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The Warsaw Voice » Other » April 7, 2010
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In the Shadow of History
April 7, 2010 By M.M.    
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Picturesquely located in the valley of the Iłżanka River, Iłża is one of the oldest cities in Mazovia province. The tall tower of what used to be the castle of the bishops of Cracow overlooks the city to this day.
Iłża was granted a city charter in 1239. The Medieval urban layout with traditional, low buildings lends it much charm. The most prominent building, towering over the rest of the town, is the 17th-century parish church of the Assumption of Mary. The church has lavish, Baroque interior decor and furnishings, including an early Baroque altar in the northern aisle that comes from Wawel Cathedral in Cracow.
For centuries, Iłża was a major center for pottery. The local potters used clay of high quality from deposits around the city. Clay from Iłża was also used to make the mold for the famous Sigismund Bell in Wawel Cathedral. Earthenware from Iłża was sold on the Main Square in Cracow and exported to Lithuania, Belarus and to Sweden via Gdańsk. A rich collection of local pottery items is on display at the Regional Museum in Iłża and a large complex of two kilns from the first half of the 19th century still stands on Wójtowska Street. The cone-shaped structure was in use until the 1960s, when the last Iłża potter died. A notable attempt to revive the pottery tradition of Iłża is the Folk Arts Fair that the Association for the Protection and Promotion of Dying Trades organizes in July.
The city lies at the foot of the mighty tower of the former castle of the bishops of Cracow. According to 15th-century chronicler Jan Długosz, the castle was built 1326-1347 on the orders of Bishop Jan Grot. The castle underwent many modifications and modernization in the centuries that followed and under Bishop Florian of Mokrsk it acquired a link to the city when the city walls were built. The castle in Iłża was frequently visited by Polish kings, including Władysław Jagiełło, who came here four times, and Władysław IV, who met his future wife Cecylia Renata in Iłża.
Heavily damaged during the Swedish invasion on Poland, the castle never regained its former splendor and the last tenants abandoned it in 1812. The castle has since stood as a picturesque ruin, the lime tower being its most well-preserved feature. It is also the oldest section of the castle. It is worth climbing the steep path to the tower-as a reward you have a glorious view of the area.
The castle and its history have inspired a Knight's Tournament held in Iłża in May every year. Watching horse riding shows, competitions for the best historical outfit and knights fighting one another, for a few moments visitors feel they have traveled back in time.
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