The construction of the Bütow castle began with the Teutonic Order in 1390, during the reign of pfleger Jakob von Reinach. The construction works completed in 1405 were managed by an outstanding Teutonic builder Nicholas Fellenstein, brought from Malbork. He probably was the author of the concept deviating from the typical pattern of the conventual Teutonic castle and allowing the use of firearms for defense. At the end of the fourteenth century, it was an innovative solution, probably introduced due to the great importance of the castle, located in the border areas, near an important trade and communication route connecting the Teutonic Knights state with ethnically German territories, from which military and material help for the order flowed.
After the defeat of the order in the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, the castle and the Bytów land briefly came under Polish sovereignty, but after signing the First Peace of Toruń in 1411, the Teutonic garrison returned. In the following years, due to the financial problems of the order, the castle declined, especially since in 1433 it was damaged during the siege by the Hussite army. This was mentioned by the letter of the Bytów keeper to the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights from 1451. Three years later, after the outbreak of the anti-Teutonic uprising and the thirteen years Polish-Teutonic war, the castle surrendered without a fight to the Gdańsk burghers, and in 1455 they handed it over to King Kazimierz Jagiellończyk. In exchange the Polish ruler gave Bytów to the prince of Słupsk Eric II for his services, but due to weak defense, in 1460 the castle fell into the hands of the Teutonic Knights again. Finally, only under the Second Peace of Toruń of 1466, the entire Bytów land together with the castle was incorporated into the Polish kingdom, although Kazimierz Jagiellończyk once again handed it over to fief of Eric II.
From 1466, the castle belonged to Pomeranian dukes and was the seat of their castellans. The successor of Eric II, Bogusław X, began the Renaissance transformation of the stronghold. It received earth fortifications, corner bastions and a transformed entrance. Around 1570, new economic and residential buildings began to be erected along the walls: the so-called Ducal House on the south-eastern side, and the office on the south-west side. In addition, in 1623, Bogusław XIV founded a house for princely widows at the northern corner. Being an important seat of Gryfit dynasty, the castle transformed into a comfortable, early modern residence.
The first losses castle suffered during the Thirty Years War, when the imperial army devastated Bytów. In 1638, after the childless death of the last Gryfit ruler, Bytów together with the castle passed into Polish hands, being the seat of starosts. During the Polish-Swedish wars the castle burned down, and a corner four-sided tower was blown up. Then, partly rebuilt, it served as a court and prison, and after World War II it was finally renovated with the seat of the West Kashubian Museum.
The castle was built on an artificially erected hill, situated south-east of the town with which it was not connected by common fortifications. It was built of brick and glacial erratic stones on a rectangular plan with dimensions of 49×70 meters.
An important role in the defense system was played by huge, corner towers with loop holes adapted for the use of firearms. They were connected by a wall with a height of 12 to almost 15 meters, pierced in the crown with arrowslits spaced approximately every 1.5 meters. Access to them was provided by defensive porches, which were probably covered with roofs for protection against cold and rain. Directly at the residential house, on the north-west side there was a four-sided tower, on the opposite, that is north-east side the Mill Tower, from the south – west Rose Tower and from the south – east Field Tower. There was probably a dansker (latrine towert) standing outside the north-west wall. The corner towers were protruted beyond the perimeter of the walls to allow fire from the flank. Their upper floors were also good observation points, while the dark, lower floors were intended for warehouses and prison cells.
A residential house 36 meters long and 11 meters wide was built at the north-west curtain. It was a three-storey building with a basement, accessible from the courtyard, from which one could go directly to the basement and ground floor rooms. From the side of the courtyard, there was a wooden communication porch, used to communicate with the chambers on the first floor. The high attic was accessed using a spiral staircase located in the south-west corner. The shorter walls of the residential house were topped with gothic gables, later lowered and transformed.
Inside the building, the basement served as a pantry, while the ground floor housed utility rooms and rooms for knechts. The basement was divided into seven chambers covered with groin and barrel vaults, while on the ground floor there were probably five rooms, accessible from the courtyard by four portals with segmental heads and roller moulding of the jambs. The main six rooms, such as the chambers of the Teutonic pfleger and his knights, the refectory and the chapel, occupied the representative first floor. It was illuminated by high windows located on the north-west side, and small latrines projected on corbels were also located there. Access to the first floor chambers was provided by five irregularly arranged portals, accessible from a timber cloister. The top floor (attic) served as a granary and warehouse. There was also a defensive porch in the thickness of the perimeter walls.
The courtyard was completed with a well and a multi-story kitchen attached to the south-west wall. The entrance to the castle was placed in a four-sided gatehouse in the middle of the north-eastern curtain of the wall, located inside the perimeter of the walls, in the courtyard, but preceded by a straight foregate from the outside. The entrance to it was provided by a drawbridge over the moat, about 10 meters wide. The other smaller gatehouse stood on the outside of the moat.
The renovated Bytów castle is one of the best preserved Teutonic castles. Despite the changes introduced in early modern times, its medieval layout is fully legible. Post-medieval changes led to the construction of the south-east and north-east wings, the need to rebuild the four-sided tower, loss of vaults and the west gable in the Teutonic wing, as well as the collapse of its south-west corner with stairs in the thickness of the wall. Some of the original wall-walks were also removed and replaced with new ones at the end of the 17th century. Currently there is a hotel with a restaurant in the so-called The Ducal House, a library with a reading room in the east wing and the West Kashubian museum with rich collections of folk culture in the north wing. Opening hours can be checked on the castle page here.
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko, M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
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Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
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