Laznia 1
Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art
1, Jaskolcza st, Gdansk - Dolne Miasto
phone +48 58 305 40 50 
office@laznia.pl
 
Public transport from Main Station:
bus: 111, 120
tram: 9, 3
SKM: stop Środmieście and walk Toruńska Street about 10 min.
 
 
 
 THE LOWER TOWN AND ITS BATHHOUSE
 
In the 19th century, when the centre of Gdańsk had already reached its full form, the city consisted of six main quarters: Główne Miasto (the Main Town), Stare Miasto (the Old Town), Stare Przedmieście (the Old Suburb), Wyspa Spichrzów (Granary Island), Biskupia Górka z Grodziskiem i Nowymi Ogrodami (the Bishop’s Hillock, the Stronghold and New Gardens) and Dolne Miasto (the Lower Town). The division is still evident in our times.
 
The Lower Town (German: Niederstadt), where Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art is situated, is the south-east part of the historical centre of Gdańsk. In the north-west, the Lower Town is enclosed by the New Motlava, though in the 19th century the quarter was administratively connected with Ołowianka (Lead Island), located on the west bank of the river. In the south and east, the boundary of the quarter is marked off by the line of defensive walls and the moat. 
 
The Stone Dike. Drawing: Witta, in:
O. Kloeppel, Das Stadtbild von Danzig in den drei
Jahrhunderten seiner großen Geschichte.
Danzig 1937
 
The question of the northern boundary of the Lower Town is more complex. In earlier times, other north-east areas of the centre of Gdańsk had been regarded as its part. Such a definition of the northern borders of the Lower Town appears also in contemporary historical studies. It is equally possible to limit the areas defined by the name “Lower Town” to those which were developed as late as the 17th century, after the raising of defensive walls and bastions, excluding: Długie Ogrody (Long Gardens), the neighbourhood of Angielska Grobla (the English Dike), Szafarnia, Wyspa Spichrzów (Granary Island)and Ołowianka. The smaller version of the Lower Town functioned in documents issued by municipal institutions.
 
The Lower Town’s geographical location greatly affected its history. Gdańsk lies on the border of the Kashubian Lake District, with its high hills, and the flat area of the delta of the Vistula. As early as the 13th century, the areas of the present Lower Town were flooded by the waters of a huge lake reaching a dozen or so kilometres further eastward.
 
In the 14th century, the essential elements of the present centre had already taken shape, except for the Lower Town. Northward from our quarter, the suburb of Long Gardens developed. As the name itself indicates, it originally had a rural character yet, in the 15th century, St Barbara’s Parish Church was built there, which later was frequented by the inhabitants of the Lower Town as well. Later on, in the 18th century, Long Gardens became an elegant quarter with a couple of palaces. 
The boundary between Long Gardens and the areas on which later the Lower Town would arise was Szkocka Grobla (the Scottish Dike). As early as the Middle Ages, a small settlement upon the Motlava was inhabited in the vicinity of the Scottish Dike, near the present Szopy Street.
 
In the 16th century, owing to the requirements of city defence, the boggy ditch protecting the storage areas was deepened and converted into a moat, defending Psi Wał with Brama Stągiewna (the Dog’s Bulwark with the Milkvat Gate). Thus, in the years 1517–1519, Granary Island came into existence. The 16th century marked the dynamic development of Gdańsk, which turned into the largest town and port in the Baltic Sea area. The port on the Motlava proved too small.
In 1593, the defensive canal protecting Granary Island was broadened and it became navigable. This was the New Motlava– the western boundary of the Lower Town, the latter beginning to take shape about that time.
 
In the east and south, the area of the Lower Town was closed some time later. The end of the 15th century was a relatively calm period in this part of Europe. Gdańsk experienced several military conflicts but they did not cause an serious damage to the city. The situation changed at the turn of the 16th century. A conflict was growing between Poland and Sweden, caused by a dynastic quarrel and a struggle for domination in the Baltic Sea area.
 
Faced with danger, the City Council decided to build modern defensive walls in the south, east and north where so far only primitive medieval bulwarks had existed. The new fortifications were one of the most important investments in the city’s history. They set the city limits for hundreds of years and even today they are elements of the skeleton of Gdańsk’s layout. Executing such a serious task required a lot of study. In 1600, Italian engineers from Piedmont, Captain Hieronimus Ferrero and Giovanni Battista from Vercelli drafted designs of the southern line of fortifications.
 
The construction was not carried out, though, and so at least a makeshift protection had to be provided. In 1619, Willem Jansz Benning and Adrian Olbrants, both from Alkmaar in the northern Netherlands, built Kamienna Śluza (the Stone Sluice). The installation protected the town from floods, provided a proper water level in the mill canal yet foremost constituted an utterly effective defensive device. 
In an emergency, the city defenders closed the sluice to flood the areas eastward of the city. This prevented enemy armies from even approaching the town from this direction. Such flooding defended Gdańsk for the last time in 1945, which did not leave the Lower Town unaffected.
 
The sluice alone was not enough. Gdańsk’s authorities asked two Dutch fortification engineers, Cornelius van den Bosch and Daniel van Buren, to design the line of defensive walls. Later on, local architect Jan Strakowski, being the municipal builder at that time, presented his own concepts. As a result of a kind of a competition, in 1621 the City Council decided to realise the designs of van den Bosch. 
The reasons for the choice are clear. The Dutchman offered fortifications which were more modern and cheaper and enclosed a larger area. If the local rival had won, the Lower Town would be much smaller today. The embittered Strakowski, whose concept lost, had to content himself with a commission for designing gates in the new defensive walls. After the project had been submitted, the City Council and the Third Order, gathering representatives of the then “middle class”, went through the customary quarrel about money. 
The works started intensively as late as the second half of 1623, after the Swedish fleet had showed up in Gdańsk Bay. The fortifications were completed in 1636. The Lower Town was incorporated into Gdańsk. In the 17th century, the name of the quarter – the Lower Town – Niederstadt – started to function, instead of the less elegant name of Świńska Łąka – Pig’s Meadow.
Plan of Gdańsk by A. Gersdorff, 1882. From the State Archives in Gdańsk.
 
Unlike today, Gdańsk’s defence walls were not a forgotten suburban nook but the city’s pride, a walking area and an installation readily shown to newcomers.
 
The ramparted area of the Lower Town was left unused for many years. It was only in 1650 that Georg Tellior prepared a plan of development of the Lower Town. The street grid was outlined and drainage canals started to be built along the middle of the streets. Water was pumped out of the canals by means of a Dutch method – by windmills situated upon bastions and in the city’s foreground.
 
The Lower Town was not a representative quarter. In the 18th century, its buildings were of a rather suburban character. These were townspeople’s summer residences, for instance the Uphagen Manor House, and cheap wooden houses. There were few buildings of public use. In 1698, the plague hospital was transferred from Osiek to a building in the vicinity of the bastions called Wilk (Wolf) and Wyskok (Escapade). This soon proved to be a critical decision. 
The great plague in 1709 caused the death of nearly half of the 50 thousand inhabitants of Gdańsk at that time. In 1711, in the Lower Town, one of the “Freischulen” (“Free Schools”) of Joachim Weickhmann’s foundation opened. From 1777 to 1842 the masonic lodge called “Eugenia under the Crowned Lion” was active at 1 Sadowa Street. The lodge had its headquarters in a rebuilt mansion situated “within the distance of a cannon shot of the nearest neighbours”, that is, according to the requirement of locating a lodge properly isolated from neighbours. 
In the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th century it was not difficult to find a remote plot in the Lower Town. It had the largest area among Gdańsk’s quarters while it was not intensively utilised. In 1807, the Lower Town together with Long Gardens encompassed 567 houses. To compare, the Old Suburb, being several times smaller, had 450 houses at that time.
 
The city’s authorities, however, were taking care of the quarter. In 1795, 280 oil lanterns were installed in Long Gardens and the Lower Town. In 1803, the quarter obtained yellow plaques with street names. The colour distinguished the Lower Town from the rest of the parts of Gdańsk: the Main Town, the Old Town and the Old Suburb.
 
At the beginning of the 19th century in the Lower Town industry plants were set up. In 1805 in Łąkowa Street a sugar refinery was working. Military plants – artillery repair works– were opened in 1818 in Ułańska Street.
 
The great industrialisation of the quarter started as late as about 1850. Gründerzeit – the times of industrial development in Central Europe – created the majority of the architectural substance of the Lower Town. Gdańsk was not the main beneficiary of the times, as other cities of Central Europe developed more intensively. In 1871, Gdańsk ranked 11th in terms of the number of inhabitants among the cities of the German Empire, and only 20th by 1890. However, modern industry was introduced to Gdańsk, too. In the 1840s, the Lower Town became the first industrial quarter of Gdańsk.
Barracks in Łąkowa Street.
Photo: J. Szczepański,2006.
 
In those days, steam machines ousted the hydropower employed before. Factories ceased to have to be located upon rivers or streams. In 1840, the gun factory was translocated from Oliwa to the Lower Town. In 1907, the Royal Rifle Factory in Łąkowa Street employed 908 people, and as such was the greatest industrial plant in Gdańsk after the shipyards. Between the new plant and the aforementioned artillery repair works, another three machine factories were founded, complete with cast-iron foundries.
 
The military function of the plants in the Lower Town was not at all accidental. The 19th century Gdańsk was a significant fortress with a huge garrison. To meet the army’s needs, in 1868 barracks were built in Łąkowa Street. Second barracks were raised in the years 1883–1885.
 
In 1852, railroad tracks reached Gdańsk. The railway station was located on the southern edge of Granary Island, in the direct neighbourhood of the Lower Town, which constituted an additional impulse for the quarter’s development. In the years 1892–1893 in the northern part of the Lower Town, at the English Dike, a large slaughterhouse was raised. It was served by the newly built railway track which at the same time brought trains directly to the gates of the factories of the Lower Town. Another food industry plant was the oil mill raised at the Stone Dike in the 1870s. 
In 1891, the drugstore goods factory, owned by the Schuster und Kaehler company, was moved to the Lower Town (at 26 Przyokopowa Street).
 
Along with the industrialisation of the Lower Town, actions were carried out to improve the living standards of the inhabitants. About 1850, the idea emerged to fill the drainage canals and exchange them for a network of underground systems of sewage canals. Between 1863 and 1864, engineer Eduard Wiebe from Berlin outlined the plan of the water system for Gdańsk. This enterprise raised so much public interest that in spring 1865 Wiebe’s plans were published. The realisation started in August 1869 and finished as early as December 1871. 
The Lower Town lost its Dutch structure of canal networks yet gained new development opportunities. Doing away with open canals enabled the building of the modern system of public transportation which linked the quarter with the city centre. In 1874, Łąkowa Street was extended up to Elbląska Street. On 14 July 1885, two lines of horse-drawn trams started to circulate between the Lower Town and the city centre. The first one started at the hospital in the present Kieturakis Street via Łąkowa and DługieOgrody Streets up to Długa Street and Targ Rakowy (Crayfish Market); 
the other one from the Long Gardens Gate through Stągiewna Street. In Kurza Street, a depot housed 18 horsedrawn trams and a stable for 72 horses. In 1886, the third horsecar line ran from Łąkowa via Toruńska Street up to Targ Rybny (Fish Market). At the end of the 19th century the trams turned electric.
 
In the second half of the 19th century, apart from small houses of light frame construction, tenement houses started to be built. They were houses with flats of very diverse standards. There were tenements including huge luxurious apartments, others had two-room flats without bathrooms. The Abegg Foundation, active in the field of improving the living conditions of the workers, built a complex of houses in the south-west part of the Lower Town about 1880. The estate consisted of ten semi-detached houses in Dobra Street (then: Abegg-Gasse). Only one building of the Abegg Foundation estate has been preserved to our time.
 
In 1853 the development began of St Mary’s Hospital with the Catholic Chapel of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Along the present Kieturakis Street, near the former Uphagen Manor House, further hospital buildings were raised.
 
On 15 August, 1867, the first public swimming pool in Gdańsk was opened in a part of the moat at Bastion Młyński (Mill Bastion). It was intended for both bathing and sports competitions. The civil population was given access to the army’s swimming pool in the moat at Bastion Wół (Ox Bastion). Bathing in the canal was not the best hygienic treatment. On 15 April 1908, there occurred the inauguration of the Bathhouse in Jaskółcza Street, whose construction costs came to 190 thousand marks. It was one of three institutions of the kind launched in Gdańsk during the first decade of the 20th century.  
Layout design of the Bathhouse
after its opening in 1908.
Drawing: J. Szczepański, after:
Danzig und seine Bauten. Berlin 1908.
 
A little earlier, the Bathhouse in Osiek Street in the Old Town had opened, and after 1908 one could attend the Bathhouse in the New Port in the present Strajku Dokerów Street. All these institutions functioned in a similar way and were intended both for pupils of the neighbouring schools and for local people. The top floor housed a gym, the lower floors – shower rooms and bathtub rooms. The Old Town Bathhouse had neo-Gothic forms, while the Lower Town and New Port Bathhouses were built in the neoRomanesque style, or rather a style relating to Rundbogenstil (round arch style).
Austere forms with semicircular arches were frequently employed in Germany in the second half of the 19th century and in the first years of the 20th century for barracks, schools, industrial buildings and also bathhouses. In the years 1895–1897 in Wrocław [Breslau], a city bathhouse was raised whose body and detail resembled the building in Jaskółcza Street. The buildings in Gdańsk which featured blind arcade detail were for instance the barracks in Ułańska Street in the Lower Town and Wijbe Barracks in Rzeźnicka Street in the Old Suburb. 
The most similar architecture in terms of form and function was that of the New Port Bathhouse. In both bathhouses the traffic was strictly separate for women, men and children. There were three staircases, each of them with an individual entrance, leading to a men’s, ladies’ or children’s changing room. Next to the changing rooms there were rooms with shower and bathtub cubicles. The Lower Town Baths were provided with 72 changing rooms and 36 showers for schoolchildren. They were situated on the ground floor, next to the laundry and boiler room. 
Close to the latter, within a couple of metres of the bathhouse, a house for the stoker was built. From the ground floor one could climb up to the second floor directly, to enter the gym for schoolchildren only. On the first floor, there were 22 showers and 4 bathtubs for men and 6 showers and 8 bathtubs for women. A shower cost 10 pfennigs, soap and towel included. 
To give a comparison, that was also the price for a tram ticket between Łąkowa Street and the Central Railway Station. The price for a bath in the swimming pool in the moat by the Ox Bastion was similar and included use of a changing booth. A tub bath was much more expensive as it cost 30 pfennigs.
 
1895 was the time of another important decision in the city’s history. The demolition of the defensive walls started. The enclosure of bulwarks preventing the city centre from expanding was broken. A couple of south-east bastions were spared, though. The Lower Town preserved its distinctive boundaries from the south and east in the form of water and a greenery area which could be used for recreation but actually limited the development of the quarter.
 
After World War I, the Lower Town did not go through any significant changes. The most important ones resulted from the process of the demilitarisation of Gdańsk. The new political body – the Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk) – had no right to maintain its own army. The artillery repair works were converted into a tin can plant. The equipment from the Rifle Factory was transported to Warsaw and Radom where it became the foundation of the arms industry of the resurrected Polish state. The buildings of another arms factory were demolished and replaced by the Cigarette Factory. 
It was designed by Wilhelm Köster and the renowned Gdańsk architect Adolf Bielefeldt. The plant was inaugurated on 1 July 1928. The Tobacco Factory, located on the bend of Łąkowa Street, became a dominant closing the street’s perspective.
 
During the Free City period, Gdańsk still developed in the north-western direction. The historical centre ceased to be the geometric centre. It was situated on the verge of the urban organism, the Lower Town being its south-east boundary.
 
In the 1920s, a public debate about the future development of the city was initiated. One of the issues was the question of opening the city eastwards, thus linking the Lower Town with the areas of Żuławy. Adjoining the Lower Town to the potential areas for investment eastward from the centre could give a spark to the quarter’s development. A series of solutions was presented. The supporters of modernity quarrelled with the adherents of tradition.
The war halted the discussions. Throughout the five years of war, the city did not suffer much damage. It was not subject to the Allied carpet bombing which destroyed Berlin, Szczecin [Stettin], Königsberg and other cities of the Third Reich. In March 1945, damage to Gdańsk was still scarce. The last weeks of the war, however, marked the most tragic moment in the city’s history.
 
Because of the depression of the area of Żuławy, protecting Gdańsk from the east, Soviet and Polish armies were forced to circle the city. They attacked Gdańsk from the north-west, via Oliwa and Wrzeszcz. German soldiers withdrew through the Old Town and the Main Town in the direction of Westerplatte and Stogi. The main military skirmishes omitted the Lower Town. The majority of its tenements were preserved. Only the north-west part of the quarter upon the New Motlava was more seriously damaged.
 
One of the designs of entrance to Gdańsk from the East,
after: O. Kloeppel, Danzig am Scheidewege, Danzig-Berlin 1928.
 
After the war, the reconstruction of Gdańsk focused on the almost completely demolished Main Town. Its churches, tenements, the Town Hall and Artus Court were reconstructed with enormous toil. The Lower Town did not demand such large-scale investments but throughout the decades the existing infrastructure was not even supported.
 
A few public buildings were erected, like the primary school in Śluza Street opposite the Bathhouse, opened in 1961, the pharmacy in Jaskółcza Street from 1966 or other small buildings for the use of commerce and services. By the end of the 1960s, the execution of the project of the “Lower Town I” estate was launched, implementing the urban design plans of Witold Rakowski. The estate consisted of 10-storey tower blocks whose main advantage is their location along the bend of the New Motlava. 
The buildings create an accomplished, consciously designed composition. The tower block raised a few years later between Królikarnia and Chłodna Streets, of similar height, was brutally incorporated into a quarter of tenement architecture, thus destroying its spatial integrity. In spite of these investments, the state of the Lower Town was still deteriorating. Unrenovated tenements fell into decline. Social problems started to arise in the underinvested quarter.
 
The Lower Town is just several hundred metres from the tourist and administrative centre of Gdańsk. It belongs to the complex of the centre of Gdańsk, officially recognised as a monument in 1947 and a historic monument in 1994. It is enclosed by bastions and defensive and regular canals making for highly attractive recreation areas. It is saturated with monuments as the only part of the historical centre of Gdańsk which was not demolished during World War II. It has large reserve areas, opening up new opportunities and functions.
 
What exactly are the causes of the quarter’s problems? One of them is the development of the city directed to the north-west. This results from the geographical layout, like the lie of the land and watercourses. These conditions, taken all together, and the direction of the winds, blowing most of all from the west, cause the oppressive industry to move east of the centre and the attractive quarters in the opposite direction.
 
Another negative urban design aspect is the isolation by urban planners of the Lower Town from the rest of the centre by means of the transit thoroughfare called the East–West Route (Trasa W–Z). This may actually be regarded as the basic reason for the degradation of the quarter. It is even sometimes suggested that constructing this thoroughfare caused the Lower Town to turn steadily into slums.
 
Certainly, the unfavourable attitude towards the architecture of the turn of the 19th century had a bad influence upon the quarter. This approach was until quite recently still dominant among the professionals managing Gdańsk’s spatial development. Urban planner Janusz Kowalski regretted in 1969 that “the zone along Łąkowa Street is burdened with the servitude of old buildings”, which prevents the designing of modern buildings along the Lower Town’s main street.
 
Tolerance of the degradation of the Lower Town’s architecture, as well as other historical complexes in Gdańsk, originates from the characteristic disregard and lack of concern towards historical substance as such. This phenomenon is connected with a consolidated yet dangerous popular belief in the equivalence of the copy, the reconstruction, the pastiche and the original.
 
What are the chances of rescuing the Lower Town and using its potential? The 1990s brought many changes in the quarter. Just as in other cities in Europe, the process has begun of moving selected functions, above all industrial and military, outside the city centres. Luckily enough for the Lower Town, some of the abandoned buildings within its area and on its edges have been taken over by cultural, educational and scientific institutions.
 
In 1989, the 13th Kashubian Regiment of Internal Defence Forces deployed in the barracks in Łąkowa Street was disbanded. In 1998, the Academy of Music in Gdańsk inaugurated the new academic year in the buildings taken over from the army (the former secondary school from 1881), and later on adapted further barracks buildings.
 
In 1996, on the southern fringe of the Old Suburb, the Faculty of Sculpture of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk was located in Mała Zbrojownia (the Small Armoury). Next to it, there is one of the student dorms of the Academy of Music.
 
After the 1989 breakthrough, the Baths were left abandoned. The showers and bathtubs had already been out of order for a few years. In the 1980s, the building began to be adapted to meet the requirements of a decontamination station, a decision connected with the planned nuclear plant by the Kashubian Lake Żarnowiec. In the case of a serious accident at the plant, civil defence was supposed to decontaminate the victims of the disaster in the Bathhouse. 
The nuclear plant in the vicinity of Gdańsk did not finally come into existence so the decontamination point was not necessary and thus, in 1992, in the partly devastated building the first artistic activities were initiated by the group consolidated around Wyspa Gallery. In 1998, Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art was opened. This new institution took over the main building only, giving up the stoker’s house which had been a proper part of the whole. This made it impossible to use the staircases in the northern corner of the building – for men and for women. 
Internal traffic in Laznia is enabled thanksto the former schoolchildren’s staircase in the south-east corner. It used to connect the ground floor with the second floor directly, at present it is also communicated with the first floor. As a result of such reconstruction, one has to step down to the exhibition halls from the level of the staircase. The building itself has lost several elements of the former layout and almost all the equipment. It retained, however, an intact considering Gdańsk’s conditions – architectural body.
The Centre for Contemporary Art is pursuing works aiming at improving technical conditions and comfort of use. From the point of view of the long-term survival of the historical building, the actions reaching beyond the Bathhouse’s walls are equally important. Projects pursued for a few years now, like the Outdoor Gallery (Galeria Zewnętrzna), or the educational programme addressed to the young inhabitants of the quarter give us the right to hope that we will see the Lower Town restored to Gdańsk some day.
 
The decisions of city’s authorities are also essential. They may be symbolised by the fact that, in 2004, the Monument Protection Department was located in the tenement at 34 Łąkowa Street, in the direct vicinity of Laznia. The city of Gdańsk recognised the revitalisation of the Lower Town as one of its priorities. These plans are likely to be realised.
 
Jakub Szczepański
The text "The Lower Town and Its Bathhouse" was published in "Laznia - the Bathhouse. Architecture, Art and History" edited by dr Paweł Leszkowicz, pub. CSW Łaźnia, 2008
 
 
 
 
 
The project "Revitalization of Lower Town in Gdansk" is co-financed from the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund.
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