The monumental Gothic castle in Malbork is the largest preserved Medieval castle in Europe. Did I say Europe? Actually, it’s considered to be the largest castle in the world, measured by land area. And of course it is a UNESCO Heritage Site. (Now you know why it’s so eagerly photographed during our Ultimate Poland and Polish Delight tours.)
At the same time, it is a great example of the construction craftsmanship of the Teutonic Knights and the repository of knowledge about the Order. The 13th-century castle was originally named Marienburg, in honor of Mary, mother of Jesus.
The Malbork Castle became a prestigious location after the Grand Master Siegfried von Feuchtwangen moved the state capital from Venice to Malbork. Following this decision, the castle needed to be remodeled to make it a showpiece for the Teutonic Order. Expanding the fortress took almost 40 years and led to it being one of the strongest fortresses in Europe.
The city of Malbork, protected by the river Nogat on one side and the surrounding marshes on the other, was perfect for constructing a stronghold. Its location halfway between Gdańsk and Elbląg could not have been a coincidence either. The Malbork Castle was erected at the intersection of old trade routes, along the ancient Amber Road from Pomerania to Italy and beyond.
Can you imagine that this monumental fortress was built from mud? More specifically, from clay fired in special ovens and then shaped by brickmakers into cubes. Some of the bricks in the castle hold traces of their fingerprints till this day (so if you like to play detective, don’t forget to bring your magnifying glass). But if you worry that the castle will collapse during your visit, there’s no need to. The castle has granite foundations.
The castle was taken over by the Polish in 1457 and over time it became the Polish kings’ residence. Unfortunately, Poland lost the castle to Prussia during the first partition. This was when plans for the demolition of the Malbork Castle begun and when it was neglected and severely damaged. Luckily, the German public defended the castle and they were able to prevent its complete destruction.
Nonetheless, the fortress suffered substantial damage over the centuries. Its present-day appearance is a result of an effort by many institutions which protected this monument and recognized the significance of increasing tourism. Today, the museum boasts over 40 thousand museum items, including one of the largest collection of medieval architectural elements and the collection of artistic amber wares – unique worldwide. The museum is visited by almost 500,000 tourists every year.
And here's a memory from last year's Ultimate Poland Tour: