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Magic of Gdańsk
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Magic of Gdańsk


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The history of Gdańsk, now more than a thousand years long, was rich in dramatic events. This largest Polish port and most powerful stronghold guarding the mouth of the Vistula was a desirable bite, over which many battles were fought. Archeological excavations revealed settlements from the beginnings of the 10th century, the castle on the Motława river arose about 980. In the first biography of St. Adalbert, who came here in 997, Gdańsk was already called "urbs" - the town.

Motława River
Motława River

For over 300 years it was ruled by Polish dukes, by whom it was granted the municipal chart. In 1308 it was captured and destroyed by the Teutonic Knights, under whose rule it remained till 1454. Rebuilt and enlargened it became one of the leading towns of the Hanseatic League. After returning to the Polish Crown it grew to the largest and richest town at the coast of the Baltic Sea. Its trade connections reached as far as Portugal and Tuscany. The main product of export was Polish grain and timber. The city's shipyards built vessels also for English kings.

All this splendour collapsed with the partitions of Poland. In the 19th century, save the short periode of Napoleon wars, Gdańsk belonged to Prussia, later on - together with it - to the German Reich. After the World War I it became the so-called Free City. Since 1933 the Nazis ruled here. Growing ideological and national conflicts led to the 2nd World War, which began with the German attack on the Polish munition depot on the Westerplatte in the harbour of Gdańsk. In 1945 the city returned to Poland almost completely destroyed. The remaining German population was expelled. The false political and economical system imposed upon Poland did not help to a normal development. Two matters were success in Gdańsk: the reconstruction of the architectural landmarks (in fact not completed till today) and the construction of the Northern Harbour - the deepest on the Baltic.

The real achievement of the people of Gdańsk was the overthrowing of the communist system in 1989, followed by the democratic and free communal elections in all Poland. Gdańsk was long the leader of the transformations, also now it is counted among the best developing centers of economy, science and culture in Poland. Its population amounts to 460 thousands - together with Sopot and Gdynia 740 thousands. It attracts a great and ever growing number of tourists. New residential districts are being built and the reconstruction of the historic Inner City is ever nearer to completion. The city combines very harmoniously its splendid past with the very promising future, always in the historic role as the Gateway of Poland and Bridge between nations.


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The main feature of the people of Gdańsk was always their love of freedom, often manifested in its history. It was revealed in the 13th when Duke Swiętopełk managed to acquire the independence. Under the rule of the Teutonic Knights the burghers of Gdańsk many times protested and fought against their policy of limiting their rights, which they wished to maintain and develop - like their sister cities of the Hanseatic League. It was this feeling too, that let them to get rid of the Teutonic Order and to give themselves under the mild rule of Polish Kings. It paid - they obtained from them such great autonomy that they could regard themselves as citizens of an almost free city. They watched lest their freedom got diminished and they resolved to be sieged by King Stefan Batory, when he refused to confirm the privillegies given to Gdańsk by his predecessors. The diplomacy has won, the king obtained money for the war against Russia and confirmed the rights of the city, which recognized him as its lord.

Long Market

The freedom loving people of Gdańsk did not betray their Kings during the Swedish wars and they also defended Stanisław Leszczyński against Russian armies in 1734. They surrendered only after the king, seeing the hopeless situation, freed them from their obligation of allegiance and left the city. After the 1st partition of Poland, in which the Prussian seized the surroundings of Gdańsk, Joanna Schopenhauer, mother of the philosopher, wrote: "At this morning calamity has fallen like vampyre on my native city, deemed to disaster, and sucked its marrow for long years till the ultimate dilapidation". Twenty years later, when Gdańsk itself has been captured, the Schopenhauers did not want to live under the strong rule of Prussian kings and emigrated.

The kings came and went away, the systems changed, after the last war even the bulk of the people of Gdańsk has been exchanged, but the traditional spirit of freedom remained as a part of "genius loci". In 1970 the workers of Gdańsk revolted against the communist oppression and in 1980 here started the great Solidarity movement, which led to overthrowing of the communism in all countries of the Soviet block - even in Russia. The events of that time can be seen at the great exhibition in the historic Shipyard of Gdańsk, entitled "Ways to freedom". Recently it was proposed that the famous "Postulates", brought forward in 1981, should be recognized as a part of the world's Historic Heritage - on a par with the works of Copernicus!


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The list of scientists from old Gdańsk, who have brought new important ideas and discoveries into the world's science is long. One of the first was Bartholomäus Keckermann (1572-1609). He was professor of the Gdańsk Academic Gymnasium, which was a kind of a half-university. Keckermann was one of the most universal scientists of his time. Among others he wrote the world's first History of Logic. Equally famous was Philip Clüver (1550-1622), who became professor of the University in Leyden. He created a new branch of science - the Historic Geography. Another professor of the Academic Gymnasium Peter Krüger (1580-1639) was a pioneer of mathematics. He elaborated the first separate tables of logarithms for trigonometric functions and for numbers. He also formulated the theorem of cosines, which we learn at schools. His pupil was the famous astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611-l687), whose big observatory was the first such equipped with telescopes. His research was supported financially by the kings of Poland and France. The Royal Society of Sciences in London nominated him to its first foreign member. He draw accurate maps of the Moon, created 9 new constellations, invented the first periscope and discovered the secular changes of magnetic declination, of which we have the longest curve in the world - begun in 1539 by Joachim Rheticus, who published here the first "Narration" on the heliocentric system by Copernicus.

Johannes Hevelius

In the circle of Hevelius remained Dr. Israel Conrad (1634-1715), who was the first to observe the undercooling of liquids. Another physician Joachim Oelhaf (1570-1630) carried off the first public post-mortem in Central Europe. Dr. Johann Schmiedt (1624-1690) was the third to apply intravenal injections. As early as in 1776 Dr. Matthäus Wolf (1724-1784) inocculated people against smallpox.

The greatest achievements had the physicists. Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736) constructed first reliable thermometers. He also discovered the dependence of the boiling temperature of liquids on pressure. The learned burgomaster of Gdańsk Daniel Gralath (1708-1767) explained processes in the so called Leyden bottle and measured - 40 years before Coulomb - forces of interaction between charged electrodes. In 1742 he founded the Society of Experimental Physics - the second such in the world - also known as the Society of Natural History. A member of the Society Heinrich Kühn (1690-1769) constructed a prototype of analytical scales and was the first to geometrically interpret the irrational numbers.

One should also mention the botanist Jakob Theodor Klein (1685-1759), who systematized zoological species independently of Linne.The naturalists Johann Reinhold Forster (1729-1798) and his son Johann Georg Forster (1754-1794) took part in the second expedition around the world of James Cook and led the scientific research in it.

The most famous scientist of old Gdańsk was the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), who spent almost all of his life out of his home country. Hugo Conventz (1855-1922), director of the museum of Natural History, was the founder of scientific environment protection. Biochemist Adolf Butenandt (1903-1995), professor of the Technical University of Gdańsk - founded in 1904 - won the Nobel Prize.

Arthur Schopenhauer


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Not many cities in the world can boast of having had three Nobel Prizewinners. In Poland only Warsaw with its four Nobel Prizes is in this aspect better than Gdańsk.

Chronologically one has to begin with the biochemist Adolf Butenandt. Born in 1903 in Bremerhaven-Lehe, he studied in Marburg and Göttingen, where he defended the doctor thesis. Since 1933 he was professor for Organic Chemistry at the Technische Hochschule (Technical University) in Gdańsk. Here he continued his research of human hormones and has crowned it with the separation and synthesis of two of them: progesterone and testosterone. For this achievement he was awarded with the Nobel Prize in 1939. At that time he was director of the Biochemical Institute in Berlin. The Nazis forbade him to go to Stockholm to receive the Prize. After the war he was professor in Munich and President of the Max Planck Society. In 1994 the Technical University of Gdańsk, now Polish and celebrating its 90th anniversary, awarded him with the honorary doctorate, which brought him a great satisfaction. He died one year later.

The second Nobel Prize was of another kind. It was granted to Lech Wałęsa, a modest electrician from the largest shipyard of Gdańsk, who became leader of the most powerful freedom motion in the former Soviet block and changed the course of history. The prize signified then the recognition of processes undergoing in Poland and helped to bring them to a fruitful achievement. For the communist rulers it was a warning: look out, the world is watching you! It encouraged all freedom fighters in Poland and gave Lech Wałęsa a sense of some safety. He was then 40. He got employed at the shipyard in 1967 and as early as in 1970 he attended the strikes during which several workers in Gdańsk area were killed by the communist forces. In 1980 he was elected the President of the "Solidarność"- the first independent trade union in all Soviet countries. When in 1981 the martial law was introduced in Poland, he was interned. Released one year later, he returned to his previous activity - now in conspiration. In 1989 he was the main opposition leader in the negotiations of the so called Round Table, which brought about the free elections and essential political changes in Poland. In the years 1990-1995 he was the President of the Republic of Poland - now free and independent again. Presently Lech Wałęsa is living in Gdańsk, where he has created a scientific institute. His lectures in western countries contribute to better understanding of our transformations and help to achieve its main goals.

Lech Wałęsa
Günter Grass

The third Nobel prizewinner from Gdańsk Günter Grass was born here in 1927. His father was German, his mother descended from a Cassubian family. As the result of the war the majority of the remaining German inhabitants of Gdańsk were deported. Like all his compatriots Günter Grass missed his home city - now almost completely destroyed. To get over the bitter feeling of loss and homesickness he began to write. His novels and poems are full of reminiscences of the prewar Gdańsk and its people. Surprizingly they are now especially popular among the young generations of contemporary Polish inhabitants of Gdańsk. His literary works became a bridge between two nations. Therefor in 1993 he was granted the honorary citizenship by the Council of his native city and in 1999 he was honoured with the Nobel Prize.


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The world's richest deposits of amber lay on Samland not far from Gdańsk. Also in the vicinity of our city one can find much of this precious fossile resin, even on the beaches. The name "Amber Coast" is fully justified. The Amber Trail, connecting the Baltic Coast with the Mediterranian functioned as early as in the 2nd century a.C. Excavated stores of raw material, artifacts and semiproducts from the 9th-13th centuries confirm the existence of numerous workshops of amberware makers at those times.

The gathering and digging of amber as well as amber trade was a monopoly of the rulers of Gdańsk. Among others the Cistercian monks from the monastery in Oliwa, founded in the 12th century, were given right to gather amber in their territory. The fishers from Gdańsk obtained such rights too, under the condition to give all, what they have found, to the Teutonic Knights. Later on, in the Polish times, the amber monopoly went over to the Municipal Council of Gdańsk. In 1477 the Guild of Amberwaremakers was founded. Their number, at first equal to 46, was subsequently reduced to 40. From 1536 to 1812 286 masters were registered.

Many of them were very famous. The masters Gottfried Turow and Ernest Schacht from Gdańsk created the famous Amber Chamber, lost in the last war. Gdańsk was also a world center of scientific research on amber, carried out by members of the Natural History Society. Till 1895 25 papers were published in this field. The Museum of Natural History in the Green Gate, established in 1879, had the world's second / largest collection of raw amber pieces, often with unique inclusions. This splendid traditions are maintained and developped also today. Since 1994 the regular amberware fair "Amberif" is organized. In 2000 it was attended by 370 exhibitors. Gdańsk is today again the world's capital of amber.

Amber Association of Poland

Prof. Andrzej Januszajtis

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