In the tranquil Polish town of Malbork (German: Marienburg) on the eastern edge of Pomerania stands one of the most imposing buildings in Europe, attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. In our article we would like to introduce you to the Malbork castle complex and give you a few tips for your visit. But first we want to give you some facts about the Teutonic Order that built the castle and take a closer look at its history and architecture.
The Teutonic Order
The Teutonic Order, more precisely the “Order of the Brothers of the German Hospital of St. Mary in Jerusalem” was founded in 1190 in what is now Israel. Initially, it was mainly concerned with the care of sick and wounded participants of the Crusades and pilgrims who flocked to the Holy Land. After only a few years, its character changed and the order became a tightly organized order of knights, whose members, just like monks, were to follow three basic rules: Chastity, poverty and obedience.
Relocation to Poland
After the loss of the Order’s possessions in the Holy Land, he moved first to Venice and then, at the invitation of the Polish ruler Konrad of Masovia, to Malbork. The Christian Polish rulers hoped to use the military know-how of the battle-hardened Order of Knights to support themselves against pagan tribes living in today’s northern Poland and the Baltic States.
A state emerges
In the course of time, the Order succeeded in expanding its power and sphere of influence through military conquests, donations and inheritances. A kind of state was created, which included large parts of Poland and the Baltic States.
The decline of the order
The expansion of the Order’s state soon led to a conflict with the Kingdom of Poland, culminating in the Battle of Tannenberg (Grunwald), in which an allied Polish-Lithuanian army defeatet the order in 1410. In the following decades, the Order lost more and more influence in Poland, the Reformation gave it additional problems and finally the Order was ousted from Poland.
Even today the order still exists, whose members are also known as Deutschherren or Deutschritter. However, its influence is small and its membership is only about 1000 men.
In the footsteps of the Order
But what has remained of the Order? It played a decisive role in the Christianization of North Poland and the Baltic States, so its cultural influence should not be underestimated. Above all, however, it is the countless castles, churches and cities that were built or founded as a result of his work. But the most important legacy of the Order is the Malbork Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is one of the most important sights in Poland (we have compiled a top 10 of the country’s most important sights for you here).
The history of Malbork castle
The Marienburg was built from the 1270s onwards and was initially only used as a commandery, i.e. to a certain extent as a branch of the order. From 1309 onwards, it then served as the seat of the Grand Master of the Order and thus de facto as the capital of the Order state. In the course of time, it was continuously expanded and redesigned.
Malbork castle is considered one of the few European castles that could never be conquered. Even after the defeat in the battle of Grunwald it remained in the possession of the Order. However, as the situation of the Order became worse and worse, they had to sell it in 1457 and the castle became the property of the Polish King. For the next 300 years or so, it served as the residence of the Polish rulers when they were away from the capital.
The castle in Prussia
After the First Partition of Poland in 1772 the region and thus also the castle came under Prussian control. As a result, Malbork castle was used as barracks and storage facilities and fell into disrepair. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, under the architect Konrad Steinbrecht, extensive restorations were carried out and Malbork castle was restored to its former glory.
At that time, the atmosphere between Germans and Poles was tense and strongly focused on national identity. Malbork castle was transfigured by the Germans as a symbol of the German struggle against Poland. Emperor Wilhelm II. visited the castle no less than 30 times, and Hitler was also a frequent guest here.
Malbork castle today
The horrors of the Second World War did not leave Malbork Castle untouched and in the last months of the war the castle was so badly damaged that it had to be extensively rebuilt after the war.
Today, Malbork Castle is owned by the Malbork Castle Museum, founded in 1961, which is responsible for the preservation of the complex and continuously reconstructs new parts.
The appearance of Malbork castle
Many visitors take their breath away at the very first sight of Malbork castle. More than 50 million bricks are used here, spread over an area of 250,000m³ and covering 21 hectares. This makes Malbork castle the largest brick building ever built in the world. The ramparts are 10 km long, so it would take two hours to walk along them.
Malbork castle is divided into three parts: the high castle, which functioned as a monastery, the middle castle (seat of the Grand Master of the Order and administrative center of the Order State) and the front castle (mainly economically used buildings).
Of course, the castle mainly had a fortified character. But it is by no means a purely functional complex. The order possessed considerable wealth and therefore magnificently decorated the high Gothic complex. Frescoes, pilasters, statues, fountains, even the economic buildings are of high artistic quality. Among the particularly beautiful rooms are the quarters of the Grand Master, the main church in the high castle and the dining and reception rooms.
Your visit to Malbork castle
You should take at least half a day to visit Malbork castle. Even the official tours with a guide take about four hours – no wonder, considering the size of the castle and the fact that over 20 collections are on display here. These inform about the history of the order, the complex itself, include exhibitions on architecture, everyday objects, paintings, armor, amber and much more. A visit is therefore also worthwhile with children, as there is a lot to discover. In addition to the many exhibitions, you can also visit churches, chapels, the ramparts, gardens and much more.
The best way to explore the castle is to join a guided tour. This is already included in the entrance fee and always starts when enough tourists gather (also available in German and English). If you have less time and don’t want to join the three and a half to four hour tour, you can also rent a free audio guide which, thanks to GPS support, always gives you the most important information about the castle at the right place. Or you can book a guided tour in advance*, which I find most practical.
In addition, numerous special tours are offered, for example a night tour, a light and sound tour, tower tours and much more. The best thing to do is just have a look at the Marienburg website. There you can also buy tickets in advance. Since the lines in front of the small ticket office can be long, we strongly recommend this. Alternatively, you can also buy your tickets at the vending machines and thus often wait a little less than at the ticket counter.
Getting to Malbork castle
You can easily reach Malbork castle by train. From Gdansk you can reach the castle by car via the S7 and DK55 in less than an hour. The parking tickets are very expensive, so it is better to park your car a little further away and walk. If you are hungry after the sightseeing and want to have a nice view of the castle while eating, we recommend the restaurant U Flisaka on the other side of the river Nogat. Here you can enjoy delicious Polish home cooking and many Polish craft beers.
Do you have questions about visiting Malbork castle or remarks about the article? Just write it in the comments, we are looking forward to your feedback!