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Archeological and architectual research

    1. Discoveries in the southern part of Wawel Hill (near the Sandomierz Tower):
      a. Remnants of romanesque masonry architecture,
      b. Remnants of early medieval wooden and earth fortifications.
    2. Research into royal gardens.

Archaeological research

Archaeological research at Wawel covers 130 years. The first research was conducted in the Dragon’s Den by geologist Alojzy Alth in 1874. In the years 1880-1882 architect Tomasz Pryliński, preparing materials for the restoration of the royal castle, conducted excavations in front of the elevations of the building in the north and east, which resulted in the finding of many fragments of stone decoration from the royal castle. During the renovation of the cathedral at the turn of the 20th c. architect Sławomir Odrzywolski made excavations in some parts of the cathedral, including the presbytery and the cathedral Treasury. In 1906 architect Zygmunt Hendel, the first manager of the castle restoration, initiated a grand excavation process in the arcaded courtyard and in the underground parts of the castle and old royal kitchens. As a result, remnants of the Gothic upper castle were discovered (1906) together with the Romanesque defence tower (1906), St. Felix and Adauctus’s rotunda (1911) and St. Gereon’s church, considered for a while the first Romanesque cathedral in Kraków. In 1916 architect Adolf Szyszko–Bohusz took over and continued research of the above-mentioned buildings. He also discovered the remnants of the Romanesque prince’s palladium in front of the northern elevation of the castle (1921). In the years 1935-1938 he conducted restoration works in the western part of the cathedral. It was at that time that in St. Leonard’s crypt bishop Maurus’s tomb was found (d. 1118), as well as several fragments of the walls of the Romanesque cathedral and traces of its sequence of transformations.

Since 1948 archaeological research at Wawel has been conducted by several institutions: Management for Research on the Beginnings of the Polish State, Management for the Restoration of Wawel Royal Castle, and Wawel State Art Collection. The works were conducted by Gabriel Leńczyk, Andrzej Żaki and Stanisław Kozieł; and currently by Dr. Zbigniew Pianowski, Head of the Archaeology Department at Wawel Royal Castle.

The excavation works conducted after the Second World War include the following areas:
  • the arcaded courtyard of the castle and the discovery of a pre-Romanesque rectangular building;
  • interwalls in the western and southern parts of the hill – discovery of the remnants of the early medieval defence embankment;
  • the external courtyard – discovery of remnants of the Romanesque and Gothic phases of St. Michael’s church and the Gothic phase of St. George’s church;
  • the underground part of the cathedral – discovery of the remnants of the pre-Romanesque church, the Romanesque phase and an unknown early-Gothic location;
  • St. Gereon’s church – discovery of the walls of pre-Romanesque buildings, specifying the size and shape of the Romanesque church;
  • the cellars of the royal castle – verification of discoveries relating to the Romanesque castle and particular stages of development of the gothic castle;
  • the royal gardens in front of the eastern elevation of the castle – discovery of the remnants of the Renaissance gardens on the upper and lower terrace.
Other noteworthy discoveries include a two-apse rotunda (church ‘B’) in the southern part of the hill, two more rotundas – pre-Romanesque in the north of the cathedral, and Romanesque at the foot of the Sandomierz tower, research in the Dragon’s Den (remnants of Romanesque buildings were discovered), contemporary tie beam fortifications, and research into early Medieval and ‘Gothic’ embankments in many parts of the hill. Archaeological works continue chiefly during building and modernisation work, conducted in various parts of the hill. The remnants of the bishop palace and the buildings of the canon monastery, the Romanesque phase of St. George’s church and the remnants of the embankments from the 11th-12th c. are still to be discovered.
Academic studies of archaeological excavations in Wawel are published in „Acta Archeologica Waweliana”.
Zbigniew Pianowski
Architectural research

The first architectural research into the royal castle, in the modern sense of the word, was conducted in 1881-1882 by architect Tomasz Pryliński, who prepared a plan for castle renovation commissioned by the government of Galicia. The documentation of this research, included in the Pryliński files, is still a valuable source for studies on the architecture of the castle. Wider-scale research could only be conducted after the castle was reclaimed from the Austrian army. In the years 1905-1914 the first manager of the Castle Restoration, architect Zygmunt Hendel conducted wide-ranging activities in this respect, both in the castle and in some other buildings on the hill (e.g. Lubranka and Sandomierz towers) in preparation for planning and restoration work. Hendel’s research was continued in the years 1916-1939 by Prof. Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, who revealed the remnants of the Romanesque church in the western wing of the castle and the remnants of St. Felix and Adauctus’s rotunda. He published the results of his discoveries in several articles, primarily in the “Kraków Annal Volume”. After 1945 architectural research was conducted, as part of the Restoration of Wawel Royal Castle, by, among others, Dr. Stanisław Walczy.

The programme of extensive restoration of the Wawel historic complex, conducted since 1991, also covers architectural research. It is conducted by the Archaeology Department (in conjunction with archaeological research), specialist for architecture restoration, and specialists from other institutions (including restoration plans). The most important areas, tackled in recent years, are architectural research of the elevation of the royal castle, Lubranka and Sandomierz towers and building no. 7.

Research documentation is available in the Wawel Castle Archive, and major research findings can be found in articles published in the „Studia Waweliana” and „Acta Archaeologica Waweliana” periodicals.
Piotr Stępień



1. Remnants of romanesque masonry architecture.

In 2003 important archaeological discoveries were made in the cellars of the southern projection of the old Austrian hospital (building no. 9). Levels were discovered from the time of construction (layers of mortar and split limestone  slates), usage (paving and mortar screed) and destruction of a Romanesque rotunda built in the second half or at the end of the 11th c. (stone rubble mixed with mortar, containing characteristic Romanesque limestone blocks). In all probability the rotunda was part of a palatial complex, which consisted of an ecclesiastical building (a church with a choir gallery) and a secular one (residential and official). Other such architectural complexes are known in Poland, e.g. Ostrów Lednicki, Giecz, and Przemyśl.

The rotunda with the choir gallery and the residential building, a palace, whose quoin, as it was originally believed, was discovered under the foundation of the Gothic defence wall, were situated in the southern part of Wawel Hill, at the foot of an early medieval defence embankment. The church existed until the beginning of the second half of the 13th c. when it was destroyed and covered by an early gothic defence embankment built by Boleslaus the Bashful, as a result of Tartar invasions which threatened the Krakow district. After the destruction of the church the residential building could still function on its own. 


Research conducted in 2003 verified the above speculations. The surmised fragment of the palace quoin turned out to be part of a stone pillar which was the support for the porch (either wooden or stone), situated to the west of the rotunda wall, probably connecting the choir gallery of the church with the first floor of the residential building. Unfortunately, the palace building was not found. Finding its position remains one of the most important research objectives and aims of archaeological research into early medieval Wawel. An approximate outline of the rotunda walls can be found on the view terrace from St Bernard’s Tower’s side. Detailed information on the discoveries is included in vol. 2 and 3 of ‘Acta Archeologica Waweliana’.

                                                                                                            Andrzej Kukliński

2. Remnants of early medieval wooden and earth fortifications.

One of the issues concerning Wawel hill which has not been sufficiently addressed is the outline, construction and the chronology of the early medieval defence embankments. The remains of the wooden, earthen and stone fortifications of early medieval Wawel were discovered in many places on its peripheries. For the first time this happened in the western part of the hill in 1948 (cf. ‘Studies for the Wawel history’ vol.1), and more recently in the years 2000-2006, during archaeological work conducted at the foot of the Thieves’ Tower, over the Dragon’s Den, within the Sandomierz Tower and in the cellars of the old buildings of the seminary, situated in the western part of Wawel. Charred remains of the pillars of the palisade were discovered then, and so were the beams of the wooden chests which stabilised the stone and earthen part of the embankment core. 

The dating of these elements remains undecided. At first it was believed that they were built in the 8th c or 9th c., when Wawel was one of the town seats of the Vistulans tribe. Then another hypothesis was presented, that it was built by the Czechs in the middle of the 10th c. and protected the town with the Czech regiment until about 989, when Krakow and the whole of Lesser Poland were overrun by Mieszko I, the prince of Polans. The results of dendrochronological analyses of the wood samples show however that it came from not earlier than 1016. The exact date is additionally complicated by the fact that a stone pre-Romanesque building was erected on the charred ruins of the stone pre-Romanesque building, most probably from the 10th or 11th c. or the beginning of the 12th c. The embankment remained in the form of an earthwork strengthened by a palisade and chest construction, as well as layers of earth with evident traces of the fire. 

Another controversial topic in the field of Wawel archaeology is the layering of the remnants of early medieval fortifications, and the recognition of the phases of its construction and use. The most probable thesis is that the layers discovered are the remnants of one embankment. Research conducted in 2003 in the cellars of the Sandomierz Tower produced unexpected results. In two stratigraphic levels remains were discovered of unrelated walls built from vertical beams. Most probably these were remnants of two consecutive embankments - the older one and the newer one, dug into its remnants. The older one consisted of the clay earthwork and palisade, which could have been the primary element of the plaited construction of the inner wall of the embankment, or it could have been a wooden defence curtain with the walkway for the wardens, on its inner side (like in the case of the oldest early medieval fortifications of Krakow suburb, the ‘vicinity’). The older embankment has not been found to bear any traces of violent destruction, at least in the excavation mentioned above. Therefore, it must have been rebuilt. It was used as a base for an oak beam chest framework, filled with earth, sand, clay and stone. It was the basis for the newer embankment, which from the inside of the town was strengthened with a palisade, which repeated the outline of the older structure. The newer embankment was destroyed suddenly during a fire. 

Conclusions from the research so far have been confirmed by the results of the latest excavations of the defence embankment, conducted in 2006 in the cellars of the old building of the seminary in the western part of Wawel. These are the first remnants of the two subsequent defence embankments which are so evident.    

Detailed information is included in ‘Archaeological Reports’ vol. 47, 1995, vol. 50, 1998, vol. 55, 2003, and vol. 57, 2005.

Andrzej Kukliński

Plan of Wawel with the excavations in which the existence of the embankment, remnants of its construction (chests and the palisade) and the layer of the fire was observed, are marked.

Cross-section of the layers of the wall (SE of the excavation 1A-B/92-94, region IX) of a building in the south-western part of the hill, with marked remnants of the early medieval defence embankment and a plan of its chest construction.

Remnants of the early medieval defence embankment discovered in the cellar of the Sandomierz Tower.


In 1999 the department of archaeology of the Royal Castle started supervising (Z. Pianowski, J. Firlet) conservation work in front of the eastern elevation of the castle. This area, currently in the shape of two terraces, was occupied by the Royal Gardens in the 16th to 18th c.. Earth work, which considerably lowered the level of the upper terrace, was finished in 2000 and led to the first excavations of fragments of rebuilt Renaissance stairs near the elevation of the castle, fragments of brick garden paths and also the supporting wall of the terrace. In the wall of the castle was the outflow of 16th-c latrines and elements of a Gothic residence, previously unknown.

Further archaeological research conducted in the years 2001-2003 showed uniformly planned paths and rectangular earth quarters in the northern part of the terrace. Invoices from the building of the castle stated that the garden composition sub turri Jordanka (a tower in the eastern elevation) and ante fontem (a well in the cellar) was created in 1541. The southern part of the quarters was destroyed in the 16th c. as a result of stone paving being laid.

Systematic research of the lower, extensive terrace of the gardens was preceded by a series of surveys conducted in 2002. As a result of expanding the range of excavations near the southern curtain of the Wawel defence wall, a segment of the foundation of the Renaissance building was discovered, situated in the south-eastern corner of the terrace. Between the wall of the building and the defence wall a road was discovered with a surface paved with ‘finger’ bricks. The communication tract sloping eastwards was repaired with stone paving in the 16th c.

These discoveries led to further excavations. In the years 2003-2006, in the central and northern part of the lower terrace, an extensive segment of foundations of a rectangular, one-tract brick building (dimensions c. 8 x 25 m), with the inside divided into square rooms, was found. Remnants of the footings of the stairs found in the corners indicate a multi-level arrangement of the interior. This Renaissance building in all probability was used as a garden,  and there may have been a magnificent pavilion here described in 16th c. sources as ‘Paradise’.

Near the building mentioned above a group of architectural details was discovered in the layer covering the top of the wall (fragments of tympanums, archivolts and pilasters) with beautiful sculpted decoration, showing levels of skill matching that of Bartolomeo Berecci.

Multi-level gardens, with an impressive arrangement were connected by a partially excavated communication tract which led from the portal with a porch in the eastern elevation of the castle to the castle gate in the defence wall. It is along this road that the invalid Sigismund the Old was carried to the royal bath house in the garden at the foot of the castle.

In 2005 on the upper terrace a reconstruction of the arrangement of quarters was conducted on the basis of the existing remnants, according to 16th c rules. The reconstruction of the entire Royal Gardens will enable tourists to become familiar with the partially retained Italian garden composition in the future.

                                                                                                                Janusz Firlet