders of Ojcowski National Park, said of the Royal Cave: ?Dark cavern, residence of great secrets. Nobody knows what is hidden in its interior??

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