Before the Teutonic conquest there was a hillfort of the Barts Prussian tribe near the later castle. At that time, it was a quite densely populated land, with a network of fortified settlements located in defensive places. The Teutonic Knights captured Barcja Land at the end of the 13th century and probably adapted the original stronghold to their watchtower, as evidenced by the German name Bartenburg, first recorded in documents in 1311. This watchtower did not rise exactly on the site of the later castle, but to the east, on the site of the settlement. It is not known when it was moved to a new place, but in 1325 it was mentioned again in the records, this time under the name of Bartinburg. From at least 1349 it was the seat of the Teutonic vogt, and then the Teutonic pfleger.
The rebuilding of the brick Barten castle was carried out by the Teutonic Knights from around 1377 (“fecit murare Bartenborg”), in connection with the decision of the Grand Master Winrych von Kniprode to separate a new commandry. The defensive walls and the eastern wing of the oldest part of the building were then raised, and the northern wing was also added. The works lasted until the 15th century, but in the meantime the plans to create a commandry were abandoned and the castle returned to the pfleger’s office. It was connected with the change of construction plans and the abandonment of the construction of a full, four-wing conventual castle. Perhaps the abandonment of the idea of creating a commandry was caused by the remote location of Barciany, which was already mentioned in 1377 (“loca pro castro edificando in desertis”).
During the Thirteen Years’ War castle was abandoned and and surrender 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 and backwaters of the Liwna River. Difficult to cross terrain surrounded it from the west, south and south-east. The stronghold was accessible only from the eastern side, the outer bailey was also located in that side. In the first half of the fourteenth century, a circumferential wall was erected with a square outline, dimensions of 55 x 58 meters, and a low building in the eastern part. Interestingly, the wall was then equipped with a battlement, which was rare in the Teutonic Order constructions. It was probably erected as a temporary security measure against the Lithuanian threat.
The protracted construction from the second half of the fourteenth century probably resulted in the abandonment of the plan to create a full, four-sided conventual castle. A double-winged layout was created with the main building 55.6 meters long and 14.3 meters wide on the eastern side, covered with a gable roof, supported by the shorter walls on Gothic gables decorated with pyramidal situated blendes. From the side of the courtyard, there was most likely a timber, two-story cloister, providing communication between the floors and rooms. There was a well in the middle of the courtyard.
At the basement level, the eastern range housed two rooms, serving mainly as a warehouse. Both chambers were covered with cross vaults and based on massive brick pillars. The cellars were accessible only from the courtyard side through the necks, i.e. narrow, steep stairs placed in the thickness of the walls. The ground floor was also divided into two parts, separated by a gateway, but their pillars supporting the vaults were made of granite. It had round, very low and wide stems. On the south side, at the gate, there was the doorman’s chamber, and further there was a kitchen with a large hearth and probably a pantry. The northern part of the ground floor was one space. The entire ground floor was lit with small pointed windows. On the representative floor of the east wing there was a four-bay refectory and a four-bay chapel adjacent to it from the north. They were covered with a stellar vault, although it is not certain whether the work was completed. The chapel had a three-side ended chancel, created by thickening and cutting the northern corners of the floor. It was lit from the east with four high, pointed windows and a single window from the north. The last, top floor had a warehouse and defense functions, perhaps there was also an armory there. It was single-space, with a dense row of small openings in the outer walls. The communication between the floors, in addition to the cloister, was provided by stairs in the thickness of the wall between the chapel and the refectory, leading to the top floor.
The northern range of the castle was lower and narrower, and its outer facade was decorated with a series of pointed recesses in which the windows of the first floor were pierced. It was also covered with a gable roof based on a Gothic gable at the west side. This gable has a seven-axis, stepped form, with obliquely positioned pilaster strips passing into pinnacles, between which were made triangular small gables and round wind holes pierced in the upper parts of the pointed blendes. Inside, the north wing had three floors, but did not have basements, moreover, none of the chambers was vaulted. They housed the chambers of the Teutonic pfleger and utility rooms. The former were on the first floor, which was divided into four rooms with access to the latrine on the west side.
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. You can see the preserved Gothic gables of the eastern and northern wings as well as external facades divided by blendes with a number of original window openings. Also, at the level of the first floor, especially on the façade of the eastern wing, the contours of the battlement from the first stage of works are visible.
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