The Osterode Castle was probably built in the place of the Prussian settlement, located on an important trade route from Masovia to the Baltic Sea. The first, still timber fortifications were raised by the Teutonic Knights at the beginning of the 14th century (the first mention of the commander of Heinrich von Metz was recorded in 1341). The construction of a brick castle began with the commander Gunther von Hohenstein in 1349. The works lasted to around 1380. The castle was the seat of an important commandry established on the southern border of the Teutonic state. Under it were strongholds in Nidzica, Działdowo and Olsztynek. Because of its location and rank, large quantities of weapons were stored in it. Ostróda as one of eight commandries, at the end of the fourteenth century was equipped with firearms, in 1391 there were six cannons.
In 1381, the castle was burned by the Lithuanian army of Kęstutis and rebuilt until 1397. The stronghold was briefly into Polish hands in 1410 after the battle of Grunwald, when it was taken over by the knight Nicholas von Doringen. It were temporarily here laid the corpses of the fallen Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen and the commander of Ostróda. The following year, the new great master, Henry von Plauen, convened a large council of Prussian states at the Ostróda Castle, which task was to accept new taxes and rebuild the country from war damages.
Once again, the castle was captured by the insurgents of the Prussian Confederation in 1454, at the beginning of the Thirteen Years’ War. However, it was quickly reccaptured by the Teutonic Knights, who kept it until the end of the war and after the Second Peace of Toruń. After the secularization of the Order in 1525, the seat of the starost was placed in it. In the 17th century, the castle’s defense system was modified, surrounding it with ramparts and bastions. In 1788, the explosion of gunpowder completely destroyed the eastern wing. The remaining parties were rebuilt by liquidating the highest floors. Later, the dilapidated stronghold was adopted for administrative purposes. During World War II, the building was completely burned. The reconstruction began in 1974.
The castle was erected in the north-west corner of the town. It probably did not have a common system of fortifications with the Ostróda, which was separated by a moat, fed by the Drwęca’s branch. The river protected the castle from the north, while the waters of Lake Drwęckie were located from the west. From the other sides, to attack the castle, you had to first capture the town, surrounded by a line of stone and brick walls with a system of four-sided half towers and preceded by an irrigated moat.
The seat of the convent was built of bricks in a Flemish bond on a stone plinth, on a square plan with dimensions of 44.7 x 45.2 meters. Around the courtyard there were four wings of the same width, with a basements, two-storey above. Each wing was covered with a gable roof, probably with the two gables facing north, one facing south and one facing west. The gate was situated on the axis of the west wing, and in addition, it was preceded by a four-sided foregate protruding towards the moat. So the castle was not connected with the town, but the road to it led along a narrow strip of land between the lake to the west and the town fortifications to the east. This increased protection, but did not leave space for the economic buildings of the outer bailey.
Contradictory information can be found about the existence of the main tower. The castle certainly had a dansker (latrine) tower by the river, connected to the convent’s house by an overhanging porch extended to the north. It could have been timber, but it was mounted on brick pillars. The presence of a zwinger (outer defensive wall) is also debatable. As mentioned, due to the lack of space, the castle did not have a fortified outer bailey, the role of which was probably taken by the farm located on the other bank of the Drwęca River.
On the ground floor of the castle, economic rooms were located, covered with cross-rib vaults and illuminated with narrow, pointed-arched windows with stepped jambs. In the southern wall of the gateway, four pointed recesses were created. In a small room at the entrance, on the right, the vault rested on a single granite pillar. The two-aisle room in the eastern part of the northern range also rested on four four-sided pillars. In this wing there was a kitchen and a pantry of the convent.
The first floor was representative and residential. In the south wing there was a refectory from the west, and a chapel from the east. In the west wing, north of the gate, there were two rooms intended for the commander’s apartment. The upper floor of the northern wing had a large refectory, connected by a porch with a latrines in dansker. The eastern wing was probably built at the latest, filled with one room on the first floor.
Above the first floor there was a low storey with a warehouse and defense function. Probably like other conventual castles it was single-space and it was surrounded by a defensive porch. The castle had to have also a dormitory, treasury, armory and infirmary, and probably a bakery or a brewery in the ground floor. The courtyard was originally surrounded by timber cloisters, ensuring communication between the upper rooms.
Currently, the castle is austere, deprived of decor and fairly low block, worthy to see after all. The cellars and part of the ground floor are original, medieval, while the first floor has been renewed. The destroyed east wing is completely missing. Castle houses a cultural center, gallery, library and museum. Opening hours and prices can be checked on the official website of the monument here.
Garniec M., Garniec-Jackiewicz M., Zamki państwa krzyżackiego w dawnych Prusach, Olsztyn 2006.
Herrmann C., Mittelalterliche Architektur im Preussenland, Petersberg 2007.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Steinbrecht C., Die Ordensburgen der Hochmeisterzeit in Preussen, Berlin 1920.
Torbus T., Zamki konwentualne państwa krzyżackiego w Prusach, Gdańsk 2014.