Another Polish history lesson today, on Malbork Castle in the North of Poland. You may know the German name better, Marienburg. It is hard to miss, it covers the biggest surface of any castle in the world, and is built solely out of brick. On completion of the tower it was also the largest brick castle in the world.
The official tour takes half a day, and covers only some of the main area’s..
The castle was built by Teutonic knights, an order of German crusaders (you know, monks with swords… they were sleeping with their swords next to them). It has been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO. The works started around 1100, and were expanded over time.
The building consists of 3 parts, the high, middle and low castle. The high was for the knights, at one time it was housing some 3000 of these. The middle and low were for the personnel and other people. The whole site was walled, and they were growing their own food in the lower parts.
Noteworthy is that, even though it has been built next to the river Nogat, they dug a channel to another stream 20 kilometers away, to foresee the castle from water..
The Teutonic order was very big and strong in those days, and the building and expanding of the castle, which took over a 100 years, also brought some form of civilization and unity to the area. From the castle tolls for passing on the river were raised, and they controlled the trade in Amber totally, most Baltic amber came from the Gdansk area in those days, which is 50 kilometers north.
There have been several sieges on the castle, none of them successful. No wonder, seeing the multiple walls and moats. The castle went into Polish hands only around 1457, and this because the mercenaries in the castle had not been paid, so when General Stibor discovered that he bought them off, and King Casimir IV entered the castle in triump, and the castle and town became part of Royal Prussia, a Polish province.
It has been used extensively since then, until 1772 as a royal residence, after that as barracks and poorhouse, and in the Napoleon times as hospital. By the end of the 18th century it was quite dilapidated, and restoration was decided on, which again took over a 100 years, in stages, only to be half destroyed by bombings in WWII.
After the second world war most was rebuilt, the main cathedral, which was fully restored just before the war is still in ruins.
Malbork castle is something you need to visit to capture the sheer size, there is regular group tours, and you will need to plan your full day around it. It is located close to Gdansk, which I can also recommend for a few days visit. This part of Poland has the sea nearby, the old town of Gdansk, which is full of Amber shops, houses the amber museum, and is very pretty by itself… excellent place for a long weekend!