Balga Castle - Prussia - Russia
Balga (Russian: замок
Бальга; German: Burg Balga; Lithuanian: Balga; Polish: Balga)
was a medieval castle of the Teutonic Knights in Kaliningrad
Oblast, Russia. The castle ruins are located on the shore of the Vistula Lagoon, north of Mamonovo in the Pogranichny municipality
of Bagrationovsky District, about 30 km (19 mi) southwest of Kaliningrad. The hill of Balga had been the site of
an Old Prussian (Warmian) fortress called Honeda. The fort had been unsuccessfully besieged by the Wettin margrave Henry III
of Meissen on his 1237 Prussian Crusade, but was eventually conquered in 1239 by the forces of the Teutonic Order, led by
Grand Marshal Dietrich von Bernheim. Balga was the oldest Ordensburg constructed by the Teutonic
Order in the region of present-day Kaliningrad Oblast, and was built from 1239 to control naval traffic on the Vistula Lagoon.
With the assistance of Duke Otto I of Brunswick-Lüneburg, the Teutonic Knights defeated the Old Prussians along the coastline
of Warmia and Natangia. The subjugation of these pagan peoples led Duke Świętopełk II of Pomerania to declare
war against the Teutonic Order during the 1242 Prussian uprising, although he was eventually forced to abandon his participation
in the uprising. From 1250, Balga was the administrative centre of Kommende Balga
and the seat of a Komtur of the Teutonic Knights. Many Komturs
at Balga like Winrich von Kniprode or Ulrich von Jungingen later rose to the office of the Grand
Master, the highest position in the Teutonic Order.
In 1499, Grand Master Friedrich
von Sachsen had the Kommende dissolved, and upon the Prussian Homage, Balga was part of the Polish Duchy of Prussia
in 1525, and the castle became the residence of George of Polentz, Bishop of Samland. From 1627, parts of the castle were
broken down at the behest of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden during the Polish–Swedish War in order to gain building
material for the construction of the star fort in Pillau (now Baltiysk), a strategically
important port town occupied by the Swedes. Balga was located in the Duchy of Prussia from 1525 and the Kingdom of Prussia
from 1701, where between 1772 and 1829 it belonged to the province of East Prussia. The province was unified with West Prussia
into the Province of Prussia until 1878, when it separated once again and Balga remained in East Prussia until 1945.
During World War II the castle ruins were the site of one of the final
battles between the German Wehrmacht and the Soviet Red Army, with the latter advancing during the East Prussian Offensive.
The German defenders destroyed numerous vehicles by sinking them in the lagoon next to the ruins, and the battle extensively
damaged the castle remains. Following the war Balga was in the section of East Prussia allocated to the Soviet Union at
the Potsdam Conference, and included in the area that was organized into Kaliningrad Oblast of the Russian
SFSR. The area around Balga became a popular site for grave robbers and treasure
hunters hoping to dig up valuables left behind by the castle's previous occupants and the German and Soviet soldiers
who died in World War II. Balga was also the name of a nearby village, which after Soviet sovereignty over the area was renamed
Vesyoloye, but is now abandoned.