The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times


25 Feb 2019
  A Virtual Tour through Mediaeval and Renaissance Gdańsk / Danzig

After the history lesson below, let's now have a little walk through Gdańsk / Danzig. Most of the famous landmarks are situated not in the Old Town, but in the - much older - Rechtstadt (Town of the Law), the part of Danzig which held town rights since 1224.

Much of Gdańsk had been destroyed during WW2, but was restored in the years after the war, with its various town gates, beautiful late Gothic gabled houses and decorated Renaissance buildings that once had been the homes of wealthy merchants and burghers, a lot of whom were of German origins. A considerable number of Germans lived in Danzig and Pomeralia (later known as East Prussia) since the early 12th century and remained there until the end of WW2.

Crane Gate

One of the iconic buildings is the Crane Gate. A timber gate with an integrated crane function had been built in 1367, but it was destroyed by a fire in 1442. A new and larger brick gate in Gothic style replaced it immediately afterwards. The wealthier burghers of Danzig collected money to its construction, and they successfully faced off the protests of the Teutonic Knights who felt their nearby castle to be threatened.

The new crane is a double one and was once the largest in Europe. The upper crane could lift weights to a height of 27 metres and was used to put up the masts on boats. The lower crane could lift a weight of four tons up to 11 metres. The cranes were moved by hollow drums of 6 metres in diameter placed inside the gate; usually prisoners worked those threadmills. Ropes wound around the shafts of the drums and passed over the beams. The crane hooks were made of metal. The sturdy towers of the crane gate show that it served as defense of the town as well.

Green Gate

The Green Gate with its flamboyant Renaissance decorations is a very different gate compared to the Gothic Crane Gate. It replaced an older gate guarding the drawbridge (which had been known as Green Bridge) across the Motława river at the site of the old Amber Road crossing, today it marks the end point of the Długi Targ, the Long Market.

The architects were Hans Kramer and Regnier of Amsterdam, thus the strong Flemish influences. Four vaults lead through the gate. The building above makes the gate look more like a palace and indeed, those rooms were intended to serve as quarter for the Polish king when he visited Danzig, though they were seldom used.

The Milk Can Gate

The Milk Can Gate, nicknamed for the shape of its twin towers (one now is shorter because it was not restored to full size after WW2) was built in the 15th century to protect the Granary Island outside the main town. It consists of two towers connected by an overhead passage. The larger tower is today 28 metres high, its walls are 4 metres thick and with small windows - quite a sturdy thing compared to the elegant Green Gate.

Restored storehouses on Granary Island at the Motława

The Motława river is an estuary of the Vistula (Weichsel in German) and connects Gdańsk with the Baltic Sea. The delta of the Vistula changed over time so that the coast today is further away from the town.

While a lot of the historical Danzig had been rebuilt in the 1950ies/60ies, there were still some ruins left at the beginning of the 21st century. One of those were the granaries on the Granary Island (Speicherstetten, Polish: spichlerze). Those are undergoing repair right now, and when I visited in 2012, a set of the Gothic houses had been reconstructed with the exterior mostly according to the old plans, but converted into hotels, shops and appertments.

The first buildings on the island in the Motława river were those not wanted inside the town, like a slaughterhause (dating to the 14th century), tar cookery, and other smelly and dirty occupations. Granaries and storehouses that gave the place its name were soon added. In 1576, the Motława canal and earth fortifications were built to protect the site from attacks. At that time, the number of granaries amounted to 315. 250,000 tons of grain could be stored there, worth 200 ship loads. No wonder Danzig became one of the richest cities in Europe.

Torture Chamber Gate

But we're not finished with those gates yet. Most of the town walls of Danzig that were destroyed have never been restored, but the more famous gates underwent a lovingly done reconstruction. I got some more for you.

Prison Tower

The gate with the charming name of Torture Chamber Gate (German: Peinkammertor) and its matching Prison Tower (Stockturm) were erected in the 14th century as tower with a passage beside a former gate in the Gothic style - now the Golden Gate, see below - to protect acces to the main road Ulica Długa, the Long Lane. The gate got another storey in the 15th century and some Renaissance decorations at the end of the 16th century. The tower was enlarged twice in 1418 and 1509 when it gots its tent shaped roof and those pretty arcades. The tower was damaged during the siege of Danzig by King Stephen Báthory 1577. Danzig won the siege, but it marked the beginning of the end of traditional town fortifications which would not hold against modern cannons.

After they lost their function within the town fortifications in the 17th century, the gate and tower served as prison (yes, including a torture chamber), hall of justice - for the cases that didn't require a big public show - and place of execution. Today they host an amber museum.

Golden Gate

The Golden Gate (also known als Long Lane Gate) replaced an older one. It was erected in 1612-14 and takes it name from the gilded decorative pillars. At that time, town gates were more than defense features; they also served to showcase the wealth of a town (which could afford to use gold on a gate).

Main Town Hall

The oldest part of the Main Town Hall (that is the one in the Town of the Law; there is another town hall in the Old Town) dates to the 1330ies. That first building was much smaller. The first expansion took place in 1378-82, and another enlargement was done in the wake of the visit of King Casimir IV Jagiełło in 1457. The 81 metres high tower was added in 1488. In 1556, a fire severely damaged the town hall which was rebuilt by Dutch architects and today shows a number of Renaissance elements.

Gabled houses in the Ulica Długa (Long Lane)

The Ulica Długa (Long Lane) and Długi Targ (Long Market) together form the main street of the Town of the Law since the 13th century. In the Middle Ages, they were considered a single street, the Longa Platea, connecting the Golden Gate with the Green Gate. As such, the street was part of the Amber Road.

Since the celebrations during the time when King Casimir IV Jagiełło stayed in Danzig in 1457 (after Danzig had joined the Prussian Confederation that offered King Casimir souzerainty in order to better withstand the Teutonic Knights, see history post), the street is also knowns as Droga Królewska, the Royal Road.

The Długi Targ (Long Market)

Long Lane and Long Market had always been the place where the most important and wealthy citicenzs of Danzing lived, and shows the prettiest and most impressive houses. The Long Market is also framed by the public buildings of the Town Hall and Arthur's Court.

But it was not only a place for fêtes and fireworks, but also for public executions of criminals who were nobles or citizens, including those accused of being witches and heretics. People of lower rank were put to death in the Torture Chamber Gate or on the gallow hill outside the town.

The Golden House at the Długi Targ

One of the outstanding houses at the Long Market is the Golden House or Speymannhaus, which was built in 1609 for the town major and wealthy merchant Johannes Speymann.

The Artus Court at the Długi Targ

The Artus Court (Artushof) was the name of a meeting place - sort of a club *grin* - for rich merchants and nobles (craftsmen and stall-keepers were not allowed). It took the name from the popular King Arthur, symbol of chivalry. There were Artus Courts in other countries as well. Citizens and visitors of standing would meet there in the evenings, attending performances of musicians and jugglers, dining and gambling (albeit the latter was officially forbidden) and discussing business (though that was officially forbidden as well). Sometimes they held parties lasting several days to entertain foreign visitors of importance. The peak of popularity of the Artus Court was in the 16th and 17th centuries. The building was the seat of the bourse of Danzig since 1742.

The first brick house of the Curia regis Artusi was built in 1380, though the name dates to a charte of 1357, refering probably to a simpler half-timbered house. After a fire, a larger house in the late Gothic style was erected in 1478. The splendid Renaissance facade was added in 1617.

Neptun's Fountain

Neptun's Fountain was erected in front of the Artus Court in 1633. The town major Bartholomäus Schachmann had been to Italy and took a liking to Neptune figures, so he wanted to have one in Danzig. The god of the sea would be a fitting symbol for a town that got most of its wealth by sea trade, after all.

Great Armoury

The Great Armoury dates to 1600 and is a fine example of the Flemish Renaissance style which was popular in Danzig at that time. The leading architect was Anton van Obberghen who was also involved in the Renaissance makeover of other buildings in Danzig. He hailed from Antwerp and was responsible for the construction of a number of famous buildings in northern Europe, including Castle Kronborg in Helsingør (Hamlet's Elsinore).

Houses in the Mariacka Street (Our Lady's Street)

The Mariacka Street (Our Lady's Street; German: Frauengasse), named after the St. Mary's Church you can see in the background, is a bit less showy compared to the Long Lane, but still one of the oldest streets in town. It was also settled by well-off citizens. The street had been completely destroyed during WW2, but was restored in the 1950ies and 60ies. Due to its genuine Mediaeval look it sometimes serves a set for movies.

Another view of Mariacka Street with terrassed houses

A typical feature of the houses in the Mariacka Street are the terraces that lead to the entrances, often decorated with richly wrought iron ornaments. In former times, those terraces could be found in other streets in Danzig as well, but most have been dismantled because they get in the way of modern traffic. On fine days, inhabitants of the houses set up small impromptu shops on the terraces and sell hand made stuff to the tourists.

St.Mary's Church, interior

St.Mary's Church, or more formally, Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is on of the largest hall churches in the world and one of the largest brick buildings in northern Europe. It is a triple aisled church with a transept, measuring 105.5 metres (346 foot) in length, a width of 66 metres (217 foot) and a heigth of 26.5 metres. Particularly the vaultings are a piece of fine architecture and art: the main nave and transept are covered by net vaults, the aisles by crystal vaults.

Like in case of many other churches, there had been a Romanesque basilica on the site which proved too small for the increasing number of inhabitants. The construction of the Gothic church started in 1343 and was finished in 1502. But parts of the church had been in use already during the later stages of construction (churches usually were built in parts, not upward from the foundations in one go). A chapel for the King of Poland was added in 1466.

When the Reformation reached Danzig, the church was used for Roman Catholic and Lutheran services simultaneously for some years - quite a unique act of tolerance. Since 1572 to 1945, St.Mary was a Lutheran church - the second largest in the world. After WW2 it became the main Catholic church of Gdańsk again.

Fresco on a house in Długa Lane

This fresco on a house in the Long Lane depicts a scene of merchants from various contries - shown by the different local costumes - discussing trade and ship building. Danzig must once have been alive with scenes like this.

If everything goes according to plan, I might be able to add two more Polish towns to my list in April: Krakow and Wrocław / Breslau.
 
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The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.


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I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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Harald Bluetooth's Flight to Pomerania

Danish Rule in the Baltic Sea

The Duchy of Estonia
Danish Kings and German Sword Brothers


Norway

Kings of Norway

Foreign Relations
King Eirik's Scottish Marriages
King Håkon V's Swedish Politics
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union

A Time of Feuds

Famous Nobles and their Feuds
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


Sweden

Troubles and Alliances

Scandinavian Unity
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union


Livonia
(Latvia and Estonia)

Towns of the Hanseatic League

Riga
The History of Mediaeval Riga

Tallinn
The History of Mediaeval Tallinn


Lithuania

The Northern Crusades

The Wars in Lithuania
The Siege of Vilnius 1390

Lithuanian Princes

The Geminid Dynasty
Troublesome Cousins - Jogaila and Vytautas


Poland

The Northern Crusades

The Conquest of Pomerania / Prussia
The Conquest of Danzig

Royal Dynasties

The Jagiełłonian Kings
Władysław Jagiełło and the Polish-Lithuanian Union


Bohemia
(Including Silesia and Moravia)

The Bohemian Kings of House Luxembourg
(to come)


Other Times

Prehistoric Times

Germany

Development of Civilisation
European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen

Orkney

Neolithic Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Life in Skara Brae

Scandinavia

Gotland
The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd


Post-Mediaeval History

Explorers and Discoveries

Explorers
Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

Discoveries
Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)

Biographies

European Nobility
Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus


Miscellanea

History in Literature and Music

History in Literature

Biographies of German Poets and Writers
Theodor Fontane

Historical Ballads by Theodor Fontane
(Translated by me)
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

History in Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Not so Serious History

Romans
Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Mediaeval Times
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Other
Rules for Writing Scottish Romances
Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg


Geology

Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations

Solling-Vogler
Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland
Staffa

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite


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