In the pre-Teutonic period there was a hillfort of pagan Prussians in Lidzbark. The Teutonic Knights captured it around 1241 and erected their own timber watchtower, which they called Heilsberg. After the division of the Prussian lands into dioceses and the separation of the Warmian bishopric, in 1251 the Teutonic Knights gave Lidzbark to the bishops. Anzelm, the first Warmian bishop, ordered the reconstruction of a timber stronghold, destroyed a few years earlier during the Prussian rebellion, although it failed to defend itself during the next uprising of 1261-1273.
The construction of a brick castle in Lidzbark was undertaken in 1350 during the reign of bishop John I of Meissen. The bishop’s castle in Braniewo was then too small and too modest, therefore it was decided to erect a new stronghold in the center of the church dominium. Lidzbark’s choice was not accidental. There crossed roads leading from Reszel to Braniewo, as well as from Dobre Miasto towards Königsberg. The presence of the navigable Łyna River and a ford, located at the later northern bailey, was also important. Work continued during the reign of John II Stryprock in 1355 – 1373. It was the first bishop of Warmia, who obtained from the emperor Charles IV the right to be a prince, he also made Warmia independent of the bishopric in Riga. Because of his tenacity towards the Teutonic Knights, he was reportedly poisoned by them and died in Avignon in 1273. Bishop Henry III Sorbom ended around 1401, works on the Lidzbark castle. The stronghold owes him the equipment of representative interiors, the construction of cloisters and partly outer ward.
In 1442, a fire broke out in the castle, which destroyed the roofs over all the wings and ravaged the interior. The sloping roof truss ruined all the vaults above the first floor, and in places where the gables collapsed, also vaults over the ground floor and basements. The reconstruction and removal of the effects of the fire were used to functional modernization of the castle, resigning from the conventual arrangement of interiors for the benefit of the castle being a bishop’s residence and the center of the diocese. This especially affected the increase in the number of representative rooms, which occupied the southern, eastern and western wings of the first floor, and forced the transfer of the bishop’s chambers to the northern wing. The castle was also covered with new roofs enriched with corner turrets, instead of gothic gables.
Successive bishops, who in total spent almost 450 years on the castle, adapted the building to their needs and tastes. It was their headquarters and center of power, from which church jurisdiction was exercised and dominion was administered. In the years 1666-1673, bishop Jan Wydżga added a baroque palace to the southern façade of the castle. In the 18th century, the castle chapel received a rococo decor, and bishop Ignacy Krasicki commissioned the performance of new paintings in the refectory and the private dining room. In Prussian times, the residence was used for barracks, a hospital and warehouse. The palace of bishop Wydżga was also demolished in the 19th century. The first restoration work was undertaken during the interwar period.
The castle was erected in a naturally defensive place, in the wide valley of the meandering river Łyna, at the mouth of its eastern tributary, Symsarna. For even better defense, the Symsarna riverbed was transformed into a castle moat. On its eastern bank, a channel leading the river’s water to the castle mills was also dug.
The main element of the stronghold is the upper castle, built on a square plan with a side of 48.5 meters with small risalits in the corners. Their purpose is not entirely clear, most likely they were only an element of structural reinforcement. Upper castle was supplemented by two wards: northern and southern. Until the mid-fifteenth century, the main castle was equipped with gothic gables, then replaced by corner turrets. The entrance was from the north and led through successive gates, along the western zwinger into the southern ward. From there, through the bridge and gate on the zwinger and through the south range to the inner courtyard.
The main element of the upper castle was a tower in the north-eastern corner. It has fourteen storeys, at the bottom is quadrangular, above octagonal. The basement, ground floor and first floor rooms were covered with gothic cross and rib vaults, and after the fire of 1442 also stellar vaults in several representative chambers. The ground floor had economic functions, it housed a kitchen, bakery, brewery, armory, prison and sentry chamber. The reconstruction of 1442 did not change the layout of the rooms, only partly changed their functions: the former castle’s school was converted into a kitchen, and the former kitchen into a brewery. In the north-east corner of the new kitchen a large hood was erected, supported on a stone pillar. Below there were basements, partly two-storey. Food, wine and beer were stored there. After the fire, its second, lower level in the southern wing was buried.
Representative rooms were located on the first floor. In the south wing, above the gate there was a so-called chapter house and chapel, both with stellar vaults and rich painting decoration since the mid-15th century. The chapter house was in fact a refectory, serving not only as a dining room, but also as a chamber in which the castle’s everyday life was fought. Before 1442, it was shorter by one, the eastern span. This place originally occupied a small intermediate room. In the northern wall of the southern wing, between the chapel and the cloisters, there was a small cell, perhaps serving penitential purposes. A special place in the castle had the chapel. After the fire, it was covered with an innovative four-span net-stellar vault. In the west wing, the four-span room was illuminated atypically, both from the west and from the east (that is from the side of the cloisters). It had also a portal with the richest decoration of all in the castle. This suggests the unique rank of this chamber, which had until the fire of 1442. Perhaps it served as an audience room or a meeting room. After 1442, its windows from the side of the cloisters were bricked up and the so-called Small Refectory was placed in it. In the west wing there was also a narrow passage in the direction of dansker tower, extended towards the river. In the north wing, after the reconstruction of 1442, there were private bishop’s apartments with an audience room and residential chambers of the bailiff and the chancellor. Little is known about the original layout of the northern wing from before the fire. In the east wing there were originally three rooms, of which the south was probably the sacristy of the neighboring chapel. The other two may have been for residential purposes. After the fire of 1442, the eastern wing was combined into one room – the Great Refectory. It was the largest vaulted castle hall with dimensions of 9×31 meters. Its walls were covered with a biblical painting decoration and a heraldic frieze commemorating subsequent bishops and topped with a stellar vault. In its northern part, next to the tower, at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, the so-called Chamber of Sibyl was made. Its name comes from the painting decoration used on its walls. From the refectory passage led to a small chamber in the tower, so-called oratory, which was apparently a place of secret talks.
The third, highest storey of the north and west wings was covered with timber ceilings. It had mainly a warehouse function, but later there were also rooms for servants here. The second floor was surrounded by defensive porches, and within it there was also an entrance to the treasury in the corner tower.
The inner courtyard is surrounded by galleries with a two-story string of ogival, slender arcades on stone, granite pillars. At the top, they rest on slender limestone columns. In the ground floor it have rib vaults, three-supported on the floor. Originally, they had characteristic cut corners, rebuilt after a fire in the fifteenth century on perpendicular one. Cloisters were covered with rich wall polychromes. The communication between the floors was carried out by means of stairs placed on the west side of the gate, in the east and north wing and two spiral staircases in the south and east wing. Both were located in the thickness of the walls, one between the chapel and the sacristy, the other in the south-west corner.
One of the most interesting elements of the architectural detail of the castle were beautiful vault’s brackets. For example in the corner of the Great Refectory, small lions and phoenix were carved on them. Two brackets with symbols of the evangelists were placed in the corners of the chapel: the winged ox and the lion. The next, largest group were brackets with tracery decoration.
The northern ward had an economic character, a castle mill and craft workshops were built there. The southern bailey originally had the form of a slightly elongated quadrangle with a defensive wall about 8 meters high (in the southern part) and a massive tower on the axis of the southern curtain. This tower was built on a square plan with a side of about 8 meters and protruded in front of the face of the wall by about 3 meters. On its eastern side, the original gate to the courtyard was made, accessible through a wooden bridge over the moat. The tower secured the gate by flanking it from the west. Located at the main entrance to the castle, it also had representative qualities. Its facades were decorated not in typical patterns with zendrówka bricks, but with alternating stripes of painting, red and blue, two rows wide, each. A curiosity was the vaulted opening located under the gate passage of an uncertain function. Perhaps it was related to the water supply to the castle and town from a spring on a nearby hill. Pipes would then run under the bridge over the moat.
At the beginning of the fifteenth century, an outer wall was created in front of the southern curtain and two long wings of buildings. The west wing housed the seat of the vogt, who managed episcopal estates. In the basement and ground floor, there were storage and utility rooms, and on the first floor, among others, a vogt’s chambers, accessible through a timber cloister from the side of the courtyard of the south bailey. The highest storey served as a granary and defensive function. The lower eastern wing had to perform economic functions. Soon after the completion of two buildings, the second circuit of the fortress walls was erected (apart from the northern side overlooking the upper castle), which from the west side was connected with the defensive walls of the northern bailey. A latrine tower (dansker) was built next to the wall, connected by a wooden porch with the vogt’s chambers. The width of the zwinger in the southern part was about 6.5 meters, with a four-sided gatehouse or a foregate with external dimensions of 6.5 x 8 meters located on the entrance gate section. Presumably, this building had an ogival gate portal in the southern wall and a postern gate in the eastern wall, leading on the zwinger area and to the later corner tower.
In the second quarter of the 15th century a round tower was erected in the south-east corner (adapted for firearms), and a new foregate in the south-west corner. Probably the defense of the latter was provided by two cylindrical towers: one in the corner of the outer wall, the other protruding in front of the foregate’s neck. The corner cannon tower at the ground floor level contained inside the 4 meters thick walls a cylindrical room with a diameter of 6.5 meters with three loop holes facing west, south-east and north-east. In addition, there were even smaller shooting holes to cover the blind spots in the bends of the walls. Two of them (west and north) were pierced in the staircase and in the blind passage in the thickness of the wall, and an additional two pierced the walls at the junction with the tower. Above the ground floor there were three more storeys, with the third and fourth having separate access from the porch located in the crown of the defensive wall, through narrow passages and ogival portals. The lowest storey provided the tower with the possibility of going out to the zwinger area by a 2.2-meter wide passage, while the terrain caused that the tower’s ground floor to be 4 meters lower than the courtyard. A ramp connecting both levels was built for communication between them.
The castle of the Warmian bishops in Lidzbark is one of the most valuable and best preserved gothic monuments in Poland. The upper castle is characterized by a high level of authenticity due to the lack of major reconstructions and a happy avoidance of disasters throughout history. The branch of the Warmian Museum operates in the castle. There are presented here collections of gothic art, portraits, documents related to the famous inhabitants of the castle and elements of the former equipment of the castle chambers. The opening hours and dates can be found on the official website of the museum here.
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