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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Ostrow Lednicki. The Museum of the First Piasts in a new form after renovation

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At first glance, you might think that we found ourselves on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s “Space Odyssey”, and not in a museum presenting the history of the beginnings of Polish statehood. The illuminated, black and white cube is a modern setting for thousand-year-old relics such as weapons, jewelry or tools. A strange installation is located in the Museum of the First Piasts in Lednica, which has just started the spring season.

From April 14, visitors can sail to the island where the Piast stronghold is located, as well as see the monuments in a new arrangement. Including the famous silver necklace from Dziekanowice or the no less famous stauroteka – a small reliquary made in Byzantium, which archaeologists found in the ruins of the chapel in Lednica.

At the exhibition you can see e.g. a silver necklace from the grave of a young woman from the cemetery in DziekanowiceAleksander Przybylski

A sword like a Kalashnikov

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– The minimalist form does not distract attention from what is most important, i.e. from the monuments – says Mariola Olejniczak, curator of the exhibition. He adds: – They are crowded in this small area, which gives us the impression that we have entered a vault. The visitor may be stunned by this opulence, but that is also the point. At the same time, we do not lead visitors by the hand, but we want them to discover history for themselves, for example through fascination with a specific object.

The exhibition is accompanied by a looped video projection presenting early medieval monuments and their contemporary counterparts. An iron flint was juxtaposed with a lighter, a pouch with a fashionable waist bag, a sword with a Kalashnikov automatic, and a sickle with secateurs from the garden market.

– As educators, we are aware that some objects themselves are not legible for recipients. Especially for children, because how are they supposed to know what a tinder looks like? Therefore, the earlier the epoch we are talking about, the more modern our language should be – explains Olejniczak.

In this way, temple rings, very popular head ornaments among Slavic women, are presentedAleksander Przybylski

Piasts in a new home

Not only the exhibition is new, but also the building itself. Last year, the Museum of the First Piasts completed an investment worth nearly PLN 30 million. It was officially opened during the life of the long-time director of the institution, prof. Andrzej Wyrwa, but only now is it available to individual visitors.

Read also: They determined when the city of Mieszko I was founded. “The competition for the status of the first capital of Poland makes no sense”

– The new headquarters is not only more comfortable for visitors, including people with disabilities. It also means more modern storage space for our collections. Tourists may not appreciate this, but researchers and conservators who work with monuments on a daily basis and yes, laughs Dr. Andrzej Kowalczyk from the Museum of the First Piasts and, taking the opportunity, invites visitors to the new observation deck.

– From the height, you can fully appreciate how beautiful Ostrów Lednicki is and appreciate the splendor of Piast architecture – emphasizes the archaeologist.

The exhibition is located in the modern seat of the Museum, which was built a year agoMPP Lednica

Treasures from the lake

The museum is located on the shores of Lake Lednickie, on which there is a large island. To this day, there are huge embankments of the stronghold and the ruins of the duke’s palatium with a chapel. They were once connected to the mainland and a smaller island by impressive bridges, which, thanks to the study of wood samples, dated to the beginning of the 10th century. That is, the times when Mieszko “wasn’t even in the plans”.

Underwater archaeologists from Toruń not only examine the bridge itself, but also painstakingly pull out subsequent monuments. These are primarily militaria such as arrowheads, swords, axes and spears.

– So far, several hundred pieces of weapons or their fragments have been excavated, which makes Lednica unique on a global scale – praises Dr. Kowalczyk. – We have the richest collection of early medieval militaria from a single site in the world – adds the archaeologist.

Underwater research is conducted by archaeologists from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in ToruńAleksander Przybylski

Among them, there are richly inlaid items, such as a sword with a golden cross found a few seasons ago or an ax with the image of a horse. Until recently, the prevailing view was that such an accumulation of weapons should be associated with the invasion of the Bohemian prince Bretislaus in Greater Poland in 1038. A fierce battle was supposed to take place on the bridges. Currently, some researchers formulate a different hypothesis.

– The chronological spread of this weapon is simply too large for all copies to be in use in 1038 – says archaeologist Dr. Leszek Gardeła. He adds: – Typologically, there are items from both the 10th and 11th centuries. It is also worth noting that in the pre-Christian beliefs of the Slavs, water could be a border and a link between the worlds. We know from the preserved messages that the land of the dead was supposed to be just beyond the water. Perhaps the weapons deposited into the waters of the lake were a form of gift for the dead or a way to communicate with beings from another world?

Read also: Did the Piasts dream of flying snakes?

An underwater archaeological site also has the advantage of preserving what would otherwise be destroyed in the ground. Namely, organic matter such as leather or wood, which in anaerobic conditions have survived to our times.

– Everyone focuses on swords, but in our museum we have absolutely unique wooden artifacts. For example, scoops resembling modern ladles. These are charming items with handles decorated with bear, horse or duck heads, respectively, says Dr. Andrzej Kowalczyk.

Silver-decorated spear sleeves fished from Lake LednickieAleksander Przybylski

Mysterious baptism

The opening of the season took place to the sounds of the mighty bell Mieszko i Dobrawa, which is located in the ruins of the duke’s residence in Ostrów Lednicki. Museum professionals have chosen April 14 for a reason. This is the conventional day of Mieszko’s baptism, when – by the decision of the Sejm – we have been celebrating the National Baptism Day of Poland for several years. Conventional, because historians do not agree even as to the yearly date. Even the great Polish historian Joachim Lelewel once wrote about 966, another time about 965. Most likely, the baptism took place sometime between 963 and 968. The very term “baptism of Poland” is also conventional. The ruler was baptized, and later the circle of powerful people close to him. We can talk about full Christianization only at the end of the 12th century, when the Piast state was entwined with a network of parishes. Also, Mieszko’s decision to accept the sacrament did not have to be dictated by love for Dobrawa and the holy fire of faith, as the chroniclers write.

It is worth going to Ostrów Lednicki in May or June when the embankments are covered with wildflowersTomasz Plucinski

– At that time, Mieszko had a problem with the warlike Veleti, who plundered his lands and killed his brother. Emperor Otto also had a hard time with them – says historian Prof. Tomasz Jurek. – In order to use the ruler’s help and become his ally, Mieszko had to be baptized. In addition, let us remember that monotheistic religions provided a very good ideological foundation for a strong princely or royal power. Unlike the polytheistic cults of rallying and fragmented tribes, the historian explains.

In a slightly different way, Prof. Dariusz Andrzej Sikorski, colleague of prof. Jurek from the University of Poznań. In his opinion, Mieszko achieved his goal of conquering the tribes much earlier.

– Archeology provides us with eloquent evidence in the form of strongholds that were burned in a short period of time and then rebuilt. Completely new strongholds were also created, the population was resettled, which proves the conquest. The Piasts were a local power even before the adoption of Christianity, says a historian from Poznań. And he explains: – Church institutions actually helped in the development of statehood, because the Church was initially the only permanent institution, but this did not happen in the first decades after the baptism.

He adds that we will probably never know Mieszko’s true motivations. – There is an opinion that this was a far-sighted move, because otherwise the pagan state of Mieszko would have shared the fate of the Polabian Slavs or the Prussians and was drowned in blood as a result of the crusades. Perhaps it would be so, but how would Mieszko foresee it? I would not underestimate simple emotions and calculations. If the emperor is powerful, has a great army, lives in a palace and surrounds himself with beautiful objects, it means that it pays to worship his God, concludes Prof. Sikorski.

Mieszko I and Bolesław Chrobry on monuments in the so-called Golden Chapel in the Poznań Cathedralcyryl.poznan.pl

While scientists do not take so-called Despite the Norman concept that Mieszko was a “Viking”, the place of baptism of the Slavic ruler raises a lot of controversy. The debate is not easy, because archaeologists and historians are only people, and local patriotism often comes to the fore. The inhabitants of Gniezno see this place in Gniezno. And when we ask the PTTK guide in Poznań’s old town where Mieszko was baptized, the guide will point in the direction of the nearby cathedral. After all, there is a baptismal bowl preserved there. A museologist from Lednica will then call out: – Not so fast, we also have a baptismal pool!

Skeptics are not convinced by this, because they believe that these bowls are nothing more than pits for mixing lime left over from the time of building the church and palatium.

– I suppose that the baptism of the ruler of Polans took place in Quedlinburg or Magdeburg during one of the conventions attended by the emperor and the princes of the Reich. Such was the pragmatics at the time – says prof. Tomasz Jurek. And he points out: – Bohemian princes or Scandinavian rulers went to the emperor for this purpose. Anyway, if a bishop were to cross the Oder River and baptize dwellings in Poznań or Lednica, it would be a great event that some chronicler would mention.

He immediately meets the counter of his colleague.

A gold-plated plaque with a scene of the baptism of the Danish king Harald Bluetoothnatmus.dk

“Who said he had to be baptized by a bishop?” It seems so to us, because we think according to the principle of decorum. That a prince should be baptized by a bishop. Besides, speaking of bishops, in 959 Olga of Kiev asked Otto I to send a missionary bishop to Ruthenia. The emperor agreed and sent Bishop Adalbert of Magdeburg along with other clergy. On the way to Kiev, the priest stopped by Fr The czech republicwhere Wojciech Sławnikowica, the future saint, was confirmed – says prof. Darius Andrzej Sikorski.

However, both scientists agree on one thing. On the date of April 14, 966, there is nothing to be offended about. After all, something had to be written into the history books, and at least you know when to celebrate. There is also agreement that the early Middle Ages is a period in history that still awaits new discoveries.

Sheath fittings of early medieval knives decorated with a zoomorphic ornamentAleksander Przybylski

– We will not find new chronicles in the proverbial attic – says Sikorski. – But individual pages with records of interest to historians, absolutely. For example, if they were reused as fragments of the bindings of younger books, which was a common practice. Nor would I underestimate sources in Arab countries that are poorly researched. Firstly, most of them have not been properly catalogued, and secondly, there are few European historians who know Arabic well, the professor emphasises.

Archaeologists also have their say, because diving, prospecting and excavations around Ostrów Lednicki and other sites are still ongoing. In about two years, a new permanent exhibition will be created at the Museum of the First Piasts, much larger than the current Cube. Perhaps also with new monuments that will shed light on an equally important and mysterious period in the history of Poland?

Author:Aleksander Przybylski

Main photo source: MPP Lednica

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