Castle of the Order of St John, Swobnica
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Castle of the Order of St John

Swobnica

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The castle attained its current appearance through numerous phases of construction; all these phases - from the Middle Ages to the 18th century as well as various 19th-century additions - are still clearly evident in its appearance and structure. The building exhibits features of both a palace and a castle, its location being of a typically defensive nature. Having remained under the control of the Knights Hospitaller (the Order of St John) from 1377 until the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the castle was then taken over by the Hohenzollern margraves of the Brandenburg-Schwedt line (years 1680-1788); later on, the Berlin-based main line of the Hohenzollern family took over the castle, which remained in its hands right until 1945. The 17th-century residence which adjoins the medieval peripheral castle wall on the inner courtyard side remains the most valuable example of the Baroque architecture in Pomerania.

History

Originally conceived as a defensive structure which took the form of a keep accompanied by a residence, the castle was erected by the Knights Hospitaller, who were invited to establish their presence in Pomerania during the second half of the 12th century, receiving a generous gift of land in exchange for the military services which they rendered, as has been the practice in other parts of Europe. All that remains today of this first phase of construction of the castle is the five-storey brick tower. Remnants of the quadrangular defensive walls which had originally been topped with a crenellated parapet are believed to have survived by incorporation into the peripheral walls of the three outer wings of the castle. Both the northern and the eastern wings date back to the 15th century. The southern wing is a 16th century addition; having been gutted by fire in 1621, this section of the castle was never rebuilt. The final transformation of the fortified structure dating back to the Gothic era into a Baroque residence took place during the final quarter of the 17th century, when the manor was acquired by duchess Dorothea, the second wife of Frederick William, the great elector of Brandenburg. Later on, the castle became the property of her son, Philip William and then of her grandsons - Frederick William and Henry Philip. It was during the times of Philip William that the most extensive alteration works were carried out at the castle. The design for the alteration works was most likely produced by Cornelius Ryckwaert, an architect from the Netherlands. Among the individual involved with the subsequent design and construction works, one that deserves a mention is the renowned Berlin-based architect Arnold Nering. Towards the end of the 18th century, the castle was taken over by the Prussian Crown and was occupied by successive administrators and tenants. After 1945, the building was nationalised and remained in use as an administrative building of the local State Agricultural Holding (PGR) right until the 1970s. At the present stage, the building remains disused and has been descending into a state of ruin for more than 30 years. The current owner of the building is the commune administration in Banie.

Description

The castle is located in the southern part of Swobnica, in the Tywa river valley, on a small hill situated on an artificial islet at the edge of the former Castle Lake, which has almost completely dried out by now. A single road had once led to the castle, which was originally accessible by means of a wooden bridge which was then replaced by a causeway running on top of an embankment. Originally conceived as a typical fortified structure during the Gothic period, the castle has later taken on the character of a Baroque residence following a series of alteration works which were conducted throughout the ages. The outer, exposed brick walls of the castle have retained much of their original austerity; the courtyard side, however, now featured plastered façades with a sophisticated architectural décor, lending it the air of an opulent, elegant residence.

At the present stage, the building consists of a fortified tower and three wings, positioned perpendicularly towards one another and surrounding an inner courtyard designed on a roughly square plan and opening towards the west. It is believed that the southern defensive wall may have still been extant in the mid-19th century, separating the castle complex itself from the castle grounds; today, parts of this wall have been reconstructed. The castle tower, looming above the access road leading into the courtyard from the north, is a brick structure designed on a roughly square floor plan, its walls being more than 5 metres thick. The bottom section of the tower, with its height of approximately 11 metres, then gives way to a cylindrical upper section, 14 metres in height and featuring an irregular arrangement of small windows. Initially, this 25-metre fortified tower was most likely topped with a conical roof, although it has since been replaced with an observation deck. The two-storey, single-bay wing adjoining the tower, added at a later date, remains in a state of ruin. The eastern wing - a three-storey structure with a basement, featuring a tall wall base on the front façade side, serves as the corps de logis of the palace. Its symmetrical, 16-axial façade with a three-storey pseudo-avant-corps originally crowned with a triangular tympanum is currently covered with a tall hip roof. The interior space originally allocated to an impressive, grand staircase is located on the middle axis of the structure. The interiors of this part of the castle generally follow a two-bay layout, although there are also a few spacious rooms which take up the entire width of the building, being illuminated by windows positioned on both sides thereof. The southern wing is a two-storey, single-bay structure, its outer façade once overlooking the extensive parterre gardens which reached all the way towards the shores of the lake.

The castle tower was recently partially restored and is open to visitors. The northern wing of the palace has unfortunately experienced a complete collapse. The eastern wing remains in the best technical condition and features a number of valuable fixtures and fittings, including the main staircase, crafted by the royal master carpenter Nicolaus Reichmann in 1682 as well as the remnants of original flooring, fireplace surrounds, stucco ceiling decorations and window joinery. The roof truss above the main body of the palace is also in a relatively good condition. The interiors of the southern wing have been gutted by numerous fires and remain almost completely inaccessible today.

Access to the historical monument is limited; the castle tower is made available to visitors during various local events for a limited time. The entire site remains under supervision.

compiled by Beata Makowska, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Szczecin, 02-12-2014.

Bibliography

  • Hinterkeuser G., Wildenbruch. Swobnica, Schlösser und Gärten der Neumark, Heft 4, 2007
  • Kalita-Skwirzyńska K., Swobnica-zamek [in:] Zamki i rezydencje na Pomorzu (collective work), Szczecin 2006, pp. 124-127

General information

  • Type: castle
  • Chronology: 2 poł. XIV w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Swobnica
  • Location: Voivodeship zachodniopomorskie, district gryfiński, commune Banie
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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