Marienburg (mod. Malbork, Poland) in Prussia was the largest and most magnificent of all the castles of the Teutonic Order, and from 1309 was the seat of the order’s grand master (Ger. Hochmeister).
The first mention of the castle dates from 1280. The site chosen was a ridge of higher ground, bordered on the west by the river Nogat and on the east by low-lying marshy ground. A town was laid out to the south, which received its charter in 1286. The original construction consisted of a rectangular enclosure approximately 50 by 60 meters (164 by 197 ft.), made of brick with stone footings. There were two towers, one on the northeast corner and the “Gdanisko” tower on the southwest, joined to the main structure by a bridge, which was both defensive post and latrine. This convent castle was to form the nucleus known as the “High Castle” from the sixteenth century. To the north a large area was enclosed as a forecastle or lower bailey (Ger. Vorburg).
With the arrival of the grand master in 1309, the castle had to be expanded to accommodate his retinue and the administrative apparatus of the state. It was also required to entertain visiting crusaders from the West. The forecastle was divided, and a Middle Castle formed with vast brick buildings on three sides of a central courtyard: the entrance to the High Castle lay on the fourth (south) side. These ranges contained a magnificent great refectory and, on the southwest corner, the lodgings of the grand master. With their high ceilings and simple delicate tracery, his chambers are fine examples of the secular architecture of the fourteenth century.
Around 1340, a new chapel was built in the northeastern corner of the High Castle, its apse protruding from the original rectangle. The forecastle, now truncated by the separation of the Middle Castle, acquired more buildings and domestic offices.
After the battle of Tannenberg in 1410, the Teutonic Knights, whose power was now much reduced, built another line of walls along the east and north sides, equipped with semicircular towers for gunpowder defense.
In 1457 the castle was taken by the Poles and occasionally used as a royal palace, and it slowly lost its military function, suffering several fires. In 1877 restoration of the castle, now in Prussian hands, was entrusted to Conrad Stein- brecht, who embarked on a massive program of restoration to which the castle owes much of its present appearance.