The Christburg (Dzierzgoń) castle, intended for the seat of the Teutonic convent, was built in 1247, and around 1250 a commandry was established in Dzierzgoń. According to the chronicler Peter of Dusburg, the name of the castle referred to Christmas 1242, in which the Teutonic Knights captured the Prussian hillfort, on which they later erected the stronghold. In the fourth quarter of the 13th century, after the destructions of the war during the first Prussian uprising, the castle was rebuilt. Initial timber and earth fortifications were then replaced with brick ones, erected on a new, more defensive place. The settlement created next to the old stronghold was called Alt Christburg, or Stary Dzierzgoń. In 1249 at the new castle, a settlement was concluded between the Order and the Prussian tribes, which sanctioned the reign of the new rulers. The stronghold soon became the headquarters of the Teutonic commander, the first of which was Henry Stange in 1250-1254.
From 1309, the castle was occupied by an obersttrappier, a Teutonic dignitary responsible for equipping the Order with clothing. This meant that in the fourteenth century, the Dzierzgoń Castle was regarded as the largest armory alongside Malbork and the second food warehouse, after Brodnica Castle. In its fourteen farms large quantities of cattle were raised, especially horses, of which there were more than a thousand. The castle was also a strategically important point, the center of power in the densely populated Pomezania and the starting point for further conquests. The nearby Dzierzgoń river, which led the water route to the Vistula Lagoon and Baltic, was of significant importance.
In 1410, in the battle of Grunwald, the obersttrappier and the great commander of Dzierzgoń, Albrecht von Schwarzburg, were killed and the castle was captured without a fight by the army of king Jagiełło, who was going to Malbork. Describing the event, chronicler Jan Długosz, emphasized the richness of the castle pantries and the obersttrappier’s chamber, full of beautiful and expensive fabrics. The king supposedly liked the castle chapel, from which he ordered timber sculptures to be transported to the Kingdom of Poland. A garrison was left at the castle under the command of Zbigniew from Brzezie, but after the unsuccessful siege of Malbork, the Teutonic Knights began to recapture the lost castles. Leaving Dzierzgoń, after taking as much as possible, the army set fire to the castle, which then returned to the hands of the Order.
In 1414, the castle burned down again after it was captured by the Polish army during the so-called Hunger War. Due to major damage and perhaps the problem of the fell of steep slope on which the fortress was built, it was decided in 1437 to transfer the commandry from Dzierzgoń to nearby Przezmark. Despite this, the castle was still used, and three years before moving, it was quite well stocked. At that time, among others, 129 crossbows, 73 handguns, 12,000 belts and half a dozen spears were recorded in warehouses. In addition, protective equipment, 42 shields, barrels with nails, horseshoes, iron bars, girths, traveling beds, ropes, and Hungarian leathers were kept in the armory. The artillery consisted of 15 bombards for stone and metal balls with a supply of 11 gunpowder and two saltpeter barrels.
At the beginning of the Polish-Teutonic Thirteen Years’ War, in February 1454, the stronghold was burned at the hands of the rebellious burghers from the anti-Teutonic Prussian Union. However, no total destruction was carried out, because in June the same year the mercenary army in exchange for unpaid pay demanded, among others, the Dzierzgoń castle. A few months later, in September, the Teutonic Knights captured it again and kept until the end of the war, which ended in 1466 with the signing of the Second Peace of Toruń. Under it, Dzierzgoń was taken over by the Polish kingdom, and the seat of the starosty and the town court were located in the preserved chambers of the castle.
In 1520, during the last Polish-Teutonic war, there were direct clashes between the crews of the former Dzierzgoń commandry castles. The Teutonic forces from Przezmark came to Dzierzgoń, burned the farm, suburbs, barns, and then the town. The castle has survived, but its weak garrison was unable to protect the townspeople.
In the 17th century, offices still operated in the castle, but the building declined, especially in the second half of the century after the Swedish wars. Some of the buildings were demolished in order to obtain material for the construction of the nearby monastery and the associated smithy. At the end of the 18th century, the Prussian authorities decided to finally leave the castle, which was completely demolished during the 19th century and its areas intended for the park.
The castle was built on top of a hill with very good defense conditions. Access to the peak, flattened during construction, was defended from the north, east and south by steep and 30-meter high slopes. In addition, on the southern side at the foot of the hill the Dzierzgoń River flowed rapidly, originally washing its slopes (which in the future became the cause of landslides and probably construction disasters). The more convenient approach was only from the west, from the narrowing side of the hill, which was cut by the ditch at the narrowest point. An unfavorable element for defensive values could be a slightly lower hill called St. Anna, located on the north-east side and separated from the castle by a ravine. At the foot of both hills, on the east and partly south side, along the riverbed extended the buildings of a medieval settlement, changed in 1288 to the town. Its defense was made of earth ramparts with a wooden palisade and brick gatehouses.
The castle was built on the top of a hill with very good defensive conditions. It consisted of two separate parts: a conventual upper ward and an outer ward, joined by a string of perimeter walls, reinforced with towers. The castle was irregular, built of brick on a foundation of stones. It did not yet had the form of regular, Teutonic, conventual castle, with three or four ranges closing the inner courtyard. It was surrounded by a defensive wall with a width of 3.2 meters, probably topped with battlement and a wall-walk for defenders.
The castle had at least two ranges similar to rectangles, placed perpendicular to each other. The northern wing was shorter, about 20 meters long, while the eastern wing was over 40 meters, both had a basement. From the side of the courtyard to both parts also had brick, likely two-story cloisters. Probably the representative rooms, such as the refectory or chapel, were on the first floor of a larger building. Medieval inventories also mention warehouses, armory, warehouses of robes, cloths and canvases, pantries, commander and convent cellars. It probably lay at the upper ward, though certainly not on the representative – residential first floor. At the ground floor level of one of the wings, you can locate the convent’s kitchen and the kitchen where dishes were prepared for the commander’s table.
The main castle tower was built next to the northern, smaller wing of the castle. It was several-storey (with basement) and erected on a quadrangle plan with dimensions of 5.2 x 6.6 meters. It flanked the entrance to the courtyard, which was located in the gatehouse placed next to it. In its vicinity, relics of further walls have been found indicating the existence of an extensive, long gate neck. The courtyard was paved; a well was located in its southern part, and an unusual, interesting pentagonal building nearby, connected by an arcade passage with a tower in the defensive wall. Perhaps it was a bathhouse with a porch to the toilet tower, as chutes for water or impurities were discovered there.
The outer ward, to which two entrances led, was located in the north-west part of the hill, where the slope was gentler. There were brick, free-standing buildings without basements, but with stone and ceramic tile floors. It probably housed the workshops mentioned in the sources: footwear, saddle shop, forge, granary, as well as brewery, malt house and bakery. On the opposite side on the smaller hill of St. Anna, in the 13th century a Teutonic cemetery was founded and a chapel was erected. This place was probably connected to the castle with a wooden footbridge over the ravine. Outside the castle there were also Teutonic granges, mills and a garden.
The castle has not survived to this day. Only the fragments of the foundations and the pavement of the castle courtyard are left. During the excavation works, some architectural details were also unveiled in the form of sculptures, bosses, fragments of vault ribs and floor tiles. The area of the castle hill is accessible to visitors.
Garniec M., Garniec-Jackiewicz M., Zamki państwa krzyżackiego w dawnych Prusach, Olsztyn 2006.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Haftka M., Zamki krzyżackie. Dzierźgoń-Przezmark-Sztum, Gdańsk 2010.