Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork (1997)
Poland

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This 13th-century fortified monastery belonging to the Teutonic Order was substantially enlarged and embellished after 1309, when the seat of the Grand Master moved here from Venice. A particularly fine example of a medieval brick castle, it later fell into decay, but was meticulously restored in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Many of the conservation techniques now accepted as standard were evolved here. Following severe damage in the Second World War it was once again restored, using the detailed documentation prepared by earlier conservators. 

  • Poland 2004. Malbork Castle. 

Poland 2004. Malbork Castle.

Poland 1992. The Emblem of the Monastic Order of Malta.

The Castle of Malbork lies southwest of Gdansk in the northern part of Poland on the edge of the Baltic Sea. Palaces and castles are a part of Poland's history and heritage -- testimony to its power during the later Middle Ages and the post-Renaissance period. On the eve of Poland's dissolution in 1939, private residences with 100 indoor servants still existed. But no castle in Poland is more potently symbolic than the massive fortress at Malbork, formerly belonging to the Teutonic Knights.
  • Poland 1992. The Emblem of the Monastic Order of Malta (looking very much like the Danish national flag "Dannebrog"), to which there certainly is a historical connection, but that goes beyond the scope of this web page.  

Work began on the castle at Marienburg (as Malbork in known in German) in 1274. It was to be the finest, most impressive, most awe-inspiring of all the Knights' fortifications which, on a lesser scale, were already dominating much of the Vistula's route downstream from the coast. Within two years the land within the new edifice was a municipality in its own right -- a status conferred by the Order. Construction continued apace. In 1309 the Grand Master moved his headquarters from Venice, and during the 14th century the first construction, or Upper Castle, was joined by a Middle and finally by a Lower castle. Granaries were built along the river and an outer ring of defense walls was erected. Finally a splendid palace was built for the Grand Master between the Upper and Middle Castles. 

The meaning of all this was not lost on the Poles. The monastic-military Order -- which had been invited into the country by Prince Konrad of Mazovis following the Crusades, to use against a troublesome pagan tribe, was now, 150 years later, the territorial master of much of the north. 

Malbork Castle. Panoramic view. Photo.

Here the Vistula hinterland was a gloriously rich and fertile area for all the principal bounty of medieval trade. Wood, hides, amber, furs, cloth, horses and, above all, grain, were increasingly becoming the property of the occupying Order, based on their new martial edifice at Malbork.

"The very sight of Malbork Castle was enough to strike terror into the heart of every Pole", wrote Nobel prizewinner (1905) Henryk Sienkiewicz in his novel The Teutonic Knights, "for the fortress, with its upper, middle and lower castles, was something that was absolutely incomparable with any other in the world. 

In sheer immensity it surpassed anything the Polish knights had seen in their lives. The buildings seemed to grow out of each other, forming a sort of mountain rising from the surrounding lowlands". 

  • Poland 1952. Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916). Stamp engraved by Czeslaw Slania. 

Poland 1952. Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916).

But Poles are not easily frightened by the formidable, and by the start of the 15th century the first climax in German-Polish relations was fast approaching and inevitable. It was to be the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, the largest set-piece battle of the Middle Ages. It was to end in the total military defeat of the Order, mainly by the action of Polish Cavalry. They also scattered and annihilated a company of English archers recruited largely by false propaganda, by the German side. 

The Battle of Grunwald 1410. Engraving (diploma work) by Czeslaw Slania.

The Battle at Grunwald in stamp format, but not issued as a stamp.

After many decades of peace, the Poles were unwilling to fight. But the Order, which had ambitions in Lithuania, tried to drive a wedge between Poles and Lithuanians. Failing in their political scheming, the Teutonic Order declared war on Poland in 1409. 

  • Czeslaw Slania's diploma work compressed to stamp format (but not issued as a stamp).  
    In the lower left selvedge is printed "Praca Dyplomowa". 

Matters came to a head in July 1410. The Poles, fearing a long war of attrition, organized a massive hunting expedition to obtain meat. Then, on 15th July 1410, the army of the Order under their Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen, fought a combined force of Poles, Lithuanians and Tartars commanded by King Wladislaw Jagiello. 

In one day the battle was over. The Grand Master and the flower of his army were dead. Malbork itself did not fall until 1466, but the power that it represented had been brought down at Grunwald. After 1466 Malbork became a Polish royal residence. 

  • Poland 1996. From the series Polish Rulers. King Wladislaw II Jagiello. The stamp is now withdrawn from circulation.  

Poland 1996. Polish Rulers. King Wladislaw II Jagiello.

Today the Castle, after much destruction during the partitions and in World War II, is a beautifully restored museum that takes hours to tour properly. It houses a valuable collection of amber and is a monument to matters medieval, military, monarchial and monastic. Yet there is something more. This castle seems to exude, an almost forgotten concept, something which belongs to a vanished age: the age of chivalry. 

Finally it should be mentioned that there are other Teutonic castles in Poland, among others in Olsczyn, but none of them as impressive as Malbork. 

Sources and links: 

Other World Heritage Sites in Poland (on this website). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing (Poland-Section) for further information on such properties. 

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Revised 31 jul 2006  
Copyright 1999 Heindorffhus 
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