The castle complex in Malbork (Marienburg) was created by way of gradual extension, and its fortifications were modernized for a very long time. The stronghold began to be built around 1280, although preparations in the form of forest clearing and building materials storage, began two years earlier. The inspirers of the construction were the master Teodoric Gatrislebe and the commander of the Dzierzgoń, Hermann von Schoennberg. First, the brick north range of the upper castle was built, followed by west and south ranges. A dansker tower was also erected at the western corner of the castle. These works were completed around 1300.
Initially, Marienburg became the seat of the commandry, and the first commander was Dietrich von Regenstein. In 1309, a decision was taken to move the headquarter of the Grand Master of the Order from Venice to Malbork, which thus became the capital of the Teutonic Order. Together with the grand master, a large number of knights brothers came to the castle, which required the reconstruction and extension of the existing complex. A significant extension of the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary was made, extending it and placing a chapel of St. Anne under it. In the niche on the eastern façade, there was a huge, 8-meter-long figure of the Virgin Mary and Child, made of artificial stone and covered with a mosaic from Venice in the 14th century. It became the symbol of the main castle of the Teutonic Order. On the former outer bailey, which is now a middle castle, until 1333 a new residence of the great masters was built. The palace created here became the most representative building of the stronghold. On the other hand, the low castle became the main production center for the whole Teutonic state at that time. From the mid-fourteenth century until the beginning of the 15th century, knights from all over Europe were drawn to Marienburg for the armed expeditions to Lithuania and Samogitia organized by the Order and the accompanying great tournaments and feasts.
In 1410, after the great defeat of Grunwald Battle, the castle and the town were besieged by the Polish-Lithuanian army led by king Władysław Jagiełło. Almost two-month attempts to capture the fortress proved ineffective. The Poles took over the castle only during the Thirteen Years War. Thanks to the initiative of Andrzej Tęczyński, it was sold in 1457 to the Polish king Kazimierz Jagiellończyk for 190,000 florins (about 660 kg of gold) by the Czech mercenary commander Ulrich Czerwonka, who owned the castle in pledge, in exchange for overdue pay. From then until 1772, castle was one of the residences of the kings of Poland. The upper castle served as a warehouse, and the Great Refectory was a place where royal events were given. The residence of the kings of Poland was located in the Palace of the Grand Masters, where the audiences were granted. In the middle castle, the northern range was occupied by the starosts, and the east range by the treasurer of the Prussian lands.
During the Polish war with Sweden in 1626, the Swedish army under the command of Gustaw Adolf besieged the castle. The Polish defense was commanded by Wojciech Pęczławski, who had 300 people at his disposal. Despite the slim forces and the admission of the Swedes to the town by the mayor Pheninus, the defenders managed to fight off assaults of 7,500 attackers. Only when the Swedes broke from the east through the outer bailey to the middle castle, the defenders offered honorary capitulation. The Swedes, after conquering the castle, built 11 earth bastions in two years. In 1629, the fortifications were enlarged with another defensive line, which the Polish army of Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski tried to recapture without success. In 1635, by virtue of a truce with the Swedes, Polish troops returned to the castle. In 1644, as a result of a fire caused by fireworks in honor of king Władysław IV, the roofs of the upper castle burned down and the cloisters were destroyed. The castle was renovated after 1647 by the Malbork’s steward Gerard Denhoff. In the years 1656-1660, the fortress was again occupied by the Swedes, and from 1772 the castle was occupied by the Prussians, who began to rebuild it into barracks. This led to huge damages. In the upper castle, almost all gothic vaults were demolished and the windows were rebuilt, the cloisters were bricked up and a new gate was built from the town side. Demolition was carried out of many gates and walls for building materials. After press protests and German patriotic milieus, there was a change in the perception of the castle’s value. In 1817, the devastation was completed, the period of a great restaurant began. From 1850 to around 1876, Ferdinand von Quast managed the works, and from 1882 to 1921 the castle was reconstructed by Conrad Steinbrecht. It is to him that the stronghold owes radical regothisation, preceded by archaeological and architectural researches. In spite of some of the missed decisions, the scale and accuracy of the work carried out are awe-inspiring to this day.
The year 1945 brought terrible destruction. During the Germans fight with the Red Army, the castle was turned into a resistance point, which led to great destruction. The eastern part of the upper and middle castle, the main tower and the castle’s church were completely devastated. After the war, the Polish authorities established the Social Committee for the Reconstruction of the Castle. A reconstruction lasting many years began, during which tried to restore its shape from the Middle Ages, remove war damages, as well as wrong reconstructions made by German art conservators.
Teutonic stronghold consists of three main elements: upper, middle and low castle (ward). The whole occupied a huge area of about 21 ha. The basic material for the construction of the castle was brick, limestone and granite. The foundations and elements exposed to destruction were laid out from the granite, architectural details were made of stone, and the bricks and timber were used to construct the basic parts of the buildings. The stronghold was placed on the right bank of the Nogat, in a defensive site. It was a long elevated strip of land, surrounded on the west and partly north by the river, and on the east by extensive swamps.
The seat of the convent was a upper castle, built on a rectangular plan with sides 51×61 meters. The outer corners obtained four-sided turrets, that made the castle’s shape more slender and sophisticated. In the fourteenth century, the inner (upper) courtyard was surrounded by two-story cloisters, and three-storey from the south. A well was placed in the middle. In the ground floor there were mainly utility rooms, in the west range the kitchen and bakery. In the north range on the first floor there was a chapter house and a chapel, in the western range was a commander’s and treasurer’s chambers, and in the eastern dormitory. The southern range housed above the warehouses, two bedrooms and a refectory on the third floor. The attic area served as a granary. From the outside of the façade, the crown of the walls was surrounded by a defensive porch, communicated with corner towers. In the western part of the ground floor there was an oblique gate passage. Its unusual layout is explained by topographical reasons, the desire to increase defensiveness or simply a change in the architectural concept. The main gate was placed in a high, pointed-arch recess, covering the machicolations. The gate was led by a drawbridge over the moat, and extended foregate with a guard tower and the house of a doorman. Also diagonally in relation to the corpus of the upper castle, there was a dansker tower, about 40 meters from the west corner.
The upper castle from 1344 housed the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 38 meters long and 14,4 meters high. Its interior was topped with a high stellar vault and decorated with rich architectural details. The vault was based on wall-mounted ancillary columns, which were decorated in a sophisticated way. Under its corbels stood the life-size statues of the 12 apostles, based on consoles with images of evil powers. Lighting in the church was provided by high ogival windows, glazed with colorful stained glass. The chancel was extended in front of the wall and was given a three-sided closure with the statue of the Virgin Mary placed inside. Under the church was located the chapel of St. Anna, planned as the burial place of the great masters. In its crypt, under the floor, the body of the deceased great master was put on the catafalque. After the death of the successor, the remains of the predecessor were slipped into the depths of the tunnel carved under the catafalque, which was filled by the land brought by the monks from the Holy Land. The chapel and the church received a rich sculptural and painting decor, including the so-called Golden Gate. It is a decorative portal from the cloisters to the chapel, dated around 1280. Placed in a deep niche with a rib vault. It owes its name to the rich, polychrome sculptural and painting decoration which, according to the spirit of the Middle Ages, also has a symbolic meaning. The beautiful archivolt contains, among others, the parable of the Stupid and Clever Virgins and the statues of Ecclesia and the Synagogue.
The upper castle was surrounded by two external circuits of the walls, which separated the zwinger area and by the moat, which was fed with water from the Dąbrówka Lake, distant by 8 km, through a specially dug canal. It was recognized that you can not rely on the Nogat, where the water level was too unstable. Thanks to this investment, castle mills could also function. The area of the eastern zwinger was allocated for the cemetery of teutonic knights. In the zwinger there was also castle gardens, among others rose garden on the south side. A main tower-belfry, stood next to the church, with a height of 66 meters. In the 14th century, in the northeastern corner, a residential tower called Klesza (Priests) was erected on the foundations of the older, thirteenth-century tower. It had the chambers of brothers – priests serving in the castle’s church.
The middle castle, which was originally an outer ward of the upper castle, in the fourteenth century, obtained the shape of a quadrilateral with three ranges and a side of about 100 meters in length. It had mainly the representative and administrative buildings of the Teutonic Order. In the first phase, peripheral walls and two free-standing buildings along the eastern and western curtains were built. From the north, an entrance gate has been located. In the years 1318-1324, a Great Refectory with a palm vault was built by the western curtain, and next to it a Palace of the Grand Masters, connected to their private chapel of St. Catherine. The palace had an elongated rectangular plan and was supported from the west on the defensive wall.
In the eastern range of the middle castle, on the floor were rooms for the guests of the Order, among others crusaders, representatives of European countries and their attendants, and a small church of St. Bartholomew, added at the end of the 14th century. Thanks to the movable partitions, the interiors on the first floor could be freely composed. The ground floor and cellars, of course, had economic and warehouse functions. The communication to the first floor was provided by the walled gallery. The elevation of the east range from the side of the courtyard was decorated with a series of large ogival blendes with large windows of a gallery, and from the outside a series of small gables.
In the northern, gate’s range, on the first floor, triangular vaulted, residential chambers of the great commander, treasury and the infirmary from the east (a hospital for the sick and old brothers) were created. Infirmary residents had their own chapel, refectory and bathhouse on the ground floor, and on the first floor, sleeping rooms. The refectory of the infirmary had stellar vault on a single pillar. The outer façade of the infirmary was adorned with a magnificent, great, triangular gable, decorated with blendes, pinnacles and traceries. It was to be visible and dominate the entrance to the middle ward. A small turret was in the corner, to which a timber porch led.
In the ground floor of east range, which had rib vaults, there were warehouses, a bakery, chef‘s chamber and a kitchen. The most important room of the west range, however, was the Great Refectory, to charm the guests who came to Malbork. Its spacious interior was crowned with palm vaults, supported by three slender, octagonal, granite pillars with decorative capitals and bases. The room was lit with large, ogival windows with colorful stained glass and covered with colorful wall polychromes. The room was warmed with hot air from the furnace, reaching from the channels placed in the floor. From the south, the Great Refectory had a connection with the chambers of the great master, and beneath it the cellars housed warehouses and a hypocaustum furnace.
And so, finally, around 1330, a three-range building was constructed around a trapezoidal courtyard, open from the side of the upper castle. This space was filled only by a wide moat and a low defensive wall. It was probably a deliberate intention of the designers, the upper castle had its massive, lofty shape to dominate and emphasize the strength of the Order.
In the 80s of the 14th century, the Palace of the Grand Masters was extended. It obtained the form of a four-storey residential tower with a rich decoration of facades. Its top floor was occupied by the refectory: Summer and Winter, covered with stellar vaults on the central pillars. The winter refectory, lower and smaller, was heated with warm air, so it could be used throughout the year. The Summer Refectory was set on a square plan with very harmonious proportions and illuminated with large stained glass windows, which play of lights enlivened internal wall polychromes. On the north side of the palace were comfortable living rooms of great masters with their private bath and toilet. Around 1400, representative and residential rooms were covered with paintings with heraldic, figural and floral motifs. Elevations have been given a rich decor in the form of deep window niches, decorative battlement and corner bay windows on decorative brackets. Originally it were better exposed, because the original roof was more withdrawn and lower.
Probably in the 40s of the 14th century, a defensive wall was built, that connected the middle and upper castle. Access to the middle castle was defended by the long foregate, drawbridge over the moat, five metal-framed oak doors, a portcullis and defensive porches.
The low castle had a shape similar to a rectangle measuring 140×270 meters and served as an economic and storage facility. In the years 1300 – 1320, a building for carts was erected by the eastern curtain, the so-called Karwan and monumental, four-storey granary over the Nogat river. Until 1327, the outer ward’s area was surrounded by a moat and brick fortifications. From the west, next to the moat of the middle castle, stood the gate of Saint Laurentius, and on its axis on the eastern side, the main entrance to the castle was located, flanked by two towers: Thesaurarius and Vogts Towers. In addition, the castle was defended by a number of towers, among which stood: Maślankowa Tower performing a prison function, and Clock Tower with a clock dating from the late fourteenth century. In the first half of this century, further buildings were built inside the low castle, among others a building with more than 142 meters in length, which housed rooms for servants, infirmary, brewery, bakery, malt house, kitchen and at the end the church of St. Lawrence. The stables stretched along the northern curtain. The interior of the large courtyard was occupied by workshops, forges, a bell-foundry, warehouses and a small water reservoir. Around 1330 a corner tower called Sparrow and Shoemaker Gate was established, leading to the town through the western zwinger and the next gate of Saint Nicholas for the bridge crossing. The timber bridge was secured by two towers called Water Gate, and on the other side of the river by a fortified bridgehead. The town was included in the mutual system of fortifications only in the years 1351-1383. After the great war in 1411-1413, the low castle was strengthened from the north and east by new earth fortifications called the Plauen Ramparts. Around 1418 the New Gate was built, providing access to the outside of the castle from the south, and in 1441-1448 the Plauen Ramparts were modernized with five semi-circular, low towers and brick retaining wall.
The Malbork castle is considered one of the largest in the world and at the same time one of the most remarkable works of defense and residential construction in medieval Europe. Palace of Grand Masters on the middle castle is one of the most outstanding achievements of the European Gothic. The castle is also a monument showing the development of conservation thought, from the early nineteenth century to modern times. Since 1961, it has been the seat of a museum, and in 1997 it has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Today, the huge castle museum presents reconstructions of historical interiors, exhibitions related to the history of the object, military, archaeological finds and collections of minerals, not to mention temporary exhibitions. Three, four hours is the absolute minimum you need to book for sightseeing. You can find out about dates, prices and opening hours on the official website of the museum here.
Juźwiak S, Trupinda J, Krzyżackie zamki komturskie w Prusach, Toruń 2012.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Garniec M., Garniec-Jackiewicz M., Zamki państwa krzyżackiego w dawnych Prusach, Olsztyn 2006.