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

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4.8/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Andrei-Iulian Mustatea (2 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 (2 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 (3 months 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 (3 months 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 (4 months 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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