The Bridge in Drohiczyn


Introduction

Even in the early Middle Ages Drohiczyn was located favourably on the crossway of two important trade routes of aquatic and overland kind. Their existence is confirmed by the Arabic merchants’ coins found in the vicinity of Drohiczyn as well as numerous lead trading seal findings. The most important land trade route led from Brześć in north-west direction. The mentioned aquatic route went through a huge water artery of Bug river. Regardless of the fact that big rivers constitute a convenient way to move and transport commodities, there are situations in which they may be a liability for travelling, especially when they cross important land trade routes. That was, and still is, the case of Drohiczyn. Bug changes its river bed in a very dynamic and frequent way. It must be remembered that Drohiczyn was situated on both sides of the river in the Middle Ages and modern times. For this reason, a communication between these two parts of the town was difficult, particularly in winter and autumn season. The situation was slightly better in winter since it was possible to cross frozen river and in summer, as there were places where water level was low enough to cross river through fords. The documents clearly state that there was also carriage transport of the commodities. Yet, since time immemorial, people managed to tackle the problem of passing the river by building bridges or barrages and organising transportation.

One may assume the existence of a bridge in this very important Podlasie town. Nowadays, there is no bridge that would allow crossing the river in Drohiczyn. In order to do that, one has to use a ferry that shuttles in summer period, make way down the river to the bridge in Tonkiele village or another one, up the river, where principal road number 19 leads. Was this the case in the past? This article is an attempt to answer that question since the matter is not yet resolved.

In July, 2000, a team of underwater archaeologists from Toruń in their summary and report on the search of the bridge in Drohiczyn claimed, that “there is no information in the literary sources about bridge on Bug river in the fortified town of Drohiczyn”. This is, however, not true. There are some literary sources that survived and they are the evidence for Drohiczyn’s bridge existence in the first half of the 16th century. Moreover, a vast number of them is printed in various publishing raging from 19th century to present days. Most of them are documents taken from copies included in Lithuanian Metric, i.e. Grand Duchy Of Lithuania legal counsel books. They are also present in land registration books of Drohiczyn area and one of the documents is preserved in a form of a scroll.
 

The construction of the bridge

It all started on 5th of March 1514, when king Sigismund I who was in Vilnus at that time, presented a document stating that a Jew from Brześć, Michał Ezofowicz, begged the king to allow for a own-funded construction of a bridge in Drohiczyn on river Bug. The site for the bridge was the place where transportation was already taking place and there would be a special “bridge fee” for every merchant cart.

The king, tilting to the request, allowed for the building of the bridge and retrieving the following charge: half-grosz for a merchant cart, and two for trade animals. These fees were intended for bridge maintenance purposes (due to damages caused by water). Michał Ezofowicz was granted a permission to charge solely merchants with bridge-fee. Only king subjects and nobility of Drohiczyn’s district, who paid for grain transport across Bug before, were to pay Ezofowicz for crossing the bridge. Drohiczyn townsmen were obliged to pay for bridge 1 grosz from each house annually in order to move to the other side of the river freely. This “1 grosz fee” was very similar to the old one paid for transport across the river.

The king stated that the toll which was long paid to royal treasury – 1 grosz for each cart – is to be paid there in the same amount. Moreover, Ezofowicz was granted a permission to build a lodge on the right side of river Bug, next to the bridge. Besides being a warden house, the lodge functioned as a tavern. The concluding statements of the document allowed Ezofowicz for holding the bridge and charge bridge-fee only until the day of his demise.

On April, 3rd 1514, thus no more than a month after the privilege allowing for a construction of the bridge was given, the king submitted a letter to połocki voivode Jan Janowicz Zabrzeziński who was also Drohiczyn’s staroste at that time. The letter delineate in details the content of the mentioned privilege for Michał Ezofowicz. Additionally, there was also a statement that merchants who bypass the bridge and cross the river through fords in summer and ice in winter will not be charged bridge-fee.

The construction of a bridge on a river such as Bug required both considerable finances – that Ezofowicz had undoubtedly in his possession – and time. It is assumed that construction did not take place in perdios when the level of water was the highest i.e. early spring and autumn. Sometimes summertime was not a proper period for construction to take place as well. Felling and wood processing was scheduled for winter since a significant amount of wood was required to assure a solid structure of the bridge.

Supposedly the bridge was finished in 1519, thus the construction took five years. The document sent to Michał Ezofowicz by king Sigismund I in Krakow on June, 3rd 1519 indirectly points to that fact. The content of the document repeats the clause from its original September, 5th 1514 version and additionally it broadens entitlements for bridge holding, charging bridge-fee and the rights of running the tavern that pass onto the children of the builder.

While the bridge was under construction, Michał Ezofowicz probably expected it to bring him a considerable profit. But there is no certainty as to the general profitability of the bridge when overall expenditures for its repair and maintenance are considered. The river itself was of a great danger to the bridge construction - especially in spring when the water level was very high and there was ice floe. The above assumptions were confirmed by the letter written by king Sigismund I to Drohiczyn staroste and Połocki voivode Piotr Stanisławowicz Kiszka on April 20th, 1525 informing him of Michał Ezofowicz’s request. The king reported that Ezofowicz built the bridge for his own money but now, in spring, water and ice floe are damaging the bridge. For this reason, Ezofowicz requested a “three shots” long and “foot of the hill” wide piece of land on Bug’s shore which was unoccupied and could be a place for bridge maintenance workers to settle. The king commend staroste to check if the land is indeed unoccupied and will not detract royal goods. If there was no contraindications, king commend staroste to give Ezofowicz this part of Bug’s shore for settling.

Owners of the bridge

We do not know when Stanisław Tęczyński decided to relinquish the bridge in Drohiczyn but most probably it was soon after he was given it as an endowment from Anna Lubecka. It is likely that the bridge’s condition was poor and it could not be used or repaired anymore. We also know that Tęczyński built the bridge on his own parcel, near village Turna. On March 8th, 1554 in Lublin, king Sigismund I August allowed Stanisław Tęczyński, chatelaine of Lviv, to charge bridge-fee on the bridge in the mentioned Siemiatycze parcel.

To our knowledge, the last document mentioning the bridge in Drohiczyn comes from September 8th, 1558.

Conclusion

During the first survey of Drohiczyn starosty in 1570; after it was incorporated into Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, there was information about the transport over the river but not the bridge. Holding of the bridge contributed to royal treasury with a considerable amount of 21 threescores of Lithuanian groszy and 36 denars annually. There was no bridge in Drohiczyn in 17th century and later. A few mentions of the bridge come from the beginnings of independent Poland in 1918, however, these pieces of information were never verified. Thus, the only bridge in Drohiczyn – certified in terms of historical sources – existed in the “golden age” of the town, namely in the half of 16th century. Much evidence confirms over 40 years of the bridge’s working. Thanks to the sources, it was possible to trace almost all of its owners that included: Jews-neophytes, Poles and Lithuanian, merchants, townsmen, nobles and officials.

Finally, the location of the bridge will be taken into consideration. Sigismund’s I document from 1525 sent to Michał Ezofowicz conferring him a parcel of land on Bug’s shoreline indicates bridge’s width: “from the shoreline to the [Castle] hill”. Most likely, the bridge was located right under the hill. Underwater research of divers from Toruń carried out in 2000 seem to confirm that. On one of the penetrated areas of the river preceding the bight circling Castle Hill, and about 400 metres from the gord, Bug’s bed sheds on quite broad area and it is quite shallow. It is only in the middle part of the river bed where the depth is about 2 metres. The team found 5 metres long and 20 centimetres wide timbers lying on sandy floor parallel to the shoreline, entrenched with stones and fascine from the water’s side. Archaeologists claim that gentle river banks in that area and relatively effortless access to the river suggest an existence of transportation across the river. The discovered construction of strong timbers could have been a platform or an abutment for a ferry shuttling there in an unspecified time in the past. In our best judgement, these remains are remnants of a construction bigger than the platform or the abutment. In all likelihood, these are the traces of the bridge. Further archeological and dendrochronological research might help in determining the age of remaining construction and, possibly, confirm our hypothesis.

I would like to thank the author for making this article available. This article is featured in shorter version. Full version is available in pdf. file below.


Sources

  1. "Most w Drohiczynie i jego właściciele w I połowie XVI wieku", Tomasz Jaszczołt, Małe miasta - gospodarka 2007

Translation

Tłumaczenie tekstu / Translation by - Jakub Bujno