Part 3 - Pomerania, Warmia and Mazury, lakes and castles
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Let's visit some of the great castles and cathedrals of Pomerania, Warmia and Mazury - Bytow, Frombork, Lidzbark, Malbork, Nidzica, Olsztyn, Swieta Lipka. The great Polish astronomer and mathematician carried out his revolutionary work at several of them.

Pomerania - Pomorze in Polish - is the area along the Baltic coast west of the Vistula River. It has been inhabited by Slavic people, closely related to Poles for thousands of years. However, the western part became colonized by German settlers and came under the rule of the princes of Brandenburg in the 16th century. A large part of the population resisted germanization, in particular the Kashuby (Kaszuby) who still today speak their own dialect. The eastern part, closer to the Vistula valley remained under Polish control until the partition of Poland at the end of the 18thC, then returned to Poland after World War I. After World War II the entire region returned to Poland. Along the Baltic coast it is mostly flat, inland is hilly with many lakes and forests.

Kashuby glass work Driving from Toruń to Gdansk it is worth making a detour through this pretty and peaceful country. Of particular interest is Bytów at the heart of the Kashuby region.
The castle was built by the Teutonic Knights at the end of the 14thC. Now fully restored, part is a hotel, part is the Museum of Kashubia. Here you may see many examples of local art and embroidery. The local school-children are verytalented as demonstrated by their work in glass and paintings.

beach The entire coast of Pomerania is lined with white sand beaches and summer resorts, the most popular are those along the 34km long Hel peninsula, close to the modern port city of Gdynia. A spectacular feature is Słowiński National Park with many miles of sand dunes which are gradually being blown inland by the prevailing winds. They reach a height up to 120m (400 feet), see photos . They may be reached from the fishing village and resort of Łeba, drive to the end of the road then hire an electric cart, horse carriage or bicycles.

The Teutonic Knights came here after the Crusades and built many castles in Warmia and Mazury during the 14th and 15th centuries. Most of them are structures of red brick. The largest is Malbork, the capital of the Order. It actually consists of two castles and adjacent buildings surrounded by fortifications, most of which still exist. Inside there is a museum with many artifacts and a great collection of amber jewelery and figures. You may visit either with a group or by yourself. If you want to take pictures, buy a special ticket.
On your way to Malbork you might wish to stop at the small, picturesque town of Pelplin. The ancient cathedral is worth a visit, but more important is the museum, in which you can see one of the few original Gutenberg Bibles in existence.

The Polish Bishops of Warmia also built fortified cathedrals and castles. North of Malbork you may visit the fortified cathedral of Frombork standing on a hill above the town. It is here that the astronomer and mathematician Nicolas Copernicus completed his work "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" which demonstrated mathematically that the earth, and the other planets, revolve around the sun. He died here shortly afterwards, in 1543. Almost a hundred years later Galileo built a telescope and was excommunicated for proving that Copernicus' theory was true!
Lidzbark - Great Hall Copernicus carried out part of his earlier work at another castle of the Bishops of Warmia Lidzbark, a huge square castle with an internal galleried courtyard, located picturesquely on a cliff above the river and the town.

Olsztyn is a the capital of the Warmia and Mazury region and serves as a convenient startng point for exploring this extensive lake region with many summer resorts and great opportunities for kayaking and sailing. There are several interesting medieval buildings and churches in the town. Its castle, also belonging to the Warmia Bishops, was also a place were Copernicus did some of his work. In the museum of this castle you can see some of his instruments and original drawings.
In the heart of the lake region, the 17th and 18thC Baroque monastery and church of Święta Lipka are well worth a visit to see the marvelous painted ceilings and richly carved altars. Take a walk through the cloisters surrounding the church in which many frescoes are preserved.
If you still have enough energy, within a radius of a few kilometers you can see more castles of the Teutonic Knights at Ryn, Reszel and Kętrzyn.

On your way back from Olsztyn to Warsaw you pass the site of two major battles that both changed history. At Grunwald (Tannenberg in German) the combined forces of Poland and Lithuania dealt a crushing blow to the Teutonic Knights in 1410 and stopped their territorial expansion. 500 years later, in August 1914 the German army crushed the Russians, who never recovered. This disaster lead directly to the Russian Revolution. There is a small museum at the site.
Driving further south you pass the southernmost of the Teutonic castles at Nidzica, now a hotel, and the ruins of the great castle of the Mazovian Princes at Ciechanów. Here too another decisive battle raged in August 1920, when Polish forces halted the drive westward of Soviet armies in what has been called "The Miracle of the Vistula".

Hydrofoil See photos of places discussed above.

How to get there. If you don't want to drive a car, you can go by train or by bus.

  • Between Warsaw and Olsztyn, several direct fast trains every day, about 4 hour travel time.
  • Between Malbork and Gdansk many direct trains daily, just under 1 hour.
  • Resorts on the Hel peninsula accesible by trains from Gdynia and Gdansk.
  • Other places mentioned accessible by bus.
  • The Hel peninsula is also accesible by frequent ferries from Gdynia and Gdansk
  • You may take hydrofoil from Frombork or Elbląg to Kaliningrad in Russia (1 1/2 hours - visa required).

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Plock, Gniezno.
Torun, Pomerania.
Map of Tour.

Detail maps for all Poland, including city plans.

LISTED PLACES for detailed information.

Bytów Castle and Museum

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Copyright © 2002 B. C. Biega. All rights reserved.

Last update February 2004