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Poland's Roads in the 17th Century


andersm 4 | 32
21 Apr 2013  #1
Since the Romans with their superb road construction never conquered the Slavic lands, what is the history of Poland's own road-building? I understand there was a good navigation system on the Vistula River for transporting grain to the seaport of Gdansk. However, people also traveled extensively by land. I can find little information about the Commonwealth's road network in the few books on Polish history written in English. From old paintings and sketches it appears the streets in the major cities were hard-surfaced, but what about the main roads leading into places like Karkow and Warsaw? Were they hard-surfaced a few kilometers out or dirt right up to the city gates?
Maybe 12 | 409
21 Apr 2013  #2
Poland's Roads in the 17th Century

That should read...... Poland's Roads still in the 17th century.
hague1cmaeron 14 | 1,377
21 Apr 2013  #3
I haven't come across any information either however, given the 'regionality' of Poland at that time I would imagine that only municipal roads were kept like genuine roads. Because of the power and influence of regional magnates at the time I would guess that there would't have been any coordinated national road system. It would probably up to the local magnate to decide on the sate of local roads. Canal systems were quite a coordinated affair, an extract from Adam Zamoyski's book:

" in 1771 a canal was dug connecting the Vistula to the Warta; in 1775 the king commissioned a project for one between the Bug and the Pripet; in 1767 Prine Michal Oginski had begun digging a canal linking the Niemen and the Dnieper, thereby making it possible to navigate the Baltic to the Black Sea, which opened up alternative markets for exports."
delphiandomine 83 | 17,626
21 Apr 2013  #4
It's worth pointing out that the roads in the eastern part of Poland in the II RP were still very bad - I found a map somewhere that clearly shows that many of these roads were little better than dirt tracks!
Ironside 48 | 9,707
21 Apr 2013  #5
I can find little information about the Commonwealth's road network in the few books on Polish history written in English.

Most if not all reads in 17th century in Europe were roads without hard surface.. Only bridges were cared for with any regularity and system.

On the other hand Poland in 17th century had very well developed system of inland waterways used for mass transport and also for travel and which was much more tourist friendly and efficient than travel on mundane if not mud-caked roads of 17the century.
OP andersm 4 | 32
21 Apr 2013  #6
Most if not all reads in 17th century in Europe were roads without hard surface.

Absolutely true. The only exceptions were the major roads leading into to a large city where they used cobblestone or stone pavers to cut down on the dust and also, one supposes to engender a little civic pride. The surfacing would not extend much beyond a kilometer or two from the city gates. At least that is true in Western Europe but they also had the old road networks left by the long since departed Romans.

Poland's Roads still in the 17th century.

I hope that's not really true. :-(

I would imagine that only municipal roads were kept like genuine roads. Because of the power and influence of regional magnates at the time I would guess that there wouldn't have been any coordinated national road system. It would probably up to the local magnate to decide on the sate of local roads

I'm sure you're correct there. A national transportation program didn't exist because of the lack of a strong centralized government with the will to implement such a scheme. Still the question begs how much was done even on a local level. The PL Commonwealth is an interesting study. From what I read, back in the 16th - to early 17th century wealthy Poles traveled extensively and Italy was a favourite destination. I expect they would have seen the road networks around Rome as well as other European capitals. How inclined were they to bring any of those ideas home? Warsaw, my chief interest, was the royal residence and also home to a large number of magnates who had large estates and even palaces immediately surrounding the city. The question is, did the king and nobility do anything to improve the roads in the immediate vicinity for their own convenience if not for the beautification of their capital city?
Ironside 48 | 9,707
21 Apr 2013  #7
Warsaw, my chief interest,

Warsaw became capital of Poland in 1596.

The question is, did the king and nobility do anything to improve the roads in the immediate vicinity for their own convenience if not for the beautification of their capital city?

If they did their efforts didn't make lasting impressions. As for 17th century its is a time when Poland/Union are constantly at war if not with one then with the other plus major rebellion of war.

To be honest you would have to search for specific archeological research if you are talking about a mile or two of cobblestone on some roads.
Ozi Dan 26 | 569
22 Apr 2013  #8
Since the Romans with their superb road construction never conquered the Slavic lands, what is the history of Poland's own road-building?

Hi Anders,

I think perhaps your best source of information (potentially) would be the memoirs and diaries of military persons such as Hetman Zolkiweski, JC Pasek and so on, with Pasek probably the most relevant. There may be some snippets of road conditions/construction in such journals. Both were alive during the C17.

The Frenchman Beauplan too may be even more relevant. He was an Engineer who served in the Crown Army in the mid C17. I read many years ago (in English) his notes on various Polish towns and fortifications in the C17 and he drew quite a few maps. There may be legends on such maps detailing roads, but I can't recall.

All the best!
OP andersm 4 | 32
22 Apr 2013  #9
I think perhaps your best source of information (potentially) would be the memoirs and diaries of military persons such as Hetman Zolkiweski, JC Pasek and so on, with Pasek probably the most relevant. There may be some snippets of road conditions/construction in such journals. Both were alive during the C17.

I read Pasek (great book) about six months ago and don't recall anything on roads but I'll go through it again with a closer eye. Thanks for the tip on Zolkweski and Beauplan. I just did a search on openlibrary for the Hetman and found his memoirs on openlibrary.org unfortunately in Polish, but I may be able to find the English translation elsewhere. If you haven't heard of openlibrary, they have thousands of old books digitized and available to read online or download to a Kindle. Often both in their original language and an English translation. Beauplan - I found a few old books with that surname but different first names. Can you recall his Christian name?

Thanks very much for your suggestions.
Ozi Dan 26 | 569
22 Apr 2013  #10
Can you recall his Christian name?

No I can't but a google reveals: Guillame Le Vassuer De Beauplan.

If you use google image, I see there are several maps of his showing.

I would try to source the book on him I read, as I recall his observations were quite detailed, but I can't recall if he specifically mentioned roads - defo worth a shot though. Let me know how you go.

Another primary source may be the reports of English Ambassadors to Poland, and similar plenipotentaries. There could even be sources from Scottish people of that time, bearing in mind the large influx of Scots to the Commonwealth at that time.

Although later, my readings on the Napoleonic Wars viz campaigns in Poland all point towards a shocking road system. Perhaps memoirs of Napoleonic veterans, then reverse engineer from there? How about similar but for the Great Northern War?

Cheers.
hague1cmaeron 14 | 1,377
22 Apr 2013  #11
Hi again, I seem to remember a mention of Warsaw roads/streets in Adam Zamoyski's book titled, The last King of Poland.
Ziemowit 12 | 3,481
22 Apr 2013  #13
I seem to remember a mention of Warsaw roads/streets in Adam Zamoyski's book titled, The last King of Poland.

It was probably there where I once read the information on the extremely bad state of roads between Warsaw and Kiev towards which king Stanislas Poniatowski travelled to meet Cathrine II of Russia in a boat on the Dniepr river, the then Polish-Russian border river, in the 1780s. The wheel axes of the royal coach crashed twice during the journey under the monarch due to this deplorable state of roads.

The subject of the roads in the 17th century is strictly connected to the subject of the Royal Mail which was organized in Poland in 1588 on the orders of king Sigismundus Augustus. Prosper Prowana, an Italian in the king's service, became the first director of the institution. Then king Augustus II issued a bill in 1717 in which he outlined the trajectory of the postal routes in Poland and also the book of instructions. An interesting account of the Warsaw-Vilnius route across centuries can be found here (in Polish):

sok.sokolowpodl.pl/upload/file/Wielki_trakt_Warszawa-Wilno.pdf

The time of travel for mail between the two Polish Commonwealth capitals: Warsaw and Vilnius, was set for one week.

I think perhaps your best source of information (potentially) would be the memoirs and diaries of military persons such as Hetman Zolkiweski, JC Pasek and so on

An excellent source, collecting accounts of foreign people visiting Poland, however referring to the 18th century, would be a two-volume book "Polska stanisławowska w oczach cudzoziemców" [Stanislas August's Poland in the eyes of foreigners], Warszawa 1963. That is the work I often came across as a source cited in different history books I have read.
hague1cmaeron 14 | 1,377
23 Apr 2013  #14
Interesting, though i did not read about this particular passage (just about the meeting). The section i have in mind talks about the changes witnessed in Warsaw during Poniatowski's reign.
OP andersm 4 | 32
30 Apr 2013  #15
With the generous suggestions and links provided by those who responded to my question, I've read everything I could get my hands on over the past several days. It seems there is no simple answer to the condition of the roads in the 17 century for it very much depends on where and at what point in time. There is general agreement the roads out in the country, even the major ones linking cities, were in abysmal condition. Close to the major centres there was some improvement but it seems even that deteriorated as the 17 century progressed.

One source indicates at the end of the 16th century Warsaw had a water system and paved streets yet over time they deteriorated and by mid-17 century Warsaw's streets were covered in mud. The civic amenities of the Commonwealth gradually eroded as the state grew steadily weaker while the power and self-interest of the magnatial oligarchs increased. The magnates had no interest in civic works for any but their own towns and of course the royal coffers were scarcely enough to cover Poland's defense needs let alone anything as discretionary as the quality of the roads.

Thanks to all who contributed to the discussion.
Grzegorz_ 51 | 6,163
1 May 2013  #16
It's worth pointing out that the roads in the eastern part of Poland in the II RP were still very bad - I found a map somewhere that clearly shows that many of these roads were little better than dirt tracks!

II RP ? I remember many of them in 90's and not really in the east, I'm sure quite a few are still around.

Polish roads:

upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6c/Kruzy_%28wojew %C3%B3dztwo_podlaskie%29_droga.jpg

upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/70/Skupowo.jpg

cozadzien.pl/wiadomosci/interwencje/11781.html
OP andersm 4 | 32
1 May 2013  #17
Polish roads

I live in Canada and there are still many roads between small towns or out in the country among the farms that are gravel especially in the prairie provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Once you reach the town limits, the streets are paved. Following a vehicle over a gravel road on a hot still day the dust hangs so thickly you have to drop back so you can let the dust settle enough you can see where you're going. Those gravel roads are murder on windshields!
Grandmaster - | 8
3 May 2013  #18
Commonwealth (a conglomerate of todays Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and Belarus) had several types of road.

Dirt roads - cross country roads, these were your typical dirt roads, maintained locally by the villages.
Beaten roads - gravel roads leading between larger towns, these were again maintained by towns.
Cobblestone roads - leading up to larger cities, maintained by them, Warsaw saw the cobblestone road some 30 miles out of the city, Kraków some 10 miles.

Roads were built by the state, local magnates and cities, the deeper country had no regular roads but rather paths along the intervillage lanes of transport, the real traffic was on the rivers.
isthatu2 4 | 2,708
3 May 2013  #19
Poland's Roads in the 17th CenturyThat should read...... Poland's Roads still in the 17th century.

Cruel but funny and true from my memory :)

Since the Romans with their superb road construction never conquered the Slavic lands

It has to be pointed out that many ancient roads which for centuries have been considered *Roman* have turned out with modern Archaeology to be far far older systems.

Some stretches of supposed *Roman road* in England with hard surface have turned out to pre date the Romans by thousands of years.Also,many definate Roman roads have turned out to have been absolutly awfull in construction......... I would be surprised if Poles needed the Romans,no one else really did,all the Romans did was steal other peoples ideas and introduce them into new areas :)


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