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Other Top Points From Gdynia (Gdansk), Poland

Gdynia Port
Archaeological Museum
Fortress of the Vistula River Mouth
History Museum
Maritime Museum
National Art Museum
Neptune's Fountain
Oliwa Zoo
St. Mary's Church (Kosciol Mariacki)
Town Hall (Ratusz)

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Malbork Castle

Address: Malbork

The drifting, patient river Wisla quietly passes beneath the massive brick walls and towers that form Malbork's western fortifications. From the opposite bank, the castle fills your entire view and without so much as a telephone pole in the picture, you're transported to the fourteenth century. Or, if you've been reading too much C.S. Lewis, perhaps you'll see yourself in Narnia. Maybe Jimi Hendrix has moved you to a 'castle in the sky' but let's not get too carried away here.

From Gdansk's main rail station, Malbork is only 60km, 60 minutes, and 10 zloty away! If you've been in Gdansk for longer than 2 days, set aside a few hours and make the short trip to this splendid edifice. There are many magnificent historical buildings in Gdansk, but in Malbork you can see history in isolation. It's just you and the castle, particularly if you go in the early fall, after the crush of tourists has passed.

The history of Malbork begins in the Holy Land and by 'Holy Land' we mean Palestine, not the Krispy Kreme Donuts factory. Allow us to introduce you to the fabled Teutonic Knights, a rowdy band of monks with a lust for slayin' and convertin'. After Palestine was lost to Islam, these zealots needed a new base of operations. But the Crusades were partly an excuse to get people like this out of Europe, so no one wanted them back! Finally, a Polish King offered them sanctuary in return for help against some pagan Lithuanians. The Knights were happy to help, but they were also happy to form their own state and control the amber trade. Also, they massacred the citizens of Gdansk in 1308, which they were supposed to be protecting. Whoops.

Obviously, these actions didn't exactly sit well with the Polish King, who promptly allied himself with the Lithuanians who were being constantly raided by the Knights. In 1410, the massive battle of Grunwald saw the defeat of the Teutonic Knights, but the stumbling Polish King stalled out and was unable to rout them from Malbork, where they had been constructing and improving a massive castle since they first established themselves in the region over a hundred years prior. They called the castle Marienburg (St. Mary's Stronghold) in case you hear that name, rather than Malbork.

The Teutonic Order continued to decline and in 1457 the mercenaries working for the Knights decided that it was a good idea to take the castle for themselves and sell it to the Polish King. Gotta get paid somehow, you know? Anyways, the Polish monarchy kept Malbork in decent shape for the next few centuries. Royal persons would rest their weary feet in its awesome rooms and vaulted hallways while travelling to and from Gdansk. Perhaps it was this leisurely attitude that led to the Partition of Poland in 1772, upon which the castle was controlled by the Prussian rulers.

Unfortunately, the Prussians turned the magnificent castle into a barracks and many of the out walls and towers were taken down, many windows were bricked up, and much of the splendor was lost. Of course this gradual decline and industrial transformation was preferred to the bombing, destruction, and looting done to the fortress by the Soviet army, and by the end of the Second World War, Malbork was basically a shadow of its former self.

Today, the castle has been renovated and reconstructed, as faithfully as was possible. In general, reconstruction work throughout Gdansk and its neighbors has been incredible and Malbork is no exception. In 1997, the castle became a World Heritage Site. Bristling with weapons displays, the medieval historian inside all of us will revel in the sheer amount of exhibits and displays. There are also a great many amber exhibits, as well as entire rooms devoted to the Teutonic way of life. Half the fun is actually just running through the hundreds of empty corridors, imagining that there's a battle going on, but for the kids there are some cool wooden weapons available for purchase.

The 'Siege of the Malbork Castle' is the biggest event of the summer, but there are a number of smaller fairs and festivals throughout the year. Tours are available in English, German, and Russian but will run you 150 PLN unless you organize something in advance. It takes a good 4 hours to see most of what's inside, unless your hunting for some ghosts, in which case you'll need more time to set up your equipment. Whatever your aims, you'll be sure to leave the castle with a smile on your face and thoughts of forming a metal band named 'Teutonic Pagan Slayer.' Rock on!

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Malbork Castle Map

Emerald Princess Baltic Cruise Guide
by Fafos & Grjava, 2009
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