The road through the Duchy of Cieszyn, or how it used to be travelled

Although the Duchy of Cieszyn has enough attractions to hold travellers here for more than one day, it cannot be denied that this geographical area constitutes a transit spot where various routes interlace. In the past the case was similar. However, travelling was completely different back then…

At the meeting of communication routes running across the Moravian Gate for thousands of years, the first permanent settlements with commercial functions were established during Slavic times.

The most important and the oldest one is Cieszyn, which became the driving and developmental force for the entire region, as well as the capital of a later independent duchy.

Two important European trade routes led through the territory of the Duchy of Cieszyn during the Medieval Times. The first route led from Opava and Racibórz towards Hungary.

Travelling along this route was convenient, as individual cities were set circa 30-40 km from each other, which is exactly as much as was usually covered during one day of travelling.

This means that merchant caravans or deputies travelled across the Duchy of Cieszyn within two days in case of favourable conditions, staying overnight in respective cities.

The second route constituted a part of the road from Krakow to Vienna, from where it was possible to travel through the Alps to sunny Italy.

When going through Oświęcim and Pszczyna, travellers from Kraków entered the territory of the Duchy of Cieszyn in Strumień, where a customs chamber was located.

The route continued through Skoczów to Cieszyn and Frydek, which constituted the last stop on the way to Moravia.

Another important trade route, which significance grew during the fifteenth century, was the salt route. It was used to transport salt from Bochnia and Wieliczka to the Duchy of Cieszyn.

The dukes of Cieszyn owned a monopoly for the export of Wieliczka and Bochnia salt to Western Europe, so all salt transports reached salt stores in Bielsko, Skoczów and Cieszyn, from where they moved west depending on orders and a proper price margin.

During the old days passing through the territory of the Duchy of Cieszyn was legally regulated. It was impossible to simply enter the territory governed by the Cieszyn Piasts, and later the Habsburgs.

Each traveller had to pay a toll, meaning a proper fee for using the section of the road leading through the duchy, and pay a customs duty for the transported goods.

Tolls and duties were paid in customs chambers at border towns through which trade routes ran.

Already at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the toll was separated from the duty and constituted only a fee for the service, transit, or crossing. It is worth noting that tolls paid at the border of the duchy did not include various amenities along the route, such as bridges.

It was necessary to pay extra for such comforts, otherwise, the traveller was forced to carry out a rather unpleasant crossing through the river.

Tolls and duties constituted legally fixed fees. However, the law is usually accompanied by lawlessness, which is why those passing through the Duchy of Cieszyn had to take into account additional costs in the form of tributes to robbers, and sometimes even the loss of their own lives.

Although the most famous robber is Ondraszek, sometimes referred to as the Lord of Łysa Góra, there were dozens of similar dark characters in the history of the region.

 

During the old times if a person was not forced to travel then he or she usually did not leave the hometown or region. Back then travelling was not at all pleasant, but it was certainly associated with many adventures which we can only imagine today.

The travellers abided by a principle which stated that organizing trips took place almost exclusively between spring and autumn.

During the winter even the best-prepared routes constituted a great threat – especially when it was necessary to travel across mountain areas.

Old-time travellers were familiar with the image of roadsides filled with rotting bodies belonging to those who for some reason did not reach their destination.

Some of the travellers were attacked by robbers who hung their corpses on roadside trees, others died from exhaustion or due to illness, and others were left dead after falling victim to wild animals.

Today a bus or train from Cieszyn will take us to Krakow in 3-4 hours, in the past such a trip would take about a week, with returning home being a great unknown.

There are no hordes of robbers waiting for us, we will not pay for crossing a bridge, and if we do not have enough cash we won’t have to wade through the water to get to the other side of the river…

All photos were taken by Jakub Połomski.

Disclaimer: The post was written as part of EU funded webPR_SCI project. / Tekst w ramach mikroprojektu webPR_SCI dofinansowanego ze środków Unii Europejskiej w ramach Europejskiego Funduszu Rozwoju Regionalnego – Funduszu Mikroprojektów Programu Interreg V-A Republika Czeska – Polska i budżetu państwa za pośrednictwem Euroregionu Śląsk Cieszyński. Wykonawcą projektu webPR_SCI była Fundacja Volens w partnerstwie ze Stowarzyszeniem Polskiej Młodzieży w Republice Czeskiej.

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