The Ortelsburg Castle was built before 1360, when the pfleger of the Teutonic Order, managing the southern part of the Elbląg commandry, was recorded for the first time in documents. The initiator of its construction was the oberstspittler and commander of Elbląg, Ortulf von Trier, from whose name the German-speaking name of the castle comes from. Soon, settlers started coming to the villages at the castle, mainly from nearby Mazovia. They started to call Ortelsburg as Szczytno, making a name from the Latin names of the nearby lakes Sciten Maior and Sciten Minor. The then castle was still a timber building, which was destroyed by Lithuanians in 1370.
At the end of the 14th century, a new brick castle was erected on the site of the destroyed building. It suffered serious damages in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century during the wars with Poland. During the Thirteen Years’ War, after the capture of the Prussian Confederation, for almost a year and a half, the Polish garrison was stationed there. Later, they had to surrender the stronghold to the overwhelming Teutonic forces. After the Second Peace of Toruń from 1466, the castle remained within the borders of the Teutonic state, and after secularization in 1525, the seat of the princely starosts was established in it. Due to the proximity of the wild forest, it began to play the role of a hunting residence. The renovation of the castle was commissioned in 1579-1581 by the prince of Prussia, Margrave George Frederick Ansbach. These works transformed the stronghold into an early modern residence, the representative interiors were covered with wall paintings and valuable furnishings. Due to the border location, important diplomatic meetings took place here. At that time, the building received external fortifications with four round corner towers.
In the 17th century, during the Swedish wars, the castle deteriorated and at the end of that century it was abandoned. In the 18th century, the eastern wing and external fortifications were demolished, in order to obtain building material for the local population. At the end of the eighteenth century, the main tower and the southern wing were also destroyed. The dismantling was continued unfortunately in the next century. The outer ward was destroyed during the construction of a new town hall in the 1930s. The first archaeological research began in 1924, when the outline of the castle’s complex from early modern times was unveiled and partly reconstructed.
The castle was situated on the isthmus between two lakes, on the northern side, close to the shore. It was built of brick on a very tall, stone plinth. It was a regular complex on a square plan with a side length of 39 meters. From the south adjoined the economic outer ward with entry from the east. The whole was surrounded by a wide, watered moat. In the corners of the outer wall there were four cylindrical towers, three of which were large and one, north-eastern, clearly smaller. Perhaps they were created as a result of the late medieval expansion as part of adapting the defense to the use of firearms.
The main, upper ward consisted of four, probably three-storey wings, 11 meters wide, with timber cloisters around the inner courtyard. In the south-west corner there was a huge, four-sided tower measuring 9×9 meters, extended in front of the face of the perimeter walls. Its height is unknown, it is only known that it was placed on a huge, stone pedestal.
The original layout of the castle rooms is not known, it can only be assumed that, in accordance with the division typical for the Middle Ages, the basement and the ground floor were intended for utility and economic rooms, while the floors were used for representative and residential chambers. The attics could be used for storage and defense purposes (porches along the walls). It is known that in the southern wing there was an entrance gate in the ground floor. It is possible, therefore, that on the first floor there was a classic division into a chapel, an intermediate room and a chapter house, or rather a refectory.
The northern wing, measuring 39 x 11.4 meters, had a basement, ground floor, upper floor and a porch led from it to the dansker (latrine) tower. The plan of the rooms on the ground floor of this wing was similar to the layout of other main houses in Teutonic pfleger’s castles, e.g. in nearby Nidzica, often the main houses were also located opposite the entrances. Therefore, it can be assumed that the northern range was the main building of the Szczytno Castle, where perhaps the most important chambers were located: the main refectory and the pfleger’s chambers.
To this day, the walls of the ground floor of three wings of the upper ward have been preserved, with a height of up to 5 meters, together with part of the inner divisions and pillars. However, this is the outline of the building after the transformations from early modern times. Only weakly legible relics left of the southern wing and the main tower. On the site of the outer bailey, there is a town hall from the interwar period.
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Herrmann C., Mittelalterliche Architektur im Preussenland, Petersberg 2007.
Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Wagner A., Murowane budowle obronne w Polsce X – XVII wieku, tom 2, Warszawa 2019.