Malbork Castle

Malbork, Poland

The Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork (Ordensburg Marienburg), completed in 1406, is the largest castle in the world by surface area, and the largest brick building in Europe. The castle is a classic example of a medieval fortress. UNESCO designated the 'Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork' and the Malbork Castle Museum as the World Heritage Site in 1997.

The castle was built by the Teutonic Order after the conquest of Old Prussia. Its main purpose was to strengthen their own control of the area following the Order's 1274 suppression of the Great Prussian Uprising of the Baltic tribes. No contemporary documents survive relating to its construction, so instead the castle's phases have been worked out through the study of architecture and the Order's administrative records and later histories. The work lasted until around 1300, under the auspices of Commander Heinrich von Wilnowe. The castle is located on the southeastern bank of the river Nogat. It was named Marienburg after Mary, patron saint of the religious Order. The Order had been created in Acre (present-day Israel). When this last stronghold of the Crusades fell to Muslim Arabs, the Order moved its headquarters to Venice before arriving in Poland.

Malbork became more important in the aftermath of the Teutonic Knights' conquest of Gdañsk (Danzig) and Pomerania in 1308. The Order's administrative centre was moved to Malbork from Elblag (Elbing). The Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Siegfried von Feuchtwangen, who arrived in Malbork from Venice, undertook the next phase of the fortress construction. In 1309, in the wake of the papal persecution of the Knights Templar and the Teutonic takeover of Danzig, Feuchtwangen relocated his headquarters to the Prussian part of the Order's monastic state. He chose the site of Marienburg conveniently located on the Nogat in the Vistula Delta. As with most cities of the time, the new centre was dependent on water for transportation.

The castle was expanded several times to house the growing number of Knights. Soon, it became the largest fortified Gothic building in Europe, on a nearly 21 ha site. The castle has several subdivisions and numerous layers of defensive walls. It consists of three separate castles - the High, Middle and Lower Castles, separated by multiple dry moats and towers. The castle once housed approximately 3,000 'brothers in arms'.

The favourable position of the castle on the river Nogat allowed easy access by barges and trading ships arriving from the Vistula and the Baltic Sea. During their governance, the Teutonic Knights collected river tolls from passing ships, as did other castles along the rivers. They controlled a monopoly on the trade of amber. When the city became a member of the Hanseatic League, many Hanseatic meetings were held there.

In the summer of 1410, the castle was besieged following the Order's defeat by the armies of Wladyslaw II Jagiello and Vytautas the Great (Witold) at the Battle of Grunwald. Heinrich von Plauen successfully led the defence in the Siege of Marienburg (1410), during which the city outside was razed.

In 1456, during the Thirteen Years' War, the Order – facing opposition from its cities for raising taxes to pay ransoms for expanses associated with its wars against Kingdom of Poland – could no longer manage financially. Meanwhile, Polish GeneralStibor de Poniec of Ostoja raised funds from Danzig for a new campaign against them. Learning that the Order's Bohemian mercenaries had not been paid, Stibor convinced them to leave. He reimbursed them with money raised in Danzig. Following the departure of the mercenaries, King Casimir IV Jagiellon entered the castle in triumph in 1457, and in May, granted Danzig several privileges in gratitude for the town's assistance and involvement in the Thirteen Years' War (1454–66) as well as for the funds collected for the mercenaries that left. The mayor of the town around the castle, Bartholomäus Blume, resisted the Polish forces for three more years, but the Poles captured and hanged him in 1460. A monument to Blume was erected in 1864.

In 1466 both castle and town became part of Royal Prussia, a province of Poland. It served as one of the several Polish royal residences, fulfilling this function until the Partitions of Poland in 1772. During this period the Tall Castle served as the castle's supply storehouse, while the Great Refectory was a place for balls, feasts, and other royal events. During the Thirty Years' War, in 1626 and 1629 Swedish forces occupied the castle. They invaded and occupied it again 1656 to 1660 during the Deluge.

After Prussia and the Russian Empire made the First Partition of Poland in 1772, the town became part of the Kingdom of Prussia province of West Prussia. At that time, the officials used the rather neglected castle as a poorhouse and barracks for the Prussian Army. In 1794 David Gilly, a Prussian architect and head of the Oberbaudepartement, made a structural survey of the castle, to decide about its future use or demolition. Gilly's son, Friedrich Gilly, produced several engravings of the castle and its architecture, which he exhibited in Berlin and had published by Friedrich Frick from 1799 to 1803. These engravings led the Prussian public to 'rediscover' the castle and the history of the Teutonic Knights.

Throughout the Napoleonic period, the army used the castle as a hospital and arsenal. After the War of the Sixth Coalition, the castle became a symbol of Prussian history and national consciousness. Initiated by Theodor von Schön, Oberpräsident of West Prussia, in 1816, restoration of the castle was begun. It was undertaken in stages until World War II started.

With the rise of Adolf Hitler to power in the early 1930s, the Nazis used the castle as a destination for annual pilgrimages of both the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls. The Teutonic Castle at Marienburg served as the blueprint for the Order Castles of the Third Reich built under Hitler's reign. In 1945 during World War II combat in the area, more than half the castle was destroyed.

At the conclusion of the war, the city of Marienburg (Malbork) and castle became again a part of Poland. The castle has been mostly reconstructed, with restoration ongoing since 1962 following a fire in 1959 which caused further damage. The main cathedral in the castle, restored just before World War II and then destroyed in battle, is still in ruins.

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Founded: 1274-1406
Category: Castles and fortifications in Poland

Rating

4.8/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Andrei-Iulian Mustatea (15 months ago)
Very beautiful scenery, location and building. Sadly it was closed when we tried to visit it but nonetheless it was also nice to see it from afar. I think it would be best to visit it when the temperatures are in postive double digits to enjoy better
Kotchakorn Chorptham (15 months ago)
Beautiful castle with informative and interactive guiding system. A bit difficult at the first visit, but I've been there a lot. Recommended to stop at one train station and back from the other one, since the castle situated between the two.
Indrute Smile (2 years ago)
One of the more interesting castles I have visited. We were a big group with a guide speaking English. It was interesting, but the shortened version, where we skipped a lot of places still took 2 hours.
Sue Lee (2 years ago)
You need to allow plenty of time to get around the meals in the cellar nice. Audio book was very useful. We missed the church as too late in day to enter.
Gonçalo Cunha de Sá (2 years ago)
Malbork is a beautiful town with a medieval castle, built in the XIII Century. The castle is pretty different from most castles as it's made of red bricks, and probably the biggest brick castle in the world. Part of UNESCO world heritage site. Once a year there's a festival of medieval culture Siege at Malbork. I was fortunate to attend. If you're a parent traveling with your kids, it's a fun place to visit!
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The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.