History of Gdansk

Gdańsk, Danzig, Dantzig

The Middle Ages
The city of Gdansk (polish: Gdańsk) or as it is often known by its German name - Danzig (older spelling: Dantzig), had been at its beginnings in the 9th Century a small Polish settlement and a wooden fortress, which grew to the size of town only in 12th and 13th centuries, largely through the arrival of German settlers. Located at the mouth of the Vistula River, Gdansk became one of the biggest towns in the whole region and the capital of Pomerelia princedom. Gdansk (Danzig) acquired city rights around 1235 under the Lübeck Law, popular in the Baltic region.
After the death of the last Pomerelia prince in 1271, mainly German populated city, formally under the protection of Polish Crown, managed to stay independent. Besieged by the Magraviate of Magdeburg army, Gdansk appealed to The German Order of Teutonic Knights for help. Through this decision Gdansk succeeded to defend itself and its vast surrounding area of settlements and villages from the invasion. Nevertheless, when the Polish King W³adys³aw I refused to pay the hefty compensation for this help to the knights, they took over Gdansk by force in 1308. As the population rebelled, German knights removed small Polish garrison from the city and massacred 10 000 of Gdansk inhabitants, mainly from surrounding the town settlements, destroying some of them completely. Today, most of historians doubt, if the whole town population was so big and find the figure of victims largely exaggerated, probably spread by the Polish court. The pope established at the time a special commission to investigate these crimes which never came to any conclusions.

Under the Teutonic rule
In the years to follow, Gdansk (Danzig) received more German settlers, who developed the town, acquired membership of the Hanseatic League, created the major harbor and an important trade center in the Baltic region. But the rule of the German order of knights over the city has been heavy handed. The Lübeck Law which provided the rule of the city by city council has been replaced by stricter city law. Harsh rules and taxation burden provoked multiple violent revolts against the Teutonic rule. Merchants and members of the city council traveled abroad and maintained contacts with other members of the Hanseatic union, being able to compare life and laws abroad with the German rule in Gdansk. The town strived for autonomy.
In 1410 Gdansk city council asked Polish King for protection. Few years later The Teutonic Knights imprisoned for treason and beheaded three members the city council, including the mayor of Danzig, Conrad Letzkau.
In 1440, all cities of the region under leadership of Danzig, Elbing (today Elbl¹g) and Thorn (Toruñ), all of them mainly German speaking, but striving for freedom and autonomy from the harsh Teutonic rule, created the Prussian Confederation (Preußischer Bund) of towns, with an aim to fight the Teutonic rule in the region. In 1454 the population of Danzig, had enough - the Danzigers revolted for the fifth time. Teutonic castle in town has been destroyed, and Prussian Confederation together with Poland went to war against the Order of Teutonic Knights.

Gdansk as an autonomous city, part of Kingdom of Poland
After the Thirteen Years War, financed mainly by the cities of Prussian Confederation, the Order has been defeated by Poland. The peace accord signed in 1466 has given the whole area called from now on the Royal Prussia to Poland. Gdansk enjoyed large autonomy and achieved in the years to follow unknown prosperity. As the main harbor of grain trade the town and its area profited from the export of harvests from Poland and then being part of Poland Ukraine, to the Netherlands and Germany.
Gdansk of that time was the town where many important people of the epoch live, research and create. Typical of theses figures has been Daniel Chodowiecki (1726-1801) - German artist, born in Danzig, but active in Berlin, who was proud to be Polish, but never spoke the language.
The prosperity period of Gdansk (Danzig) ended with the loss of Ukraine by Poland to Russia at the end of 17th C. and with the development of agriculture in Western Europe in the 18th C., where yields have been much improved, and the import from Eastern Europe has lost its vital importance. Poland was tarnished by wars, invaded by Russia and Sweden and Gdansk has been for six months besieged and partly destroyed by Russians in 1734, but managed to defend itself.

As a part of Kingdom of Prussia
Kingdom of Poland has been divided at the end of the 18th C. by Austria, Prussia and Russia and ceased to exist. The town has been taken by force by German Prussia (1793) and incorporated to the Kingdom of Prussia.

Free City under Napoleon
When Napoleon invaded this part of Europe, he created of Danzig and its area the Free City (1807-1814). Russian army besieged Gdansk for almost one year in 1813, but failed to take it. It is only in January of 1814, that the French garrison left and the city returned to the Kingdom of Prussia.

Again in Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire
In the 19th Century, Danzig loses its importance as a trade center and as a harbor. Shipyards constructed in the middle of the century meant new jobs, but the city which had lived from commerce with goods produced in Poland, could not prosper. Form 1871 with the unification of Germany by Bismarck, Gdansk together with Western Prussia has been incorporated into the German Empire.

Free City between two World Wars of the 20th C.
Between the World Wars of the 20th century, this mainly German populated town was a Free City, with its own constitution and ruling system. Conquered in September of 1939 by Hitler’s Germany during the invasion of Poland, the city has been incorporated into the IIIrd Reich of Adolf Hitler.

Gdansk in the IIIrd Reich
Heavily bombarded by the Allies during the war, this beautiful historic town has been perceived by the Soviets as the first big German city taken during the WWII. In consequence Gdansk has been almost completely destroyed by the Red Army during and in the days after the liberation in March of 1945.

In Poland
Decision of the Allied powers has given in 1945 ruined Gdansk to Poland. In ensuing months, remaining German population was forced to leave, while the city received Polish inhabitants moved here from Polish territories of the Eastern Borderlands, given by the Yalta agreements to Soviet Union. Germany renounced its claims to Gdansk in the 1970-ties, and today, painstakingly rebuilt, Gdansk is an important Polish city.
In its very recent history, Gdansk gave birth to the Solidarity workers movement, from which the fight with communism in Eastern Europe began.
Large industries well developed service facilities, big and modern harbor, links with the Scandinavian countries across the Baltic, adds up to position Gdansk as an important business center of the region. Proximity of the nearby cities of Sopot and Gdynia as well as Baltic Sea resorts, together with the unique beauty of its historical monuments, make Gdansk an interesting city to visit.