The first timber fortifications on the hill in Nidzica (Neidenburg) were built by the Teutonic Knights at the beginning of the 14th century. The watchtower was subordinated to the Działdowo commandry and was the seat of the Teutonic vogt. It was to guard the border and administer the southern borders of the Order’s state. The construction of the brick castle was undertaken after 1370 and continued until 1400. From that moment, the Teutonic pfleger resided there. In 1389, the construction had to be so advanced, that a diplomatic meeting of the representatives of the Order, Poland and Lithuania could take place here. However, it did not prevent the coming war.
The castle has been occupied many times by Polish troops. For the first time in 1410, when they took an undefended stronghold on their way to the fields of Grunwald. Then during the Hunger War in 1414, the Polish knighthood besieged and captured the castle after eight days of siege. However, in the same year, the commander of Ostróda Johan von Bichau recaptured Nidzica. In 1454, the castle was taken over by the Prussian Confederation and in 1455 it was handed over to the Czech mercenary troops under the command of Jan Kolda of Žampach, who then repelled the invasion of the Teutonic army.
After the Second Peace of Toruń in 1466, the fortress remained in Order hands. In 1517 the outer ward of the castle was expanded and strengthened. Perhaps thanks to this during the last Polish-Teutonic war, the mercenaries of the great master Albrecht Hohenzollern successfully repulsed Polish troops. In 1525, after the secularization of the Order, the seat of the prince starosts was established in Nidzica. In 1784 the outer ward was burned down, and in 1812 the castle was devastated by French troops. The court counsel Ferdynand Tymoteusz Gregorovius saved castle from the total ruin. From his inspiration in 1828-1830, the castle was rebuilt into a court and a prison. In the winter of 1945, the Soviet army bombed the castle, which until the 1961-1965 reconstruction, was a ruin.
The castle was situated on a high hill in the Nida Valley east of the later developed town. Nida surrounded the Nidzica and the hill by river’s bend, and marshes were an additional safeguard, making the only possible way to the castle from the east. A castle mill was erected on the river and a mill pond was created by damming the waters.
The unique in the scale of the Teutonic state, defensive site on the rectangular plan of 43.3 x 61.5 meters, consisted of a western main house, two side ranges and an eastern block with two square, corner towers flanking the entrance gatehouse, preceded by a moat with a drawbridge. In front of it was an irregular, walled outer bailey with the so-called a large house, a gate and a round tower from the beginning of the 16th century. The castle was erected on a hill overlooking the town.
The west wing, or the main castle house, was erected as a three-story building with cellars. Its shorter sides were crowned with Gothic, pinnacle gables. The highest defensive and storage storey was one-space, it was surrounded by a defensive porch. The floor, performing representative functions, was covered with stellar vaults. Originally, all the rooms there were decorated with colorful polychromes. The southern part was occupied by a chapel, equipped with a small altar bay window. The middle part was filled with a two-bay refectory, and from the north a chamber of the castle administrator with a latrine was located. The ground floor was barrel vaulted, only the room located in the north-west corner received a groin vault. Probably there was a kitchen. The ground floor had mainly storage functions. The courtyard was surrounded by timber, two-storied cloisters.
Side ranges, significantly narrower and lower, were covered with mono-pitched roofs. It probably fulfilled economic and residential functions. It were connected with the main house by a brick defense porch with a number of shooting holes on the level of the highest storeys. In the northern wing, the ground floor rooms had rib vaults, probably there was a kitchen and a brewery. A pair of toilets have been preserved on the outside wall of this wing.
The east range housed the main entrance to the castle. It was flanked by two square, five-storey towers, covered with hip roofs. Towers had defensive and residential functions, and the prison cell was on the lowest level. The gatehouse was topped with a decorative gable with pinnacles. Originally it was preceded by a drawbridge and a moat.
The castle in Nidzica, despite of previous damages, is today one of the best preserved Teutonic castles. Currently, it serves as a town center of business, culture and entertainment. It houses the Museum of the Nidzica Region with an ethnographic and historical exhibition, the Nidzica Cultural Center and the Knights Brotherhood of the Nidzica. The tour takes place from October to April, from Tuesday to Saturday from 9.00 – 16.00. From May to September throughout the week from 9.00 – 17.00.
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko i M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Garniec M., Garniec-Jackiewicz M., Zamki państwa krzyżackiego w dawnych Prusach, Olsztyn 2006.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.