The small stronghold of the Teutonic Knights was established in Ełk (Lyck) at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries on the initiative of Ulrich von Jungingen, the then commander of Balga, and later the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order. It was for the first time mentioned in 1390, and its role was increased after the Mielno peace in 1422 and the delimitation of the Teutonic-Mazovian border. At that time, the settlement action developed in this area. A Teutonic pfleger lived in the castle, that is a religious clerk who was subordinate to the commander, who held courts, and collected rents and tributes. It was probably the main function of the castle, because it did not have much defense potential.
The castle and the town were destroyed during the Thirteen Years War, when the castle passed from hand to hand. After the Peace of Toruń in 1466, Ełk remained within the borders of the Teutonic state. In 1525, after the secularization of the Order, when the military threat from Poland and Lithuania ceased, the castle became the seat of the princely starosts, and then the town courts. It was rebuilt to increase representativeness and convenience. In the 19th century, the castle complex was rebuilt in relation with the transformation of the castle into a prison.
The castle originally occupied an island on the lake, stretching to the south of today’s town. It was an atypical stronghold like for the Teutonic buildings. Its oldest element was a residential tower on a rectangular plan with dimensions of 12×16.5 meters. It had a basement and four floors separated by timber ceilings. The stairs were led to the floor in the north-east wall thickness and timber external stairs connected the courtyard level with the second floor portal. Access to the upper floors was probably provided by ladders. The tower topped probably by stepped or triangular gables, was covered by a gable roof. The whole was surrounded by a timber palisade and moat, and then a defensive wall. Timber auxiliary buildings were erected in the courtyard. On the west side of the island, which was separated by a moat, the outer ward was located, from which it led the timber bridge ashore. From the east, the second drawbridge also connected the island with the mainland. A castle settlement was established along the eastern shore of the lake.
The second stage of the expansion took place at the end of the 15th century. A staircase tower was then delivered from the north. In the last phase of the beginning of the 16th century, some openings were transformed, and the ground floors were covered with a groin vault. From the 16th century records, it appears that the castle had a kitchen, a brewery, a bakery, an armory, a powder magazine, and a mill and a farm on the outer ward of the castle.
The castle in Ełk has survived to the present times, however, in the strongly changed form, due to its transformation into a prison complex. Purchased in 2010 by a private investor, it is waiting for a general renovation.
Garniec M., Garniec-Jackiewicz M., Zamki państwa krzyżackiego w dawnych Prusach, Olsztyn 2006.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.