The first mention of the timber – earth Teutonic watchtower in the former Prussian settlement of Rast dates back to 1329. The Order placed it here as part of a whole series of fortresses on the eastern border of the newly conquered territory. The strongholds were to protect the captured area and form the basis for further expansion to the east, as well as organize settlement and manage the subordinate territory. The watchtower was burned twice by Lithuanian invasions led by prince Algirdas and Kęstutis in 1345 and 1348.
The brick Rastenburg Teutonic castle was built after 1350, choosing a new place in the south-eastern corner of the developing settlement, which in 1357 received town privileges. A Teutonic pfleger’s office was established there, which was subordinated to the commandry in Balga. It had moderate defensive qualities and probably for this reason in the early fifteenth century was surrounded by an additional defensive wall.
In 1454, after the Thirteen Years War broke out, the rebellious inhabitants of Kętrzyn, led by craftsmen from the guild of shoemakers, captured the castle and drowned Teutonic pfleger Wolfgang Sauer in the pond. The Order re-captured its seat with the help of mercenary forces in 1461 and from that time up to 1525 it remained in his hands. The guild of shoemakers was additionally punished with a ban on sitting in the town council. After that date, Kętrzyn found itself within the boundaries of Duchy of Prussia, and the castle was intended for the local seat of the princely starosts. It involved the reconstruction and modernization of the medieval building. Among other things, in 1682, the upper floor of the northern part was demolished, together with decorative gables and all ranges were leveled. After a fire in 1797, the castle became the property of the town, which adapted it to the headquarters of the commander and later the headquarters of the tax office. At that time rectangular windows were pierced in the castle walls. In 1945, the castle burnt down and was rebuilt in the 1960s. Fortunately, it was not related to its pre-war appearance, but it underwent partial regothization, restoring the original height of the northern range.
The castle was adjacent to the west with the town and was slightly extended in front of the eastern section of the defensive walls. It was a small building, clearly smaller than other strongholds erected by the Order. It had a tower-less, three-ranged construction, 31.3 x 36.7 meters, built of brick on a stone plinth. It did not have an outer ward.
The main building on a rectangular plan and three over-ground storeys was built from the north. The representative rooms (chambers of the Teutonic pfleger, the refectory) and the chapel from the east, were located over the economic ground floor. Above there was a warehouse-defense storey, especially important, as the castle did not have a tower. The defensive porch ran around the entire perimeter of the castle. The northern range was also distinguished by gables provided with blendes and pinnacles. The other two buildings were narrower and lower, probably held economic functions, perhaps there were also guest rooms. It is known that commander of Balga had in the castle his own chamber. A small inner courtyard was surrounded by timber cloisters. In the wall there was also a small gatehouse with the bay window built after 1528. A timber drawbridge, located above the moat led to the gate.
The outer fortifications consisted of perimeter walls with three towers from the 16th century. Two of them were round, and the north-eastern quadrangular. The castle from the side of the town was probably separated by the moat, while on the south-eastern side of the stronghold, the canal was dug up and a mill pond was formed, joined with the moats. A water castle mill operated on it. In 1622, to improve communication, a circular staircase was built in the corner of the inner courtyard.
The castle, which was rebuilt after war damages, has retained a block from the Middle Ages, which, unfortunately, do not harmonize with large, rectangular, modern windows. Currently, the castle houses the Town Library and the Regional Museum, and the knight’s brotherhood is located in the basement of the northern wing. The museum’s collections include collections of paintings, sculptures as well as antique furniture. In the tourist season, the castle is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9.00 to 18.00, out of season from 9.00 to 17.00.
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Leksykon zamków w Polsce, L.Kajzer, S.Kołodziejski, J.Salm, Warszawa 2003.
Sypek A., Sypek.R., Zamki i obiekty warowne Warmii i Mazur, Warszawa 2008.