Things to see in Poland

Warsaw Part II – Warsaw Under Nazi Occupation

Poland suffered terribly in World War II. The War began in Poland on September 1st, 1939 with the simultaneous German invasions of Gdańsk and Warsaw. By early October, Polish resistance was eliminated. Shortly thereafter, the Soviet Union moved into eastern Poland and the country was partitioned between the two powers. On the Soviet side, millions of Poles were sent to Siberia and on the German side Polish Jews (there were originally three million) were rounded up into ghettos or sent to concentration camps.

In Warsaw alone 800,000 Poles died as a result of the terrors of World War II, more than double the entire number of U.S. casualties. Although much of Warsaw was rebuilt after the War, there are remnants of this dark period left for the tourist to explore.

The Mausoleum of Struggle & Martyrdom

In this building, the feared secret state police of Nazi Germany (“The Gestapo”) tortured and interrogated thousands of Poles who were accused of crimes against the Nazi state or suspected of having valuable information.

A street view of The Mausoleum of Struggle & Martyrdom. This museum is free.

A street view of The Mausoleum of Struggle & Martyrdom. This museum is free.

The Gestapo officer's desk.

The Gestapo officer’s desk.

The tortures were many and varied, they included being beaten with a variety of instruments, or being hung upside down with water pumped into the nose, the use of electric shocks, being burnt with irons, and sometimes being forced to watch while a family member was tortured.

A display of various interrogation/torture devices.

A display of various interrogation/torture devices.

The rooms are well sign-posted in English and when you realize you are in the exact spot where so many innocent people suffered, it is a moving experience.

Cells in the museum.

Cell doors in the museum.

Prisoners were kept in cells like this (and chained as shown) and sometimes interrogated for weeks or months--often with little food, sometimes ill, often beaten and without a bed.

Prisoners were kept in cells like this (and chained as shown) and sometimes interrogated for weeks or months–often with little food, sometimes ill, often beaten and without a bed.

Prisoners would wait in these chairs for questioning, sometimes for days. They were not allowed to fall asleep, talk or move. If you violated the rules you might be beaten to death.

Prisoners would wait in these chairs for questioning, sometimes for days. They were not allowed to fall asleep, talk or move. If you violated the rules you might be beaten to death.

The Warsaw Ghetto

As a way of controlling the Jewish population, in 1940 the Germans built a ghetto compound in Warsaw by erecting walls with barbed wire down the middle of streets.

A portion of the Warsaw Ghetto wall.

A portion of the Warsaw Ghetto wall.

Information about the Warsaw Ghetto is posted on the wall.

Information about the Warsaw Ghetto is posted on the wall.

About 360,000 local Jews and 90,000 Jews from other locations were moved here. During the summer of 1942, 300,000 Jews were transported to the Treblinka death camp and gassed. The ghetto was systematically destroyed in 1943 after the remaining occupants were killed or moved to various concentration camps. Today, there is very little left to see, except for a bit of the wall with information plaques.

This building is a survivor from World War II. The facade is pockmarked with bullet holes. It's located on Ul Próżna street, just a few blocks from the Ghetto wall.

This building is a survivor from World War II. The facade is pockmarked with bullet holes. It’s located on Ul Próżna street, just a few blocks from the Ghetto wall.

Monument to the Warsaw Uprising

This is one of the most important landmarks in Warsaw. It commemorates the August 1, 1944 uprising by the Poles against the German Army, just as the Germans were losing ground to the advancing Soviet forces from the east. The Poles fought bravely for 63 days and actually were successful to start, but they were eventually overwhelmed by the Germans. Hitler destroyed the city in retribution for the uprising and about 200,000 Poles were killed. The Soviet Army could have actually helped the Poles, but Stalin told his army to stand down and let the Germans destroy the Polish resistance, to take any “fight” they had left in them, in preparation for the Soviet and communist takeover of the country early in 1945.

The bronze sculpture shows the Polish fighters emerging from the brickwork of their ruined city and descending into the city sewers, which were used as an underground communications system. It was unveiled on August 1, 1989, 45 years after the uprising.

The bronze sculpture shows the Polish fighters emerging from the brickwork of their ruined city and descending into the city sewers, which were used as an underground communications system. It was unveiled on August 1, 1989, 45 years after the uprising.

While modern Warsaw is far removed from the horrors of World War II, I was glad to see the remaining bits of history, so that those of us who now visit have an opportunity to remember and honor those who gave their lives defending their country from tyranny.

Reference: Lonely Planet Poland Travel Guide

Sights of Warsaw – Part I

Warsaw is Poland’s largest city and the country’s capital. It has a number of sights to entertain the tourist. If I had to make a choice and could only visit either Krakow or Warsaw, I would pick Krakow. However Warsaw is still quite interesting and we found it easy to spend a couple days wandering the sights prior to our departure from Poland. For a map of places we visited in Poland, click here.

A decorative ledge support staring down on us in Warsaw Old Town.

A decorative ledge support staring down on us in Warsaw Old Town.

This post will focus on some of the general tourist highlights and my follow-up post will focus on several key World War II sights in Warsaw.

A fountain in the Saxon Gardens, Warsaw's first public park (early 18th century). The park is modeled on the gardens at Versailles, France.

A fountain in the Saxon Gardens, Warsaw’s first public park (early 18th century). The park is modeled on the gardens at Versailles, France.

Warsaw is a big city, but it has an extensive tram and bus system, which are pretty easy to navigate. Any of the hotels will have a good map with the primary tourist destinations highlighted. You can find about any kind of food in Warsaw.

One of our delicious meals in Warsaw.

One of our delicious meals in Warsaw.

In addition to traditional Polish fare, we found an excellent Indian restaurant on the Royal Way.

Palaces

There are a number of palaces in Warsaw and the two below are just a sample.

Wilanów Palace

This is a very impressive 17th century palace, a tiny bit reminiscent of Versailles, but on a much smaller scale. It was a summer residence of the Polish king.

A view of Wilanów Palace, with its beautiful gardens.

A view of Wilanów Palace, with its beautiful gardens.

Another view of Wilanów Palace.

Another view of Wilanów Palace.

The best and most impressive views are on the eastern side, which leads down to a lake. Be sure to visit the manicured gardens.

Palace on the Water

Located in the expansive Łazienki Park, this late 17th century palace was also a summer residence of the Polish king, Stanisław August. It is built on a narrow lake.

An exterior view of the Palace on the Water.

An exterior view of the Palace on the Water.

It was undergoing some restoration work during our visit, but is still very impressive.

Interior view of the Palace on the Water.

Interior view of the Palace on the Water.

The Park itself is definitely worth wandering for its the impressive gardens and fountains, and they\Park has Chopin concerts in the summer.

Old Town

Warsaw has a historic center, but unfortunately the original Old Town was flattened by the Germans in World War II in retribution for the Polish uprising (more on that in my next post).

The Royal Way leads north into Old Town from modern Warsaw.

The Royal Way leads north into Old Town from modern Warsaw.

The Royal Palace (on the right) is at the entrance to Warsaw's Old Town. It has been reconstructed since World War II.

The Royal Palace (on the right) is at the entrance to Warsaw’s Old Town. It has been reconstructed since World War II.

The Barbican. A main medieval gate into Old Town Warsaw.

The Barbican. A main medieval gate into Old Town Warsaw.

A horse-drawn carriage on a street in Old Town Warsaw.

A horse-drawn carriage on a street in Old Town Warsaw.

The Old Town has been restored over the past 50 years, although I found the restoration a little less impressive than Gdansk. I think my impression was affected by the construction work going on in one of the main squares during our visit that made the area a bit less atmospheric.

Visitants’ Church (Visitation Sisters’ Church of St. Joseph)

The world renowned Polish composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849) is a local hero. This church, right on the Royal Way that leads to Old Town is significant since Chopin played the organ here. The Visitants’ Church was constructed in the mid 1700’s and survived the bombings of World War II.

The Baroque exterior of the Visitants' Church.

The Baroque exterior of the Visitants’ Church.

Interior of the Visitants' Church.

Interior of the Visitants’ Church.

There is also a Chopin Museum nearby, but we did not make it to the museum. Also along the Royal Way are some other interesting churches.

St. Anne's Church, considered the most ornate church in Warsaw. It escaped major damage in World War II.

St. Anne’s Church, considered the most ornate church in Warsaw. It escaped major damage in World War II.

Church of the Holy Cross. It contains an urn with the remains of the heart of Frédéric Chopin, which was brought here from Paris after his death, according to his wishes.

Church of the Holy Cross. It contains an urn with the remains of the heart of Frédéric Chopin, which was brought here from Paris after his death, according to his wishes.

Auschwitz – Birkenau

The main gate to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The trains full of Jews and others from across Europe would stop either outside this gate or pass through to unload their unfortunate passengers.

The main gate to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The trains full of Jews and others from across Europe would stop either outside this gate or pass through to unload their unfortunate passengers.

In my previous post, I shared some photos and thoughts about Auschwitz I, the well-known “original” Auschwitz concentration camp. Auschwitz II (or Auschwitz-Birkenau) is located just 3 kilometers from Auschwitz I and was designed more specifically as a death factory and for some, a slave labor camp. More than 1.1 million people passed through here, about 700,000 of which were immediately sent to the gas chambers. When the Soviet Army liberated the camp in January 1945, only 7,000 inmates were left alive.

Guard towers along the 12 kilometers of fence at the camp.

Guard towers along the 12 kilometers of fence at the camp.

The camp could hold about 100,000 people at any given time. Below I provide some images in more or less the order of the process of events that happened to those who suffered this terrible fate.

An example of a freight car that would bring the prisoners to the camp. The prisoners would unload at this spot after long and cramped journey, and after a quick examination, most would be herded to the gas chambers.

An example of a freight car that would bring the prisoners to the camp. The prisoners would unload at this spot after long and cramped journey, and after a quick examination, most would be herded to the gas chambers.

The road from the train unloading area to the gas chambers and crematoria where hundreds of thousands walked to their deaths.

The road from the train unloading area to the gas chambers and crematoria where hundreds of thousands walked to their deaths.

After walking the long road, the victims would wait in these peaceful woods for their turn in the gas chambers.

After walking the long road, the victims would wait in these peaceful woods for their turn in the gas chambers.

A photo of the victims waiting patiently in the woods for the end.

A photo of the victims waiting patiently in the woods for the end.

A picture of the crematoria where the bodies would be burned after gassing.

A picture of the crematoria where the bodies would be burned after gassing.

The ruins of Crematoria II. The building was blown up by the Nazis to try to cover up its purpose.

The ruins of Crematoria II. The building was blown up by the Nazis to try to cover up its purpose.

A plaque noting the pond in the background, where the ashes of thousands were dumped from the crematoria.

A plaque noting the pond in the background, where the ashes of thousands were dumped from the crematoria.

If you were "fortunate" enough to be selected for slave labor, you were processed through this building where you were stripped, shaved, tattooed, showered and given your prison uniform. All of your remaining  possessions were taken away.

If you were “fortunate” enough to be selected for slave labor, you were processed through this building where you were stripped, shaved, tattooed, showered and given your prison uniform. All of your remaining possessions were taken away.

Many women were housed in these brick barracks, with 8 prisoners to a "shelf" covered by rotting straw in a swampy area with no actual floor other than hardened dirt.

Many women were housed in these brick barracks, with 8 prisoners to a “shelf” covered by rotting straw in a swampy area with no actual floor other than hardened dirt.

Most men where housed in these wooden barracks, some of which were horse stables originally.

Most men where housed in these wooden barracks, some of which were horse stables originally.

Inside the wooden barracks. 1,000 men would be housed in a building that previously held 52 horses.

Inside the wooden barracks. 1,000 men would be housed in a building that previously held 52 horses.

The latrines in the barracks. I can't imagine the horror of the living conditions.

The latrines in the barracks. I can’t imagine the horror of the living conditions.

The literal end of the rail line, between Crematoria II and III. On this spot there is now the International Monument to the Camp Victims.

The literal end of the rail line, between Crematoria II and III. On this spot there is now the International Monument to the Camp Victims.

Practical Information:

I would highly suggest starting your visit at Auschwitz I and then driving over to Auschwitz II to continue your tour (lots of parking available outside the camp). The excellent map and guide book you can purchase at the first camp will provide a good overview and directions at Auschwitz II, which is a huge site (425 acres, 98 buildings with ruins of 300 more–be prepared for a lot of walking). Also, Auschwitz II is very well sign posted (as is Auschwitz I), providing information (and some photos) in English, Hebrew as well as Polish and German.

Kraków – Part 2 – Wawel Castle

A miniature layout of Wawel Castle. The main castle and cathedral are at the far end of the display.

A miniature layout of Wawel Castle. The main castle and cathedral are at the far end of the display.

One of the premier tourist sites in Kraków is Wawel Castle, located on a hill above the Vistula River on the southern edge of the old town. Wawel Castle was the home of the Polish kingdom for about 500 years (12th century to 16th century).

A view of Wawel Castle from the Vistula River.

A view of Wawel Castle from the Vistula River.

A great way to see Wawel Castle's exterior is by a carriage ride.

A great way to see Wawel Castle’s exterior is by a carriage ride.

The Bernardyńska Gate to Wawel Castle.

The Bernardyńska Gate to Wawel Castle.

Although a few foundation remnants of the original Castle still exist, what we see today is mainly from the 16th century. Wawel suffered many attacks and lootings by the Swedish and Prussian armies over the centuries. It underwent significant restoration after World War I. Although the Castle sits on a bit of a hill, it cannot be seen from the main square in old Kraków.

The arcaded courtyard of Wawel Castle.

The arcaded courtyard of Wawel Castle.

One of the ceilings in Wawel Castle.

One of the ceilings in Wawel Castle.

In the Hall of the Senators, with its magnificent Biblical tapestries.

In the Hall of the Senators, with its magnificent Biblical tapestries.

In the Hall of the Deputies - although it's hard to tell, this is an image of the ceiling with 30 individually carved human heads, representing the cycle of life from birth to death. There were originally 194 carved heads (completed around the year 1535), these 30 are all that remain.

In the Hall of the Deputies – although it’s hard to tell, this is an image of the ceiling with 30 individually carved human heads, representing the cycle of life from birth to death. There were originally 194 carved heads (completed around the year 1535), these 30 are all that remain.

A major draw to the castle grounds is Wawel Cathedral, where numerous royal coronations and funerals have taken place. Inside, many of the tombs of Polish kings are seen. The current Cathedral dates from 1364, and is the third church on the site.

The exterior of Wawel Cathedral has a number of interesting facades.

The exterior of Wawel Cathedral has a number of interesting facades.

One of the chapels in Wawel Cathedral.

One of the chapels in Wawel Cathedral.

Another view of Wawel Cathedral, with its ornate decorations.

Another view of Wawel Cathedral, with its ornate decorations.

The Castle is very busy, so plan ahead – we bought our tickets the day before we wanted to visit, and each ticket has a specific entry time (you can wander the grounds for free). There are five different ticket options, so you have to decide what you want to visit, such as the State Rooms, the Royal Private Apartments, the Crown Treasury & Armory, Oriental Art Exhibit, or Lost Wawel (where you see some of the old original foundations and other artifacts found at Wawel from ancient times). We toured the State Apartments and really enjoyed the artwork and beauty of the ornate chambers.

Note that backpacks are not allowed in the interior rooms, and must be checked into a locker. Due to severe restrictions on photographs, it’s almost impossible to take pictures inside the Castle and the Cathedral – I captured just the few above. So, you’ll have to take my word for it…visiting Wawel Castle and Cathedral are must-dos on a visit to Kraków.

Kraków, Poland – One of Europe’s Finest Cities – Part 1

When people think of great European cities, the standard list includes Paris, London and Rome, which of course all certainly belong on the list. Not too many people would name Kraków, and largely because they don’t know much about it.

The Royal Way in Kraków, which is the main thoroughfare through the old town. Very little vehicular traffic allowed in the old town, making it a pleasant place to walk.

The Royal Way in Kraków, which is the main thoroughfare through the old town. Very little vehicular traffic allowed in the old town, making it a pleasant place to walk.

Kraków was our favorite city in Poland and it’s one of our favorite cities in Europe. We love it because there are many things to see, it has a very classy feel to it, the people were wonderful, we had a great place to stay and the food (if you like hearty fare) was excellent. Kraków is a large, modern city, but the charming old town is relatively compact.

Our perfect apartment in Krakow, just a few minutes by foot from the old town. It is called Krakow Parkside Apartments. Highly recommended.

Our perfect apartment in Krakow, just a few minutes by foot from the old town. It is called Krakow Parkside Apartments. Highly recommended.

This is the first of three posts on Kraków. This great city also makes a good base for exploring the remains of the infamous Auschwitz Death Camps as well, which are located about 66 km (41 miles) west.

For a map of places we visited in Poland, click here.

Below are a few of the things that make Kraków a great place to visit. The list of things to see could go on and on, with a number of other museums, churches, statues and other historic places that we simply did not have time to visit.

Horse Carriage Rides. A highlight of visiting Kraków is taking a carriage ride around the old town. The rides start in Rynek Square and go to the north edge of old town before heading to south to Wawel Castle and returning to the Square.

The stately horse carriages in Rynek Square.

The stately horse carriages in Rynek Square.

The ride cost about $10 US per person. It was a fun way to see the city and to enjoy the atmosphere. The carriages, drivers and horses are dressed up and ready to show you the town.

Getting ready for our ride.

Getting ready for our ride.

Kraków Fortifications. Much of the original city was destroyed in the 13th century by the Tatar invasions. The walls and towers we see today were built afterwards in the 13th – 15th centuries.

The Barbican, one of the few surviving structures of its kind in Europe. It was built around 1498. It has seven turrets, 130 loopholes (for firing arrows) and the walls are 3 meters thick. It helped defend the Florian Gate, which is part of the remaining defenses on the north side of Kraków's old town.

The Barbican, one of the few surviving structures of its kind in Europe. It was built around 1498. It has seven turrets, 130 loopholes (for firing arrows) and the walls are 3 meters thick. It helped defend the Florian Gate, which is part of the remaining defenses on the north side of Kraków’s old town.

What remains of these fortifications is on the north side of the old town. Although many of the old walls were torn down in the 19th century, there is a ring-shaped park and walking paths that encircle old Kraków, following the foundations of the city walls.

Part of the old city walls, near the Florian Gate, the only one of the eight original gates remaining.

Part of the old city walls, near the Florian Gate, the only one of the eight original gates remaining.

For a pleasant stroll and variety in exploring the town, take advantage of these paths.

Rynek Główny (Square). This is the heart of old Kraków and is the largest medieval square in Europe. Its layout was drawn up in 1257. During our visit, there was a festival going on, with lots of music, dancing, and numerous food stalls – we found it hard to pass any of these up! Sausages, potatoes, breads, deserts and other Polish specialties were to be found everywhere.

A roasting pig on Rynek Square.

A roasting pig on Rynek Square.

The tower on the left is the only remaining part of the 15th century Town Hall. On the right is the Cloth Hall, both are in the central part of Rynek Square.

The tower on the left is the only remaining part of the 15th century Town Hall. On the right is the Cloth Hall, both are in the central part of Rynek Square.

Also in Rynek Square is the Cloth Hall, which was the center of Kraków’s medieval clothing trade. There are numerous shops here (and a good place to get gelato), as well as the ticket office and entrance for the “Rynek Underground” exhibit, which provides an extensive view of excavated ruins underneath the Square, and exhibits of medieval life in Kraków.

A view of some of the medieval ruins in the extensive underground displays. Hard to get good photos, pretty dark down there.

A view of some of the medieval ruins in the extensive underground displays. Hard to get good photos, pretty dark down there.

Come to the Square at night for special atmosphere. There are lots of good restaurants around the Square.

Rynek Square at night.

Rynek Square at night.

St. Mary's Church with its uneven towers faces Rynek Square.

St. Mary’s Church with its uneven towers faces Rynek Square.

Rynek Square is also the location of St. Mary’s Church, one of the most beautiful churches in Poland (and Europe for that matter). It is home of the Veit Stoss wood-carved pentaptych (three panel) altarpiece which took 10 years to complete and was consecrated in 1489. It is magnificent, and is considered one of the most important pieces of medieval art of its kind.

The marvelous Veit Stoss pentaptych in St. Mary's Church, Krakow.

The marvelous Veit Stoss pentaptych in St. Mary’s Church, Krakow.

The pentaptych is only opened at certain times during the day, so check across the street (to the south of the visitor’s entrance) for times and tickets.

Another view in St. Mary's Church - it takes awhile to absorb all the artwork in this church.

Another view in St. Mary’s Church – it takes awhile to absorb all the artwork in this church.

Church of SS Peter & Paul. This is a Jesuit church dating back to 1583. It’s on the Royal Way from Rynek Square to Wawel Castle, and has statues of the 12 apostles on columns at the front gate.

Church of SS Peter & Paul. Note the statues of the 12 apostles in front.

Church of SS Peter & Paul. Note the statues of the 12 apostles in front.

We were able to attend a concert in the large open interior on a Sunday evening, with a talented ensemble playing a number of classical compositions, including Vivaldi, Chopin, Bach, Mozart, Handel and others. This was particularly delightful given the setting and acoustics of the church.

The musicians at our concert in the Church of SS Peter & Paul

The musicians at our concert in the Church of SS Peter & Paul

In future posts I will share some images of Wawel Castle and the Jewish Quarter, including Schindler’s Factory (recall the epic Steven Spielberg movie “Schindler’s List”).

Reference: Lonely Planet Travel Guide – Poland

 

Toruń – Poland’s Best Preserved Medieval City

About 106 miles (or 170 km) south of Gdansk is the medieval city of Toruń. It has been well preserved over the centuries and fortunately was not damaged in World War II. Toruń is the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543), the great mathematician and astronomer who placed the sun (rather than the earth) at the center of our solar system. His home is here along with his statue in the main square.

Nicolaus Copernicus' house in the center of Toruń.

Nicolaus Copernicus’ house in the center of Toruń.

Statue of Copernicus and the Town Hall tower, which you can climb for great views.

Statue of Copernicus and the Town Hall tower, which you can climb for great views.

There is a lot to see in Toruń, including some lovely medieval churches, the town square, the city walls and other historic buildings. The Town Hall is now a Regional Museum that includes other sites around Toruń. Be sure to climb the tower of the Town Hall to get a great view of the old town and surrounding countryside.

A view of Toruń, looking northeast along the Vistula river, from the Town Hall Tower.

A view of Toruń, looking northeast along the Vistula river, from the Town Hall Tower.

A view from the Toruń Town Hall Tower - The huge, late 13th century St. Mary's Church is on the right.

A view from the Toruń Town Hall Tower – The huge, late 13th century St. Mary’s Church is on the right.

The interior of St. Mary's Church. There are some well-preserved frescoes on some of the walls.

The interior of St. Mary’s Church. There are some well-preserved frescoes on some of the walls.

The ruins of the Teutonic Castle (from the early 1200’s) are limited; it was destroyed by the townsfolk in 1454 as part of a rebellion of the Teutonic rule—they did a good job!

The ruins of the Teutonic Knights' castle in Toruń.

The ruins of the Teutonic Knights’ castle in Toruń.

Some scary displays in the dungeon of the Knights' castle in Toruń.

Some scary displays in the dungeon of the Knights’ castle in Toruń.

However, there is a good display in the cellar/dungeon of the castle and a number of signs around the castle grounds explaining its history and features. The Latrine Tower and connecting bridge are well preserved.

The Latrine Tower of the Teutonic Castle in Toruń.

The Latrine Tower of the Teutonic Castle in Toruń.

We found that parking a car is nearly impossible in the old town, so we found a great car park right outside the city walls near a bridge over the Vistula River that was within walking distance of our apartment.

Toruń's city walls and the 15th century Burghers Hall, which was the home of the Brotherhood of St. George, whose membership comprised the elite of Toruń.

Toruń’s city walls and the 15th century Burghers Hall, which was the home of the Brotherhood of St. George, whose membership comprised the elite of Toruń.

We had a lovely stay in the old town at a place called Apartamenty Anielskie. Toruń is definitely worth an overnight stop. Take a walk along the east (river) side of the town to get some great views of the old city walls and gates.

The Leaning Tower, an interesting part of the city walls of Toruń. It started to lean because of the soft ground - about 5 degrees so far, but still standing!

The Leaning Tower, an interesting part of the city walls of Toruń. It started to lean because of the soft ground – about 5 degrees so far, but still standing!

Kwidzyn and Gniew – Other Great Teutonic Castles in Northern Poland

The German Teutonic Knights built numerous castles in Norther Poland in the 13th and 14th centuries. Here are two others in addition to Malbork worth visiting. (For a map of sites we visited in Poland, click here).

Kwidzyn Castle

Kwidzyn Castle doesn’t receive near the number of visitors that Malbork Castle does, and yet it’s one of the more interesting castles I’ve visited from an architectural standpoint. It has two towers extending from the main structure by long arcaded bridges, one of which is a latrine tower and the other is over a well.

Kwidzyn Castle with the Latrine Tower in the foreground. A long way down from your toilet seat!

Kwidzyn Castle with the Latrine Tower in the foreground. A long way down from your toilet seat!

The elevated hall leading to the Latrine Tower, with many displays of old farm tools and home furnishings.

The elevated hall leading to the Latrine Tower, with many displays of old farm tools and home furnishings.

Kwidzyn Castle with the Well Tower extending from the main structure.

Kwidzyn Castle with the Well Tower extending from the main structure.

If you like medieval churches too, Kwidzyn is a great stop because it has a cathedral and castle connected right together!

The Kwidzyn Cathedral, conveniently connected directly to the castle.

The Kwidzyn Cathedral, conveniently connected directly to the castle.

Interior of the 14th century Kwidzyn Cathedral. There are many well preserved frescoes (note opposite wall).

Interior of the 14th century Kwidzyn Cathedral. There are many well preserved frescoes (note opposite wall).

The castle and the adjoining cathedral were built in the early 14th century and somehow they survived World War II without a scratch; however the castle did suffer under the Prussians in the 18th century, who pulled down a couple of sections. But thankfully most of it remains intact. The main castle is a museum, containing a variety of natural history displays, medieval art and farming implements in the hallways and towers and some torture devices in the dungeon.

The dungeon of Kwidzyn Catstle.

The dungeon of Kwidzyn Catstle.

One torture device in the dungeon of Kwidzyn Castle. You would have to sit in one position and couldn't move. Also note shackles on wall to the right.

One torture device in the dungeon of Kwidzyn Castle. You would have to sit in one position and couldn’t move. Also note shackles on wall to the right.

Gniew Castle

We also made a quick stop at one other castle near Kwidzyn that is now a business convention center. Gniew Castle was started in the late 13th century.

Exterior of Gniew Castle.

Exterior of Gniew Castle.

It was a famous location, known for hosting lavish banquets and many guests. In the early 1600’s Gniew Castle was the site of a year-long siege by the Swedish who carried off many of the castle’s treasures.

Interior courtyard of Gniew Castle, it could accomodate 500 guests for banquets.

Interior courtyard of Gniew Castle, it could accomodate 500 guests for banquets.

Malbork – Europe’s Largest Gothic Castle

Malbork Castle sits on the east bank of the Nogat River, a tributary of the mighty Vistula River.

Malbork Castle sits on the east bank of the Nogat River, a tributary of the mighty Vistula River.

My first general awareness of Malbork Castle came from a Lufthansa flight magazine on a trip to Europe. Immediately I though “this is a place I need to visit” and in August 2013 I was able to do so with my family. Malbork is about 30 km (18 miles) southeast of Gdansk, Poland and can be visited by car or train from Gdansk.

Places we visited in Poland in 2013.

Places we visited in Poland in 2013.

This huge castle is one of Poland’s greatest tourist attractions. We were astounded at its size. We were “running” and it took us close to three hours to visit.

The massive gate entrance to the Middle Castle - Malbork.

The massive gate entrance to the Middle Castle – Malbork.

Malbork was built by the Teutonic Knights (a German religious order of monk-warriors founded during the Third Crusade to Jerusalem) and Malbork was their headquarters and seat of the Grand Masters for 150 years starting in 1309 (construction on the castle started in the 1370’s). World War II inflicted significant damage to parts of the castle, but it is largely intact and restored.

A view taken from the Main Tower of the High Castle, overlooking the Palace of the Grand Masters, Middle Castle and the Nogat River.

A view taken from the Main Tower of the High Castle, overlooking the Palace of the Grand Masters, Middle Castle and the Nogat River.

A view of the eastern side of the Middle Castle at Malbork.

A view of the eastern side of the Middle Castle at Malbork.

The primary structures include the High Castle (the stronghold), the Middle Castle (kitchens, rooms for entertaining guests and the Palace of the Grand Masters), and outer walls and buildings. Main sights include the Grand Master’s Palace, the Great Refectory, the High Castle Courtyard and St. Mary’s Church, including St. Anne’s Chapel underneath the church.

Exterior of the Grand Master's Palace.

Exterior of the Grand Master’s Palace.

The Great Refectory, Middle Castle - Malbork. Largest Gothic interior of its kind in Central Europe. Used for banquets and entertaining.

The Great Refectory, Middle Castle – Malbork. Largest Gothic interior of its kind in Central Europe. Used for banquets and entertaining.

The Chapter Room (where business would be conducted) in the High Castle - Malbork.

The Chapter Room (where business would be conducted) in the High Castle – Malbork.

St. Mary's Church, not completely restored from WW II damage.

St. Mary’s Church, not completely restored from WW II damage.

The Last Supper frescoe in St. Mary's Church.

The Last Supper frescoe in St. Mary’s Church.

Tombs of the Grand Masters in St. Anne's Chapel.

Tombs of the Grand Masters in St. Anne’s Chapel.

Courtyard and well in the High Castle - Malbork.

Courtyard and well in the High Castle – Malbork.

Be sure to visit the walls on the south side of the castle. There are interesting displays of medieval machinery and excellent views of the castle buildings and towers from here.

The Latrine Tower on the southwestern corner of the castle grounds. Used for exactly what it sounds like! There was originally water below the tower for "flushing."

The Latrine Tower on the southwestern corner of the castle grounds. Used for exactly what it sounds like! There was originally water below the tower for “flushing.”

There are other Teutonic castles in northern Poland and in another post I will share images of two more, but Malbork is the grandest by far.

Sources: Plaques at Malbork Castle, Top Spot Guide: Malbork Castle –  The World of the Teutonic Order, by Marek Stokowski.