Although the battles of World War II were particularly destructive in the northern region of Poland, many traces of the distant past survived. Most notable of these are vestiges of the struggles between the Poles and the Knights of the Order of Holy Virgin Mary, commonly known as the Teutonic Knights. The monuments and relics of the last thousand years - towns and castles that changed hands back and forth between Polish and German rulers - today constitute part of a common European repository of culture.
The Order of Teutonic Knights came to Poland at the invitation of Polish royalty, to help convert the heathen Prussians to christianity. Instead, the order took control over large part of northern Poland and began building their strongholds. The most impressive fortress went up in the town of Malbork on the right bank of Nogat, the right branch of the delta of Vistula river. In 1309, the Grand Master moved his seat from Venice to Malbork, officialy making it the Order's capital.
The castle was captured by Polish forces in 1475 and subsequently became the residence of Polish kings visiting Prussia. By the turn of the 19th century, the area had been annexed by Prussia. That was when local authorities began the dismantling of the castle to reuse the bricks. Under the influence of German Romanticism, restoration work began, with the castle being seen as a symbol of Prussian imperial tradition. As it stands today, the castle represents a good illustration of 19th-century conservation methods. Following substantial World War II damage the castle was reconstructed by Polish specialists, who returned the historic halls, chapels, corridors and courtyards to their original 14th century splendor.
The Malbork castle is a classical example of a medieval fortress, one of the best of its kind in entire Europe. Together with a system of multiple defense walls with gates and towers, covering over 80 acres, it is one of the largest such strongholds in the world. The castle itself is divided into three major parts; the oldest section is the rectangular High Castle with arcaded courtyard containing among others refectory, chapterhouse, St. Mary's chapel and treasury. In 14th century the old forecastle was converted into the Mid Castle with the Grand Refectory, The Knights' Hall and the Palace of the Grand Master. The Lower Castle encompassed the armory and the St. Lawrence Church.
The castle interiors house several exhibitions, including a permanent exhibition detailing the castle's history, together with collections of medieval sculpture, stained-glass windows, coins and medals, weaponry, iron and foundrywork, pottery, tapestries, as well as a priceless collection of amber art. In the summer, sons et lumiere spectacles are held in the castle courtyards.
Tourists who would like to learn more about the Teutonic Order are encourage to visit other places, which lie along the Trail of the Teutonic Knights, including Torun, Chelmno, Paslek, Morag, Ostroda, Olsztyn, Mragowo, Ketrzyn, Gierloz and Gizycko.