Walk in Gdańsk: Main Town

The Main Town is one of three old districts of Gdansk, close to the Old Town and the Old Suburb. The most precious monuments of the Main Town are situated along the Royal Way which is Dluga Street and Dlugi Targ.

The Golden Gate

The Golden Gate was built in the years 1612-1614, on the site of the fourteenth-century Gothic Długouliczna Gate, and was designed by Abraham van den Blocke. Its sophisticated Renaissance style stone sculptures express the 1648 parapets, made by Piotr Ringering. There is a set of eight sculptures, four on each side, which is an allegorical representation of civic virtues and symbolizes the aspirations of the townspeople: Pax ('Peace'), Libertas ('Freedom'), Fortuna ('Happiness'), Fama ('Fame'), Concordia ('Consent'), Iustitia ('Justice'), Pietas ('Piety') and Prudentia ('Consideration'). On the front wall a German quotation from Psalm 122 has been placed, stating: Let peace take those you love. May peace be within thy walls, and the security of your palaces! The Latin inscription on the ul. Długa side says, the consent of a small republic grows - disagreement leads to a great fall. Adjacent to the Golden Gate is the Fraternity Brotherhood of St George's Manor, built between 1487-1494 in a late Gothic style.

The Main Town Hall

In the Old Town there is no grander or more valuable secular building which symbolises the power of old Gdańsk. It was once the seat of the city, with a soaring tower, towering above the Old Town, yet the current structure is unfortunately only a copy of the original building. The Town Hall was built in stages, for well over a century, from 1379 until 1492. Later of course it was extended; the three wings of the existing courtyard were completed at the end of the sixteenth century, during the years 1593-1596. From this period there is also a sundial with the Latin phrase: Our days are shadows, placed on one of the corners. The 80-metre tower's cupola, designed by the master Dirk Daniels from Zealand, consists of metal crowns, and a gold-plated statue of the then ruler - King Zygmunt Augustus. Unfortunately, the Town Hall, like most of the Old Town during the war, was completely destroyed. Its reconstruction took a quarter of a century, until 1970. It no longer fulfils its former function and is now the seat of the Gdańsk History Museum, which offers, among others, an exhibition of the history of the city. The Town Hall is still impressive and is decorated in a Dutch Mannerism style. In particular, there is the unusual Great Council Hall, which is also called the Red Hall. Its interior is a work of such masters as Hans Vredeman de Vries, Izaac van den Blocke and Simon Herle. Stunning! The room's ceiling is adorned with as many as 25 paintings by Izaac van den Blocke - the most famous of these is 'Apoteoza Gdańska' ('the Apotheosis of Gdańsk') - its symbolic eloquence depicts the patterns and norms of moral conduct for the city. The tower is also very popular among tourists because of the viewing gallery, where from a height of approximately 50m it offers a panoramic view of Gdańsk.

Dluga Street and Dlugi Targ

Dluga Street and Dlugi Targ - these are the city's business card, and are the most popular place for tourist trails, to encourage walking and to breathe in history. Ulica Długa and Długi Targ, which form the Royal Route, run from the Złota Brama (Golden Gate) to the Zielona Brama (Green Gate) and end on the shore of the Motława. Długi Targ (Long Market) is actually an elongated rectangle, in contrast to traditional market squares. However its purpose was the same - for trade. Interestingly, in the thirteenth century, along with ulica Długa there was already a trade route in place which had the oval shape of a market place. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, meat was traded every Saturday at the Long Market, and in the section between Fontanna Neptuna (Neptune Fountain) and the Town Hall live pigs used to be sold, which is why that part of the Royal Route is called the piglets market. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it served as an exchange market. The executions of witches, heretics and criminals were also performed, but only of those from the nobility, or who were legitimate citizens. The rest were executed on the Szubieniczna Mount or at the Torture House. The Royal Route was a place for the prestigious, and Gdańsk's wealthy nobility such as mayors and wealthy merchants lived here. Almost every house has its own colourful history. The oldest remaining houses were built in the Middle Ages, however most of the buildings are from the modern era. The tenement buildings on ulica Długa are typical Gdańsk houses with narrow façades, topped gables or parapets, and are richly decorated with coats of arms, allegorical figures and figures of ancient heroes. In the Long Market tower the city's most important secular buildings: the Main Town Hall (Ratusz Głównego Miasta) and Artus Court (Dwór Artusa).

Neptune Fountain

One of the most important symbols of Gdańsk. It has been standing since 1633 in the Long Market, in front of Artus Court and has 'posed' for millions of photos. The initiator of the fountain was the mayor of Gdańsk, Bartłomiej Schachmann. The figure of Neptune relates to the union of the city with the sea, and is presented in a way that you can see it from all sides. The appearance of the sculpture indicates that the artist knew ancient patterns, suggesting that the seventeenth-century Neptune fountain is one of few examples of ancient sculpture remaining in the Gdańsk area. It was modelled by Peter Husen and Johann Rogge, according to the project by Gerdta Benningka, and was cast in 1615 in Augsburg. The bowl and stem on which the statue stands are the work of the sculptor Abraham van den Blocke. The whole fountain is surrounded by a magnificent grille, dating from 1634 Between 1757-1761 Johann Karl Stender transformed the spirit of the Rococo bowl and pedestal fountains, adding a whole array of sea creatures. According to one Gdańsk legend, it was Neptune who contributed to making the famous Gdańsk Goldwasser liqueur. Outraged that coins were being thrown into the fountain, the trident struck the water and smashed it into tiny flakes of gold, which now adorn the magnificent splendour of his herbal liqueur. Delicious!

The Golden Tenement House

The Golden Tenement House. Built in 1609 for Mayor Jan Speyman - a wealthy merchant and enlightened patron of the arts, and his wife Judyta Bahra, it is among the most beautiful buildings in Gdańsk. The project was designed by Abraham van den Blocke, who created part of the sculptural decoration, and was completed in 1618. The famous façade of the building is rich, with gold, stone reliefs depicting battle scenes and figures of rulers, including King Zygmunt III Waza and Wladyslaw Jagiello. Apparently mayor Speyman's wife, Judyta Maria, brought King Zygmunt III and his wife Anna of Austria here in 1623. Around 1660, the next mayor of Gdańsk, Piotr Henrich bought the house. During the time he owned the property, he reportedly discussed the shape of the Oliwa room in the building. Between 1786-1918 the house was owned by the Steffensów family from Gdańsk. Legend has it that a luminous figure sometimes walks the corridors of the house - the spirit of the beautiful Judyta Speyman whispering: "Do justly, not to fear anyone".

Artus Court

Artus Court. The most famous of the Polish tenement buildings, bearing the name of the legendary Arthur. For many years it was considered one of the finest of its kind in northern Europe. So what were these 'Arthur Mansions', which were created in such large numbers throughout Europe, especially in Hanseatic cities? We might call them prestigious "temples of power and money", because they were used as a meeting place for the then elite: wealthy nobility, merchants and craftsmen. Here of course it was modelled on the knights of the Round Table of King Arthur. The Gdańsk Artus Court was an important centre for the city's social and commercial life and enjoyed a reputation as the most democratic place in the country. The most prominent people of their time visited, from castellans and governors to heirs to the throne. Artus Court in Gdańsk was built in the fourteenth century, but today we admire the shape of the property, which resulted in 1477 after a fire struck the building. The façade, consisting of Mannerist portal medallions adorned with portraits of kings, was rebuilt by Abraham van den Blocke. It has an interior representative of the drawing rooms of the most important families, and particularly worth seeing is the impressive, huge 12-metre high tiled stove. This George Stelzenera work is from the mid-sixteenth century. The furnace is decorated with tiles, painted by the master Jost, representing portraits of eminent European rulers, emblems and personifications of virtues and planets. Today, Artus Court is part of the Gdańsk History Museum.

Gdańsk - Zielona Brama Gdańsk - Zielona Brama The Green Gate, Gdańsk - Zielona Brama /Fot. Shutterstock

The Green Gate

The Green Gate. The gate which we admire today, was built between 1568-1571. It was constructed in the place of the Kogi Gate which had been demolished a few years earlier, and had been the oldest of Gdańsk's water gates, dating from 1357. The creators of the present gate were: Regnier of Amsterdam and Hans Kramer. Its Mannerist style is still impressive. The gate, as well as the broad tenement house, simply a palace, was built to host the Polish kings visiting the city. Here the so-called Royal Route began, running down ul. Długa and the Long Market to the Golden (Złota) and Wyżynna Gates. Interestingly, the Green Gate was not ever visited by any of the Polish monarchs. The only royal visitor was in 1646 by the future wife of Władysław IV, and later Jan Kazimierz, Maria Ludwika Gonzaga. For a short time the Society of Natural History was based at the gate. Today the National Museum organizes exhibitions, various meetings, conferences and shows here. In one of the Green Gate's rooms is the office of the former President, Lech Walesa.

The Crane

The Crane - undoubtedly the symbol of Gdańsk which has the most deserved honour. It is the largest medieval port crane in Europe, perched between the pylons on the Brama Szeroka (Wide Gate) on the Motława. This is one of the so-called city water gates, which has existed since 1363. Three years later there was a Latin reference to the crane, or caranum. It was used for the handling of cargo (mostly beer) and ballast, and to put up masts on ships. The present form of the crane came into existence in the years 1442-1444. In its interior there is a restored and active drive mechanism - two drums with a diameter of about six metres, which were once raised with the force of human legs. The device was able to lift a weight of four tonnes, to a height of eleven metres. In 1945, the crane was set fire to by the Red Army who invaded the city, but the walls surrounding the wooden structure survived, and after World War II the wooden part was reconstructed. Today, the crane is one of the branches of the Central Naval Museum.

St Mary's Street

St Mary's Street. If you are tempted by amber and the masterful skills of goldsmiths, you should visit ul. Mariacka. This street of jewellers is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in Gdańsk. Its name is not accidental, as it leads from St Mary's church to the Long Embankment (Długie Pobrzeże), and at the end you will find the medieval, Gothic, St. Mary's Gate. It's a fairly short street, but it dazzles as an example of the former buildings of Gdańsk, with narrow and richly decorated building façades. It is marked by the entrances, which are decorated with gargoyles. The street was a prestigious one, as wealthy merchants and goldsmiths lived here. Its beauty has inspired artists for years, both painters, writers, and film-makers. For example, in this picturesque setting Stawkę większą niż życie (Stakes higher than life) was shot. Visit the Nicolaus Copernicus Chamber in the Gothic House and the Archaeological Museum in the beautiful Dom Przyrodników.

St. Mary's Church

St. Mary's Church - the monumental Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is called the 'crown of the city of Gdańsk.' It is the largest brick Gothic church in Europe. The length of the building, including the buttresses of the tower is 105.5m; the vaults reach to 30m above the floor, and the tower measures 82 metres in height. The church is located in the Main Town, between the streets of ul. Piwna, Chlebnicka and Świętego Ducha. Its construction apparently began in 1243, but this has not been confirmed by archaeological research. Probably at that point there had been a wooden church, built by Prince Świętopełk II the Great, which was replaced in 1271 along with other churches in Gdańsk. The basilica was built in several stages over 159 years, from 1343 to 1502. It was gradually extended, partly under the supervision of the master bricklayer Henryk Ungeradin, who is also known for the construction of the Town Hall. In the years 1454-1466 the tower was raised, which was a symbol accenting the victory of Gdańskers over the Teutonic Order. Light pours into the church through 37 huge windows of various sizes, including only 2 which are stained glass windows and are new. Inside there are a staggering 29 chapels. During the fighting in March 1945, the wooden roof structures were destroyed, causing almost half the vaults to collapse, as well as the melting of  some of the bells, including the largest one - the Gratia Dei - weighing 5300 kg and dating from 1543. It is now possible to see medieval and baroque works of art e.g. the Pieta stone from about 1410, a copy of the Last Judgement, painted by Hans Memling in 1472, the fifteenth-century Hans Düringer astronomical clock and the main altar, built in the years 1510 to 1517 by Master Michał of Augsburg. You can admire the city skyline from the viewing galleries in the watchtower. It stretches to almost 400 degrees! The Basilica also has access for blind people.

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