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Castle in Malbork

The castle of Malbork, „Marienburg", is the biggest brick fortress in Europe and is commonly considered one of the most excellent examples of gothic architecture regarded for both its artistic value and pioneer building execution.

At the end of Xlllth century German burghers founded in Palestine the Order of Our Lady of German House in Jerusalem, popularly called the Teutonic Order. Its purpose was to come to pilgrims' assistance and defend the Holy Land. Unofficially it was also meant to represent affairs of the German Empire. Lay brothers took vows to care for the poor and ill as well as obligation to fight with the infidel. It gave to the Teutonic Knights an excuse to create their own state in Poland where they came thanks to Prince Konrad Mazowiecki around 1226.

A real conquest of neighbouring territories began in 1234 when with the participation of Polish and German knight-hood the first crusade to Prussia was undertaken. In 1234 Pope Gregory IX issued a bull in accordance with which first took over pagan Prussia under his jurisdiction and subsequently turned it over into possession of the Teutonic Knights who cared much about their opinion as Christianity defenders and successors of crusade traditions.

Between 1275-1300 on a natural hill of a riverbank of Nogat, on the plane of a quadrangle a convent castle was erected (in other words of the Commander or convent house). It was in the first place a fortified building. On the first floor there were the two most important rooms: a chapter-house (convent sittings took place there) and a chapel. On a higher level there was a temporary dormitory (i.e. bedroom) for lay brothers while cellars were meant for charring space. It took 40 years to extend the building, which resulted in a strongly fortified High Castle. On the second floor of the Southern wing there was a refectory - place where lay brothers had their meals and spent their free time. The chapel was enlarged to church size of a distinct court character. On the ground floor there was St. Ann's chapel, burial place of great masters. Lay brothers would be buried on a convent cemetery located at the Eastern wall of the castle in the chapel's neighbourhood. On an internal courtyard galleries were built. Its purpose was to communicate between the wings and to unite the elevation likewise it served as a place for processions. On the extension of the South-Western quoin a tower, called Gdanisko, was built. It was linked with the rest of the castle with a wooden span. In times of peace the tower served as a toilet while in times of war, in case of forcing of defensive walls by an invader, after breaking of a wooden link it could become a strong defensive point against an enemy. In 1309 the Great Master transferred his seat and also capital city of the Teutonic State to Malbork.

Change in character of the High Castle imposed modifications of the castle's approaches. As time went by and the role of Malbork started to increase, on the Northern side an additional Middle Castle was built. It consisted of three wings, among which the most astonishing was the Western one, hosting the Palace of Great Masters. Illustrious guests were entertained right there just to make them fully understand the Teutonic state's power. Official life went on in refectories - Winter and Summer. Guests were greeted in a representative Great Vestibule. Private apartments consisted of, among other things, the so called dressing room with a toilet and St. Catherine's chapel. The Eastern part of the Middle Castle was inhabited by the Commander along with his functionaries, in the Northern part there was an infirmary (sick quarters), the biggest one in the whole Teutonic state. The Middle Castle served as a ,.hotel" for guests coming from Europe. The capacious Great Vestibule, called Knight's Room for 400 knights seated at tables, was heated in winter by means of an extraordinary „hypocaustum" (likewise chapter-house): hot air, arriving from heated stones in cellars, by means of 36 holes in a floor, heated rooms to a temperature of about 20°C when outside it was - 15°C. The cellars hosted also a kitchen with a big stove and adjacent small cook's place. In front of the Great Refectory there were baths where, according to the order's rules, every two weeks lay brothers would take baths in bath tubs or saunas. In the Middle Castle there was also a toilet for guests of the Order.

The last one to be built was the Lower Castle (the Approaches), constituting a base of supplies. There were: an enormous, four-storey granary, stables, cow-sheds, barns and baker's place, kitchen, brewery, hospital and rooms for servants.

The convent castle was surrounded by a moat where water was conveyed from a distant lake by means of the channel of Mfynowka, especially built for this purpose. With time the moat was drained. In XlVth century the castle fortifications were joined with the urban ones, the Lower Castle was enriched by an additional fortifying element - Karwan, which hosted the biggest Teutonic arsenal as well as St. Laurence's chapel, rooms for servants and a hospital.

In the same century defensive walls also were erected, the so called von Plauen's line or dike (named by the Great Master). The fortification, enriched by 5 bastions, considered its use for defensive operations of artillery, constituting this way a giant fortress, impossible to conquer in times of the thirteen-year war.

It took about eighty years to build the castle complex. Along with fortifications it covered the surface of a rectangle of the following sides: 800 x 250 metres. Such an extended castle along with a fortified town formed an enormous military-economical complex of Medieval Europe. In this condition, with no damage, it survived several wars with Poland and a tremendous siege of 1410, after the Order's defeat at Grunwald (Tannenberg). In the time of the thirteen-year war it was defended by mercenary troops from Bohemia. Since the Teutonic Knights were reluctant to pay due amount, the Bohemians took over the castle in gage and after that their commander, Oldrzych Czerwonka, resold the fortress in 1457 to the Polish king Kazimierz Jagiellonczyk. From then the castle had been assigned the status of a temporary residence of Polish kings. The longest residence there had Stefan Batory, when he fought with rebellious Gdansk. The last Polish king to have visited Malbork was August II the Saxon.

Over 300 years the castle had been a place of deliberations of the states. A defensive 200-member crew had permanent residence there. Prussian local governors (starosta) of districts, treasurers and stewards resided here. Under Polish rule the use of the castle differed according to current needs. The castle served as an arsenal of the Polish Republic and it was also one of its fortresses on its Northern borders. Since 1568 Marine Commission had resided there - appointed by Sigismund August the first Polish admiralty, and in 1584 - 1601 a Mint operated there. With the development of military art and mainly with the development of fire-arms the castle gradually lost its military functions.

After damages in the time of Swedish-Polish wars the Castle of Malbork started to fall into ruin. After the first partition of Poland in 1772 Malbork was subjugated to Prussia. Its space was adapted for low magazines and rooms for officers. Low -because by means of wooden ceilings five floors were created. In the Palace of Great Masters a cotton workshop was opened, while in the Great Refectory equestrian drills of the army took place. For this purpose a portal, windows and ceramic floor were destroyed. However, from the beginning of XlXth century the so called romantic reconstruction was initiated, modelled upon the gothic style. In 1882 Konrad Steinbrecht started a scientist reconstruction (which means considering the assumptions of unity and style, preceded by scientific

research). Until 1922 fragments of defensive walls with gates and towers had been reconstructed which helped to restore the fortress' look it might have had in times of the Teutonic splendour. The achievement of Steinbrecht had been continued by Bernard Schmidt till 1945.

During II World War the German army changed the Castle of Malbork into a fortress, arranging inside it the last defensive point. From January to March 1945 it was besieged by the Russian army. The offensive Russian army, using heavy artillery, destroyed a substantial part of the castle and almost all of the Old Town, partially destroyed were the two town gates, Latin school, town hall, town defensive walls and St. John's church. After the Germans had fled in 1945 the Russians for another three days fired at the castle.

After the military operations had ceased many people were of the opinion to tear down the castle, as it was a testimony of German rule on Polish territory. Initially, for 5 years, it was managed by the Museum of Polish Army with a seat in Warsaw, and after that it was taken over by the Polish Tour Association. In the fifties it was already opened for visitors. In 1959 a fire destroyed roofs of the Middle Castle. For the purpose of a proper care over the monument, in 1961 the Castle Museum of Malbork was founded, and after several years the castle complex was enrolled on the list of monuments of the so called „0" category. In the first phase of the castle's reconstruction masses of the High and the Middle castles were restored. Since the eighties there has been conducted a reconstruction of the castle's Approaches and preservation of the interior decoration of the High and the Middle castles.

In 1994 in virtue of a decree of the President of the Republic of Poland the monument was enrolled on the list of the most important Polish historical monuments. The biggest honour however was enrolling the castle complex of Malbork, on December 1997, on the list of UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Patrimony.

The Castle Museum in Malbork is under the management of the Ministry of Culture. It consists of three parts: High Castle, Middle Castle and Approaches. Visitors have access to the castles where exhibitions are organised such as of military accessories, furnishings, sculpture, stained-glass windows, architecture, biennial exhibitions of ex-libris, as well as the biggest and the most precious collection of goods in amber in the world. On summer nights a light and sound show takes place entitled "With cross and sword" and an outdoor show entitled ,.Siege of Malbork". The museum co-operates with many domestic and foreign institutions, which results in, among other things, exhibitions of the collection of Ermitage in Petersburg.

Jacek Spychała
The Castle Museum in Malbork