The Largest Castle in the World: Malbork Castle

Since I’ve moved back to Poland, I’ve had what I consider an all-access pass to the country’s most interesting and beautiful cities, mountain ranges, beaches, and of course, castles. On my most recent vacation to the north of Poland, I decided I needed to squeeze in a trip to visit Malbork Castle, only an hour’s train ride from the city of Gdańsk. I remember visiting the when I was about ten years old. Like all kids with a giant imagination, I walked the halls envisioning my life in the castle: the beautiful dresses I would wear and the fancy dinners I would attend.

Malbork made an impression on me, even then when I was a child. I’ve been to many castles since that trip, but Malbork is unlike any other; I consider it a must when planning a trip to Poland.

Is Malbork Castle Worth Visiting?

Malbork Castle is worth visiting because it’s the largest castle in the world and boasts 700 years worth of rich (and often bloody) history. The castle was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in 1997. It was built as a Teutonic Order stronghold and later served as the seat of Polish royalty. By area, Malbork Castle covers 18 hectares, or 44 acres. It is famous for its medieval architecture; the meticulously restored fortress is complete with moat, a barbican, thick walls and towers, a fortified gatehouse, and an inner courtyard.

If you’re having trouble envision it’s sheer size, consider that 750 parking spots fit on just 5 acres of land. It’s easy to see how, walking the grounds, the rest of the world outside its brick outer walls disappears. It is impressive, to say the least, and has a long and fascinating history to match.

The Teutonic Order in Poland

The castle construction was begun in 1280 but was completed in stages, the last of which was completed in the mid-1400s. It was built by and for the Teutonic Order (Zakon krzyżacki, in Polish) which is one of the largest Catholic religious orders in existence, alongside the Templar Knights.

This religious order began as a military order in the early middle ages and was invited to Poland by Konrad I Mazowiecki, the Duke of Mazovia and later the High Duke of Poland. In 966, the ruler of the Kingdom of Poland, Mieszko I, had converted to Christianity, however most of the settled people in the region were pagan and clung to their beliefs for hundreds of years after the religion was introduced to the kingdom. The Teutonic Order was invited to forcibly convert the majority pagan tribes settled in the Prussian region, what is now the north of Poland on the Baltic coast.

Once they had been invited, the Teutonic Order became more powerful and grew in size, pledging its allegiance not to Poland, but to the Catholic Pope, effectively making them free agents. They built Malbork Castle as their seat of consolidated power and began to take over Polish land, leading to wars in Poland for the next two hundred years.

Konrad I Mazowiecki, who invited the Teutonic Order to Poland, in a portrait by Anton Tepplar, 1833

Malbork Castle Under Polish Rule

Poland gained control of Malbork and its castle in 1457, after the Teutonic Order was expelled. From then until the Partitions of Poland, more than 300 years, Malbork Castle functioned as a royal residence for Polish kings. It saw wars with Poland’s “neighbor to the north”, Sweden, who gained control of the castle for a short time during the Swedish Deluge (potop szwedzki). Polish kings would hold receptions in the Great Refectory and hold audiences in the Palace of the Grand Masters. After Poland was partitioned, the Castle functioned as barracks and suffered substantial damage.
The Great Refectory with its columns and fan vaulted ceilings

Malbork Castle Today

The church in Malbork Castle
The walls of Malbork Castle have seen a lot of history. In its more than 700 years of existence, the castle has gone through countless wars, including the First and Second World Wars, after which it was badly damaged following restoration efforts in the 1800s.
The extensive work to restore the castle was begun by Polish conservators after the Second World War based on this previous conservation effort. Although mostly completed, at the time of this writing, there are still ongoing small restoration projects on the grounds of the castle.

Today, no one lives in Malbork castle. Instead, it was opened to the public as a museum in 1961 and about 750,000 tourists from around the world visit the UNESCO site yearly. There are guided tours available as well as audio tours but if you’re planning to visit, you should know that it’s an all-day commitment; either version of the tour will take about 3-4 hours easily, as there is that much to see.

A panorama of Malbork Castle after the Second World War in front of the present day castle. The castle was badly damaged but has since been meticulously restored to its former glory

Malbork Castle Details You Shouldn't Miss

The bathroom gargoyle: the residents of Malbork Castle had a good sense of humor – this small gargoyle signposts the other “royal throne”, leading visitors down the long corridor to the latrine. Judging by his appearance – legs crossed and torture look on his face – he’s in a hurry.

The kitchens: the kitchens of Malbork Castle contain a large wall of shelves that are raised and lowered by a pulley system. This acted as an elevator, transporting food up to the second floor refectory.

The Golden Gate and the Parable of the Ten Virgins: the Golden Gate as it is called (Złota Brama, in Polish), is a 13th century archway that leads to the Church inside Malbork Castle. On the archway are magnificent (and amazingly well preserved) wooden carvings depicting the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

The architecture: Amazingly, there are large portions of brick walls that stand since its original build, and you can spot where they were joined with the newer brick by observing the change in color. The vaulted ceilings and archways in the castle are typical of gothic design. All throughout, there are embellishments on doors and columns.  
The outer wall of the middle castle, where the patchwork of bricks indicate the restoration efforts. The darker bricks are original build, dating back to 1280
The detailed doorknob of a castle door
Lead glass windows and the name of one of Prussia's prime ministers inscribed on the wall of the Great Refectory
The cathedral fan vaulted ceilings and detailed columns of Malbork's Great Refectory

For more information and to purchase your ticket, visit the Malbork Castle Museum.


2 thoughts on “The Largest Castle in the World: Malbork Castle”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *