Gdańsk – city defensive walls


   The oldest timber defensive fortifications had the 13th century Gdańsk’s Old Town. As a result of the rebellion of 1271-1272, they were demolished at the order of prince Mściwoj II. In the period from 1294 to 1295 Przemysł II allowed the burghers to erect wooden fortifications, which, however, at the turn of 1308 and 1309, were demolished at the order of the Teutonic Order. When, in 1342, the Main City of Gdańsk was located on the Chełmno law, its intensive development began. Construction of brick fortifications began, which closed the city area from the north, west and south. It is not known whether there was a wall from Motława river side. In 1379, construction of the moat was completed, and in 1380, after obtaining the consent of the Grand Master Winrich von Kniprode, the Main Town from the south and partly west, was surrounded by the second, lower wall.
In the second half of the fifteenth century, defensive walls in place of old timber and earth fortifications, also obtained the Old Town and the Old Suburb. Simultaneously with the construction of the wall, the construction of towers and gates was carried out. Most of the town gates were built after 1380, but their development and strengthening lasted until the fifteenth and early sixteenth century.
From the second half of the 16th century, medieval fortifications lost their military significance in relation with the development of artillery and the construction of bastion fortifications in the foregrounds of Gdańsk. The walls of the Old Town and the Old Suburbs were dismantled. The walls of the Main City began to be enclosed on both sides with residential and commercial buildings. Thanks to this, a significant part of them survived until 1945.


   The fortifications of the Gdańsk Main Town from the 14th century consisted of a single line of the wall closing the city area from the north, west and south. Probably at first, from the river side, the city did not have brick fortifications. Along the defensive walls from the side of the city, ran a underwall street with a width of 4,3 meters, and outside there was a moat. The original wall was quite low, it was about 5 meters high with battlement and without arrowslits. After 1409, it was increased by another 5 meters and crowned with battlements equipped with arrowslits. A covered porch of guards circled it from inside.
The defensive wall was reinforced with towers. The earliest of them were probably rectangular, protruding from the face of the wall and open from the city side. In the fifteenth century, they were raised, roofed and closed with back walls. Some, such as the Corner Tower, were decorated with blendes, or like the Jacek Tower, topped with battlement.
The oldest known gates were built in the western part of the defensive walls of the Main Town. These were: Długouliczna Gate from 1346, Wide Gate from 1363 and the last Ludwisarska from 1378. The next ones were built in the northern part of the fortifications – the Castle Gate, possibly in the middle of the 14th century and in the southern part of the wall – the Frog Gate from 1357, the Na Zbytki Gate from 1378 and the Anchors Gate from 1378. Water gates, located at the exit of streets running towards Motlawa river, constituting one of the most characteristic elements of the landscape of Gdańsk, were begun at the turn of the 3rd and 4th quarter of the 14th century. It was the gate of Kogi from 1378 and Cow Gate from 1387. In the first half of the fifteenth century, more water gates were built: The Crane Gate from 1444, the Chlebnicka, Holy Ghost, Świętojańska and Tobias. In the second half of the fifteenth century, the creation of a group of water gates of the Main Town ended. At that time, Straganiarska and St. Mary gates were established. Water gates were mainly an economic function, there were storage rooms in them, and port piers were placed in front of them. The first gates could only be a simple passage in the wall. From the beginning of the second half of the fourteenth century, they began to be reinforced with brick, multi-storey gatehouses, extended slightly in front of the face of the wall. Perhaps gates were initially crowned with battlements, later replaced by a high roofs. From the end of the fourteenth century, they were reinforced with foregates with necks reaching the outer belt of fortifications.

   Among the water gates, the Crane’s Gate served as a port facility for loading goods and ballast on ships, and for setting up their masts. Built in the current shape in 1442-1444, it consists of two massive, brick towers connected by a kind of vaulted roof. The thickness of the ground floor walls was up to 4 meters. The building had three storeys and two doors that ran to the gunrest and the firing holes for the handguns placed above. In a tall, timber, 30-meter structure there were two pairs of wheels with a diameter of about six meters each. The device was able to lift the weight of two tonnes to a height of 27 meters, or after coupling both pairs of wheels, four tons at a height of 11 meters. The lower pair was used to lift barrels of wine and beer, millstones and the heaviest goods. The top wheels could also be used to mount masts on ships.
Building in the second half of the fifteenth century, the defensive walls of the Old Town and the Old Suburbs forced the construction of gates also in these districts. It was the gate of Saint James from 1461 and the gate of Corpus Christi from 1459, both in the form of two-tower buildings with a vaulted passage, over which the guard chambers were located. The last floor was crowned with hoarding. The Corpus Christi Gate had a foregate, which its outer gate was connected by the walls of the neck with the inner gate. The remaining gates of the Old Town were different in form: Drzewna from 1461 and Raduńska from the third quarter of the 15th century. The Raduńska Gate was the protection of the Radunia Canal through the defensive walls of the Old Town and consisted of a low but powerful, cylindrical tower and a rectangular building adjacent to it. However, the complex of the Drzewna Gate consisted of 3 large, cylindrical towers, two of which were connected by a vaulted passage, constituting a proper gate, placed in the line of defensive walls. One was covered with a high conical roof, the other topped with a battlement. The third tower flanked the outer foregate. We do not know much about the gate of Saint Elizabeth built in 1459, which was liquidated in 1480. From the two gates of the Old Suburb we know more about the Karowa Gate, built in 1462 in the north-west corner of the district, at the junction with the defensive walls of the Main Town. Its architecture was similar to the Old Town gates of St. James and Corpus Christi and it did not have any foregate. The second gate, the New Gate, in the southern part of the Old Suburbs walls, was built in the years 1460-1461. It consisted of a vaulted passage in the defensive wall and flanking tower (today White Tower). The last Gdańsk gate originating from the medieval construction traditions was the Stągiewna Gate built in the years 1517-1519, defending from the east access to the Granaries Island. According to supposition, it could have three towers with two passes, eventually it was realized as a two-tower one.
The outer defense zone of the Main Town was from 1379 a moat, and then a second belt of a lower, 3 meters high wall. It was located on the southern and partly western side of the city. Zwinger was between 3 and 5 meters wide. The thickness of the low wall was close to the thickness of the high wall and amounted to about 150 cm; it was crowned with rectangular battlement. In the second half of the fifteenth century, after digging the second moat to the west of the existing one, the foregates of the Ludwisarska and Wide Gates, were also extended. They consisted of two sections of the walls of the neck supported by, perhaps, brick bridges over the moats.

Current state

   Despite the destructions of World War II, many elements of the medieval fortifications survived to this day. In the Main City you can find: Straw Tower from the fourteenth / fifteenth century, high Jacek Tower from 1400, partially rebuilt Anchors Tower, the oldest of the survived Lantern Tower, the northernmost Swan Tower, Na Podmurzu Tower, the Corner Tower, the At the Old Pharmacy Tower, Schultz’s and Brewery towers. From the city gates you can see, the so-called water gates located on the Motława river: the Straganiarska Gate, St. Mary’s Gate, Chlebnicka Gate, Cow Gate and the largely rebuilt Świętojańska Gate. A unique monument is the Crane Gate, the oldest preserved port crane in Europe. From the land gates, only the Prison Tower and it is foregate complex has survived (the former Długouliczna Gate). Currently, it is used by the Historical Museum of the City of Gdańsk. It is also worth paying attention to the Stągiewna Gate from the beginning of the 16th century located on the Granaries Island. The White Tower and the ruined Pod Zrębem Tower have survived from the fortifications of the Old Suburbs.

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Zbierska E., Żuraw gdański, Gdańsk 1993.

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