When you hear the name Gdańsk, Poland, you most likely think of shipyards, Solidarity and Lech Wałęsa. If you are a bit of a history buff, you might also know that Gdańsk (or Danzig as it was then known) was the place where the first shots of WWII were fired. It is indeed all that, but it is not the grimy industrial city you might expect. In fact Gdańsk is one of the most picturesque cities in Northern Europe.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Gdańsk was Poland’s wealthiest city (thanks to its involvement with the Hanseatic League), with gorgeous architecture, row upon row of tall tight townhouses decorated beautifully by the owners to demonstrate their style & wealth. At the end of WWII when the Russians occupied Gdańsk they systematically destroyed every house that hadn’t already been flattened by bombing. In the years since, much of the old town has been reconstructed, based on drawings and photographs, so that it is once again a delightful city to explore.
Here’s an article I found with some excellent before and after pics of Gdańsk.
We spent most of our afternoon just enjoying the atmosphere, and photographing the streetscape. We visited Uphagen House, an original (largely reconstructed) 18th century merchant’s house which offers a good example of the interior of the typical Gdańsk house. In 1911 the house was converted into a museum which it remained until 1944. With much of the city of Gdansk, Uphagen House was destroyed during the Soviet advance and subsequent German retreat of 1945. The modern day building at 12 Długa Street was rebuilt internally after the Second World War, and in 1998 the house was once again opened to visitors.
We also made our way to the Solidarity Centre, a modern museum dedicated to the rise of Solidarity, the Polish trade union movement and the demise of communism in Poland. The architecture of the building is dramatic. Opened in 2014, the structure resembles the rusty hulls of ships in the nearby shipyards. We didn’t have time to visit the museum, but had a look around the building, and went onto the roof observation level with good views over the remains of the Lenin Shipyards where the Solidarity movement was born. In front of the Solidarity Centre is the huge Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970.