Gdańsk, Poland

Population:    470,000 (City)

1.4 million (Conurbation)

Gdańsk has a unique feel that sets it apart from many other Polish cities. The architecture is far from Polish having been influenced by the many traders and merchants that have passed through the city. This is also highlighted by it’s past as the city has swapped between Polish and German control for much of its history. Located on the edge of Bay of Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea, Gdańsk today is Poland’s fourth largest city as well as it’s principle seaport.

Name

The city is built on the estuary of the Motława river. In-fact the previous name of this river, the Gdania, give the city its name.

History

The official beginning of the Gdańsk date back to the 10th century when in 997 St. Adalbert of Prague baptized its inhabitants. The destruction of the city in WWII allowed archaeologists to excavate the city and found remains that confirm a stronghold, built by Mieszko I, linking Poland to the trade routes of the Baltic Sea.

As the settlement grew many merchants where invited, particularly from the German port town of Lübeck, to set up businesses in the city, quite often on the promise of special privileges. Conflict arose with locals and eventually in 1308, with support of the town of Lübeck and amid great bloodshed known as the Gdańsk Slaughter, the Teutonic Knights took control of the city and restored order. The Knights quickly turned the city into a major trading port and in 1361 the city became an active member of the Hanseatic Trading League. The city prospered and as German immigration increased towards the end of the century the New Town was built.

The 14th century saw incredible growth in the power and wealth of the Polish kings. Eventually war broke out between them and the Teutonic Knights which resulted in a great victory for Poland at the Battle of Grunwald (Battle of Tannenberg) in 1410 and saw the beginning of the end for the Knights. By the end of the following century, Gdańsk was once again part of the Kingdom of Poland, the largest city in the kingdom with a population of more than 40,000, a great percentage of which those of German heritage.

At the end of the 18th century Poland was divided up between Prussia, Russia and Austria and the city once again became German, with its Polish minority systematically Germanised. The Prussian state eventually laid the base for the creation of Germany, who after losing WWI were forced to give Poland a access to the Baltic Sea with a tract of land known as the Polish Corridor. Gdańsk however, because of its large German population was designated a Free State, under the protection of the League of Nations.

The pan-German ideas of Hitler saw the city come under attack from Nazi Germany, the battleship Schleswig-Holstein first shots on the city were also the first shots of WWII. The Russian Red Army showed up in 1945 and the city was laid to waist.

The reconstruction of the city was enormous with virtually the entire city having to be rebuilt giving us the wonderful city we have today.

Sights

Long Market (Długi Targ)

Originally established in the 13th century and by the arrival of the Teutonic Knights it had become the city’s main thoroughfare. Under the rule of the Polish monarchs the street was known as the Royal Route as the Royal Family were entertained in the tenement houses than line the street that were occupied by the wealthiest and most noble families of the city. The market is also home to the Neptune Fountain, a 17th century fountain which today is one of the symbols of the city.

St. Mary’s Church

Built in the 14th century it is today one of the three largest brick churches in the world along with San Petronio Basilica in Bologna and the Frauenkirche in Munich. Today it is Roman Catholic but from the middle of the 16thcentury until 1945, when the city became Polish, it was used for Lutheran services and was the second largest one in the world. The church measures 105m (346ft) long and is 66m (217ft) wide, as a result it can hold more than 25,000 worshippers.

Golden Gate

Built between 1612-14, to replace an earlier Gothic gate, it along with the High Gate and the Prison Tower formed part of the city’s fortifications. Above the gate, are a series of figures symbolising the ideal citizen, these include Peace, Freedom, Wealth, Fame, Agreement, Justice, Piety and prudence. The gate is decorated with an inscription in latin which reads

“In agreement small republics grow, because of disagreement great republics fall”

This version of the gate dates from 1957 after the previous one was destroyed during Soviet shelling in WWII.

Town Hall (Ratusz)

Built on the intersection of Long Lane and Long Market, the wonderful Gothic-Renaissance building is today the second highest in the city after St. Mary’s Church. The oldest parts of the building date back to the 14th century when the building was much smaller. Over the following centuries the building has been gradually expanded including the addition of a high dome in 1492 and bell tower. In 1556 a fire damaged the building and the subsequent rebuilding was done with a strong Renaissance influence by Dutch builders Wilhelm Van Der Meer and Dirk Daniels.

GALLERY VIEW