Travel

Dinner with the knights

As I gaze from the car window, a stunningly magnificent Malbork Castle comes into view. The Nogat River in the foreground looks almost surreal when a lone kayak appears, gliding on the still waters. A costumed Alicza Michalek, the designated guide, meets us at the entrance of the castle. Dressed in the Teutonic Knight’s tunic and cape, she merges into the medieval milieu. Her voice comes clear above the whistling wind, taking us hundreds of years back in time, to the days of the war-mongering Teutonic Knights (a German Roman  Catholic religious order of  Crusaders), builders of this imposing fortress on Polish lands. The castle was built in order to host the Teutonic Order’s Grand Master, protected by his monastic knights. A masterpiece of defensive and residential architecture of the late Middle Ages, it is the largest castle in the world by surface area, and the largest brick building in Europe built by human hands. Malbork was erected in stages from the early 70s of the 13th century, expanding several times to become the largest fortified Gothic structure, housing over 3,000 knights at one point of time. Functioning as the headquarters of the Teutonic Order for nearly two centuries, its role as a major stronghold was significant in the Teutonic Prussia. Terribly destroyed in the last phase of World War II, the castle rose from the ruins. Intense conservation works are still going on. In 1997, Malbork Castle Complex entered the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List. Every year, during the last week of July, a medieval fair is organised on the earthworks surrounding the castle. Its high point is the “Siege of Malbork”, one of the largest historical re-enactments in Poland. From April through August, one can see stunning Light and Sound shows on the castle grounds.

We follow Alicza like school children on an excursion and make our way through the three concentric sections of the lower, middle and high castles, each with greater security measures and corresponding importance. The medieval heating system set at two levels; heats stones that retain heat for five to six days, providing warmth (+18 °C) inside, against a freezing outside temperature ( – 12 °C). And this heating is provided only for very important people. We enjoy being guided through a maze of corridors, courtyards and grand halls. Alicza explains the various components in each room; the grand refectory is where the grand masters entertained their numerous guests arriving from all over Europe and also held monastic chapters. In the adjacent rooms, monks played games after or before meals to entertain themselves. In one of the rooms, we see a pretty young lady, dressed like a noblewoman, playing the lute, bringing the true flavour of a castle. We see massive kitchens and dumbwaiters to cater to the enormous appetites of the knights. They brewed beer in large scale and each monk consumed four litres of beer per day. An interesting feature is the Toilet Tower, which, in addition to its named purpose, was designed to be the most defensible room of the castle, capable of withstanding months of siege. The entirety is surrounded by wide moats and multiple rows of defensive walls, capable of inducing not only fear in medieval knights, but also awe in the present-day onlooker.

After almost a three-hour tour, we enjoy a lavish lunch at the mortuary. Yes, down in the cellar, a restaurant (Restauracja Piwniczka) is situated right in the castle’s mortuary, with a medieval setting and impressive arches. We feast on trout fish with almond flakes, chicken with cheese, turkey with sauce and wild mushrooms, potato pan cakes, vegetable kebabs, salad, potato fries, cheese cake and apple strudel for dessert. It is indeed a banquet fit for the knights, my most memorable meal in the exalted company of the departed noblemen.


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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 8:06:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/travel/dinner-with-the-knights/article7113495.ece

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