Tourists come to Malbork to see the castle. There's nothing else to see though an Old Town ringed with defensive walls existed here before the war. Completely flattened during Nazi attacks in 1945, Malbork is nowadays a characterless town filled with apartment blocks and rows of uninspiring buildings. Visiting Malbork's castle however is equivalent to a unique dreamlike experience of history that you'll never savour elsewhere. Coming to Malbork for the castle more than compensates for the lack of attractions in town and should unquestionably be on the itinerary of anybody who visits the north region of Poland.
Before embarking on a tour of the castle, it's advisable to get acquainted with the historical facts that are associated with this mighty stronghold. Commissioned by the Teutonic knights, construction works started as early as the last decade of the 13th century. Named Marienburg by the knights, it soon became their political and administrative headquarters. From here, the knights ruled vast stretches of land for more than a century. When the Grand master made it his official residence in 1309, the castle was expanded and enlarged and its surrounding walls were strengthened to provide better security.
The mid-15th century brought about the Thirteen Years' War, a succession of hostilities and religious conflicts that influenced extensively all the regions of Europe. As a result of the war, pressure was put on European governments and ecclesiastical authorities for more religious tolerance. This reduced the influential power of the Teutonic knights who started seeing for the first time an erosion of their military strength. Grasping this opportunity, Wladyslaw II Jagiello, king of Poland led a series of successive wars which ended with the Battle of Grunwald and the defeat of the Teutonic knights by the Polish army. Malbork's castle fell into the hands of the Polish king and the Grand master retreated to Konigsberg. For a short time, Malbork's castle was used as an official temporary residence by the king of Poland whenever he visited cities further north or along the Baltic coast.
After the First Partition, the mighty Prussians took over Pomerania and with it Malbork's castle. Large sections of the castle and the majority of the castle's chambers were left in neglect. Some rooms were completely destroyed or transformed into military stores or barracks. Luckily, this didn't last long because during the last two decades of the 19th century, renovation works started. Malbork's castle was gradually restored to its former glory after extensive restoration works were carried out without interruption up to the beginning of World War I.
This glorious restoration however wasn't enjoyed for long because the castle was heavily bombed and consequently destroyed during World War II. Taken under government protection afterwards, it experienced a second intensive restoration programme that followed soon after the war ended. The surrounding watchtowers and the ring of bastions were reconstructed according to the fragmentary evidence that was retrieved from the debris of war.The castle was gradually recreated to look once more as it did 600 years before. Today, Malbork's castle retains within its triple-walled bastions an air of history that is clearly illustrated through its wonderful external architecture and its numerous preserved interior furnishings.
Enjoying hours of exploration within the dark cavernous chambers of this labyrinthine stronghold is truly the stuff of childhood dreams. The wealth of treasures and historical artefacts displayed inside is as inspiring as the fine architecture that decorates the castle's red-brown exterior brickwork.