Radzyn Chelminski: The Captivating History of a Castle of the Teutonic Order
Radzyń Chełmiński is located far from the big cities of Poland and is 15 km (9.32 Mlies) from Grudziądz in Cuiavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship. Near the castle there is a small town with about 2,000 citizens. It is known as one of the most beautiful ruined castles in Poland.
The castle was built in a square formation, characteristic of the Teutonic Knight's Commanderies’ style. It is located on a small hill near Castle Lake. The castle is one of the oldest built by the Teutonic Knights in this region, and also one of the biggest. Malbork is the only castle in the territory of Poland that is bigger than Radzyń castle. The castle was once used for the safekeeping of treasure and also a very important strategic point for the Teutonic Order near the Baltic Sea.
Malbork Castle from across the Nogat. ( Public Domain )
A Magnificent Example of Medieval Architecture
The first fortification in this area appeared in 1015 AD. Later, the land belonged to the bishop Chrystian, who gave it to the Teutonic Order. An old legend tells a story about the knights who came to Radzyń with Herman von Balk. When they stood on the hill, he saw three important hillfords around, so he decided to bury a foundation stone and initiate the construction of the castle. The granite stone was carved with the symbol of a wheel with eight spokes, which became a symbol on the seal of the knights of Radzyń castle.
The early form of the castle began to take shape around 1251. It was wooden in the beginning, but the final brick version of the castle was built between 1280 and 1329. The castle is shaped in an almost perfect square. Due to the moat around the castle, it seems like the monumental building is located on an island.
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The ruins of the Teutonic castle with towers. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 PL )
The Castle Turns to Ruins
The peaceful existence of the castle ended in 1410. During the war with the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland the situation changed. The castle was plundered by the Polish army, but it didn't stay in the hands of King Władysław Jagiełło of Poland. In 1466, the territory of Radzyń became part of the Crown. The first serious damage of the castle comes from the battle in 1410. At the end of the15th century, the castle became the office of the starost of Radzyń Chełmiński. The Polish didn't care about preserving the castle in those years.
In 1628, during the wars with the Swedes, the castle was partially damaged. The tower of the castle was especially affected by the Swedish artillery. With the battles, the building began to turn to ruins. The army stayed inside the castle for some time destroying everything they could, without respect for the heritage of the building or site.
Radzyń Chełmiński castle courtyard. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 PL )
In 1780, the Prussian authorities ordered for the deconstruction of the castle. The bricks were reused to build houses for the community nearby. The town hall of Radzyń Chełmiński was also built of the medieval bricks.
The human damage of the castle stopped in 1837, when the first works of conservators started. This was followed by works between 1886 and 1890, and 1910 to 1911. With much effort, they preserved many priceless artifacts and signs of the former greatness of the castle.
Legends and Reality
According to a local legend, one of the possible destinations of the Templars’ treasure may have been Radzyń. It is not likely, but the story of a treasure in the castle is real. For many years, visitors to the castle hoped to find some gold coins or other artifacts.
The only treasure which was known to be located there belonged to the grand master of Teutonic Order, Urlich von Jungingen, who decided to hide his possessions during the war with Poland. After the famous battle of Grunwald in July 1410, the treasures of Jungingen survived because he took them secretly to Prague. Other important objects in the castle were plundered by the army of king Wladysław Jagiełło.
Battle of Grunwald, by Jan Matejko. ( Public Domain )
At the end of the 19th century, Konrad Steinbrecht decided to reconstruct the castle. At the time, Steinbrecht was renovating castles in a very romantic style, but not according to medieval traditions. He liked to add paintings connected with German legends instead. His imagination and work added more mysterious stories and fantastic architectural aspects than those of the medieval period.
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Death of Ulrich von Jungingen, detail of the painting by Jan Matejko, 1878. ( Public Domain )
Folklore says that the castle is haunted by three female ghosts. It is said that one of them is a daughter of a Polish king - a blond girl dressed with a crown and golden shoes. Another ghost is supposedly a nun, and the last is a woman who appears riding a big bear.
The New Life of the Castle
The castle continues to hold many secrets. For example, the knights’ cemetery is still located on the site. Currently the castle is partially in ruins, but, with the support of local officials, a group of researchers are trying to return some of its lost glory. The castle is now a museum and the site of tourist attractions connected with the battles of knights and other events. Even centuries later, the castle is the heart of the nearby town, and the most important place in the region.
One of the surviving walls of Radzyń Chełmińsk Castle ( CC BY-SA 3.0 PL )
Featured image: Radzyń Chełmiński Castle. Source: ( CC BY-SA 3.0 PL )
Janusz Bieszk, Zamki Państwa Krzyżackiego w Polsce, 2010.
Mieczysław Haftka, Zamki krzyżackie w Polsce. Szkic dziejów, 1999.
Marian Biskup, Gerard Labuda, Dzieje zakonu krzyżackiego w Prusach, 1986.
Marian Arszyński, Budownictwo warowne zakonu krzyżackiego w Prusach, 1995.