Discovering the Hanseatic Gdansk
Routes4U FAM Trip, vol.4: Discovering the Hanseatic Gdansk
We arrived at Gdansk on a very early morning; the clock was ticking 5 AM. After saying goodbye to our driver, we started walking through the historical centre of the last destination of our Routes4U FAM trip through the Baltic Sea Region. The city was greeting us with its colourful facades of the old buildings and empty streets. The sun was up in the sky, promising another very hot day!
A bit later that morning we met our guide Eliza Wasiewicz who was appointed to tell us the story of Gdansk, a city of The Hansa network, one of the oldest certified Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe.
Heading towards the ‘Long’ Street, she started a story with what came as a surprise to me- the colourful buildings of the Old Town that made me feel like traveling way back in time, were actually built just about 70 years ago! However, I was not mistaken; the city does now look like it was frozen in the Golden Age of Gdansk and the Golden Age of Hansa, as well as the royal period of Polish kings. Eliza explained to us that after the damage that occurred during World War II, it was decided to reconstruct the centre of Gdansk reflecting its look of the 16th- 17th century. As we talked, we came into the small souvenir shop where we could also see the pictures portraying the look of the city centre after World War II.
We went behind the main street to check the house that as our guide told us was the house that kept its original size! Houses back in those days were big, with 7 rooms. However, one could not tell that when looking from outside- the taxes had to be paid depending on the number of windows so the locals usually built the houses of 2-3 windows width. The trick of extending the space was the length of the house- they were even 80 metres long! Eliza noted that the current reconstructed houses except the one she was showing to us are not the same. The needs of the citizens changed and a lot of space had to go for public purposes (car parking, schools, playgrounds, etc.), so the current houses are only 1/3 of their original size.
Not all the buildings around the center were rebuilt in the Hanseatic style. Gdansk Shakespeare theatre did not keep its original façade and instead came back to life as a modern building, which, as our guide intrigued us, has the retractable roof that opens up during the summer performances. Theatre lovers should not miss the Gdansk Shakespeare Festival, happening every August!
Back behind the walls of the historic city center, we followed the path crossing the biggest brick church in the world and were listening to the story of how the local law of the time was telling the Dutch merchants to bring small Dutch bricks once they were coming to Gdansk. The streets here were quieter, just a couple of locals passing by and a group of kids playing in the fountain. I wish I could have done the same as it was probably the hottest day of the trip!
Crossing the streets of Gdansk I was thinking how beautiful all of them were. But there was one I liked the most! Mariacka Street had something I have not seen in any city I have visited so far. The so-called gargoyles, the heads of different creatures of which I could recognize lions and dragons were the finishing touches of the old drainage system in Gdansk. These impressive architectural features were placed on the spacious terraces on the ground floor of the houses where merchants used to hold their meetings and just observe the life of the street. Now I could instead see a lot of small souvenir stalls, most of them trying to catch tourists’ attention with amber.
Via Kramarska Street, we came back to the main square, filled with the chatting groups of tourists. Our guide pointed out the most famous buildings and of course the Neptune’s Fountain, symbolic for the coastal city.
We then crossed the river to the historic territory for the 360 warehouses. This area is still under construction, busy in turning it into the district of boutique apartments and leisure. For us it was certainly a place for leisure as we could sit down in one of the cafes outside and observe the river in which the old ship was sailing back and forth, every time taking a new group of tourists. We also noticed a big dark structure in the far right- as Eliza told us it is the Crane, another witness of Hanseatic Gdansk, which is now hosting the National Maritime Museum. A place to come back for the next time!
We finished the tour on the top floor of the hotel, where we could enjoy the view of all the streets we walked and we missed in the Hanseatic Gdansk.
It was also the end of our trip through some of the Cultural Routes in the Baltic Sea Region. In just three days thanks to our passionate guides I traveled back in time crossing the 16th-20th centuries and could see and experience the places where different historical personalities lived and created. From Art Nouveau Riga, Jewish Heritage in Šiauliai, Impressionism Nida and finally the Hanseatic Gdansk- I felt I learned so much about these different periods of the European history.
The Baltic Sea Region has much more different Cultural Routes destinations to offer and I am curious to discover the next one on my way!
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