Działdowo – Teutonic Castle

History

    The castle was built in the area originally called Sasinia. It was a deserted area, overgrown by a forest, strongly bogged down. In 1257, the bishop of Chełmno received Sasinia from the Dukes of Mazovia, and two years later he handed it over to the Teutonic Order. The Teutonic Knights built a castle in Działdowo (Soldau) in 1344-1391, although the year 1306 is also given as the beginning of construction. It was subordinated to the Ostróda commandry, initially serving as the teutonic pfleger’s seat, and from 1383 the teutonic vogt seat. Its role grew after marking the border between the Order and Masovia in the mid-fourteenth century.
    
The castle was repeatedly the subject of fights between the Teutonic, Prussian, Polish, Lithuanian and Swedish armies. In 1376 Działdowo was destroyed by the Lithuanians of prince Kęstutis, and the stronghold was also burnt. It was during the castle’s reconstruction, that a decision was taken to create here a vogts seat. In 1410, during the march of the army of Polish king Jagiełło at Grunwald battlefield, the castle was one of the first occupied without a fight. During the Thirteen Years’ War Działdowo passed from hand to hand several times, and during one of the sieges, the teutonic commander of Vienna was killed here. In the 16th century, the castle remained within the borders of Duchy of Prussia and became the seat of the starost. It suffered heavy losses in 1520, during the last Polish-Teutonic war. After a long siege, Działdowo was then captured and destroyed by the army of king Zygmunt.
    
In 1525, as a result of the secularization of the Teutonic Order, the castle became the seat of the ducal starost. Due to the location close to hunting areas, a princely residence was planned here. In the years 1551-1576 it was rebuilt, giving it renaissance forms. Further transformations were subject to the seventeenth century, and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was partially demolished and served economic functions. Unfortunately, the castle bricks were used to rebuild the town after numerous fires and to erect a new town hall. The main castle house owes saving probably to the Evangelical commune, which placed the pastor’s apartment in it. Another destruction was caused by the castle’s fire from 1868 and the Second World War.

Architecture

    The castle was located on a small hill surrounded on three sides by wetlands and the nearby Działdówka River. It had a shape similar to a square measuring 46 x 47.6 meters. The main house was a south-east range with dimensions of 12×46 meters. It had a basement and initially two-storey. The cellars had rib vaults. The ground floor had economic functions, from the north there was a kitchen with a rib vault, based on one pillar and nine corbels. A similar room of unknown purpose was placed on the south side. Its vaults were based on a polygonal pillar. In the middle part of the ground floor there were smaller chambers with groin and barrel vaults, there was also a water wicket gate, that is a passage through the width of the entire building. On the first floor there were three representative rooms: a chapel in the middle and a refectory from the south. The northern chamber was separated by a timber ceiling, which allowed the office to be set up below, and the apartment of the teutonic vogt at the top. The chapel and the refectory were crowned with magnificent stellar vaults, based on tracery and face corbels. The chapel and refectory also received three narrow, pointed arch windows and decorations in the form of wall polychromes. This floor, for the residents’ comfort, was also warmed with hot air supplied through the channels from the hypocaustum furnaces. The highest storey had warehouse and defense functions, was single-space and had small windows or shooting holes. A narrow staircase located in the wall thickness between the chapel and the office led to this level. The communication between the remaining floors was provided by exterior timber galleries.

   The entrance to the castle led through the north – west gate and the bridge supported by brick pillars, over a nine – meter – high moat. The gatehouse was located in the vicinity of the western, corner tower, square in the plan, with dimensions of 13.5×13.5 meters, extended before the perimeter of the walls. According to some researchers, the tower had an octagonal superstructure. In its basement, due to the duties of the teutonic vogt, there was a prison. The northern corner was reinforced by a smaller tower, built on a square pedestal, going higher into the octagon. There was a well in the courtyard, located near the kitchen.
    
Probably in the third period of the fourteenth century, the main house was raised by already mentioned one storey, housing warehouses and equipped with shooting holes. At that time, the stellar vaults of the first-floor rooms and the gables decorated with blendes and pinnacles were created. In 1376 a narrow south-western range was built, and soon the north-east range. Both served a residential and economic functions. The inner courtyard was surrounded by timber cloisters. Its traces can be read from the façade of the main house, thanks to the portals and sockets on the beams. The main castle was surrounded by an additional, external defensive wall and the moat. From the south-west side there were wide outer ward. It had an economic character and was surrounded by separate fortifications. There were, among others, stables, a granary and a malt house.

Current state

    The southern range, that is, the main residential house of the castle, partly the west range and the basements of the remaining elements of the upper castle, have survived to the present day. Unfortunately, the castle in Działdowo is another example in Poland, where it was decided to destroy the medieval monument in a mindless way. The west range and the south-west tower were recently overbuilt by modern, ugly and detached from the historical context buildings. The castle is not open to visitors, you can only enter the courtyard, which is actually a parking for officials.

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bibliography:
Garniec M., Garniec-Jackiewicz M.,  Zamki państwa krzyżackiego w dawnych Prusach, Olsztyn 2006.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, L.Kajzer, S.Kołodziejski, J.Salm, Warszawa 2003.