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Malbork Castle: The Brick Marvel

The Malbork Castle in northern Poland wears two feathers in its cap. Not only it is the largest castle in the world measured by land area, it is also the world’s largest brick castle.

The castle was originally constructed in the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights, a German Catholic religious order of crusaders, after the conquest of Old Prussia, in order to strengthen their own control of the area. Over the next hundred years, the castle was enlarged, embellished and fortified until it had become the largest castle in the world.

Malbork Castle

Malbork castle in Pomerania region, Poland. Photo: Darios/Shutterstock.com

Malbork Castle, or Marienburg, stands on the low-lying bank of the river Nogat, about 25 miles from the Baltic Sea. The river forms a natural boundary to the elongated 52-acre-site where the castle stands. The other two sides are protected by marshlands, leaving only the south-facing side of the castle to defend. This side is fortified most formidably by walls and towers. Within this enclosure are three self-contained defensive structures joined together by an intricate network of fortification.

The Outer Castle held the offices, service staff, and necessary workshops to support this militant order. The Middle Castle was the administrative center, and it also held the guest quarters. The Upper Castle was the heart of this monastic fortress with churches, chapter-house, dormitories, refectory, kitchen etc.

The castle was built with bricks because quality building stones was lacking in the region. However, a solid foundation was necessary to make the castle stand up to invaders. So the first four to seven feet of all the walls were constructed with river boulders, infilled with smaller stones. Bricks were made and baked on site in the outer yard using mud from the river banks. Later, brick construction was shifted to the opposite bank of the river. Stone was used sparingly, but only for decorative elements, particularly in the church and chapter house entrances. It is estimated that between seven to thirty million bricks were used in its construction.

Malbork Castle

Photo: Szymon Mucha/Shutterstock.com

The Malbork Castle’s strategic position on the river gave the Teutonic Knights a monopoly on river trade, allowing them to collect river tolls from passing ships. The castle remained with the Knights for some 150 years, until it was seized by the Polish army in 1457 during the Thirteen Years’ War. It became the royal residence of the Polish kings for the next 300 years, over twice as long as it was headquarters of the Teutonic Order.

By the First Partition of Poland in 1772, the castle had become much neglected, and consequently was used as a poorhouse and barracks for the Prussian Army. In 1794, a structural survey of the castle was conducted to decide whether to keep the castle or demolish it. The sketches of the castle and its architecture that was made during the survey by Prussian architect David Gilly, who was also the head of the department of the government’s building authority, was published by Gilly’s son a few years later. These engravings led the Prussian public to “rediscover” the castle and the history of the Teutonic Knights.

Malbork Castle

Photo: Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock.com

After the War of the Sixth Coalition, the castle became a symbol of Prussian history and national consciousness. Soon after, restoration of the castle began, which continued in stages for more than a hundred years.

During the Nazi regime, the castle was turned into a site of pilgrimage. The Nazis made frequent use of the Teutonic Knights' imagery in their propaganda and ideology, depicting the Knights' actions as a forerunner of the Nazi’s conquest of Eastern Europe. Particularly Himmler, who was obsessed with the Teutonic Order and wanted to see the SS as a modern day incarnation of the old Order. The Teutonic Castle served as a blueprint for many Order Castles that Hitler built.

Ironically, in spite of these references to the Teutonic Order's history in Nazi propaganda, the Order itself was banned by Hitler because he believed that throughout history, Roman Catholic military-religious orders had been tools of the Holy See and as such constituted a threat to the Nazi regime.

During World War 2, there was lot of fighting in the area and the castle was badly damaged by Allied shelling. Nearly half of the castle was devastated. Over the next seventy years, the castle was slowly brought back to shape. The work concluded just over four years ago (2016).

Malbork Castle

Malbork Castle’s destruction during World War 2. Photo: Daniel.widawski/Wikimedia Commons

Malbork Castle

Bird’s eye view of Malbork Castle. Photo: konradkerker/Shutterstock.com

Malbork Castle

Brick Gothic details of the castle. Photo: Diego Delso/Wikimedia Commons

Malbork Castle

Malbork Castle inner yard. Photo: Adriano Oliveira/Flickr

Malbork Castle

Photo: Alexander Baxevanis/Flickr

Malbork Castle

Photo: Leszek Kozlowski/Flickr

Malbork Castle

Photo: Leszek Kozlowski/Flickr

References:
# Anthony Emery, Malbork Castle – Poland, http://www.castlestudiesgroup.org.uk/Malbork%20-%20Anthony%20Emery.pdf
# Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malbork_Castle

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