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The Gothic Castles Trail part 2

In the first part of the text about the Trail of Gothic Castles in Poland, we presented the strongholds that are located in the Pomeranian part of this trail. There are, among others, the castle in Malbork, Gniew Castle, or the westernmost Teutonic castle in Bytów. In the second part, we present the fortresses located in today’s Warmia-Masuria Province. 

Teutonic Castle in Ostróda 

Originally, a wooden knight’s manor house was located here, the construction of which dates back to 1270. From the very beginning, the manor house in Ostróda played the role of an administrative, economic and military center, at which a small settlement began to be built, which in 1329 obtained the city privilege from the Dzierzgoń commander, Luther of Brunswick, later Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights. In 1341, a commandry was created in Ostróda, which was the higher unit of the Teutonic state, which was subject to the Teutonic administration centers in Nidzica, Dąbrówno, Olsztynek, Działdowo and Iława. It was one of the largest and most important commanderships in this part of the Teutonic state – due to its border character and location on the trade route leading from Mazovia to the Baltic Sea. The city grew to form its own defense system, consisting of the river’s natural canals and defensive walls with three entrance gates. In this situation, as a result of the increased administrative and economic role, the Teutonic Knights decided to expand their seat as well.

The construction of a brick castle in its original shape was started in the mid-fourteenth century by the then commander Günter von Hohenstein. The new building was erected on a square plan and included 4 wings, an entrance gate and a drawbridge. The construction of the stronghold was interrupted in 1381 by the invasion of the Lithuanian prince Kiejstut, and after the Battle of Grunwald, the city was surrendered to Polish forces. Some historians say that the bodies of the great master Ulrich von Jungingen and the Ostróda commander Gamrath von Pinzenu, who died in the battle, were briefly buried in the castle chapel.

From February 21 to March 31, 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte resided in the castle, during the Prussian campaign of the First Polish War. He had a room on the first floor of the north wing. From here he commanded the army and administered the empire. Currently, since the mid-nineties, the castle has been the seat of municipal cultural institutions – a museum, culture center and library, and the restoration and renovation works of the building are still continued.

Teutonic castle in Nidzica 

The construction of the castle began around 1370, and already in 1409, the Teutonic prosecutor began to reside in it. In 1410, the castle was occupied by the Polish army. From the mid-fifteenth century, the stronghold in Nidzica changed its “owners” who bravely fought off subsequent attacks. In 1812, the castle was taken over by French troops subordinate to Napoleon. Unfortunately, as a result of their activities, the Castle was almost completely devastated, and in the years 1828-1830 it was rebuilt into a court and a prison. In the winter of 1945, the Soviet army bombed the castle, which was finally rebuilt after the war, and historical paintings in the chapel and refectory were also restored. Today, the Nidzica Castle is the seat of a hotel and restaurant, there is also the Museum of the Nidzica Region and a knight’s brotherhood, and a 19th-century park surrounds the building.

Castle of the Warmian Chapter in Olsztyn 

The construction of the Olsztyn castle was started in 1346, on the traditional quadrilateral plan. Its architecture was very similar to the Teutonic castles, however, its secular purpose made the layout of the rooms completely different. In the second half of the fourteenth century, a round tower was added to the building, and the castle was accessible via a drawbridge, and access to it was defended by a moat supplied with water from the Łyna River. In the 16th century, the defensive walls of the castle were raised and connected to the municipal system, but the castle itself remained an independent stronghold. In 1410, Olszyn and the castle were incorporated into Poland, and in 1516, Nicolaus Copernicus became the administrator of the Warmia chapter. Unfortunately, in the 16th century, the building was looted by the Swedes, and after the partitions of Poland, the property of the Bishop of Warmia was occupied by the Prussian state. After 1845, the Olsztyn fortress was renamed a museum and its reconstruction and restoration began. Today, events and festivities take place here, and the castle itself is an important element of the Old Town development of Olsztyn.

The Castle of Warmia Bishops in Lidzbark Warmiński 

Today the Lidzbark stronghold is definitely the most beautiful and the most impressive Teutonic castle in the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship. Lidzbark Warmiński itself gained notoriety when it was appointed the seat of bishops who from 1243 exercised spiritual and secular authority in Warmia. The construction of the castle took 50 years (1350-1401), and in addition to the main part, a copper forge, sawmill, mill, stables and granaries were built in the outer ward, making Lidzbark a practically self-sufficient fortress. Under the provisions of the Second Toruń Peace in 1466, Warmia was incorporated into Poland. From that time, until 1795, eminent Poles, outstanding representatives of Polish culture resided at the Lidzbark Castle: Łukasz Watzenrode, Mikołaj Kopernik, Stanisław Hozjusz, Marcin Kromer, and Ignacy Krasicki. They created here an important cultural center in Europe, which, in terms of religion and politics, stood in opposition to the Lutheran princely court in Królewiec. At the end of the 16th century, the Lidzbark residence lost its defensive character and turned into a magnificent princely court, richly equipped with elegant furnishings, libraries and works. The castle rooms were adapted to new functions, dividing them into smaller ones and decorating them with rich paintings. The most interesting extension of the castle was carried out by bishop Jan Stefan Wydżga, who erected a baroque palace in the southern wing, designed by the Italian Issidore Affaiti.

The last eight Polish bishops lived in the castle over the years. The end of the splendor of the bishop’s residence brought the annexation of Warmia by Prussia in 1772. The last bishop of Warmia, residing at the Lidzbark castle, was Ignacy Krasicki, after whose departure in 1794 the abandoned building gradually deteriorates. At the beginning of the 19th century, the castle was devastated and turned into a barracks, and then into an orphanage and a religious hospital. The first comprehensive restoration work began in 1927. At that time, the Castle Museum was established.

Teutonic castle in Kętrzyn 

The first mentions of the fortified building in Kętrzyn come from 1342. It was when the settlement called Rast, the Teutonic Knights built a wooden fortress and named it Rastenburg. The task of the watchtower was to defend the monastic state against Lithuanian troops, but the building also served as a base for the territory of Lithuania. Rastenburg was conquered twice by Lithuanians and rebuilt many times. In 1357, a decision was made to build a brick castle, which was to be a safer shelter for the knights of the order. Thanks to the presence and activity of the Teutonic prosecutor in this place, the vicinity of the castle developed dynamically, creating a small town. Like most buildings of this type, also the castle in Kętrzyn passed from the hands of the Teutonic Knights into Polish, and then Prussian. The stronghold was also rebuilt several times, and in the interwar period it housed the apartments of city officials. During World War II, an air-raid shelter was located in the castle, but this did not protect the medieval fortress from complete destruction and burning by the Soviet troops passing through it. Lock it was rebuilt in the 1960s, restoring its gothic character. Currently, it houses the city library, the seat of the knight’s brotherhood and a museum.

Teutonic Castle in Ryn 

The construction of the castle in Ryn began around 1377 at the behest of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Winrich von Kniprode. Initially, the fortress was to be a place from which it was possible to conveniently launch attacks on designated targets in Lithuania. Originally, the building was to have a rectangular shape, traditional for Gothic castles, but in the first phase of construction, only one building was built up to the height of the first floor and a part of the second building. The construction works were continued on the initiative of the Grand Master Konrad von Wallenrode, who wanted to hand over the castle in Ryn to the seat of the new commandry for his brother Fryderyk. At that time, the ground-floor south-east wing was raised, building a chapel and other necessary rooms over it. After the defeat at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, the construction range was limited to a quadrangle of walls with one Gothic building along the eastern side. In its centuries-old history, the castle was the seat of the Teutonic commanders and reeve, and in the middle of the 16th century the starosts of the Prussian prince resided there. The fortress was conquered and burned down by the Tatars during the Swedish Deluge in 1657, and in the 19th century it was rebuilt by the Prussian authorities into a prison. After the Second World War, the castle housed a cultural center, museum and town hall, and now this former Teutonic fortress houses a 4-star hotel.

The Gothic Castles Trail runs through the picturesque and extremely attractive areas of the Pomeranian and Warmian-Masurian provinces. It is also worth visiting smaller towns and looking for traces of medieval history that are still visible in the landscape of northern Poland.