Biskupin, symbol of Polish national consciousness

CC BY-SA 3.0,

Biskupin in Poland is the site of a late Bronze Age fortified settlement dating from the 8th century BC. Located 100 km northeast of Poznan, the site consists of an archaeological museum and an open-air museum featuring a life-size model of the settlement. But for Polish people, Biskupin has far more than an archaeological significance. Bearing in mind Poland’s troubled history in the twentieth century, the excavation and reconstruction of the settlement has played a crucial role in the Polish historical and national consciousness.

The site was discovered by Polish archaeologists in 1933 and was subsequently excavated by a team from Poznan University. It was seen as a symbol of the achievements of Slavonic forebears in prehistoric times and was called the “Polish Pompeii” or the “Polish Herculaneum”. However anachronistic it may be, the existence of a Bronze Age fortress 70 km from the German border was viewed as a symbol of prehistoric resistance by Polish people against foreign invaders. Biskupin featured in paintings and popular novels of the time.

Following German occupation in 1939, Biskupin was renamed Urstädt and excavations continued until 1942 under the SS-Ahnenerbe. When the Germans were forced to retreat they flooded the site, hoping to destroy it, but ironically this helped to preserve the ancient timbers. After the war excavations were resumed by Polish archaeologists and continued until 1974.

Excavations at Biskupin Biskupin Museum website

There are two settlement periods at Biskupin, belonging to the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, 800–650 BC and 650–475 BC.  Both settlements were laid out as a rectangular grid with 11 streets, 3 metres wide. The older settlement consisted of around 100 houses made from oak and pine logs, each house measuring about 8 by 10 metres. Each house had an open entrance area and two chambers, one with an open hearth, and could accommodate 10–12 people. The streets were covered with wooden planks as protection against the wet, boggy ground.

The settlement was surrounded by a rampart of wood and earth, topped by a tall wooden wall or palisade, more than 450 metres long. There was a wooden breakwater in the lake.

Excavations at Biskupin Biskupin Museum website

Life-size model

By Wolskaola – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 pl,

The first life-size model of the settlement was built in 1936 but was intentionally destroyed by retreating Germans shortly before the end of World War II. It was rebuilt after the war, with the addition of the ramparts and a full street with houses on both sides. In the 2000’s, a “medieval” timber castle was constructed on part of the original site for use as a film set.

The site is now one of Poland’s official national Historic Monuments. A new permanent exhibition in the Biskupin Museum is due to open at the end of 2020.


Text     Alun Harvey


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