26 May 2017

Malbork Castle - the largest castle in the world

The Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork (Polish: zamek w Malborku) is a 13th-century Teutonic castle and fortress located on the river Nogat near the town of Malbork. It's the largest castle in the world measured by land area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was originally constructed in 1406 by the Teutonic Knights, a German Catholic religious order of crusaders, in a form of an Ordensburg fortress. Its main purpose was to strengthen their own control of the area following the Order's 1274 suppression of the Great Prussian Uprising of the Baltic tribes. The Order named it Marienburg in honour of Mary, mother of Jesus. In 1457, during the Thirteen Years’ War, it was sold by the Bohemian mercenaries to King Casimir IV of Poland. Since this time it served as one of the several Polish royal residences. From 1772 the castle was under German rule for over 170 years. Following Germany's defeat in World War II in 1945, the land was assigned to Poland by the Allies. Heavily damaged, the castle was renovated in the second half of the 20th century and most recently in 2016.

No contemporary documents survive relating to its construction, so instead the castle's phases have been worked out through the study of architecture and the Order's administrative records and later histories. The work lasted until around 1300. 
The castle was expanded several times to house the growing number of Knights. Soon, it became the largest fortified Gothic building in Europe, on a nearly 21-hectare site. The castle has several subdivisions and numerous layers of defensive walls. It consists of three separate castles - the High, Middle and Lower Castles, separated by multiple dry moats and towers. The castle once housed approximately 3,000 "brothers in arms".

The favourable position of the castle on the river Nogat allowed easy access by barges and trading ships arriving from the Vistula and the Baltic Sea. During their governance, the Teutonic Knights collected river tolls from passing ships, as did other castles along the rivers. They controlled a monopoly on the trade of amber.
In the summer of 1410, the castle was besieged following the Order's defeat by the armies of Władysław II Jagiełło and Vytautas the Great at the Battle of Grunwald.
In 1456, during the Thirteen Years' War, the Order – facing opposition from its cities for raising taxes to pay ransoms for expenses associated with its wars against Kingdom of Poland – could no longer manage financially. 

In 1466 both castle and town became part of the Polish Malbork Voivodeship in the province of Royal Prussia. Since 1457 it served as one of the several Polish royal residences, fulfilling this function for over 300 years until the Partitions of Poland in 1772. 
During the Thirty Years' War, in 1626 and 1629 Swedish forces occupied the castle. They invaded and occupied it again 1656 to 1660 during the Deluge.
Partition of Poland in 1772, the town became part of the Kingdom of Prussia. At that time, the officials used the rather neglected castle as a poorhouse and barracks for the Prussian Army. 

After World War II most of the brick outer walls remained intact. With the rise of Adolf Hitler to power in the early 1930s, the Nazis used the castle as a destination for annual pilgrimages of both the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls. The Teutonic Castle at Marienburg served as a blueprint for the Order Castles of the Third Reich built under Hitler's reign. In 1945 during World War II combat in the area, more than half the castle was destroyed.

At the conclusion of the war, the city of Marienburg (Malbork) and castle became a part of Poland. The castle has been mostly reconstructed, with restoration ongoing since 1962 following a fire in 1959 which caused further damage. A significant recent restorative effort was of the main church in the castle (The Blessed Virgin Mary Church). After being restored just before World War II and then destroyed in battle, it was in a state of disrepair until a new restoration was completed in April 2016. Malbork Castle remains the largest brick building in Europe.

Starościńska 1, 82-200 Malbork, Poland

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