The earliest mention of Labiau dates back to 1258. At that time Labiau was most probably an old Baltic Prussian village or a small fortified settlement. The first timber fortress was built by the Teutonic Knights during the second Prussian surge, around the year 1274 (other sources suggest that the first stronghold was established in 1258). It stood at the mouth of the Laba River and protected this waterway. During the Prussian uprisings, the fortress changed hands, being alternately demolished and then reconstructed. Finally, in the late 1380s the Teutonic Knights returned to Labiau, this time to stay. The earth and timber construction was subsequently replaced by then modern fortifications.
In 1347 and in 1352, Labiau attacked by Lithuanians. While the lands around the castle were ravaged by troops of horse-mounted warriors led by the Dukes Algirdas and Kęstutis, the local people escaped to Labiau and hid behind the fortified walls of the fortress, but the Lithuanians made no decision to besiege the town. In 1352 the Teutonic Knights waged an unsuccessful attack on Lithuania. Upon their return to Labiau, they decided to reinforce the fortress. New entrenchments were made and the old walls were repaired. A few years later, in 1360, construction of a new stone and brick fortress began.
The new castle was raised on a small isle surrounded by a crescent-shaped moat, deep enough to let ships enter, which is why a new harbour was built near the castle. The earth from the moats and old entrenchments was used to strengthen the castle hill. The new castle in Labiau was nicknamed 'a castle on water'. The building was laid on an irregular quadrilateral plan with all the castle wings being the same height. The foundations and walls up to 4-5 meters height were built from boulders; above - they were brick walls.
The ground floor had household functions, containing a kitchen and a bakery, for instance. The west wing was residential. It also had a huge furnace and a heating system fitted in. In the north wing there was a gatehouse. In the east wing there was a sanitary tower, known as 'dansker'. The walls were between 2 and 3 meters thick. There were most probably two watchtowers - in the eastern and western corners. Inside the castle, around the inner ward there was an arcaded walk, which took to the first floor. And there, on the first floor, we can still see some halls with cross and rib vaults. In the middle of the inner court, the building master Hannus Bolle of Gdansk made a deep well.
Around the castle there was an outer ward, encircled with a ring of fortified walls. One of the towers which belonged to these fortifications has survived to the present day, albeit extensively redesigned. There was also a church in the castle compound, called St George's Church. It was first mentioned in written records in 1408, but in 1541 it was converted into a brewery and finally demolished in 1880.
In the 16th century the castle was completely reconstructed to serve as a residence for the Duchess of Prussia. Some of the halls were decorated with frescoes executed by the Italian artist Gianbattista, also called Johann von Braun. A century later the castle began to lose its status. Some of the fortifications, then useless, were demolished and the buildings often stood empty. In 1818, when Labiau became the capital town of the district, the old castle was redesigned again. The old vaults were destroyed and new windows were made in the old walls.
The building was now housed the local authorities, a court of law and a prison. Although World War Two left 'the castle on water' in very bad state of repair, the prison was not closed down until 1964, when the castle was completely abandoned. Soon it was extensively devastated. For a few years it was occupied by a factory. In 1990 the ruined castle was ceded to the local government of Polessk, which intended to use it for cultural purposes.
Today those few castle chambers that have preserved the original vaults house a modest museum. Some other rooms contain an amateur theatre and several commercial companies. Most of the castle stands empty and desolate.References:
Built around AD 90 to entertain the legionaries stationed at the fort of Caerleon (Isca), the impressive amphitheatre was the Roman equivalent of today’s multiplex cinema. Wooden benches provided seating for up to 6,000 spectators, who would gather to watch bloodthirsty displays featuring gladiatorial combat and exotic wild animals.
Long after the Romans left, the amphitheatre took on a new life in Arthurian legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the somewhat imaginative 12th-century scholar, wrote in his History of the Kings of Britain that Arthur was crowned in Caerleon and that the ruined amphitheatre was actually the remains of King Arthur’s Round Table.
Today it is the most complete Roman amphitheatre in Britain.