The Szydłowiec Powiat (district/county) lies in the southern part of the Masovian Voivodeship and borders on the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship. The powiat comprises five gminas (communes) and eighty-eight sołectwos (subdivisions of gminas). The five gminas are: Szydłowiec, Chlewiska, Jastrząb, Mirów and Orońsko. The powiat’s main town, Szydłowiec, is located near the city of Radom, close to the E7 highway connecting Warsaw and Cracow (part of the international route E77, linking the Baltic States with Hungary).
The powiat covers an area of 450 km² and has a population of over 40,000 people (as of 31 December 2012). The powiat comprises the town of Szydłowiec and 96 villages. The area has a richly diverse landscape, from the hills of the Kielecka Upland in the south to the Radomska Plain in the north, and possesses many nature reserves, natural monuments and protected areas. Most of the area is situated in the basin of the Szabasówka river (a tributary of the Radomka river), whose eastern and western branches merge near Zaborowie.
The area’s natural resources (flint, sandstone, iron ore), which have been extracted and processed from the Stone Age through the Middle Ages up to modern times, have greatly added to the economic potential of the Old-Polish Industrial Region (Staropolski Okręg Przemysłowy). Its rich quarrying and smelting traditions (of which the former still continue today) make the powiat rather unique in Poland, and the historic ironworks in Chlewiska is the only one of its kind in Europe. These traditions are rendered in the names of the local villages, such as Ruda (‘ore’), Kopalnia (‘mine’), Kuźnia/Kuźnica (‘smithy’), Huta/Hucisko (‘ironworks’), Goworek (‘miner’), Piece (‘kilns’), Tracze (‘sawmills’), Budki and Majdanki (forest settlements), and in the local statues of St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners.
The area’s historic sandstone quarrying sites (and the fascinating morphological features they have uncovered) are used for educational purposes, as illustrations of both natural phenomena and human activity.
Examples of the region’s sophisticated industrial and crafts culture include the famous carriages (brichkas) produced in Szydłowiec from the 1870s until 1939, and the original car bodyworks for Poland’s first ever taxicabs, which were introduced in Warsaw during the interwar period.
Many centuries-old traditions of crafts and trade continue to this day – the region still produces glass and ceramic products, holds weekly crafts fairs, and the local Sundry Crafts Guild (Cech Rzemiosł Różnych) organizes regular events.
Vestiges of this rich history can still be found in the powiat’s historically formed landscapes and in its vast cultural heritage. The most precious and best-preserved work of art and architecture is the Late Gothic church of St. Sigismund in Szydłowiec. Another original piece of architecture is the Late Renaissance Szydłowiec Town Hall, which has been destroyed and rebuilt many times throughout history – a pillory stands in front of the building as a silent witness to Old-Polish law. The church and the town hall are complemented by the castle, which houses the dynamic Szydłowiec Cultural Centre and is the registered office of the unique Folk Instruments Museum.
More examples of precious pieces of historic architecture can be found in nearby Chlewiska. These include a 13th-century church (renovated and refurbished in the 16th–17th centuries) and the 16th-century Odrowążów Palace, which features a beautifully landscaped garden.
The faithfully restored manor house complex in Orońsko is a gem of 19th-century Romantic architecture. It hosts the Centre of Polish Sculpture, which functions both as an exhibition venue for contemporary art and as a creative workspace for sculptors.
Among places of historical importance, the most significant are the battlefields of the 1863 January Uprising (in Szydłowiec, Stefanków and Krogulcza Mokra) and of the Second World War, which saw combat near Szydłowiec in September 1939 and the tragic pacification of the village of Skłoby in April 1940.
The most important cemeteries are the Roman Catholic cemetery in Chlewiska (which possesses a number of unique cast-iron tombstones made in the local foundries) and the Jewish cemetery in Szydłowiec, one of the biggest in Poland, comprising over 3,100 stone matzevahs with original symbolic engravings.