Do you love red brick? I hope you do because you’re going to see a lot of it in this post.
Back in September when Zach’s parents were here, we decided to take a quick expedition out to the town of Malbork. What’s in Malbork, you ask? The largest brick castle in all of Europe, that’s what!
Just look at that behemoth
It is a quick, hour-long train ride to Malbork from our station in Sopot and is *supposedly* very easy. Unfortunately, because we did not book tickets in advance, we all had to sit separately on the train; Zach’s parents sat in one coach and Zach & I sat in another. This caused a slight panic once we realized that we could not communicate with Zach’s parents – their phones were off and the door between the carriages was jammed – but luckily, everyone got off at Malbork.
In retrospect, Zach and I should have split up to make sure his parents were taken care of (sorry, guys), but everything worked out alright.
After a brief pit stop to eat our pre-packed sandwiches, we walked through the town Malbork to the giant red castle looming over the seemingly dwarfed houses.
I told ya, lots of red brick
Before we go any further, a brief timeline of Malbork:
1274: The Teutonic Order arrives in the Pomeranian district of Poland following the defeat of the Prussians during a religious crusade. They name their new castle Marienburg, after the Order’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary. A town, also called Marienburg, quickly starts to form around the castle, which is meant to maintain control of the area. The first wave of castle construction is completed after 25 years.
Fun fact: The full name of the Teutonic Order is the Order of the Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem. Those crusaders sure love to give their orders long names, just like the Knights of Saint John in Valletta in Malta.
1308: Thanks to Malbork’s proximity to Danzig (Gdańsk), the Teutonic Knights can carry out their plans to take over the city via the Gdańsk Massacre and other attacks. At this time, the Order moves its administrative center from Venice to Malbork, and the Grand Master begins the next phase of construction for the castle.
1466: Marienburg and the surrounding town became a part of Royal Prussia and a Province of Poland. From this time until 1772, Malbork served as an official royal Polish residence.
1626-1629: The Polish-Swedish War takes place. It is during this time that the then King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, launches an attack on the Polish-Lithuanian state, of which the Teutonic Order is in control. This is the same war that the Swedish military build the Vasa ship. The Swedes occupy Malbork castle in 1626 and 1629 until the eventual end of the war.
A photo of the total damage done during WWII
1772-1930’s: With the First Partition of Poland, Malbork, and its surrounding town, become a part of the Kingdom of Prussia. At the time of the Partition, Malbork had fallen into disrepair and was used as a barracks for Prussian soldiers. About 50 years after the First Partition, a Board to rebuild Malbork castle was assembled and began the undertaking of The Grand Reconstruction. Sadly, many of those restoration efforts were lost during WWII when the castle was severely damaged by bombing.
Since the end of WWII, historians and conservationists have been hard at work restoring Malbork to its former glory. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
The castle, in its entirety, has 3 sections – the High, Middle, and Lower castles, all of which are separated by walls and dry moats. When we first entered the grounds, we found ourselves in the Lower castle grounds. This is where many of the auxiliary services for the castle would have occurred, such as caring for weapons, grain storage, foundry services, animal & livestock care, and beer brewing.
The exterior of the Middle Castle
We made our way to the Middle Castle, where we found ourselves in the middle of a large square. From here, we were able to access the Grand Master’s Palace, the Grand Refectory, and the infirmary.
We began with the Grand Refectory, the largest gathering hall in the entire castle, best known for its high vaulted ceilings. This is where large parties, feasts, and other royal events would have taken place.
From there, we moved on to the Grand Master’s Palace, where we were greeted by a bright, leafy green ceiling fresco. Through the welcoming hall and down the high vestibule, we then made our way into the summer refectory, so named to its many windows and its ideal position to capture the maximum amount of summer sun.
We also caught quick glances of the Sala Królewiecka and the chapel of St. Catherine, eventually exiting the Middle Castle to see the High Castle.
Our final stop was at the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The church was constructed during the first wave of construction during the late 1200’s. For the past few years, the church has been closed to the public for a long-term stint of restoration and conservation efforts. Luckily for us, the church had reopened to the public a few months before our visit. The church features painted frescoes on each wall, beautiful stonework, and a keystone that depicts the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.
I will say, you can spend days in this castle just seeing everything that’s there. It’s a remarkable castle and landmark. Maybe we’ll be back some day!