Before the Teutonic conquest there was a hillfort of the Barts Prussian tribe near the later castle. Bartia was then a densely populated land with a network of fortified settlements in defensive places. The Teutonic Knights conquered Bartia at the end of the 13th century and probably adapted the original hillfort to their watchtower, as evidenced by the German-speaking name Bartenburg. The watchtower did not rise exactly in the place of the later castle, but in the east, on the site of the castle’s settlement. The first mention of the Teutonic guards comes from 1325, initially it was the seat of the vogt, and then the Teutonic pfleger.
The construction of the brick Barten Castle, Teutonic Knights began from around 1377 – 1380 in relation with the decision of the great master Winrych von Kniprode to separate a new Teutonic commandry. The defensive walls and east wing of the original building were then raised. The work lasted until the fifteenth century, and in the meantime, plans to create a commandry were abandoned and the castle returned to the rank of teutonic pfleger. It was connected with the change of construction plans and departure from the construction of a full four-range conventual castle.
During the Thirteen Years’ War it was abandoned and and gave back without a fight. Taken over by townspeople from nearby Sępopol, then the Prussian knights and even the peasantry, eventually came into Polish hands. From that moment it was the seat of the duke’s starost. In 1580, the court builder of margrave George Frederick, added a new storage range, transforming the castle into a three-wing arrangement. In the following years, no major changes were made, mainly cloisters were transformed. In the nineteenth century, the castle passed into private hands.
The castle was situated on a small hill, once surrounded by swamps of the Liwna river. In the first half of the fourteenth century, a perimeter wall was erected on a square plan of 55×58 meters and a low building in the eastern part. Interestingly enough, the wall was equipped with a battlement, rarely found in the Teutonic Knights architecture. Probably it was erected as a temporary security against the Lithuanian threat.
A prolonged construction from the second half of the 14th century probably resulted in the abandonment of a plan to create a full, four-sided conventual castle. A two-range building was created with the main part on the eastern side. At the cellars level, there were two rooms separated by a gate passage. Both were covered with massive, groin vaults and based on great, brick pillars. The cellars were accessible only from the courtyard through the basement necks, that is narrow, steep stairs placed in the thickness of the walls. Basements had mainly warehouse function. The ground floor was also divided into two parts, but its pillars supporting the vaults were built of granite. Pillars have round, very low and wide stems. On the south side, at the gate, there was a doorman’s chamber, and then a kitchen with a large hearth and probably a pantry. The northern part of the ground floor was one space. On the representative floor of the east range there was a refectory and a chapel adjacent to it from the north. It have been covered with a stellar vaults, although it is not certain if the work was completed. The chapel had a three-sided chancel and was illuminated with five, tall ogival windows. The last, top floor had warehouse and defense functions, perhaps there was an armory there. It was one-space, with a dense array of small openings in the outer walls, where you could fire enemies. The communication between the floors was provided by the cloister from the side of the courtyard and stairs in the thickness of the wall between the chapel and the refectory, leading to the top floor. The shorter walls of the eastern range were crowned with gothic gables.
The northern range housed the chambers of the Teutonic pfleger and economic rooms. It was lower and narrower, and its exterior façade was decorated with a number of pointed arch niches. It also had three floors, but it did not have basements. It also received gothic gables at shorter ends. The courtyard was most likely surrounded by a timber cloister, providing communication between floors and rooms.
In the north-eastern corner, a low, round tower was added at the beginning of the 15th century. Small corridors in a corner buttress led to its small rooms, and from the basement level a corridor led to a dark, damp dungeon. It had quite large niches, perhaps intended for prison cells. The room available from the ground floor has a similar character, it is possible that it was a judicial chamber. At the height of the former chapel, the room could have been the sacristy. The diagonally arranged tower was also planned in the south-east corner, but it was never completed and that is why it is today a giant buttress. In the middle of the courtyard was a well. The whole castle – low and raw – shows a gradual increase of the role of firearms in the fifteenth century and the adaptation of defensive architecture.
The castle has survived to this day largely in its original condition. Subsequent reconstructions, such as granary added in the seventeenth century, at the western wall, or the eighteenth-century, southern economic building, did not erase the medieval appearance. Despite the renovation works, unfortunately its interiors are still not open to the public.
Garniec M., Garniec-Jackiewicz M., Zamki państwa krzyżackiego w dawnych Prusach, Olsztyn 2006.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Torbus T., Zamki konwentualne państwa krzyżackiego w Prusach, Gdańsk 2014.