Elk is a lovely Masurian town that combines forests with lakes to create fantastic opportunities to indulge in different sports, like paddling down a river by canoe, horse-riding and cycling, to name just a few. One of the most favoured tourist attractions of Elk is the possibility of travelling by narrow gauge railway to the town of Turow (the total route length is 48 km). That said, visitors to Elk more than anything else value the peace and quiet that the town provides.
There are many fine examples of interesting architecture in Elk. The Art Nouveau tenements at Armia Krajowa and Kosciuszki Streets are particularly impressive sights, without doubt but you should also see the water tower and the neo-gothic St. Adalbert’s Church. Close to the lake shore you can find the remains of an imposing fortified castle of the Teutonic Knights, dating from the 14th century. You should also consider combining a ride on the narrow-gauge railway with a visit to the Railway Museum, home to a vast collection of historic locomotives and engines that have been stored here since 1918.
A lure for people in search of unpolluted nature and astounding landscapes, Elk is a wonderfully green city with extensive areas of greenery giving it a unique character. Canoeing down the River Elk is one of the many pastimes that you can enjoy. Another recreational activity is hunting, which can be practised in the thickly forested area around Elk. Several cycling trails have been developer recently to cater for his growing sport.
Covering a total area of 395 ha and with a population of nearly 60,000, Elk is the third largest town of Warmia and Mazuria, a region in the north-eastern part of the country. The town is located in the eastern part of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodship, 230 km from Warsaw.
Surrounded by forests, Elk is located on a shore of the glacier-formed Lake Elckie; a river of the same name also flows through the town. The Elckie Lake land area is mostly hilly upland. As it lies in the continental climate zone, summers in Elk are often dry and hot while winters are cold with heavy snowfalls.
Elk began with the building of a castle in 1396-1400, supervised by Ulrich von Jungingen, later to become a Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights. Many settlers from Masovia came to live in the vicinity of the castle, which was located on an island on Lake Elckie. In 1425 the Grand Master of Teutonic Order, Paul von Russdorf, founded a village south of the castle and bestowed the Chelm law on it. Ten years later Elk received the privilege to organise an annual market.
After the Thirteen Year War (1454-1466) Elk found itself in the Teutonic hands and in decline, loosing its town rights in 1499.
Elk was repeatedly ravaged by plagues in 1559, 1563, 1572 and 1653. In 1655 the Swedish occupation began and the inhabitants of Elk were forced to pay a very high tribute. Governed by Brandenburg in 1657, the town soon came under the control of the Kingdom of Prussia. In 1670 Elk regained its town rights.
An immense fire swept through Elk in 1688, devastating the church, the town hall and some 80 houses. The 18th century brought about a period of considerable growth. Important institutions which were opened during that time included a school in 1764 and the first pharmacy in 1788.
Not every visitor to Elk was peaceful during these times. In 1794 Kosciuszko’s insurgents passed through the town en route to Prussia. In 1806, during the Napoleonic Wars, Elk was taken by Russia; only to change hands once again a year later, this time to come under the control of the French army.
With the opening of railway links to Königsberg, Goldap and Pisz in the second half the 19th century, the town began to prosper and grew rapidly. Its infrastructure was improved with the introduction of a new fresh water supply system and electricity.
In 1888 the castle was converted into a prison and it served this function until 1976.
Owing to its location on the front line, Elk suffered severe damage during World War I. The work of destruction returned in the years 1939-1945. After the war Elk was returned to Poland.