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New Europe

Day Ninety-eight: Gdansk

Malbork Castle 
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Malbork Castle, bulwark of the Teutonic Order. Combining military might and religious conviction, it's a potent symbol of crusading zeal.
Michael Palin - New EuropeLeaving the handsome old city of Gdansk behind, we head south and east across the Wisla delta, through farming country marked by the odd windmill and clusters of half-timbered houses. This gentle, rolling rural countryside was the stamping ground of the Teutonic Knights. At Malbork there still exists their mammoth fortress, one of the largest in Europe, which this fearsome order of religious warriors made their headquarters after returning from the Crusades. They took the land from the native Prussians and handed it over to Germanic settlers.

From the time they moved into Malbork in 1309 to their first serious defeat by the Poles and Lithuanians at the Battle of Grunwald 101 years later, the Teutonic Order of the Hospital of St Mary, originally set up to give medical and spiritual
sustenance to German knights on the Crusades, established a powerful military and commercial machine, using revenue from the Hanseatic traders to fund expansion of their religious and territorial ambitions in the east. Their intense and committed devotion to their order, and the heraldic imagery that went with it, attracted the Nazis, but because of their Roman Catholic affiliations, the Teutonic Order was actually banned in Germany during the Second World War.

The brick-red bastions of Malbork, rising from tranquil water meadows, are hugely impressive and impressively huge. The strength and severity of their fortifications still sends a chill down the spine, and one can only look with wonder at the sheer amount of effort they put into glorifying God, ensuring at the same time that they controlled one of the most lucrative trade routes in Europe, from the bread basket of central Poland to the Baltic ports of Königsberg and Danzig.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Ninety-eight: Gdansk
  • Country/sea: Poland
  • Place: Malbork
  • Book page no: 233

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