The first earth and timber fort was raised in Ostróda (Osterode) by the Teutonic knights in the mid-13th century. It stood in the fork between the Drwęca river branches, replacing an earlier Prussian stronghold. Construction of a brick castle built on a stone foundation was started by the Ostróda Commander (Hauskomtur) around 1349. The old earth and timber fortress together with the unfinished brick castle were hit by a fire during a Lithuanian raid commanded by duke Kiejstut in 1381. Soon afterwards a new brick castle was built.
The convent castle was constructed on a square plan, 44.7 x 45.2 m externally. Originally it had four wings with an archway in the west wing. Recently, the castle has been restored in the shape it had after the fire in 1788. Three wings (south, wet and north) have been preserved, although they lack the topmost storey, which was used for defense and storage. Some researchers claim that the castle had a tower in the south-east corner. To the north, there was a sanitary tower, most probably connected with the north wing of the castle by a wooden walk. During the archaeological excavations at the castle, the bases of pillars were unearthed, which may have supported the wooden gallery leading to the sanitary tower. The south wing contained a chapel, the commander's quarters and a refectory. The remaining wings most probably held the chapter room, infirmary and dormitories for brother knights and guests. The communication within the castle was through wooden walks parallel to the internal sides of the walls. Rooms on the ground floor in the north and south wings have preserved original cross and ribbed vaults on arches supported by granite pillars (partly reconstructed), while the cellars underneath are topped with cross vaults on diagonal arches. After the battle of Tannenberg, for two months Ostróda castle remained in the hands of Duke of Masovia, Janusz Mazowicki, who received the castle from the Polish King Władysław Jagiełło. In September 1410 the castle returned to the Teutonic Knights. In 1629 the Swedish King, Gustav Adolph resided at Ostróda castle. For six years, from 1633 to 1639, the castle was ruled by the Silesian Duke of Legnica and Brzeg, John Christian.
In the great fire of Ostróda in 1788, the flames reached the castle, where large quantities of gunpowder were stored in the east wing at that time. Soon a gigantic explosion damaged the east wing and the castle roofs. Although the castle was rebuilt, it did not regain its previous shape - the east wing was not reconstructed and the whole castle was one storey lower. In the 19th century the walls were plastered and many extensions were added to the castle building. From 21st February to 1st April 1807 the castle hosted the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. He arrived here to rest after the exhausting battle at Prussian Eylau, which was victorious for the French party but caused much bloodshed. A rather unexpected outcome of that brief stay at Ostróda castle was a number of arts objects documenting the event. The Ostróda Museum exhibits a replica of the painting by the French artist Marie Nicolas Ponce-Camus 'Napoleon promises his grace to Ostróda burgers. March 1807'; the original canvas hangs in the historic gallery at Versailles. Another exhibit at Ostróda Castle which commemorates Napoleon I is a silver medal 'Napoleon a Osterode', made by the French graver Bertrand Andrieu. In the 19th century the castle was a seat for the local administration office and court of justice. There were also several apartments for officials. In 1945 the castle was burnt by the Soviet Army and remained in the state of preserved ruin for nearly thirty years. The reconstruction of the castle was commenced in 1974 and continued until the 1990s. At present, the castle houses the Museum of Ostróda, the Centre of Culture, a gallery and a library.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.