One of the biggest attractions of the Pieniny Mountains is the beautifully situated medieval fortification from the 14th century. Despite the turbulent history, fires, and numerous wars, which the ancient walls have witnessed, Dunajec Castle delights with its beauty, forming together with surrounding mountains and lake fabulous landscape.
Stronghold Niedzica (also called Dunajec) is one of the most valuable defensive monuments in Poland. The Castle was thoroughly researched over the years, in terms of archeology and preserved documentation. Thanks to this, today, we know a lot about this ancient stronghold. The history of the Castle often surprises, and there is no doubt that the Castle itself is truly fascinating.
The Castle, called “Dunajec,” has been standing here for centuries and more specifically since the 13th century. It was created by Hungarian nobles Jan and Kokosz Berzezviczs as a watchtower on the border with Poland. In 1528, the Castle became the property of a Pole, Hieronim Łaski.
Jan Zápolya, count of Spis and voivode of Transylvania, became the Hungarian King in 1526. He owed his victory in the fight for the throne to the broad diplomatic skills of Hieronim Łaski; therefore, in gratitude, he gave the Kieżmark, Gelnica, and the Dunajec Castle to the diplomat.
The son of Hieronim, the famous brawler Olbracht Laski, in 1589, sold the Castle to Jerzy Horvath of Palosca. The new owner transformed the Gothic building into a large Renaissance defensive residence. The Castle belonged to this family for almost three hundred years.
Andreas Horvath was remembered by history primarily through the prism of the profligate lifestyle, his revelry never end. Perhaps it was then that the first rafting down the Dunajec Gorge was organized. The last owner of the stronghold before World War I was the Salamon family.
After the end of World War I, the Castle was on Polish territory, although it remained the property of the Salamons family until 1945. From 1948, the Castle underwent significant restoration work and partial reconstruction. In some of the rooms, the writer’s’ Association retreat was created, while others were open to visitors, creating a history museum of the Spis region. In 1960, a seismological station of the Geophysics Department of the Polish Academy of Sciences was arranged in the tower.
The Legend of The Incas Treasure
The Dunajec Castle also holds a great secret, and perhaps a great treasure. The beginnings of this extraordinary history date back to the 18th century and is associated with the Hungarian noble family Berzeviczi. One of the family representatives, Sebastian, traveled to distant South America.
There, Sebastian fell in love and married an Indian woman, who gave birth to a daughter named Umina. Their daughter married one of the Indian leaders who led the uprising against the Spaniards. When the rebellion collapsed, Sebastian, his daughter, and son-in-law fled to Italy. Apparently, they took with them a large part of the treasure of the Incas kings. The rest of the valuables were reportedly sunk in Lake Titicaca and still lie somewhere in its depths to this day.
Bad fate followed them after returning to Europe. Umina’s husband was murdered, and Sebastian, with his daughter and her newborn son, once again had to seek shelter. They found one in the Castle of Niedzica. One day, in the absence of Sebastian Berzewicz, masked attackers invaded the Castle. They were probably people of the Spanish Inquisition chasing the descendants of the Inca royal line.
Apparently, they were looking for a little boy, but the servants managed to hide him at the last moment. Unable to find the boy, the attackers killed Umina. According to legend, after his return, desperate Sebastian Berzewiczy buried his daughter somewhere in the Castle.
An Inca treasure is hidden somewhere in the Castle, although no one has ever found the treasure. Seemingly, it is protected by a powerful spell that makes it inaccessible. The story of the Inca princess and her son has one more mysterious thread. Supposedly, after Umina’s tragic death, people began to see her wandering around the walls and corridors of the Castle in Niedzica.
Today, the Castle performs museum, hotel, and gastronomic functions and is the most prominent historical attraction of the southern part of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship.
Behind the entrance gate and the hall is the courtyard of the lower Castle. This part of the castle houses guest rooms, a cafe, and a restaurant. In the museum, you can see the so-called Salamon’s chambers, equipped with items from the 16th-19th centuries. Wooden stairs lead to the observation deck.
Through the next gate leads the entrance to the upper Castle, where we find castle dungeons, which served as basements, as well as a prison (now the so-called torture chamber was established here). There is also well at the edge of the Castle’s courtyard, carved out of solid limestone rock to a depth of over 60 m. In the Lord’s Chambers, a hunting room, a zupan room, and a guard room can be found.
Visiting the Castle takes about 1.5 hours and the granary 20 minutes.
- Everyday From May 1 to September 30 between 9:00 and 19:00,
- Everyday (Except Mondays) From October 1 to April 30 between 9:00 and 16:00.
- Normal 18 PLN
- Reduced 14 PLN
- Sightseeing of the granary (Open only in Summer) 4 PLN
Due to the impressive architecture, many cinema and television productions were shot at the Dunajec castle. The Castle became the backlot for films such as “Holidays with ghosts,” “Revenge,” and “Mazepa.” Photos of some episodes of the “Janosik” series were also shot here.
The Castle is located about 113 km south of Krakow, on Lake Czorsztyn. Surrounded by the beautiful natural environment of Pieniny National Park the Castle is a very famous attraction in Lesser Poland. Even though the Castle is quite popular among tourists, access to it is complicated. Hence I recommend getting there by car.
However, if you can’t come by car, then the best way is to hop on a bus to Nowy Targ first and there change to the bus to Sromowce Nizne. Remember to get off at the stop called Falsztyn Sklep. Now you can walk (around 50 minutes) or take a local taxi. Another option is to find the private carrier (bus) operating from Nowy Targ directly to Niedzica Castle.