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Gdansk coat of arms

Gdansk is a city in northern Poland in the Pomeranian Voivodship, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, with a population of 460,000 (2002). When dealing with the city's pre-1945 existence, English speakers often use the German name Danzig. Part of this may have been because the city for much of its existence was a German-speaking community of traders, and because most English-speaking scholars are more familiar with the German language. Alternative spellings from documents from the medieval and Early Modern periods are Gyddanzyc, Dantzig, Dantzigk or Dantzk.


Motława 2002 r.
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The city is situated at the Motlawa (German: Mottlau) river, that adheres to the swampy area in the delta of the Vistula river. Location in the mouth of the Vistula which waterway systems connects 60% of the area of today's Poland, gives Gdansk unique advantage as the center of the sea trade. In the past Gdansk did a very good job leveraging this advantages and became the biggest city of today's Poland.

A major regional port since the 14th century and subsequently a principal ship-building centre, today's Gdansk remains an important industrial centre despite the development in the 1920s of the nearby port of Gdynia. Both cities combined together also with a spa in Sopot creates metropolitan area of 850,000 people called Tricity.

History of the city

Settlements existed in the area for several centuries before the birth of Christ. The coast was called 'Gothiscandza' by Jordanes; Tacitus also referred to it in his Germania. Both historians believed the area to be populated. Although there were already wooden structures in existence, the year 997 has in recent years been considered to be the year of the foundation of the city itself: in 1997 Poland celebrated the 1000 Years Gdańsk Aniversary of the foundation of Gdańsk by Mieszko I, Duke of a land much later called Poland and subject to the empire "to compete with the ports of Szczecin and Wolin on the Oder River". That same year, Saint Adalbert of Prague entered Prussia from the castle of Gdansk to convert the inhabitants. By 1148, the town had been assigned to the diocese of Wloclawek and Pomerania, while several crusades were ordered by the popes, to 'christianize' the pagan Prussians. Missionary activity was brought by the empire to Pomerania from the west and to eastern Prussia coming from the east via Riga.

A city charter according to Luebeck Law[?] for the city was granted in 1224. Merchants from the Hansa cities of Lübeck and Bremen were the principal founders.

Gdansk rose to become one of the more important of the many trading and fishing ports along the Baltic Sea coast and overtook the nearby city of Elblag. During the period of Fragmentation Poland, the power in Eastern Pomerania (Pomerelia) was taken by local dynasty subdued to polish seignoral princes. In 1295 the last of the Pomerelian ducal dynasty ceded Gdansk to polish king Przemysl II. After his assassination in 1296, the city was temporary ruled by the kings of Bohemia and Poland - Wenceslaus II of Bohemia and his son Wenceslaus III[?]. At the begining of XIV century the region was plunged into war involving Poland and Brandenburg. Brandenburg's fictitious claim to the Gdansk Pomerania was based on a treaty between Wenceslaus III[?] and the Brandenburg which took place on August 8, 1305, promising the Misnia (Meissen) territory to the Czech Kingdom in exchange for the Gdansk Pomerania. The claim was fictitious, because the Czech king Wenceslaus III[?]. had no right to Pomerania, and Brandenburg never ceded Misnia to Bohemia or Poland. During the course of war Gdansk was invaded (November 1308) by the Teutonic Knights, called in by Wladislaw Lokietek of Poland. All the inhabitants of the city, both Polish and German, were brutally slaughtered. The Teutonic Order continued its invasion of the Polish lands, incorporaing them into the Monastic State. Later they also chased the Poles out. In September 1309, Margrave Waldemar of Brandenburg sold his fictitious claim over the territory to the Teutonic Order for 10,000 marks. At this time the city became known under its German name - Danzig. This was also the start of a series of conflicts between Poland and the Teutonic Order Danzig flourished under the authority of the Teutonic Knights, benefiting from the major foreign investment committed by the order in the country, that was then called Prussia. Gdansk became a full member of the Hanseatic League by 1361. The richer it became, the more Gdansk suffered from the barriers in the trade up the Vistula river to Poland, which had a period of the economic prosperity under the wise government of the Casimir The Great[?]. Furthermore, Gdansk resented lack of any political rights in the state ruled in the interest of the few knight-monks, motivated by the religious motives.

In 1440, Gdańsk joined the other Hanseatic League cities of Elblag and Torun to form the Prussian Confederation, which was supported by Casimir IV of Poland in its rebellion (1454) against the Teutonic Order's rule. The resulting wars between the cities or Thirteen Years' War ended with the Order's defeat and the Second Treaty of Thorn in 1466), which resulted in return of entire Gdańsk Pomerania to the Polish Kingdom, as part of the province called Royal or Polish Prussia. The 15th and 16th centuries brought changes to the city's cultural heritage. We can see these changes in the arts, language, and in Gdansk contributions to the world of science. In 1471, a refurbished sailing ship under Gdańsk captain Paul Beneke the famous altar painting titled: Latest Judgement (Juengste Gericht) by artist Hans Memling to Gdansk. In around 1480-1490, tablets were installed at St. Mary's church, depicting the Ten Commandments (external link: [1] (http://artyzm.com/n/nieznani/dolnoniemiecki/e_tablica.htm)) in a Low German language. In 1566, the official language of the city's governing institutions was changed from the Low German used throughout the Hanseatic cities to High German.

Georg Joachim Rheticus visited the mayor of Gdańsk in 1539, while he was working with Nicolaus Copernicus in nearby Frombork. The mayor of Gdańsk gave Rheticus financial assistance for the publication of the so-called Narratio Prima. Published by the Gdansk printer Rhode in 1540, the Narratio Prima is to this day considered to be the best introduction to the Copernicus theory. While in Gdansk, Rheticus, who was also a cartographer and navigational instrument maker, interviewed Gdansk pilots as to their navigational needs. He presented the Tabula chorographica auff Preusse to Duke Albert of Prussia in 1541.

The Gdansk printer Andreas Huenefeld(t) (Hunsfeldus) (1606-1652) printed a Gdansk editition of the Rosicrucian Manifestos. Later on, he published the poems of Martin Opitz[?]. The famous poet Opitz had died in 1639 and his friend, the pastor of Gdansk, known as Bartholomaeus Nigrinus, together with two associates edited the Opitz poems for the Huenefeld printing house.

In 1606 a distillery named Der Lachs (the Salmon) was founded , which produced one of Gdansk's most famous products, a liqueur named Danziger Goldwasser ("Gdansk gold water"), made from herbs and with small 22-carat gold flakes floating in the bottle. The recipe for this went with the expellees of 1945 to western Germany, where it continued to be produced.

From the 14th century until the mid-17th century Gdansk experienced rapid growth, becoming the largest city on the Baltic seaboard by the 16th century, due to its heavy trading with the Netherlands and handling most of Poland's seaborne trade brought up the Vistula river. The city's prosperity was severely damaged, however, by the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and the Second Northern War[?] (1655-1660), and it suffered an epidemic of bubonic plague in 1709.

Gdańsk took part in all Hanseatic League conferences until the last one in 1669. By that time the United Provinces and other long distance overseas trade had overtaken the Baltic traders such as Gdansk.

In 1743 a Gdansk Research Society[?] (Naturforschende Gesellschaft in Danzig) was formed by Daniel Gralath[?].

During the time of the Partitions of Poland in the late 18th century (1772), Gdansk remained a Polish enclave surrounded by the Kingdom of Prussia until 1793, when it became part of the Kingdom of Prussia as part of the province of West Prussia, reverting under Napoleon to direct Prussian rule after a second brief period (1807-1814) as a free city.

The feeling of grief felt by the citizens of Gdansk when their city was incorporated into the state of Prussia is well reflected in the pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer.

From the first partion of Poland, Gdansk lost its function as a major port for Polish exports on the shore of the Baltic Sea. This was followed by an extended time of economic and population crisis. After 1772, Gdansk no longer held the position as the largest port on the Baltic.

From 1824 until 1878, East and West Prussia were combined as a single province under the Prussian kingdom. However, although Gdansk was a part of Kingdom of Prussia, it was never a member of so called Deutsche Bund. After the desolved Holy Roman Empire it was included in the newly created German Empire in 1871.

Following Germany's defeat in World War I, Gdansk was excluded from Germany in 1920 under the Treaty of Versailles, forming with a small surrounding territory a Free City under a commissioner appointed by the League of Nations. The League of Nations rejected the citizens' petition to have their city officially named Free Hanseatic city of Gdansk). However, the League recognized them as citizens of Gdansk , and thus no longer possessors of German Reich citizenship.

A customs union with Poland was created and gave the Gdansk Westerplatte port to the Polish republic. The separation of the Gdansk port, post office and customs office under the treaty was said to be justified by Poland's need for direct access to the Baltic Sea. Poland then stationed troops in Gdansk . Directly next to Gdansk, Poland built a large trade harbor in Gdynia and immediately went to defensive war against Soviet Union, where Poland recovered a large section of the ethnically Polish lands from the Soviet Republics of Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.

Local opposition to the the war and the desire to rescind the League of Nations' decision on the status of Gdansk's citizens spurred groundroots efforts for a reunification with Germany. It culminated in the election of a Nazi government in Gdansk's elections of May 1933.

Gdansk's unification with Germany was one of the objectives of the Nazi government which came to power in Germany in January 1933. Following the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland, Germany in October 1938 urged the territory's return to Germany. Not surprisingly, Poland refused to accept reunification and, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded the Gdansk port Westerplatte[?], and annexed Gdansk, effectively initiating the Second World War. Gdansk and areas of the "Polish Corridor" to the south and west became the German Gau (administrative district) of Gdansk-West Prussia (Danzig-West Preussen).

In January 1945 the Soviet Army seized Gdansk. Already before the end of World War II, the Treaty of Yalta had placed Gdańsk under Polish administration, which had immediately started to expel ethnic Germans from the city. This expulsion included Gdansk burghers the ethnic Germans whose families' roots in Gdansk went back many generations and hundreds of years as well as Gdansk burghers of Kashubian descent.

Nearly all ethnic German inhabitants of Gdansk were eventually removed forcibly to Germany and other countries, when it received Polish Communist government. Polish sovereignty was recognized by the East German government in 1950; the Federal Republic of Germany (or West Germany acknowledged Polish sovereignty of the city in december 1970).

Gdansk was the scene of anti-government demonstrations which led to the downfall of Poland's communist leader Wladyslaw Gomulka in December 1970, and ten years later was the birthplace of the Solidarity trade union movement, whose opposition to the government led to the end of communist party rule (1989) and the election as president of Poland of its leader Lech Walesa. It remains today a major port and industrial city.

A list of the 173 mayors of the City of Gdansk from 1347 - Mar 30,1945 was compiled by the current Gdansk city government and can be found on their recent website with the invitation for a reunion meeting of Gdansk at the "First World Gdańsk Reunion". It took place in May 2002. This list (http://roots.gdansk.gda.pl/en/postacie/burmistrzowie.asp) is of interest, as it demonstrates the shifting ethnicity of the city's inhabitants before and after the World Wars.

Famous people born in Gdansk

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