Tenement houses, churches, gates and whole streets were painstakingly rebuilt. Today, thanks to the diligence and persistence of post-war builders, architects and artists, the former glory of the city is unveiled, encoded in Gothic and Renaissance brick.

The most representative Gdańsk route is the Royal Route, on which Polish kings solemnly entered the city. It begins at the Upland Gate, which for centuries was an important part of modern fortifications. Set in massive embankments, surrounded by a moat, stocked with massive weapons and a drawbridge, it defended access to the city. Its military nature is eased by its dazzling beauty, thanks to Wilhelm van den Blocke as well as the witty maxim “Iustitia et pietas duo sunt regnorum omnium fundamenta” (justice and godliness are the two foundations for all kingdoms), in which the fragment “rum omnium fundamenta”, which means in a loose translation “rum is the basis of everything”, is the most visible.

The Gothic – Renaissance Fore Gate Complex, composed of the Prison Tower and Torture Chamber as well as the Renaissance Golden Gate, referring in shape to a triumphal arch, are the next stages of the royal entrance to the city. Just behind is a view of Długa Street – the city’s longest medieval street. It is adorned with two rows of tenement houses, which width and design depended on the size of the property owner’s money bag. In particular tenement house number 12 catches the eye – the Uphagen House, today the Museum of Middleclass Interiors. Wandering between carefully selected items of furnishings, one can travel back in time to the end of the eighteenth century.

At the meeting of Długa Street and Długi Targ Street is the proud Old Town Hall – the former seat of the government. The gold plated figure of Zygmunt August observes Gdańsk from its tower – and the comfortable entrance stairs invite you inside. There waiting for guests is the rich Great Council Chamber. It is also called the Red Room because of the colour of the fabric covering its walls. For centuries the City Council held its meetings here, and the importance of their decisions was stressed by the interior, whose the most beautiful element is the images of the floor, with the central “Apotheosis of Gdańsk”. The author of the works, Isaac van den Blocke, presented the city as a republic boasting in wealth and wise authority. Wandering around the rooms of the Town Hall, you must see the Great Hall of Court, decorated with large-format images depicting Polish kings, and going to the town hall tower – pay attention to the permanent exhibition devoted to life in the Free City of Gdańsk. After all this there is still the remarkable view of the Royal Route from the town hall tower. You should be here on the full hour, when the melody rings from 37 carillon bells, and … enchantment by the city is guaranteed.

After greeting Neptune, the king of the seas, and seeing his fountain – the symbol of Gdańsk decorating Długi Targ Street, it is worth taking a moment to visit the interior of Artus Court, standing out from the neighbouring buildings with its width and powerful, Gothic windows. The former seat of the merchant brotherhood was not only the centre of commercial life, but also social life. A broad stream of beer always flowed here. Sensible elders cared though for the festive culture and therefore it was forbidden to spit in your neighbour’s mug, break a bottle over the head of your fellow guest or … complain about the quality of the beer. All transgressions were punished with high fines, which had to be paid in silver. Today Artus Court is the trademark of the city. The most prominent guests are received here and ceremonial sessions of Gdańsk Council City and concerts are held here. Guests are continually impressed with Europe’s largest tile stove, with a height of over 11 meters, decorated with images of political and religious life in Gdańsk and Europe, but also with humorous tiles with the figure of Till Eulenspiegel, thrusting his bare buttocks towards the audience. Of note are numerous paintings and sculptures, ship models and the simulacrum by Krzysztof Izdebski – large, digital photography reproductions – (The Ship Church, The Last Judgement, Orpheus among Animals), whose originals disappeared during the war, constituting a splendid link between the pre-war city and the present.

In the highest window of the building neighbouring Artus Court, at the New House of the Court, from 1 May to 1 October, at the hours 13:00, 15:00 and 17:00 appears the Lady at the Window. It is worth raising your eyes to her – for she may give you a fiery smile. The figure referring to Hedwiga, the main character in the novel by Jadwiga Łuszczewska-Deotyma “Lady at the Window” vividly adds colour to the seventeenth-century Gdańsk. More inquisitive tourists who are interested in values to live by should stop in front of the Golden House. In an artistic way its facade tells about virtues to follow and the owner’s coats of arms held by an angel reminds to whom Gdańsk owes its treasures like the Golden House.

To the east of the Royal Route is the decorative Green Gate, built for the Polish kings visiting Gdańsk. The beautiful, but cold and moist building, located over the then foul waters of the Motława River, did not encourage rulers to reside in it. It can be assumed that cunning Gdańsk residents by no accident located the royal seat in such a place – they never loved visits from rulers. Today in the Green Gate is a branch of the National Museum in Gdańsk, presenting temporary exhibitions devoted to great masters as well as the office of Lech Walesa. The former president does not complain about the location and willingly welcomes groups of tourists who stop at the foot of the gate that resembles a palace and separates Długi Targ Street from the Motława River.

Along the Motława River, which flows in the direction of Martwa Wisła River, is the Long Embankment. Hovering over it is the oldest port crane in Europe – The Crane – a massive defensive structure, for centuries used to reload the heaviest of goods, among which reigned barrels of wine – next to beer, the favourite drink of Gdańsk residents of that time. Many streets lead to the Long Embankment. In particular is Mariacka Street – a street for painters, lovers and admires of amber – a street for all those who love beauty. Rebuilt after the war with porches – the characteristic terraces inviting entry and decorated with gargoyles diverting water from gutters, enchant visitors from all over the world.

Towering over Mariacka Street is the gothic St. Mary’s Basilica – the largest brick building in Europe. Its construction began in the year 1343 and lasted 159 years – almost three generations. Looking at the church’s enormous silhouette, it is difficult to imagine that it was built on oak piles, driven into the wetland terrain. The basilica tower visible from afar is more than 80 metres high. At its ground level is the main gate, which leads to a three-aisled hall, covered with a starry, crystal firmament. This impressive, powerful construction inspires admiration and respect for the craftsmanship of the builders at that time. Slabs form the floor of the church, under which lies honoured townspeople for Gdańsk. There were more than 500 such slabs in the temple, and given the fact that several bodies were laid under each one, the Basilica could be considered a big cemetery.

The church’s most valuable monument is the tallest astronomical clock in the world, the work of Hans Duringer, created in the second half of the fifteenth century. Decorated with a kind of “puppet theatre”, it shows the days, months, years, phases of the moon and a lot of other data, which however for modern visitors remains in the sphere of secret knowledge. A special monument can be viewed in the St. Reinhold Chapel. Here you can find Pieta Gdańsk, made in the fourteenth century by an anonymous master. The face of Mary mourning her son is the ideal of timeless and cross-cultural beauty.

Wandering around the historic city centre, you need to stop at the Great Armoury. The best time is in the morning when it throws it glow on Piwna Street. Don’t miss the Royal Chapel, partly funded by King Jan III Sobieski or the Gothic St. Nicholas Church, to see its baroque interior overflowing with gold. You still need to go down to the waters of the Radunia Canal, dug by the Teutonic Knights, and look at the Great Mill – the largest industrial works in medieval Europe, but also admire the most treasured painting of Gdańsk – “The Last Judgement” by Hans Memling, located in the National Museum.

Among the remarkable historical buildings of Gdańsk the extraordinary St. Catherine’s Church stands out.Repeatedly plagued by fires, it was persistently raised from the ruins and restored to its former glory. Today it boasts a 49-bell carillon and the world’s first pulsar clock, counting pulses of radio waves emitted by neutron stars (pulsars). Buried in the temple interior is distinguished Gdańsk resident Jan Heweliusz – a great astronomer and brewer.

Photo © Francesco Carovillano


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