The beginnings of the Elbląg castle are connected with the crusade to Prussia in 1236. After the conquest of Pomesania, the Order began to capture strategically important areas, such as the estuaries of the rivers and the banks of the Vistula Lagoon. After taking over the Drużno Lake area, the Teutonic Knights, supported by the knights from Meissen, decided to get the mouth of the Elbląg River. At that time, two ships were built and provided for transporting the army. The expedition started in the spring of the following year, and it was supported by a land units following from Dzierzgoń. The crusaders arrived at the mouth of the Elbląg River and established the first timber watchtower on the river island.
The construction of a brick castle called Elbing the Teutonic Order began around 1240, a few kilometers below the estuary. It was an important route leading to Warmia and Natangia. In addition, Elbląg was an ideal port, connected to the Baltic Sea through the Vistula Lagoon and the river. The construction was interrupted by the first Prussian uprising in 1242, but the work had to be advanced since the castle was one of the few that withstood the siege. In 1246 the first Elbląg commander, Aleksander, was mentioned. Construction continued in the years 1248-1260, and finally it was completed only in the fourteenth century. The role of the castle grew after placing in it the seat of the land master in 1251, and after the teutonic capital was moved to Malbork, in Elbląg resided, except for the commander, also a great hospitalist. Also in Elbląg an annual provincial chapter was held.
The end of the magnificent stronghold, considered the second after Malbork in terms of power, brought the year 1454. After a five-day siege, the castle was captured by the Elbląg burghers, who immediately began to demolish the castle, to prevent the Polish king, as a new ruler, to consolidate his power with the use of the post-teutonic fortifications. Craft workshops on the southern ward, probably a competition for the town, were also completely demolished. For the next hundred years, the castle remained in ruin, and some of its fragments were completely dismantled only at the end of the 18th century.
The Elbing Castle was situated on the eastern bank of the Elbląg River, and at the same time south of the town, from which it was separated by a moat. From the 30s of the fourteenth century, on the eastern side, the castle adjoined to the New Town of Elbląg, also having independent fortifications. On the north-west side, separated by the river bed, there was the Granary Island.
The main castle (upper ward) was a four-wing building on the plan of an irregular quadrangle (southern and eastern wings joined at an obtuse angles). It is not certain if it was surrounded by a parcham wall, certainly a moat secured it. Its dimensions, 65×78 meters, suggest that it was the largest conventual house built in Prussia. The inner courtyard was certainly surrounded by cloisters, the existence of the bergfried tower is only a hypothesis. In the upper castle there was a chapel of the Holy Cross, apartments of the land master and a commander, refectory, chapter house, dormitory, infirmary, treasury and utility rooms. The latter, like in other Teutonic castles, were probably located in the ground floor, and the basements served as warehouses and pantries. The representative chambers had to be on the first floor. They were certainly richly decorated; next to numerous carvings, glazed bricks and a cornice with floral motifs were discovered. Rich decoration and decor emphasized the great importance of the castle in Elbląg as a supra-regional center.
There were also two large outer wards: the northern one located directly at the walls of the Old Town and the southern ones. In the north there was a brewery, malt house, bakeries and granaries. In the southern one there were numerous craft workshops (coopers, carpenters, shoemakers, saddlers), a forge, a tannery, an armory and a hospital for servants. The wards were separated from the main castle by 25 meters wide moats. on the western side of the main castle there were also smaller ward, from which led the entrance to the main castle.
The Teutonic castle in Elbląg was almost completely demolished. To this day, the building of the former malt house, cellars and the remains of defensive walls on the northern outer bailey has survived. Currently, there is the Museum of Archeology and History in it, open from Tuesday to Sunday from 8.00-16.00, in the summer season from 10.00 to 18.00.
Herrmann C., Mittelalterliche Architektur im Preussenland, Petersberg 2007.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Torbus T., Zamki konwentualne państwa krzyżackiego w Prusach, Gdańsk 2014.