A geological and historical tour of the Polish Jura

SOSNOWIEC, POLAND–A most memorable day traveling through part of the Polish Jura with Michał Zatoń and his delightful family of his wife Aneta and son Tomasz (4 and a half years old). The Polish Jura, also known as the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, is a long exposure of Upper Jurassic (Oxfordian) limestones in southwestern Poland. We saw a bit of the rock yesterday — a hard white carbonate with a core of lithistid sponge mounds. The area is deeply eroded by karstic processes and so has vertical cliffs, pillars of limestone, sinkholes and caves. Since at least the 14th Century there have been stone fortifications (called “Eagles’ Nests”)  built on these rocks overlooking the deep valleys and access to inner Poland. One of these is the Castle of Pieskowa Skała shown above.

Michał Zatoń showing how the Jurassic limestones are used to effectively lengthen and strengthen the castle walls at Pieskowa Skała. When bedrock is used like this it is called evocatively “living stone”. A similar use of living stone was recorded in this blog two years ago from Jerusalem.

A large karstic pillar called Hercules’ Club near the Castle at Pieskowa Skała. It is juxtaposed with the castle most dramatically when viewed from down in the valley and is included in almost every early drawing or painting of the castle.

Another one of the Eagles’ Nests is Ojców Castle built in the second half of the 14th century by King Kazimierz the Great commemorating the exile and hiding in the area of his father Władysław Lokietek (called “The Elbow-High” because of his stature). The cliffs give this castle (now in ruins) an excellent view of the valley below.

The 14th Century King Władysław Lokietek mentioned above hid from his rivals in this karstic terrain. There is a legend that he took refuge in this particular cave now called “Grota Lokietka”. It is a good excuse to develop the cave into a tourist attraction. We walked through the slippery, dark and cold passages and chambers with a large crowd of enthusiastic Poles examining cave structures and listening to tales of cryptic royalty.

The third castle of the day is not in the Polish Jura, but I’ve included it for completion. It is Będzin Castle in Będzin, a small city next to Sosnowiec and the home of Michał and his family. It too was built in the second half of the 14th Century and obviously took advantage of the local geology, in this case exposures of Triassic limestones. More on the tragic history of Będzin in a later post. We had a very interesting, informative and touching tour of the city center near the end of the day.

I again want to thank my Polish paleontologist host, colleague and friend Michał Zatoń for arranging a wonderful and productive visit. I shall return with Wooster students someday soon. I am certain they will enjoy their visit and work here as much as I have.

About Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson is a Professor of Geology at The College of Wooster. He specializes in invertebrate paleontology, carbonate sedimentology, and stratigraphy. He also is an expert on pseudoscience, especially creationism.
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