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Gdansk City and River
Panorama Gdansk 1765

Gdansk City and River

The first mention of Gdansk comes from the year 997, when St. Adalbert arrived here travelling on a mission to Prussia. Dating from the year 1000, the Life of St. Adalbert (Żywocie Świętego Wojciecha) was written and was named as “urbs Gyddanyzc”. The word „urbs” means city, and the Latin way of writing the name Gdansk indicates that it had a Slavonic sound at the time as evidenced by the characteristic ending -sk (written as -zc). However, looking for the meaning of the name Gdansk, you have to reach for the Prussian lands, that is, the speech used by the Bałtów people inhabiting the areas on the other side of the Vistula River. In this language, words with a similar sounding core meant ‘wetland’ or ‘marsh’. Everything seems to agree because Gdansk is actually located on marshy terrain that had to resemble a quagmire prior to numerous drainage treatment being used. However, there is another explanation for the name of Gdansk, and actually not so much different but is less direct. Most probably, the Prussian word with the core ‘gd’ (today unknown) was the earlier name of Motława and it was only due to the river that it turned into a settlement located on its banks The name of Gdansk can therefore mean the city and the river. This has its deep justification, not only in the source of the name, but also in the connection of almost the entire history of the city with the river. The development of the city, prosperity, work and life of many generations of people, but also natural disasters and reconstruction from destruction and cataclysms is a common heritage of two elements i.e. nature, represented by the river, and culture, brought and developed here by people. Gdansk flourished thanks to its convenient location on the river just at the mouth of the Baltic Sea and the skills of people who came here and who could use natural conditions for economic purposes. 

Miasto Gdańsk, Motława, Rejsy Turystyczne, Rejs Galarem Po Gdańsku
Long Embankment 1864

Everything in Gdansk has been constantly changing for over 1000 years of its history commencing with the terrain, which was transformed from wetlands to the place where brick tenement houses, harbour cranes and magnificent temples and churches stood and culminating with nationality, which changed several times over: The Kingdom of Poland, the Duchy of Pomerania, the Duchy of Krakow, the state of the Teutonic Order, the Kingdom of Poland once again, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Kingdom of Prussia, the Free City of Gdansk (under the tutelage of the French Empire), the Kingdom of Prussia, the German Empire, the German Reich (called the Weimar Republic) , once again the Free City of Gdansk (this time under the protection of the League of Nations), the Third Reich, the Polish People’s Republic and the Republic of Poland! It must have been so important on the map, since it was so often the source of disputes. Pomerania and Piasts were fighting battles for Gdansk, Piasts with Brandenburg, Brandenburg with the Teutonic Knights, Teutonic Knights of the Danzigians and the Kingdom of Poland, the citizens of Gdansk and the Polish Kingdom with the Swedes, the supporters of Stanisław Leszczyński with Russia, who opposed him, the citizens of Gdansk with Prussia, Prussia with France, Poland with Nazi Germany and Hitler’s Germany with the Soviet Union. However, on the other hand, it must have been a great and attractive place, since the citizens of so many nationalities lived here and built the splendour of the city. The local population dominated here in the early Middle Ages. At the end of the Middle Ages, there was an influx of German people; however, it must be known that this does not mean there was a homogeneous group. The Germans consisted of newcomers from, among others, Lower Saxony, Westphalia, Rhineland, the Netherlands (or Lower Germany), Pomerania, Mecklenburg, Holstein, Schleswig (i.e. from the Baltic Sea), Thuringia, Hesse and Nassau (or Upper Germany), and from Silesia, the Czech Republic, Moravia and Brandenburg. The Danes, Swedes, the English and many other nationalities also lived in Gdansk.

Miasto Gdańsk, Żuraw, Motława, Rejsy Turystyczne, Rejs Galarem Po Gdańsku
Gdansk City and River 1770

Gdansk experienced both dramatic and lofty periods. The gloomiest one is the Gdansk slaughter of 1308, when the Teutonic Knights murdered Polish knights and the castle’s men; they drove out the townspeople and burned the city. The period of World War II was also gloomy and led to the destruction of 90% of historic buildings, the Gahanna of the population and almost a total change in the city’s demographics. The lofty periods include two centuries (the sixteenth and seventeenth) of prosperity and relative peace, when Gdansk became the richest city of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Solidaritymovement in 1980 was the same too, which ultimately led to the fall of communism in PolandMotława, whose original name was in itself the nucleus of the name Gdansk, was a witness to all these events. From the beginning, it was at the pinnacle of economic life and was surrounded by granaries, shipyards, workshops, gates and tenements, tensed with numerous bridges, repeatedly dug up and cleared in various directions, it was the centre of all traffic that occurred in Gdansk, and movement is life. This was the way it used to be and still is today when crowds of guests come to the city, whether during the Dominic Fair or at any other time, and go to Motława, where the heart of Gdansk beats.

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