A History of Gdansk

By Tim Lambert

Early Gdansk

The story of Gdansk begins in the 10th century. At first, it was a small trading settlement but it soon grew. In 1224 it was formally made a town when it was granted certain rights. Then in 1308 the Teutonic Knights (an order of German knights) took over Gdansk. They ruled it for more than a hundred years.

In 1454 Gdansk broke away from the Teutonic Knights. Afterward, the city was nominally part of Poland but it was effectively independent. In the 16th century, Poland was rocked by the Reformation and most of the people of Gdansk became Protestants.

Meanwhile, the town continued to flourish. It became a large and very important city. However, Gdansk suffered several outbreaks of plague, the last one in 1709.

Meanwhile, a statue of Neptune was erected in 1549. In 1633 it was made into a fountain. The Royal Chapel was built in 1681.

In the late 18th century Poland was divided up by the great powers. In 1793 Prussia took Gdansk. From 1871 it was part of Germany and in the late 19th century Gdansk grew rapidly. A town museum opened in 1872. A statue of Jan III Sobieski was made in 1897. It was moved to Gdansk in 1965.

Modern Gdansk

After the First World War Poland became independent again. However, the Allies decided to make Gdansk a semi-independent city again. It was known as Danzig. However, on 1 September 1939, the Germans invaded Poland. They annexed Gdansk.

In March 1945 the Russians captured Gdansk and afterward, the city became part of Poland. The ethnic German population was expelled and the city was rebuilt.

Under the Communist tyranny, the shipyards of Gdansk were very important but the workers were discontented. There were strikes in 1970 and 1980. The 1980 strikes led to the birth of Solidarity and eventually the collapse of Communism.

Meanwhile, a Maritime Museum was founded in 1960.

Today Gdansk is a thriving city. A Shipyard Museum opened in 2000. A shopping mall called Galeria Madison opened in 2003. Then in 2006, a statue of Johannes Hevelius was unveiled in Gdansk. Today the population of Gdansk is 486,000.