Written by marif on 07 Nov, 2005
The fairytale atmosphere that still abounds within the guarded walls of Poland's largest stronghold is the prime factor that has contributed in making Malbork's castle one of the country's top attractions. Add to this the wealth of enchanting architectural details and you will understand why…Read More
The fairytale atmosphere that still abounds within the guarded walls of Poland's largest stronghold is the prime factor that has contributed in making Malbork's castle one of the country's top attractions. Add to this the wealth of enchanting architectural details and you will understand why visitors are kept absorbed for hours. If after enjoying all this, you still have a free day here, you can easily arrange a pleasure trip to the nearby towns of Elblag and Frombork, two destinations that offer an untouched waterside environment perfectly blended with a graceful renovated city centre.
1. Elblag can be reached easily by train from Malbork from where 20 daily regional trains cover the 29kms distance in half an hour. From Malbork's bus station, frequent buses reach Elblag in 40 minutes. This city, located northeast of Malbork is under reconstruction, still undergoing an intensive programme of restoration after the total devastation it suffered during World War II. However, along the cobbled streets of Elblag's Old Town quarter, a number of conspicuous buildings whose restoration works have been recently completed make a visit here worthwhile. Of special mention for its Gothic ribbed vaulting is the Church of St.Mary, a majestic red-brick reconstruction that lovers of church architecture will definitely admire. The nearby Church of St.Nicholas whose interior works of art demand a close look is another Gothic reconstruction that is equally interesting and inspiring.
Visitors come to Elblag however less to see the restored medieval buildings that adorn the city centre than to join the queue of tourists for the unique 82kms Elblag-Ostroda canal boat trip. Touring along this waterway that connects six medium-sized lakes from Elblag to Ostroda is an unrivalled experience of adventure and excitement. Operated by water power only, a system of rail mounted trolleys carry the boat and the trippers across five slipways that deal with the 100 metres difference in water level between the two towns with remarkable precision.
In summer, boat trips from Elblag to Ostroda leave from the pier next to the Old Town at 8am sharp. When weather conditions are unfavourable, particularly during the winter months, boat trips may leave later or not at all. The whole trip lasts 11 hours. So, it is inconvenient for those who have to go back to Malbork in the evening. However, you can opt for a shorter trip that lasts 5 hours, going only as far away as Buczyniec from where the boat operator provides road transport back to Elblag. The pleasure boats are equipped with an excellent snack bar and so there's no need to take food or drinks along with you.
2. Frombork is a beautiful historical town constructed right on the embankment of the Vistula Lagoon. This huge 90kms shallow tract of water and reed marshes extends as far away as Kalingrad. Frombork can be reached from Malbork via Elblag either by bus or by train, the trip from Elblag to Frombork taking about 1 hour. There are neither direct trains nor direct buses from Malbork to Frombork.
The historical centre of Frombork is concentrated around Cathedral Hill, a small medieval area that escaped World War II without major damages. The huge cathedral has a charming Gothic exterior but step inside and you will be astonished to see that the original Gothic interior architecture has been marred with a conglomeration of Baroque ornamental works. Numerous tombstones set in the floor and against the walls are reminiscent of those inside Wawel's royal cathedral in Krakow. If you happen to be here in summer on a Sunday, mix with the locals and listen to a splendid organ recital of classical church music. The nearby Old Bishop's palace houses a museum dedicated to the astronomer Copernicus who spent the last decade of his life in the city making observations about his new theory of the solar system. The former cathedral tower, located next to the bastions houses a medium-sized planetarium. Climb the winding staircase of the tower to the top viewing platform. The extensive view from here over the Vistula Lagoon is excellent.
There are many more attractions worth enjoying on Cathedral Hill but make sure to leave ample time to take a boat excursion from the waterfront to Krynica Morska, a 90 minute trip across the tranquil water of the Vistula Lagoon. Krynica Morska is a popular summer beach resort set on the narrow strip of land that borders the Vistula Lagoon on one side and the Baltic sea on the other. This vast area is geograpically divided between Poland and Russia.
Written by marif on 09 Nov, 2005
Malbork's castle is the granddaddy of Poland's medieval strongholds and it's no surprise then that everything else seems a miniature when compared with the grandeur and gargantuan size of Malbork. No other castle in the country contains so much. Steeped in history and haunted by…Read More
Malbork's castle is the granddaddy of Poland's medieval strongholds and it's no surprise then that everything else seems a miniature when compared with the grandeur and gargantuan size of Malbork. No other castle in the country contains so much. Steeped in history and haunted by a charming air of magic and mystery, Malbork is Poland's greatest medieval experience.
This does not mean, however, that Poland's wealth of castle heritage is limited only to Malbork's castle. Neither does it mean that other castles are second-rate or inferior to those elsewhere. In fact, not far away from Malbork, lovers of castle architecture have a golden opportunity to discover for themselves two other great castles, both rich in history and architecture.
1. One such castle is found on the outskirts of Gniew, a tiny medieval town located southwest of Malbork. The best way to come here is to take one of the frequent buses to Tczew from where 12 daily buses go straight to Gniew in 40 minutes.
Gniew is a country town that has grown around a central square where rows of untouched buildings still stand to give witness to the city's glorious past. From the square, walk west towards the Vistula. On the left embankment, you will soon see Gniew's majestic castle. Perched on the top of a small hill, it stands proudly in the heart of a picturesque forested area. Don't expect to find a structure that compares for vastness or elegance with Malbork. Yet its imposing square structure protected by four massive squat towers and planned around a central courtyard makes it both interesting and beautiful. Constructed by the Teutonic knights in the 13th century and remodelled later by the Prussians, it is a prestigious heritage of excellent brickwork. Step inside and see the excellent archeological exhibition that contains numerous remains that were excavated from the region. Climb the steps to the top floor from where the view over the town is excellent. The castle opens in summer only from 9am to 5pm.
2. About 40kms south of Malbork, Kwidzyn is another country town that still preserves within its boundaries a number of original medieval buildings. From Malbork, the town can be reached easily by train or bus in less than an hour.
Adjoining the huge Gothic cathedral, the castle at Kwidzyn is another square multi-storey brick structure planned around a central courtyard. After World War II, the castle was meticulously reconstructed and now looks much the same as it did 600 years ago. The castle's elegant interior houses a multi-section museum with exhibits that range from medieval works of art to old agricultural implements. The castle's huge free-standing squat tower is joined to the main structure by a long bridge that is supported on massive brick arches. Go over the bridge and enter the tower from where you can enjoy a gorgeous view over the town and its surrounding countryside. Like the castle at Gniew, the castle at Kwidzyn opens only during the summer season.
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…Read More
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.