Gdańsk – The city of naval prosperity

There is no old town like the one in Gdańsk anywhere else in Poland. It’s not only about local patriotism. The architecture here is different, it mirrors the city’s strong ties to the sea, defining its character until this day.

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Gdańsk has always been a gem among Polish cities. It used to be the first and most important sea port, which made it of strategic importance to the Kingdom of Poland. In 15th and 16th centuries Gdańsk witnessed its golden era. It was the wealthiest city in Poland, its trade and architecture flourished, and burghers got richer. Patrician families imported art pieces, and now-renowned handicraft developed, including the world-unique amber jewelry. A manifestation of its former glory is the painting Apotheosis of Gdansk by Izaak van den Blocke which can be admired in the Main Town Hall, branch of the Gdańsk History Museum. It depicts the city of Gdańsk as marked by God, who is understood in the Protestant way (Gdańsk was culturally diverse, which made it unique compared to the Catholic Commonwealth) – marking the city with divine providence, but leaving its prosperity to its citizens and their hard work.

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The source of the city’s rapid development was in its membership in the Hanseatic League. There were several similar organisations, but the most powerful one evolved around German countries. This famous union of cities grouped the ports of the Baltic Sea and its most important centre was Lübeck. The first municipal rights granted to Gdańsk were based on Lübeck laws. Those cities were characterised by lack of a main square with a long and wide main street instead. In Gdańsk, it’s Długa Street that changes into Długi Targ (Long Market). Why such a solution? It’s of pragmatic reasons: it allowed merchant carts to reach the river where the goods were loaded onto ships. In order to make the street convenient to carts and carriages, the buildings also had to be constructed in a specific way – tall and narrow. They come in different styles: from Renaissance, through Baroque and Classicist, to 19-century. The history of each of them is fascinating. When coming to Gdańsk, it’s worth to hire a tour guide who will tell stories about each one of them and teach how to recognise elements of different styles of architecture.

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Amber is the symbol of the city’s wealth and naval culture. As far back as the prehistoric times, peoples inhabiting the area of Pomorskie engaged in its processing. In the city’s golden era, Gdańsk was one of the most important amber centres in the world. Today, the city lives up to its tradition. An obligatory element of any tour around the Main Town is a walk along the Amber Fifth Alley, which comprises streets full of amber stalls, galleries and workshops. The history of Gdańsk’s ties to amber can be followed in the Museum of Amber and on the Archaeological Museum’s exhibition, “The amber through the millennia”. But amber also means international business. Each year, Amber Expo hosts the Amberif International Amber Fair and the accompanying Amber Look fashion and amber gala during which contemporary designers present trending approaches to this traditional material that fit perfectly into current fashion trends.

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