About an hour south of Gdansk is impressive Malbork Castle, one of the largest brick castles in the world. Malbork was the 14th and 15th century headquarters of the Teutonic Knights, a religious order of former Crusaders. With its drawbridges, high walls and grand halls with vaulted ceilings, this enormous castle is a throwback to northern Poland’s Middle Ages. External and internal moats helped make the castle impenetrable.
“To enter the castle, one would have to pass through five gates,” says castle tour guide Jagoda Dyl. “The castle was surrounded by rings of thick walls and was so strong that it was never taken by force in medieval times.” At many places throughout the castle, there is a clear delineation of old, worn brick facades and newer bricks, marking the lines of where reconstruction took place in both the 19th century and after World War II.
Highlights include the dormitories, chapels and a refectory for the order’s ruling monks. There’s also a treasury with authentic period coins on display, a unique system of heating rocks that radiated heat through floor vents, and an amber collection (see my amber blog that follows), since amber was the main source of income. “The Teutonic Knights were so rich because they traded on the grand scale with wood and amber,” explains Jagoda. “In the 14th century, they had the richest country in Europe.”