Szydłowiec is a small town located on the Korzeniówka River in the southern part of the Mazowieckie Voivodeship. It once belonged to the Sandomierz region, which was part of Lesser Poland as a historical land (until the 18th century).
The origins of Szydłowiec probably date back to the 12th century, when it was founded on Polish law. In the 13th century, on an artificial island in the backwaters of the Korzeniówka River, there was already a defensive stronghold with earth and wooden ramparts, the nest of the Odrowąż knightly family, eminent at the time of the Piasts and Jagiellons.
The first of the Odrowąż who began to use the surname Szydłowiecki (from the name of the heritage) were brothers Jakub and Sławko. On January 1, 1401, they erected a wooden parish church in Szydłowiec. Also thanks to their efforts, the current settlement obtained city rights, which is confirmed by the document of February 8, 1427, specifying both the rights and obligations of the townspeople of Szydłowiec. From this document we know that crafts such as weaving, milling, brewing already existed in Szydłowiec at that time, and local sandstone was also exploited. It also confirms that the Szydłowiecki headquarters were already a stone manor house. In 1470, King Casimir IV Jagiellon granted the city Magdeburg rights at the Piotrków Seym.
The city was developing and Szydłowieccy themselves, who held the highest offices in the Kingdom of Poland, contributed to its heyday. Stanisław Szydłowiecki, who in 1467 was appointed marshal of the court by King Casimir IV Jagiellon, erected a gothic castle on the site of the existing manor house, an impressive residence with a gate tower. His sons, Krzysztof and Mikołaj, continued their father’s political career. Krzysztof Szydłowiecki (1467-1532), a peer and friend of King Sigismund I of Poland, among many offices was a great chancellor of the crown, and above all the king’s adviser and politician valued all over Europe. Krzysztof’s brother, Mikołaj Szydłowiecki (1480-1532) was the castellan of Radom and the Grand Treasurer of the Crown. It was him who in 1515-1530 transformed the medieval castle into one of the most beautiful Renaissance mansions in Poland. He built, among others representative east wing with viewing loggia. Another brother, Jakub, Cracow burgrave and Grand Treasurer of the Crown, began building a late Gothic stone church of local sandstone in 1493, which was completed by Mikołaj around 1525. Hence the Renaissance interior of the church.
Through the marriage of Elżbieta, daughter of Krzysztof, with Mikołaj Krzysztof Radziwiłł “Czarny”, the castle passed into the hands of Radziwiłł, princes on Nieśwież and Ołyka. Like the church, the castle was built using Szydłowiec sandstone. Sandstone was also used to create numerous decorative elements for the castle. Particularly noteworthy is the stone portal in the castle courtyard with the coat of arms of the Radziwiłł family.
Another example of the use of local sandstone is the Town Hall. It is situated in accordance with the Magdeburg Law in the middle of the four-sided square and facing the east. It was built from municipal funds when the city’s owners were Mikołaj Krzysztof Radziwiłł “Sierotka” and his son Albrycht. The construction was completed in 1629. The town hall was, among others, courtroom and underground prison for criminals.
The Swedish Deluge in the 17th century and numerous epidemics meant that not only the population decreased, but Szydłowiec’s economy declined. During the Kościuszko Uprising, many buildings were destroyed, and January and November Uprisings and both world wars also caused many losses. The town hall was destroyed during the march of the Austrian army in 1812 and restored later in 1829, but again partly destroyed, like the parish church, during World War I and II.
The last owner of the castle was Anna Sapieżyna, who in 1828 sold it together with the Szydłowiec goods to the treasury of the Kingdom of Poland. Later, the castle unfortunately fell into decline when the Engeman family used it as part of the brewery. During World War II, the Germans turned the castle into a ghetto for Jews. The revitalization of the castle took place only in 2010-2014.
Szydłowiec is definitely one of those places that seems to be dormant and extremely calm. However, its unique architecture makes us begin to discover the extraordinary history of this place and the lives of its outstanding residents, firmly rooted in the history of Poland.