TYKOCIN, Poland – Fanciful turrets flank the thick fortress walls. A cannon sits in the courtyard.
Inside the castle in the eastern Polish town of Tykocin, there are brand-new electric ovens, modern radiators and sleek bathroom fixtures.
A handful of Polish developers are completely rebuilding medieval castles to house museums, hotels or conference centers that they hope will recapture the enchantment of a time when Poland was a great European power,before centuries of occupation, warfare and foreign rule.
"Why should the Germans have their castles on the Rhine, the French their castles on the Loire, why should the Czechs have so many castles open to the visitors and why should the Poles have only ruins?" said Dariusz Lasecki, a businessman and one of two brothers rebuilding a medieval castle in Bobolice, a town near Czestochowa.
Poland ruled a swathe of Europe stretching from the Baltic Sea in the north almost down to the Black Sea in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many of the castles being rebuilt today fell into ruin around the time of the notorious Swedish invasions of the 17th century. Medieval structures decayed further during the communist era due to a lack of investments and building materials. They weren't helped by Marxist ideology, which rejected any glorification of feudalism, whose class structure was built on lords exploiting their serfs.
The medieval and Renaissance periods were "a golden age for Poland," said Jacek Nazarko, a real-estate developer who has just completed the rebuilding of the 16th-century red-brick castle in Tykocin.
"It was a time when Poland was known in Europe, when Poland mattered."
His castle had been in ruins since 1755. With a well and a cannon in the courtyard, it now dominates marshy land on the edge of Tykocin. It is to open soon as a hotel, restaurant and reception center for weddings and other events.
The thick limestone walls and turrets of the recently rebuilt castle in Bobolice jut up from a rocky hill. Local legend says it is still haunted by the ghost of a girl killed in its dungeon.
Those involved in its rebuilding say they are doing something to preserve Poland's history. It was built in the 14th century by King Casimir III the Great, a ruler remembered as tolerant and wise. Poles often recite a rhyme recalling that Casimir "found Poland built of wood and left her built of stone."
That castle is to be completed this year and then house a museum.
In some cases, urgent efforts are being made to preserve ruins before it is too late.
A private investor is planning to build a cultural center within the walls of the ruins of an old castle with medieval and Renaissance elements in Chrzelice, near the Czech border. Only the outer walls remain, and they are to be reinforced and a modern structure placed within them, keeping it clear what is old and what is new.
"There is a drive to save what can be saved," said Wojciech Poplawski, an architect working on the project with the firm OP Architekten, which is still awaiting European Union financing to proceed. "But we are not reconstructing the castle. We want to preserve what is authentic."
In the western city of Poznan, there is also a debate going on about whether to recreate a former royal fortress, but it's not clear yet if the foundations are strong enough for it to be rebuilt.
Associated Press writer Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed to this report.