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.
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.
Malbork Castle Under Polish Rule
Malbork Castle Today
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.
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.