Picture taken in Malbork after Wikimania 2010 conference. Panorama of Malbork Castle.

Malbork Castle: Searching for Treasure and Legends in the Shadows of the Teutonic Order

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Today, Malbork Castle is a magnificent fortress located in northern Poland, but in the past it was the capital of the Teutonic Order. It was built in the 13th century when the Grand Master decided to move from Venice to Prussia. Nowadays, it is one of the biggest medieval Gothic brick castles in the world, but this grand construction still holds many secrets.

Malbork castle is located near the river of Nogat, 25 miles (40.23 km) from the Baltic Sea. The castle was built in stages between 1276 and 1406. It was a complete construction - roofed, floored, and windowed, until 1945, when the Russian army damaged it. The castle covers 52 acres and is protected by the river and strong walls. Over the centuries it has stood as the symbol of the city of Malbork (earlier Marienburg).

An Exotic Castle from the Holy Land?

Although the castle was built in Gothic medieval style, there may be different origins for one of its walls. According to legend, when the first knights of the Teutonic Order (whose full name was The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem) left the Holy Land, they brought some bricks with them from the house where Jesus ate the last supper - Cenacle. It’s also believed that it was the first dwelling of the Order. Many researchers have tried to find confirmation for this story, but so far no concrete evidence has been found.

The castle was a unique place in this part of the world due to its exotic inhabitants. The knights were famous for their love of animals, and they liked to import many unusual species. Several knights had dogs, cats, and birds. The castle was full of different parrots and other exotic animals like monkeys and a giraffe. During the reign of the grand master Conrad von Jungingen, a part of the castle's wall paintings was actually damaged by creative monkeys.

Konrad von Jungingen.

Konrad von Jungingen. ( CC-BY-SA 4.0 )

Grand master Karl von Trier, who served from 1311 to 1324, kindly asked his knights to not take their dogs, cats, and other animals to the church and the chapel because they disturbed the ceremonies. However, the knights didn't seem to care much about his request.

The Knights Leave the Castle

The castle was impressive during the medieval period and its history only grew with the following years. As Anthony Emery concluded in his work about the architecture and history of the castle:

''With the conquest of the Prussian region completed, the second stage of the Order's crusade was to overrun Lithuania, the newly established state to the east developed by several pagan rulers against Mongol pressure. This vast region extended well beyond the river Dneiper, almost as far as Moscow, though relations with the re-united Polish kingdom (1320) were far from calm. The Order's conquest lasted for over a century with limited success, even though there had been a steady flow of guest crusaders from the second quarter of the 14th century as it was the only region still practicing the crusader concept against the infidel. The Order was at the peak of its authority and power with many visitors following in the footsteps of the English pioneers of 1328-29. The French followed a little later. Subsequent crusaders included leading members of the Lovell, Scrope, Beauchamp and Percy families as well as Henry Bolingbroke, earl of Derby (later Henry IV). He and his entourage fought at the siege of Vilnya (1390), stayed several months at Konigsberg, and returned there two years later.''

Vorburg with rampart added under Hochmeister Heinrich von Plauen, 15th century.

Vorburg with rampart added under Hochmeister Heinrich von Plauen, 15th century. ( Public Domain )

After long and expensive wars with their neighbors, the Grand Master had to make a tough decision. Although it was practically impossible to conquer Malbork castle, it had to be sold by the Teutonic Order in 1450. Despite the centuries of fighting and successful Christianizing of the lands, the Teutonic Order had to leave Pomerania and the areas around it.

They lost lots of land, many castles and significance in the political arena, but the brotherhood survived. Nowadays, their main residence is in Vienna, Austria. They are no longer knights, but now called priests and they continue to be ruled by a grand master, exactly like in medieval times.

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