Świecie nad Wisłą – teutonic castle


   The beginnings of Świecie date back to the early Middle Ages, when there was a Slavic earth and timber stronghold, which at the beginning of the fourteenth century belonged to the Pomeranian prince Świętopełk. In 1309, this stronghold was conquered by the Teutonic Knights together with the entire East Pomerania, and in 1320 it was adopted as the seat of the teutonic commandry. The brick castle was built in another place in the years 1335-1350, although the finishing and construction works on the outer ward were stretched over the next few years. After finishing, the castle in Świecie was considered a key stronghold in the defense system of the Teutonic East Pomerania, and the Świecie commandry became one of the most influential in the entire Teutonic State. The strategic importance of the castle can be proved by the fact that in 1377 it was equipped with firearms. At that time, it was only the second Teutonic castle (the first one was the castle in Lipienek), which had such then modern weaponry.
   In 1410, during the Great War with the Teutonic Order, the castle was besieged by Polish troops. During the Thirteen Years War, it was temporarily in the hands of anti-teutonic forces and suffered considerable damage during the fighting. In the years 1461-1502 the castle was owned by the city council of Toruń, from which order upper part of the northwestern tower was rebuilt. In the years 1508-1772 it was the seat of the starosts offices. In the second half of the 16th century it was rebuilt in the renaissance style by the castellan of Jerzy Konopacki. In 1664 it burned down and began to gradually undergo destruction. After 1772 the Prussian authorities undertook the demolition, but fortunately it was cancel and since 1859 work has begun to secure the castle. Partial reconstruction of the fortress started after the Second World War.


   The castle was situated in the forks of the Vistula and Wda rivers, as a two-part complex, consisting of the convent’s house (upper castle) and the outer ward. From the west access to it was defended by the fortified town, transferred from its original location on the slope after 1338. Initially, the Vistula was flowing almost under the walls of the castle, and the bank of the Wda, unlike the current state, was about 30 meters away. On the eastern side of the castle, at the mouth of Wda, there was a natural triangular spur. From the west, an outer ward was preceded by a wide moat, nearly 40 meters wide, connecting the Wda and Wisła. Another moat protected the upper castle on three sides, however, it was not connected with the Vistula along its entire width, because it was closed by a dam from the east. Probably the banks of the moats on the north and east sides were covered with wood or surrounded with a palisade. Perhaps they were not always filled with water, it  was flooded as needed through the culverts.
   The outer ward, surrounded by a wall, measured about 95 x 90 meters. In the middle of the western wall there was a four-sided tower flanking the entrance gate, located on its southern side. On the courtyard of the outer ward stood a commander’s house, standing on the side of the Vistula, near the southern curtain. It had to be a large building, because it had a cellar, on the ground floor it housed rooms of secular auxiliary knights (dieners), and on the first floor there was a chamber of a commander. In the neighborhood, and therefore also from the south, there was also a stable, while recorded in the sources coach house, (if it can not be identified with the mentioned stable), it had to be located near the northern curtain. In addition to the above buildings, there was a cowshed, probably erected on the western side. Apart from it, other economic objects (for exemple a forge) had to be located on the outer ward, whose location is now unknown. Most likely, it were located along with the infirmary from the north.
   In the eastern part of the castle there was a gate leading to a wooden bridge, based on brick or wooden pillars. Behind the bridge (in the zwinger line) was another gate with a door. The drawbridge next to it was raised on chains. The zwinger was crossed by a gates neck with a paved surface, and in the side walls there were wickets leading to the zwinger area.

   The upper castle had a regular square plan with a side of about 51 meters. The entrance gate was located in the western curtain and was preceded by a neck and a bridge leading to the outer ward. The castle was probably planned initially as a four-wing, and eventually two large wings were erected, perpendicular to each other. Main, northern, about 13 meters wide, stood parallel to the Wda River. It had three floors and there was a cellar. On the first floor there was a chapel with a rib, probably stellar vault, and on the west there was similarly vaulted refectory. The latter was warmed by the below hypocaustum furnace. Above there was a warehouse and defense storey. The ground flooor and the basement were large halls without brick internal divisions. The cellar had cross vault and the ground floor barrel vault. Originally, however, these large spaces had partition walls in the form of non-durable materials. The eastern wing also had a basement. In its southern part was a room covered with a barrel vault, but with traces of unrealized cross vault. It is assumed that the east wing had dormitory and perhaps the refectory on the first floor. The ground floor was divided into two interiors, while in the north there was a stove with a chimney. In the Middle Ages, the brewery could be located in the basement, and a malt and bakery on the ground floor. Smaller buildings were also located on the west and south side of the courtyard, but the western one only reached the height of the gateway. Both were without basements. Until recently, it was believed that they came from the post-teutonic period, but research has shown that the foundations of south and west buildings come from the Middle Ages. There was a kitchen in the ground floor of the south wing. The wing also had probably a warehouse attic, accessible by stairs running in the wall thickness. Most probably it was covered with a mono-pitched roof, based on a perimeter wall. The courtyard measuring 26×26 meters was surrounded by the cloisters, but only at the north and east wings. The cloisters had brick pillars, which is not known if it were completed. Cloisters were not topped with vaults, but only a wooden sidewalk at the ground floor level.

   In the corners of the upper castle stood cylindrical towers, connected with defensive walls and erected three-quarters in front of their face. Main tower with the largest diameter of 10.2 meters and a height of 34 meters served as the bergfried, was located in the north-west corner. The entrance to it led through a drawbridge at height of 14-15 meters, and the tower’s top was crowned with machicolation. The three remaining towers were much lower, more or less the same height as the perimeter walls. They were closely connected with the buildings and the walls, they were accessible from buildings, and their defense porches were connected with those on the walls. The castle’s corpus on four sides was surrounded by an external wall creating a zwinger. Its corners strengthened the projections, but they advanced only about 30-50 cm before the face of the wall. On the south side of the castle there was a dansker (latrine) tower. The corridor ran to it on the extension of the eastern cloister, and then through the porch on the arcade above the zwinger. The dansker tower rose on the bank of the Vistula, so it was added to the outer face of the defensive wall as the most typical solution for Teutonic castles, for example in Grudziądz or Malbork.
The castle in Świecie is the only example among the conventual teutonic castles, created until the mid-fourteenth century  with the technique of flanking the foreground and the gate from a high, cylindrical tower equipped with prominent machicolation. This was due to the fact that up to the thirteenth century, the capture of Teutonic castles was beyond the technical capabilities of potential opponents: Prussians and Lithuanians. With the change in the political situation and a new opponent – Poland, the need to develop fortifications began to be recognized. As a result, after the erection of the castle with a new shape in Świecie, the strongholds in Brodnica, Bytów and Barciany were built with more modern defense possibilities. The castle in Świecie was probably built with the participation of an architect of Rhine origin, who took over the solutions already used in Prussia (conventual castle) and enriched them with elements that exist outside the Teutonic borders (a flanking tower on the plan of a circle, machicolation).

Current state

   Up to the present day, the northern wing has been partially restored with the main tower topped with machikuli and a north-east tower. Only the vaulted basement survived from the east wing, the lower parts of all other towers also survived, as well as short sections of the outer walls. The castle is open to the public every summer except Monday, from 10.00 to 18.00.

show this monument on map

return to alphabetical index

Leksykon zamków w Polsce, L.Kajzer, S.Kołodziejski, J.Salm, Warszawa 2003.
Torbus T., Zamki konwentualne państwa krzyżackiego w Prusach, Gdańsk 2014.
Wasik B., Zamek w Świeciu. Topografia i technika budowy zamku krzyżackiego, “Komunikaty mazursko-warmińskie” nr 2 (300), Olsztyn 2018.