The first timber defensive building on the site of the Bierzgłowo (Birglau) castle was built in 1242. These oldest fortifications were partially destroyed by the Lithuanian invasion of 1263, which survived only an unidentified, perhaps brick tower. The construction of a new, brick Teutonic seat took place after 1260 or 1270, at the time of the commander Arnold von Kropf and lasted until about 1280. Perimeter walls of the upper ward and the north-west wing come from this period. It was a modest castle compared to later Teutonic strongholds, because in the second and third quarter of the thirteenth century in Prussia there was no possibility of developing monumental brick architecture. It was caused by the lack of local masonry tradition and specialists (builders, architects, bricklayers), almost constant wars and the lack of a properly developed economy.
Further work and expansion of the castle took place in stages from the end of the 13th century to the beginning of the 14th century, although in 1415 the castle lost the function of the convent’s seat, transforming into the seat of the Teutonic pfleger. After the Thirteen Years War, it passed to the Polish hands and, despite partial destruction, it was still used by Toruń counselors. The 16th-18th centuries brought many fires, the last of which in 1782, caused total ruin. In the 19th century reconstruction attempts were made, unfortunately mainly in the neo-gothic style.
The castle consisted of two irregular parts: the upper castle surrounded by a double perimeter wall and a separated outer ward of a trapezoidal outline. Both parts were separated by a wide moat, bounded on both sides by a high retaining wall, serving simultaneously as a defensive wall. The irregular layout of the castle resulted not only from the fact that it was built on the foundations of an older wooden-earth stronghold, but also from the layout of the area, which before the end of the 13th century had not yet been transformed by earthworks.
The main entrance to the outer ward led across the bridge over the outer moat, surrounding the entire castle complex and a strong gatehouse tower erected in front of the walls, topped by a stepped gable. Its current appearance is the effect of the nineteenth-century regothisation, it was probably higher at first. On the outer ward there was also a huge, economic building, near the south-eastern wall. In the northern corner there was a half-tower open from the inside.
The entrance to the main courtyard of the upper castle was located in the middle of the northern curtain in the form of a unique ogival portal with a figural decoration and an inscription made of glazed tiles. The upper ward was surrounded by an external wall (zwinger) and additionally from the north, west and south, by the wall surrounding the entire castle complex. In the north-west corner of the zwinger wall, there was a tower, probably similar to the tower at the wall of the outer ward.
The main castle house was a two-storey west range, built on a rectangular plan with dimensions of 12×46 meters. The refectory was probably located on the first floor of the northern part of the west range and it was separated by a narrow room from the chapel on the north side, characteristic of the layout of many Teutonic commander’s castles. In the southern part of the west range there was another room of unknown purpose. Perhaps this part had also dansker (latrine tower), as indicated by the presence of parts of the arcade at the west elevation, but it could also be on the eastern side of the upper ward, in the gable wall of the southern wing. The porch leading to the latrine must have a light timber structure, which is evidenced by the lack of corbels and the small thickness of the outer wall.
Not much is known about the building at the southern curtain, it is possible that there were residential rooms and a convent’s bedroom upstairs and a kitchen, bakery or brewery on the ground floor, as indicated by two chutes directed to the moat.
The north-west corner, west of the gate, was occupied the third range. It probably originated to the first phase of the castle construction and was the oldest erected building. It measured 11×22 meters and housed a castle’s chapel on the upper floor. The communication between the rooms of the three ranges was provided by a stone and vaulted cloister.
Today’s appearance of the castle is largely the result of the 19th century reconstruction, although the original layout remained legible. The conventual building of the upper castle (west range) and the economic building on the outer bailey are best preserved, as well as the rebuilt entrance gatehouse. The northern range of the upper castle did not survive, it was demolished in the 19th century. At present, the Diocesan Cultural Center is located in the castle and it is open to visitors.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Torbus T., Zamki konwentualne państwa krzyżackiego w Prusach, Gdańsk 2014.
Wasik B., Budownictwo zamkowe na ziemi chełmińskiej od XIII do XV wieku, Toruń 2016.
Wasik B., Zamki krzyżackie w Starogrodzie i Bierzgłowie na tle innych komturskich siedzib nieregularnych w świetle nowych badań, “Archaeologia Historica Polona” tom 26, 2018.