Polish UNESCO: Teutonic Castle in Malbork

A quiet town of 40 thousand, intersected by busy throughfares, Malbork lies on the Nogat River (Vistula's arm) and is dominated by a Teutonic 13th century castle which was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1997 and attracts half a million tourists every year.

Teutonic Castle

In the late 13th century the Teutonic Knights started to build a castle and an adjacent town on a high Nogat bank. Within less than 30 years a square convent house was completed. When, in 1309, the Grand Master transferred his headquarters from Venice to Malbork, it became the capital of one of the most powerful states on the Baltic's southern coast. Soon the castle proved far too small for its new functions. As a result of almost 40 years of extension work, the formidable High Castle was built, followed by the Middle and Low castles.

A visit to Europe's largest Gothic fortress helps you to realize how mighty the Teutonic Order once was. The castle is best visited with a guide (about 3 h), but it's not obligatory and many people choose to explore on their own the courtyards, halls, walkways, magnificent cloisters in the High Castle, secluded Grand Master's gardens and countless other nooks and crannies. From May to mid September spectacular sound-and-light shows are held at night (50 min; 3 daily in summer), with neighing horses, rattling weapons and evocatively illuminated walls. And if you crave something still more exciting, you can join a guided night walk with a meal and old music concert or a show of fighting knights.

Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Knights, or the Teutonic Order of the Hospital of St. Mary in Jerusalem, were known in Poland as Krzyżacy on account of the black cross they wore on their white coats. Established in 1190 to protect German pilgrims in the Holy Land, the order was later transformed in order to fight heretics.

In 1226 the Teutonic Knights came to Chełmno in Poland, invited by Duke Konrad I of Mazovia to convert the pagan Prussians. They conquered Prussia, exterminated the locals and founded a state with Malbork as its capital. The order's growth in political power and wealth was stopped only by its defeat at Grunwald in 1410, after which the knights never regained their former might. Eventually the Grand Master, Albrecht von Hohenzollern, converted to Lutheranism, dissolved the order and paid homage before Poland's King Zygmunt Stary (Sigismund the Elder) in Kraków in 1525.

Info: The museum (www.zamek. malbork.pl) includes the Middle and High castles; 15 May-15 Sep Tues-Sun 9am-7pm, off season 10am-3pm; a separate ticket is needed to climb the tower. Guides in English available. Reservations for guided night walks.

Source: Poland - an ilustrated guidebook. For more information look at Pascal

More pictures of Malbork Castle

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