Almost in their heart, on the legendary Łysa Góra (Bald Mountain), there is a millennial monastery, where the Holy Cross relics have been kept since the Middle Ages. Hence the name (Święty Krzyż = Holy Cross), which today extends to the area of 11,672 sq. km, comparable with the area of the Republic of Montenegro. Almost 1.3 million inhabitants live here. It has been in existence under its present name since 1999 and was founded in the place of the former provinces: Kieleckie, the western part of Tarnobrzeskie and partially Radomskie, Piotrkowskie and Czestochowskie.
The Świętokrzyskie Province is located between the Vistula River, which marks the south-eastern border and the Pilica River, which “closes” the region from the west. The landscape there is quite varied. In the south, tourists seeking peace and contact with nature will certainly be impressed by Ponidzie, whose axis is naturally determined by the meandering Nida (left tributary of the Vistula). The central part is the Świętokrzyskie (Holy Cross) Mountains, which are among the oldest massifs in Europe. The western area of the region is the picturesque Włoszczowska Basin covered with old forests, and the Przedborsko-Małogoskie Range, rarely frequented by tourists, with reserves of rare vegetation. In the east, there is a loess Wyżyna (Upland) Sandomierska, Poland’s orcharding center. The North, marked by the Kamienna Valley was in the past a place of dynamic industrial development. Today, it is looking for its chances in other economic areas - including tourism.
The administrative, business and scientific center is the city of Kielce located almost in the middle of the province. With a population of more than 200 thousand, the city is situated among not very tall hills, and its boundaries surround 5 geological reserves. It was here, where almost at a glance, you can see the history of the Earth owing to exposed rocks aged hundreds of millions years.
The proof of the uniqueness of the region is the European Center for Geological Education, established at the cost of about PLN 34 million. It is being built on the initiative of the University of Warsaw in the Korzecko quarry near Chęciny. Starting next year, the Center is to host Earth sciences students from all over Europe, to examine outcrops hundreds of millions years old. The project is implemented with the support of EU funds. In the city of Kielce, a Geoeducation Center has been attracting tourists from all over Poland for several years.
More than a decade ago in a small village of Bałtów near Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski (north-eastern part of the region), an idea originated to create a theme park, inspired by the footprints of dinosaurs allosaurus, stegosaurus and small predator, compsognathus (a small chicken-sized dinosaur). Over the years, however, there was no idea how it would translate into a success of these areas. Even in the late 1990s, no one could even assume that the easternmost municipality of the then province of Kielce, suffering from unemployment and remaining far behind the its “neighbors”, would become a tourist hit barely a dozen years later.
Today, it boasts one of the largest theme and education park in this part of Europe – the Jurassic Park. In 2012, the small village near Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski was visited by 320 thousand. tourists. There you can see life-size models of dinosaurs.
A walk in the Jurassic Park is a journey through the history of the Earth from its origins to the appearance of man. Moving from one place to another, we pass subsequent geological eras. Of course, most of the space was devoted to the times when the “big reptiles” prevailed on the Earth. Around the park were created further spaces for rest and leisure, including the Bałtów Zoo, where in addition to a herd of bison you can watch fallow deer donated to Bałtów by President Bronislaw Komorowski. In Bałtów, there is also a “Land of Horses” the “Sabathówka” park and a prehistoric aquarium.
Bałtów is visited by tourists not only during the vacations season. When snow covers the models of dinosaurs, the tourist center moves to the nearby hills, where there is a ski resort.
This is a good example of how a strange discovery, paleontological in this case, can be translated into a business success. In the region, however, there are places with no less merit for learning that are still waiting for their five minutes. An example would be the Sołtykowskie Gagaty reserve, located in the northern part of the Końskie district, where a whole series of dinosaur footprints were discovered – herds of powerful herbivorous sauropods and agile bipedal predators. All in a relatively small area.
A bit closer to Kielce, in the Zachełmie reserve, a discovery was made, which in 2010 caused a stir the world of science, and went to a prominent spot in the influential weekly magazine Nature. Found out there and well documented were traces of the oldest four-legged animal on Earth – tetrapod, which left the sea and began life on the land. The discovery led to the need to write textbooks for paleontology almost from scratch. It is now known that four-legged land animals appeared on Earth much earlier than previously thought.
Świętokrzyskie, however, is a region not only for lovers of geology and history recorded in the rocks. For centuries, the people living in these areas have left many monuments, which today represent an attractive lesson of Polish history from the beginning of statehood.
In the region, archaeologists have made many valuable discoveries. A special one is a flint quarry in Krzemionki Opatowskie near Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, owing to which you can study the origins of the “industry” and organized labor almost four millennia back.
The oldest settlement in the region is Wiślica situated in the picturesque Ponidzie, which some believe could be the capital, or one of the main centers of the Vistulans state. It was here that archaeologists found the remains of a baptismal bowl from the ninth century – a century prior to the date of the official Polish baptism of 966, adopted by Prince Mieszko I in the Wielkopolska region.
One of the monuments of Wiślica is the 14th century Gothic minor basilica – the church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with a bas-relief of the King Władysław I Madonna dated to the thirteenth century. In the basement of the church, taken care of by the Regional Museum, there are the remains of two Romanesque churches of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and unique thirteenth century orans plate (also known as the Wiślica floor). Currently, the Board of the Province aims to have the care of these monuments taken by the National Museum of Kielce.
Wiślica has a special place in history, here Duke Władysław the Short stayed before the reunification of the country. Here, too, his son, King Casimir the Great proclaimed in 1347 years the famous “Statutes of Wiślica" referred to as the first codified Polish legislation.
Wiślica is not the only place whose history goes back a thousand of years. Another example is the aforementioned Shrine of the Holy Cross Relic situated in the heart of the Świętokrzyskie Mountains. According to tradition written down by the famous Polish chronicler Jan Długosz, the monastery at this point was founded by Polish prince and later the first king Boleslaw the Brave in 1006. And although historians disagree as to the date, there is no doubt that this is one of the most interesting places in the region. Suffice to say that in the Middle Ages it was the most important Christian shrine in Poland, attended by successive Polish kings. King Władysław Jagiełło had come here many times, among others, in the summer of 1410 when with the army he followed north to fight one of the biggest battles of medieval Poland: at Grunwald against the Teutonic Order.
It was at Holy Cross, that the oldest monument of the Polish language, “Sermons of the Holy Cross”, was created. It is now kept in the National Library in Warsaw.
The Holy Cross monastery went through different happens. It declined in the nineteenth century when the Benedictine monks had to leave it after centuries. In 1914, during World War I, the fifty-meter baroque tower was blown into the air. Later the building housed a heavy prison. In the 1930s the monastery was taken over by Oblate missionaries, who gradually tried to restore the place to its former glory. It was only in 2014, that one of the most important investments was achieved – rebuilding of the said tower, with very high care of detail. Today, from the observation deck located on the tower, on clear days you can see the Tatras about 200 km away.
A special place on the tourist map of the region is Sandomierz. An important administrative center at the times of the Piast and Jagiellons dynasties, the capital of a large province, whose “successor” today is the Świętokrzyskie Province. Currently, the city experiences its heyday. Tourists remembered this Vistula locality, due to, among other things, the series broadcast by the Polish TV “Ojciec Mateusz” (“Don Matteo”), which takes place in the medieval streets of the city, in the shadow of the Gothic-Renaissance town hall, on the Vistula boulevards. It is remarkable to see the old town, the Gothic cathedral basilica and the royal castle, which temporarily housed monarchs – including Casimir III the Great – one of the most powerful rulers of the Polish Middle Ages.
Also of interest is the underground tourist route located literally “under” Sandomierz, a combination of warehouses and basements, for centuries built by merchants and craftsmen directly under the houses and Old Town Square.
The city recently got publicity, thanks to, among other things, Zygmunt Miłoszewski’s crime novel “Grain of Truth” (translated into many languages), whose the action takes place in the modern city, but full of mysteries and historical curiosities. Although the book has received varied comments in the city, it is another feature that attracts tourists here, also from abroad.
Kielce is also full of history and memorabilia of the past. When a few years ago, the city authorities started the revitalization of the square of St. Adalbert located on the edge of downtown, no one expected that by it the archaeologists would get to the beginning of the city’s history. It was there, next to the church wall, that they stumbled upon the foundations of an early medieval house, by which they could determine the place, where Kielce “began”.
In the capital of the region it is worth seeing a residence from the time of the Vasa dynasty, best preserved in Poland. It is a seventeenth-century former palace of the Bishops of Cracow, today housing the National Museum. Also great interest in Kielce is aroused by the Cathedral Basilica and the previously mentioned geological reserves, including Kadzielnia, where one of the largest amphitheaters in Poland is, capable of accommodating an audience of five thousand.
Currently, Kielce is a dynamic and modern city, with a reconstructed road network, modern infrastructure and passenger-friendly public transport. In the world, it is known for, among other things, one of Europe's best handball team Vive Tauron Kielce, which in 2013 won the third place in the tournament organized in Cologne, the Champions League Final Four. Thanks to the involvement of Dutch businessman Bertus Servaas, who settled in Kielce, in the local Legion Hall residents of the region can cheer on the biggest stars of the world's handball.
Kielce is also the home of football club Korona Kielce owned by the city; for a few seasons it has been playing in the Polish premier league.
The Świętokrzyskie Region is also the birthplace of meritorious and well-known Poles. In Nagłowice (Jędrzejów County) lived one of the fathers of Polish literature Mikołaj Rej (1505-1569). Nearby, in Czarnca near Włoszczowa was born and was buried Crown Hetman Stefan Czarniecki (1599-1665)
The Świętokrzyskie Mountains is also the region of one of the leading Polish writers of the turn of the century, Stefan Żeromski (1864-1925). He was born in Strawczyn (Kielce County) and was studying in Kielce. Currently, the high school building is a museum, where you can learn about the realities of a Russian school from the time of the writer.
His contemporary Polish Nobel Prize winner, writer Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916) also lived near Kielce, in Oblęgorek, where there still is a mansion given by the nation to the writer, now a museum dedicated to the life and works of the author of the Trilogy.
Kielce is also the home town of a world known painter, graphic artist and author of posters Rafał Olbiński (b. 1943). He is a graduate of High School No. 1 in Kielce.