The Teutonic Knights were one of three major military-religious orders to emerge from the Crusades. When the Crusades ended in the 12th century, the order moved back to Europe and were hired by the Duke of Mazovia to subdue a tribe of pagans called the Prussians who had been attacking his lands. The Knights massacred most of the original Prussians, turned the others into serfs, and decided to stay in what is now northern Poland. Around 1275 they began to build Malbork Castle, which became the biggest brick castle in the world and largest castle of the Gothic period. (Though the Germanic Teutonic Knights called it Marienburg.) In the mid-1400s the Polish king took control of Malbork (by buying off the Czech mercenaries who guarded it) and Malbork became a Polish royal residence. In the 20th century, the Nazis used it to house POWs; about half of it was later destroyed by the Soviet army, who saw it as a symbol of longstanding German domination. Much of it is still in the process of being painstakingly restored and there was a lot of construction going on during our visit.
One of the advantages of touring in the winter is the lack of crowds. One can only tour the castle as part of a guided group, but since we couldn't understand the Polish, we were free to wander around on our own using pages from our tour books as a guide. This is a very large, old castle! The amount of brick used is amazing.
Inner castle courtyard with well in the most protected area of the castle
My favorite part of the castle was the Grand Master's Palace "Grand Refectory" room - the delicate palm tree vaulting in the ceiling was amazing for a brick building this old.
We had seen the castle from the train on our way from Warsaw to Gdansk and I thought I would be satisfied with that (and bypass the 45-minute train trip back to tour the castle). But John wanted to see it, so we made the half-day trip from Gdansk and I'm SO glad we did.