Malbork Castle (German: Marienburg) – a masterpiece of defensive and residential architecture of the late Middle Ages. The largest Gothic castle complex in the world.
Malbork was constructed by the Teutonic Knights. In 1309 it became a seat of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, and the fundamental element of defensive system in the Teutonic Prussia. In the 14th century Malbork got a form of triple defensive complex consisting of: the High Castle (monastery), the Middle Castle (the Grand Master’s and the political and administrative centre of the Teutonic Order’s state), and the Outer Bailey (a vast economic base). Up to the mid-15th century the capital of monastic state in Prussia was famous as a war-base for crusaders who fought against the Baltic tribes, as well as the place of spectacular feasts and tournaments, appealing knights from the west of Europe.
In 1410 the fortress, impregnable for the Polish and Lithuanian troops, saved the Teutonic Knights from a total disaster. Nevertheless, an increasing political and economic crisis in the monastic state led to a liege-men revolt (1454) and to the incorporation of Prussia to the Kingdom of Poland. In 1457 Malbork opened its gates to the Polish king Casimir Jagiellon. Then, for more than three centuries, the castle was a royal temporary residence, Polish war-base in Prussia and a seat for the district governor.
The first partition of Poland (1772) resulted in the loss of the northern lands of kingdom including Malbork, taken over by the German Prussia. From that moment the fortress served as military quarters and warehouses. It entailed changes in historic architecture and serious damages. In the late 19th and early 20th cent., the castle regained its Gothic shape by dint of extensive reconstruction works performed by an outstanding architect Conrad Steinbrecht.
In 1945 Malbork was terribly devastated by the military operations of WWII. Raised from the ashes, in 1997 the Malbork Castle Complex was inscribed into the UNESCO List of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
Marek Stokowski, curator at the Malbork Castle Museum