Tykocin – the town full of history

Tykocin is a relatively small, but still very picturesque town situated upon the Narew River. The town is inhabited by aproximately 2.000 people. In spite of its small area, the town is proud of the numerous monuments, local stories and legends. In this brief study, we will do our best to bring to you its local colour. Nevertheless, in order to experience the unique atmosphere of the region, you will have to come to Tycikon on your own.

Tykocin’s origins date back to the early middle ages, and the old burg city located on the natural, postglacial hill three kilometers south from the current town. The burg was ring-shaped, defended by a single rampart and surrounded by the brook which has already dried out. Archeologists discovered that the rampart comprised seven layers covered with stones. Early inhabitants hammered the horizontal pillars next to the moat for the defensive purposes. On the western and eastern sides, the burg was surrounded by peasants’ homesteads. This early settlement existed until the 14th century and remained an important defensive stronghold on the north-eastern border of the Mazowsze Province.

Legend:

Tykocin’s name, according to the oldest town dwellers, may be derived from the founder of the settlement which lies deep under the present-day town. The legend says that it was a man of an uncommon height, tall as a “pole” (pol. tyczka). And because he was a man of great virtues, and contemporaries viewed him as a fearless warrior who governed justly, his nickname “Tykota” soon was linked the whole town. Professional historians, however, tend to support the second interpretation, according to which the town’s name was derived from the word tichat (to be on the outlook, on guard) which comes from the language of spoken by the Jaczwangos tribe.

Tykocin was granted municipal rights by Janusz Mazowiecki, the Prince of Mazowsze Province, in 1425. It is the oldest town in the region founded on Magdeburg rights. The town was developing very fast becoming a center of brewery and mill trade (owing to the river). Grain and venison were also floated by the Narew River to Gdansk and Warsaw.


Tykocin Castle after renovation – 2007 r.

In 1366, the Lithuanian bailiff of Ukraine and Podole region, Piotr Gasztołd came to Tykocin to take over the castle from the hands of the Mazowsze princes. By fortifying the stronghold, he wanted to protect south borders of Lithuania against Teutonic Knights. Gosztołd family had destroyed old fortifications and built a new castle. It was very quickly destroyed due to fire from the half of the 16th century, which razed it to the ground.

Construction of the largest stronghold in Poland commenced at the initiative of the king Zygmunt August. The layout of the castle is trapezoid in plan, with 70 meters long arm. An inner court was surrounded by four wings with the towers.

Zygmunt August sets out for Lithuania in 1543 and meets voievode’s daughter Barbara Radziwiłłówna. The king fell in love, passionate love and secret meetings ended with marriage. The love affair was not accepted by queen Bona. She did not have any significant effect on her son’s decisions, especially that after her husband’s death on 1st of April 1548 and son’s enthronization, she lost political powers in Poland. It should be remembered that during the last decade of her husband’s life, she participated in all parliament meetings. In many situations, the king would change his mind after consulting the issue with his queen. Senators representing the nationalist party presented urgent issues directly to the queen, as they knew she would see to the country’s businesses with due care. It is perfectly understandable then, that she must have tried to be on friendly terms with her son and his wife. Mikołaj Radziwiłł, Marshal of the Lithuania, became August’s most trusted advisor. The king would consult the marshal on every issue and charge him with important, difficult and private matters. Historians agree that the king would never ask his mother for opinion, advice or help. Perhaps, we mention too many facts relating to the Jagiellonian dynasty, nevertheless their history is closely connected with the region, including towns such as Tykocin, Knyszyn and Suraż.

Upon Barbara’s request, the last Jagiellonian king of Poland, decided to build the first plazzo in fortezza fortification which would perform residential, defensive and warehousing functions. The stronghold was to be erected in honor of the queen, unfortunately she did not have an opportunity to appreciate this as she died soon after the construction was completed. It was a tragedy for Zygmunt August. Even though he was raised under the protection of Jan Sylvius Siculus who was famous for his love affairs, and in spite of taking religious vows, the king could not recover after Barbara’s death. He invited many magicians and charlatans to the court believing that they will bring his beloved wife to life. According to the legend, magician Twardowki summoned the queen’s soul and August saw her figure in the mirror.

Some sources falsely claim that the Queen Mother was responsible for death of her daughter in law. It is true that in those days, poisoning was the most „popular” way to eliminate political opponents quickly and without any trails. Historians, however, have cleared Bona of blame. (according to Z. Kuchowicz Barbara died of cancer).

Despite Barbara’s death, construction of the stronghold did not cease. Tykocin was then located in the middle of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, owing to the Narew River the town was able to maintain trade contacts with other river cities: Cracow, Lwów or Wilno. Perfect localization allowed the town to became an important trade centre and maintain trade relations with Gdansk, Leipzig and Nuremberg. Local craft was developing, trade flourished, many Jews settled in Tykocin. The castle was the King’s gift for his beloved Barbara. It was then the largest stronghold on Polish lands. Defensive fortress were usually four times smaller.

In 1566 August opened a state mint in Tykocin – it has survived and may be seen at the crossroad of the present-day Benedyktyńska Street and Czarniecki Square. Stanisław Myszkowski, voivode of Cracow, became the mint’s administrator and as a result the coins produced in Tykocin featured Myszkowski’s coat of arm – Jastrzębiec. Other rare coins from Tykocin include: half of a penny (pol. półgrosz) (10 double die coins), as well as Polish (two types) and Lithuanian pennies (pol. grosz) (one type). The coins were not of a full value and contained the reduced amount of silver.

Most interestingly, Zygmunt August was one of the most powerful figures in Europe of the time and his treasury was located in Tykocin. Jewellery, gems and expensive palace equipment hugely impressed foreign guests. The collection included ceremonial clothing embroidered with pearls, rubies, diamonds and emeralds as well as large goblets decorated with precious gems, armors made of gold and diamonds only. Silverware, apart from those of everyday use, weighed fifteen thousand pounds. The collection of precious stones was invaluable. In spite of the variety of jewellery stored in the vault, only selected insiders were aware of its real value. Fight for the King’s inheritance stored in Tykocin broke out after his death. King bequeathed the treasury to his sister Anna Jagielonka. And indeed, Anna unsuccessfully tried to claim her inheritance. Just before her marriage with Stefan Batory she was forced to renounce her rights for the benefit of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Some historians claim, that it is quite possible that Tykocin hides some part of the huge treasury. It is well established fact, however, that shortly after King’s death many greedy people wanted to plunder his property. Polish chronicles write that even the regal gowns were stolen, so the courtiers were forced to cover King’s body with private gowns and slipped their own rings on his hands. To make things worse, they had to get a loan from the merchants to cover costs of the funeral. What has happened with the treasury than? Some part of it was probably taken by Anna Jagiellonka, in accordance with her brother’s will, another part was presumably looted by the courtiers or taken to Lithuania by the Radziwłł family. One have to remember, however, that it was a treasure owned by one of the mightiest monarch in Europe. Only several people knew exactly where the vault was located, it was mainly due to King’s distrust of the Senators. When analyzing plausible places where the treasury could have been hidden, one have to take into account two locations: dungeons of the castle and Bernardine monastery. Unfortunately, despite archeological works, nothing has been found until now. What we have is only the story full of mysteries; raising speculations and numerous hypotheses.

The castle became a court place in 1630, during the reign of Zygmunt III Waza. Krzysztof Wiesiołowski, major-domo, was the starost of Tykocin at the time. To commemorate the King’s stay, he founded an altar in the Bernardine church as well as a seminary (house of war veterans) which still exists today and is one of the most interesting local monuments.

Throughout the centuries, the stronghold played a very significant role. Hugely fortified and located in the strategic place of the Polish-Lithuanian boundary. It was also full of ammo and weapons. The fortress turned out to be particularly useful during the Polish Swedish war 1655- 1660, commonly referred to as the Deluge.

The above mentioned historical period is very interesting and should be depicted in details. It is commonly known, that the Swedish invasion was uttetrly disastrous for Poland, and many people thought of it as a way to multiply their property. Several member of the Radziwiłł family betrayed Poland, to mention only Janusz (voivode of Vilnius and Field Hetman of Lithuania) and his relative Bogusław. The latter seemed to carry out very practical negotiations, he gained support of the noblemen of bielska, drohicka and milenicka lands presenting them with 7 barrels of wine and 150 barrels of beer. Afterwards, on the autumn of 1655, he came to an agreement with the Swedes and captured the Tykocin castle together with his brother. It was a rather pyrrhic victory for Janusz, as he died on the New Year’s Eve of the same year due to unexplained reasons. It was the first time when the curse of the last Jagiellonian ruler was mentioned. The curse was supposed to be imposed on traitors. The castle remained in the Swedish hands until 1667. Polish army tried to recapture the castle causing a lot of damages to its construction. The siege came to an end after Swedish soldiers had blown up two bastions killing soldiers of both army. The castle was finally captured by the Polish army under the command of Piotra Sapiecha (who will be described in detail further, in the paragraph devoted to the „Koziołek” Redoubt)

Next stage in the development of Tykocin commenced in 1659. King of Poland, John II Casimir awarded Stefan Czarniecki with the title of the Tykocin’s starost for his war service. Because Czarniecki did not feel comfortably in the region, he handed it over to his oldest daughter Alexandra who was married with the starost of Chęcin, Jan Klemens Branicki. Branicki family moved to the Podlasie region and founded beautiful, baroque palace also called Versailles of North.

1702 brought another Swedish siege of Tykocin during the Great Northern War. The times were harsh, war activities emptied villages and towns and caused a series of betrayals by magnates and important noblemen who dethroned Augustus II and enthroned Stanisław Leszczynski as a replacement. In 1705 the meeting between Agustus II the Strong and Peter the Great of Russia was held in Tykocin castle. The “summit” brought an end to the playfulness of Polish magnates. The Order of the White Eagle was instituted during the meeting, it remained the highest-rank order in Poland bestowed to people living in accordance with the rule „pro Fide Rege et Lege” (Lat. For Faith, King and Law).To commemorate this event, local community founded the White Eagle’s Memorial in 1982.

In 1734, the Tykocin Castel was completely destroyed by the fire. Since then, the building was left empty. The demolition commenced in 1750. In 1771 huge flood destroyed the castle’s remnants. On the same year, Jan Klemens Branicki told his men to gather and use castle bricks to build the Monastical Complex of Bernardine Missionaries.

Synagogue

Apart from the castle which was razed to the ground, one should mention the Jewish synagogue erected in the centre of Kaczorów. Originally, the temple was wooden and was replaced by the brick construction in 1642, which surprisingly survived the war turmoil. The synagogue is a living example of the affluence of local Jews. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was believed to be the second biggest Synagogue in Poland.

Tykocin owes much to the last member of Grafit family – Jan Klemens Branicki (Kazimierz). He reconstructed the town in accordance with the baroque standards. It is debatable whether he made the right decision by moving old trade routes from Tykocin to Białystok where he had his residence, as industry in Białystok greatly developed at the expense of Tykocin. On the other hand, Tykocin wouldn’t be such a lovely, peaceful and enchanting site now.

Tourists are welcomed in Tykocin throughout the whole year. Every single nook and cranny is full of stories, legends and memories. This “tourist gem” is definitely worth visiting.

A Polish movie „Biała sukienka” (White Dress) featuring Pawel Małaszynski was shot in Tykocin in 2003. The movie depicts local color and quietude surrounding the city in a truly metaphysical way.

Essay by: Marek Falkowski