UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Malbork Castle
Unlike the rest of the European World Heritage Sites we’ve covered (so far), Poland’s famous brick castle did not begin as a monastery, but as a fortress. It was built (with the name Marienburg) by the Teutonic Order, a military order of German crusaders, in the late 13th century, though it was not until September of 1309 that the castle attained some importance and underwent a significant expansion that lasted for nearly half a century. It was that year that Siegfried von Feuchtwangen, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, moved his office to Malbork after Pope Clement V issued the Papal Bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae, authorizing Christian monarchs to arrest Templars and seize their property. Under Feuchtwangen, new moats, defensive walls, and cathedrals were added, and the castle was divided into three sections - the High, Middle, and Low. Architecturally, it is a prime example of the medieval Gothic style, as well as the Brick Gothic style, which is prevalent throughout Northern Europe. It is also the largest brick castle in the world.
In 1457, Polish forces captured Malbork, whereafter court officials took control of the castle and converted it partly into residences for Polish royalty. The Jesuits also controlled the site in the 17th and 18th centuries until 1772 after the partition of Poland, when the city of Malbork became part of the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussian officials used the castle as military barracks and as a hospital throughout the Napoleonic Wars. The rediscovery of the castle’s Teutonic history piqued the interest of the Prussian people, and construction/restoration began once more.
During the Third Reich era, Adolf Hitler’s Hitler-Jugend (both the boy’s and girl’s wings) sometimes traveled to Malbork, and high-ranking Nazi officials sometimes held celebrations inside the castle. German soldiers even took military vows here, before heading off to the eastern front. Towards the end of the war, however, invading Russian forces destroyed a large number of the buildings, including the newly-restored cathedral. In 1997, Malbork was named a UNESCO Heritage Site.