Castle of the Week 121 – Malbork Castle, Poland

Malbork Castle Panorama
Location of Malbork Castle in Poland

Situated along the banks of the Nogat River in modern day Northern Poland, Malbork Castle is actually three castles in one covering over 80 acres. Under continuous construction for nearly 230 years, it is a classic example of a medieval fortress and the largest brick castle in the world. Malbork Castle’s history spans nearly 800 years with the castle and its museum listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Teutonic Knights Charge

In the early 13th century, the Order of Holy Virgin Mary, commonly known as the Teutonic Knights came to Poland at the invitation of Polish royalty to help convert the pagan inhabitants of the southern Baltic coast. Instead, the Order took control of most of northern Poland and Prussia, establishing many fortified monasteries and castles. Before long, the Teutonic Knights controlled a powerful independent monastic state.

Malbork Castle

In 1309, the Grand Master of the Order moved his headquarters to Malbork. At the time, the castle was no more than a fortified monastery consisting of a quadrangular convent building with chapel, chapter house, dormitory, refectory and courtyard with a small bailey. It quickly became clear the current structure was inadequate to fulfill its current role as capital of the Teutonic Knights.

Ground Plan

Over the next 40 years, Malbork was upgraded from a simple convent into a heavily defended fortress known as the High Castle. It was surrounded by several rings of curtain walls, towers and deep moats. Some of the more prominent buildings were a large church known as the Church of Our Lady and St Anne’s Chapel, the burial place of the Grand Masters.

Vaulted Ceilings
Vaulted Ceilings

The former bailey was transformed into a large residential and service area known as the Middle Castle. It contained some of the most beautiful and ornate buildings of the castle. Most notable were the Great Refectory, the largest room of the castle adorned with magnificent fan vaulting. It also contained the infirmary where the sick and wounded convalesced and the Palace of the Grand Master.

Castle Exterior
Castle Exterior
Castle Exterior

Over the next century, the Lower Castle (Unterschloss) or Outer Bailey was added to enhance the defenses of the fortress. It housed a large armory, a riverside grainery and many service buildings to include a bell foundry, brewery, stables and a chapel set aside for the workers of the castle. The Outer Bailey was fortified with a series of towers, gatehouses and deep moats.

Siege of Malbork 1460

Siege of Malbork – 1460

The Teutonic Knights were constantly at odds with their neighbors and fought many battles against the Kingdoms of Poland, Lithuania and Novgorod. Their power declined after a decisive defeat at the Battle of Grunwald. In 1457, during the Thirteen Year’s War, Malbork Castle was besieged and captured by Poland subsequently becoming the residence of Polish kings visiting Prussia.

In 1722, Malbork was captured by Prussian troops, which began a period in the castle’s history known as “The Prussian Devastation.” A large contingent of Prussian troops was garrisoned at the castle. The current accommodations were not adequate enough, so they began renovating the castle to suit their needs. The cloisters were bricked up, the Great Refectory was converted into an equestrian arena for horse drills and the tile floors were dismantled. The High Castle’s medieval windows were bricked up and the interior was partitioned with new walls, the vaulted ceilings were dismantled and the exterior appearance of the castle was changed with the addition of a new roof.

Malbork Castle

The age of Romanticism arrived late in the 18th Century and the castle was spared further damage. In 1817, the first of many reconstruction efforts began and continued over the next 100 years. It was during this time that most of the current historic restoration methods accepted around the world today were established while restoring Malbork Castle to its 14th Century glory.

In 1933, a new era for the castle began as the flag of the Third Reich was raised over the castle. It was the site of the September 1, 1939 official announcement that the territory of West Prussia was being annexed by Germany. Malbork was used as a staging point for troops heading towards the eastern front and a location for swearing in ceremonies of the Hitler Youth. In 1945, the castle suffered severe damage in the fighting between the retreating German Army and the attacking Russians. Fortunately, most of the priceless treasures of the castle were spared destruction or looting during the war.

Aerial View

In the years following WWII, the castle and its museum have been meticulously restored. Today, the museum houses many permanent exhibitions to include; medieval stained glass, sculpture, coins, pottery, tapestries, weapons, as well as a large collection of priceless amber art. Malbork Castle is the home of numerous festivals and cultural activities, truly a magnificent place to visit.

Distant View

Write-up by Duke of York.

Special thanks goes to The Malbork Castle Museum

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