Nearly two million people visited the northern Polish port city of Gdansk in 2015, exploring what’s often described as its unique city-state feel, one that’s been chiseled and shaped by centuries of alternating Prussian, Slavic and Germanic influences. An oftentimes tumultuous meld.
Most of those –and the two million or so who passed through in 2016– spent the majority of their time in the city’s Główne Miasto, or main city, which this post primarily focuses on. It’s the architectural, cultural and gastronomic magnet that the region is investing its tourist euros into, and where those visitors, some 800,000 of them foreign, leave their tourist euros and zlotys.
If you’re familiar with some of Poland’s other larger cities, you’ll immediately recognize that Gdansk’s Główne Miasto has a decidedly un-Polish feel. It’s more Flemish than Slavic, more Amsterdam than Krakow.
It has a classic, 17th century Renaissance revival look, which, true to the trite saying, can be and is deceiving: some 90 percent of Gdansk’s main city was destroyed during World War II so most of the architectural charm you’re enjoying only dates back to the post-war years of the second half of the 20th century. Beyond that, its reconstruction wasn’t tied to the city’s immediate pre-war appearance, according to this summary on Wikipedia, but instead rebuilt in the form of an “idealized pre-1793 state”, one that ignored the more recent German influences. More:
Despite serious opposition to the idea, in 1949 Polish authorities decided to rebuild the Main City, with most of its historical landmarks. However, instead of reconstructing the city to the way it looked immediately before World War II, various landmarks were restored to historical and quasi-historical forms alluding to their renaissance look, in order to underline the city’s ties with Poland, but also to emphasize Gdańsk’s rich multi-cultural tradition, with Flemish, Italian and French influences.
Whether you agree with the decision or not, it’s interesting how devastation from war can lead to these kinds of practical decisions. A silver lining of being forced to dig themselves out of post-war ruble offers communities countless possibilities of re-inventing themselves.
Like most European cities these days, the main streets of main town are pedestrian-only, lined with cafes, restaurants, pubs, galleries and gift shops –some stylish, some kitsch. But one major difference are the friezes and richly decorated facades found on just about every building in the district. You can’t help but gawk and point your camera. As evidenced by these 33 images, that’s largely what I did over the course of my 72 hours in the former free city of Danzig last July. [Besides making visits to the Gunter Grass Gallery, the Gdansk Gallery of Old Toys and the Armory of Art.]
I don’t have identification details for most of the buildings, but will start with those few that I do, beginning with these few shots of The Golden House, considered one of the city’s most stately, built between 1609 and 1618 by mayor, merchant and patron of the arts Jan Speymann. According to Gdansk.pl, the house is “frequented” –not haunted– by the ghost of Speymann’s wife Judyta, who walks the corridors whispering, “Act justly, fear no one”. The waving statues? That’s Cleopatra, Oedipus, Achilles and Antigone.
This is an uncropped version of the lead photo, part of The Neptune Fountain, a symbol of the city, which has stood guard in front of the Artus Court since 1633.
Twenty-nine more photos below. If you’re aware of any ID details, by all means, share them.
And to get your bearings, a map of Gdansk’s Główne Miasto, or main city