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:
The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.