Soaring Gothic brick castles are a prominent feature of the landscape of Masuria and the neighboring region of Warmia. Their creation is associated with centuries of German culture, but also, as in the case of castles in Olsztyn or Lidzbark Warmiński, the golden ages in Polish history.
It all began 800 years ago with a decision by one of the local princes, Konrad I of Masovia. He invited the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem to settle in what is now northern Poland and stop the threat from the pagan Prussian people.
The monks, known in Poland as the Teutonic Knights, brutally cracked down on the indigenous population of Masuria, erecting numerous Gothic castles in the area. In subsequent centuries they came into conflict with Poland, which regained access to the sea in the 16th century and occupied the Warmia region (roughly the area around Olsztyn), taking possession of some of the buildings.
The largest and most impressive Teutonic castle is a UNESCO World Heritage List Malbork Castle, but also in Masuria and Warmia you will find numerous buildings in which the complicated history of these lands is expressed.
Here are some of them!
The Castle of Warmian Cathedral Chapter in Olsztyn
The castle of the Warmian Chapter is the oldest building in Olsztyn, built in the 14th century in a bend of the Łyna River. Nicolaus Copernicus held office in the castle. There, the brilliant astronomer managed on a day-to-day basis on behalf of the Polish king the property of the bishopric of Warmia, which was subordinate to him.
On the wall of the Olsztyn Castle cloister is the only surviving astronomical instrument made by the scientist. This is an astronomical table that was used to represent the apparent movement of the sun on days near the spring and autumn equinoxes. Also worth seeing are the unique crystal vaults, dating back to around 1520.
Currently, the castle houses the Museum of Warmia and Masuria.
Castle in Lidzbark Warmiński
Lidzbark Warmiński Castle was built in the 14th century as the main seat of the bishops of Warmia. The castle complex included a castle and two pre-castles. The beautiful cloisters in the courtyard remind some of the royal courtyard in Kraków, hence the building is sometimes called the “Wawel of the North”.
Nicolaus Copernicus, who lived in Frombork, closer to the sea, often visited here, too. Many Warmian bishops made their mark in the history of Poland. These included Ignacy Krasicki – a popular writer of the Enlightenment era.
You can learn more about the history of the building and the region at the Warmia Museum, which is located in the castle. You can also stay here at the stylish Krasicki Hotel, operating in the pre-castle buildings.
Castle in Nidzica
It is the largest Teutonic castle in Masuria. Erected in the 14th century by the Teutonic Grand Master on the Nida River, it guarded the southern border of the monastic state. The neighboring town for centuries to come was shrouded in a sinister fame as a place where particularly numerous witch trials were held.
After the destruction of World War II, the castle only lived to see restoration in the second half of the 20th century. It now houses a cultural center, museum and guest rooms. Both in summer and winter, knight tournaments are held here.