Back in the Middle Ages, it was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Poland, a residence of princes and kings. In the 1200s the city was seriously damaged by Tatar invasions. The most infamous raid took place in 1259-60 when the Tatars massacred 49 dominican monks in St. Jacob’s church after successfully laying siege to the city. That event has become foundational for many legends such as that of Salve Regina hill (the monks were singing Salve Regina hymn as they were preparing to meet their maker). The legend says that a giant bull raised by the monks ran after the Tatars in the direction of Kraków to avenge its keepers but could not catch up with the horde. Enraged, the bull dug a large mound with its hoofs and carved “Salve Regina” on the hillside with its horns. A great introduction to that early Sandomierz, shrouded in legends, is the Underground Route touring 470 metres of clandestine passages and multi-story cellars once used by cityfolk and merchants.
After destruction wrought by the Tatars, most of the city’s then-wooden architecture was gone with only St. Jacob’s brick walls surviving the fire. The city was subsequently moved to the higher ground above the Wisła river, which earned it a nickname of Little Rome perched on seven hills. Sandomierz was slowly rebuilt with city rights formally reassigned in 1286.Today the layout of the Old Town retains its medieval character: the Main Square surrounded by ornate houses of rich merchants, prominent Town Hall dating back to the 14th century, and the Castle erected on the site of the former 10th century fortress, now housing a museum. Let’s take a walk… But there is more to Sandomierz than charming architecture. Whenever I’m there, a visit to the studio of jeweler Cezary Łutowicz is a must (Pl. Poniatowskiego 4). He is the unquestioned master of working with striped flint stone, unique mineral occurring only in the Sandomierz Region. It is a truly beautiful stone with gray and white stripes twisted in elaborate patterns. Already in neolithic times it was used for tool making. In the centuries to follow sadly it served mostly as construction material until Łutowicz found a new application for it in the 1970s – jewelry. The results were stunning and striped flint has since gained popularity in Poland and abroad. I can’t resist buying more piece every time I visit – each stone is special, each one paints a different picture, each one is a tiny piece of Sandomierz’s soul.