Sandomierz is a smaller, but peaceful and romantic town in Poland. Once upon a time it played an important role in the life of the country, but nowadays it is just a lovely rural town. Its surroundings are known for their scenic charm and fascinating historic remnants. Not many tourists get there, but it has a lot to offer and makes for a nice stop if you’re on a road trip across Poland.
Where is Sandomierz?
Sandomierz lies in south-eastern Poland, on river Vistula, at its confluence with San River. It’s located on seven hills, just as the famous Italian capital and got the nickname of “Little Rome”. But the similarities don’t stop here. Sandomierz also has mysterious underground corridors and is a significant religious center. There are four historic churches within this small town.
Little Rome has received a lot of interest from Polish tourists lately because of a TV series which set its action in the town. Father Matthew, the main character, is a priest that helps the local police solve crime cases.
How do you get to Sandomierz?
In order to get to Sandomierz, you should first take the plane to Warsaw or Krakow. Then you can rent a car at the airport. Of course, you can also go on a trip in your own car. The tiny town, with around 25000 inhabitants, is located 240 km from Warsaw, 170 km from Krakow and 450 km from Wroclaw.
What is the best time to visit Sandomierz?
The area of Sandomierz is the most important apple producer in Poland. Thanks to the mild climate and fertile soil, farmers also cultivate cherries, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, melons and grapes. The best time to enjoy the sea of white apple flowers blooming is in April. Autumn season is harvest time and can also be a nice time to visit.
Sandomierz quickly developed as a trade center, due to its position on the amber route. Around the 11th century it became one of the three royal seats.
The town changed a lot during the times of King Casimir the Great, who “found the wooden city and left it made of brick”. During his reign were built imposing buildings as the cathedral, the Royal Castle and the defensive walls with four gates. Out of them only Opatowska survived.
Sandomierz growth period ended during the Swedish Deluge, when the invader blew up a part of the castle. Later on the town was devastated by a fire, the plague and the partitions of Poland. It was also affected by the two world wars.
Nowadays, the physical damages of the centuries were mostly repaired. It will probably never have a similar administrative value to the one it had, but is trying to emerge as a touristic destination.
What to do and see in Sandomierz?
Sandomierz is an old town. Walking around its streets is like traveling in time. One can find traces from the past and charming buildings almost everywhere.
The best point to enter the town is the 14th century Opatowska Gate. This is the only one that survived out of the four gates that were once incorporated in the medieval defensive system.
Remnant of the golden era of the town, this gothic 30 meters tall tower is considered a symbol of the city. Visitors can climb to the top for a few coins. I considered them well spent, as we had an panoramic view over the old town, Vistula river and the surroundings.
The Market Square, Rinek
Continue your journey on the main street up to the Market Square, that you’ve probably already seen from the top of the gate. Sandomierz Market Square, also called Rinek, is unique in Poland for its slope.
The highlight of the square is the town hall, standing right in the middle of it. It was originally built in Gothic style in 1349. The 16th century came with a Renaissance style expansion. The tower was added in the 17th century and completed the look we see today. On its southern wall is a beautiful sundial done using sgraffito technique. Subsequent colored clay layers were applied and scrapped off before they dried. The ground floor houses an exhibition of the Regional Museum that depicts the development of the town.
The Rinek is surrounded by old tenement houses perfectly preserved and decorated with flowers. For a moment you forget that you’re in Poland and feel like in an Italian small town. You’ll quickly notice the Post Office, or the Oleśniccy’s Tenement House. A few centuries ago this was the meeting place for local merchants to haggle and sell their products. The basement of the house was used as a warehouse.
Similar, but smaller in size, there’s the Small Market close to Rinek. Both squares are full of restaurants, cafes and bars where you can rest your feet.
Underground Tourist Route
One of the attractions of the town is its Underground Tourist Route with a length of 470m. The tours start from the yard behind the Oleśniccy’s Tenement house. Unfortunately, the guides only speak Polish, but it was still an interesting experience.
The route takes the visitors at a 12 meters depth, through 30 cellars and warehouses beneath the old tenement houses.
These underground corridors have their share of legends. One of them says that in the 13th century, when Sandomierz was invaded by Tatars, a local woman, Halina Krępianka saved the city. She pretended to help the Tatars take over and lead them in the underground passages. But as soon as they were all beneath the ground, the defenders sealed the entries. The town was saved. Of course, Halina did not survive, as the Tatar chief killed her with a spear.
Unfortunately not a legend, the large system of corridors has its negative effects. Chambers and granaries were excavated wherever they fit. The land around Sandomierz looks now like Swiss cheese. This means that its instable and crashes are not unheard of. The authorities are aware and work is being done to secure the basement. However, it’s unknown if the city will survive.
As you leave the Old Town, pass by the Needle’s Eye, a narrow passage that makes for a nice photo backdrop.
Cathedral Basilica of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary
Walk up the hill to the 14th century gothic cathedral at the edge of the Old Town. It was built by King Casimir the Great during the most prosperous period of the city. The interior has an unique altar made from black and pink marble, as well as byzantine frescoes.
The Dominican Church
The Dominican Church is one of the oldest brick churches in the country. It’s decorated with beautiful stained windows and ceramic tiles. It also has its own legend connected to the Tatar invasion. According to it, 49 Dominican martyrs were killed here. The old linden tree in front of the church is said to have been planted upside town. There’s also a Diocesan Museum full of curiosities close to it.
As the royal city that it once was, Sandomierz also has its own beautiful Royal Castle. Originally built in the 14th century, it was later expanded in the 16th. Because of this, it combines architectural styles like Gothic, Baroque and Classical. Nowadays, it hosts the vast collection of the Regional Museum. It can be visited for free for two hours each Monday.
Sandomierz can not only be seen from above and from the underground, but also from the water. One can take a boat cruise on the Vistula river and see the town from another angle.
There are several wineries around Sandomierz. One of them can even be seen from the castle grounds. You can go wine tasting to some of them. There are wineries that even offer accommodation if you don’t feel like driving afterwards.
You can find historical monuments and attractions not only in Sandomierz, but also in its surroundings. One of them is the late-Romanesque St. James church, one of the most important churches in Poland. Next to it is Queen Jadwiga Gorge, a 400 meters long ravine cut in the loess. Water revealed the mighty roots of the trees around and created a spectacular sight.
What souvenirs can you buy from Sandomierz?
The town is well known for toffees and artisanal cider. They can be bought from one of the many stands on the streets of the Old Town. However, some of them might only accept cash. If you want to pay by card, choose a shop in one of the tenement houses. We particularly enjoyed the chocolate toffees. The cider is more similar to juice, but quite good.
We’ve only been for one day in Sandomierz during our road trip in Poland last summer, but had a great time there. The downtown is lovely and has a special charm. We’ve stayed in our RV, at the base of the hill, but if you need to book accommodation, stay in the heart of the town. It’s the best place to enjoy what it has to offer.
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