A BIT OF HISTORY
16th century to 1772
Already in the 16th century there was a small fishing settlement within the present-day Nowy Port [New Port] district. Nowy Port as we know it, however, began to develop in the 17th century, still long before it acquired its present name.
The estuary of the Vistula River, Poland’s longest water trail serving for centuries as the main trade route, is one of the major strategic points not only in Poland, but also in the whole Baltic region and north Europe. Therefore, it is not surprising that fortification works were undertaken there, resulting in the construction of the Wisłoujście [Vistula-estuary] Fortress. In 1627 an earthwork was erected on the left, western bank of the Vistula. It was called the Western Entrenchment [Szaniec Zachodni], to be distinguished from an older and larger structure on the eastern riverbank, namely the Eastern Entrenchment [Szaniec Zachodni] of the Wisloujscie Fortess. The new construction did not serve its purpose well. It was rebuilt several times, only to be finally dismantled in 1654. A year later new Western Entrenchment was erected, located directly opposite the larger eastern part of the fort, between the riverbank and the present-day Starowiślna, Władysława IV and Jana Długosza streets.
Towards the end of the 17th century, on the forefield of the Western Entrenchment a small cemetery was established. Today on this plot of ground there is the roundabout where Władysława IV and Wyzwolenia streets meet. The cemetery served as the burying ground for the Wisłoujście crew. The fortress always used to be manned by a rather large number of soldiers, who had yet larger families. Thus, in the 17th and 18th century it functioned as a fairly sizable settlement. The left riverbank, inhabited by civilians, was far less populous. There were three inns there. The oldest one, called Hackenkrug, might have been opened as early as the 16th century. It was located by the present-day Oliwska street, close to the corner of Księdza Mariana Góreckiego street. The two other inns were called “Ballast” inns and located on the riverside: one where Oliwska street reaches the Vistula, the other south of the Western Entrenchment, in the vicinity of the cemetery and a ferry crossing across the Vistula. From the ferry crossing, there was a route going north-east, connecting Wisłoujście with Brzeźno village, and, turning south around Lake Zaspa, with Nowe Szkoty and Gdańsk. Along this route, there used to lead one of the oldest roads laid out in the area of present-day Nowy Port. Most of the earliest buildings, however, were erected further to the north, on the Vistula river, opposite the Westerplatte peninsula.
At that time, the Vistula flew into the Baltic Sea at the present-day Zakręt Pięciu Gwizdków [The Five Whistles Turn]. In the 16th century, sandbanks began to form on both sides of the estuary, finally turning into islands. They were called Osterplatte and Westerplatte. Osterplatte soon joined the mainland, while the other island remained separated. In the 17th century, Gdańsk could be reached from the Bay of Gdańsk via two waterways. One was the North Abyss [Głębia Północna] to the east of Westerplatte, at the present-day neck of the peninsula. The other passageway from Gdańsk to the sea, called the West Abyss [Głębia Zachodnia], initially did not play a significant role. In 1672, however, a board of experts declared that the western waterway should be maintained and widened. Accordingly, it was dredged and secured on its eastern side with a breakwater and a lock. After 1716 the mouth of the West Abyss on the Bay of Gdańsk side was protected by two breakwater structures, each more than a 1000 metres long. Thanks to these great-scale construction works, the West Abyss turned into a regular canal protected from both sea storms and the accumulation of river silt. It was named Neu Fahr Wasser (New Waterway), then simply Hafen Kanal (Port Canal). The Polish name of Nowy Port, in use from the end of the 19th century, and its older German counterpart (Neufahrwasser) both refer to the canal which enabled the development of the district and has determined its existence ever since.
The North Abyss becoming increasingly blocked with sand, it was closed for bigger vessels, which yet strengthened the significance of the Port Canal. The settlement started to gather potential for development, notwithstanding the fact that in 1772, apart from the three above-mentioned inns, there were only seven housed there. It became apparent that Nowy Port was gaining importance. At least from 1758, and perhaps even much earlier, two lighthouses were in operation, marking a safe route for ships. One significant drawback, seriously impeding the growth of Nowy Port, was the lack of a suitable land road to Gdańsk. There was only the roundabout way around Lake Zaspa and the adjacent marshland, via Nowe Szkoty.
New Port in Nowy Port
In the year 1772 Prussia seized the outskirts of Gdańsk, including Nowy Port. Gdańsk itself remained part of the Polish territory, but the Prussian king Frederick II started an economic war against the city. Featuring in the scheme of this war was Nowy Port. The Prussians encircled the tiny settlement with fortifications and began expanding it in order to make it capable of competing with Gdańsk. Customs posts in Nowy Port imposed high customs duties on ships going upstream in the direction of the river Motława, occasionally making them unload the cargo. Captains of smaller vessels would sometimes try to access Gdańsk through the North Abyss, which remained under the control of the city, but this passage was soon closed as well. All goods were to be delivered to and from Gdańsk via the Port Canal, now lined with new cargo wharfs and storage areas, as well as inns and taverns for sailors, along with a brewery and a vodka distillery to safeguard the supplies.
map from 1805
In 1807 Nowy Port counted already 90 houses and 840 permanent inhabitants. There were several streets in the village, the main one being the eastern section of later Olivaerstraße (Polish Oliwska [“Oliva Street”]). Schleuzenstraße (Polish Śluzowa [“Lock Street]), which no longer exists, branched off the high street, leading north in the direction of port wharfs, towards the lock on the eastern side of the Port Canal. Looking east, the next side street branching off Olivaer Straße towards the wharf was Schulstraße (Polish Szkolna [School Street]), whose name refers to an educational institution established there in 1785. Parallel to Schulstraße ran Salzstraße (Polish Solec [“Salt Street”]), leading to salt sheds on the Port Canal. Further to the east, between Oliwska street and the canal there was a lime kiln. North of the Western Entrenchment, there was another large complex of salt sheds. Not far from the lock, a wooden port crane was constructed.
A major role in the development of Nowy Port was played by its resident Matthias Broschke. He commissioned the erection of many of the above-mentioned structures, managed trade in Nowy Port and sponsored the construction of a shorter and better road to Gdańsk, laid out along the Vistula bank.
Uhlans, the Landwehr and Sailors
New construction investments in Nowy Port had been planned for 1807. The plans were never carried out, however, due to the Napoleonic Wars. At the turn of February and March 1807, the army of the Emperor of the French, comprising French, Polish, Saxon and Baden units, reached the outskirts of Gdańsk. The siege began. The city was being defended by Prussians and Russians. On the 16th of March Polish Northern League [Legia Północna], advancing from the direction of Wrzeszcz, attacked the Lime Entrenchment [Szaniec Wapienny] on the Vistula. Ten days later, on Maundy Thursday, the counterattack began. Prussian Landwehr soldiers under the leadership of Major von Krockow advanced from Nowy Port, attacking Northern League troops stationing in Wrzeszcz. The Prussians were repelled by General Michał Sokolnicki’s uhlans [Polish light cavalry]. Following the victory of the Napoleonic army, Nowy Port was incorporated to the Free City of Danzig, established in May 1807.
Six years later Gdańsk survived another siege. This time is was being defended by soldiers from 22 countries. The besiegers were mainly Russians, aided by Prussians as well as the British Royal Navy, which bombarded Nowy Port in 1812. The following year Russians besieged the French, who were defending themselves in Nowy Port with great obstinacy. The area suffered partial damage; not only did it soon return to its pre-war state, though, but even began to develop still more rapidly.
In 1817 new administrative borders of Gdańsk were defined, with consideration of the old property structure. Nowy Port was included in the city. Brzeźno and the area around Lake Zaspa belonged to Oliwa, a completely separate administrative unit. Together with Nowy Port, however, a narrow strip of land along the Vistula was incorporated to Gdańsk: the road built by Matthias Broschke.
Lighthouse in Nowy Port, 1893
The port on the Motława and its younger competing counterpart were joined into one administrative organism. It soon turned out that the younger part of Gdańsk port infrastructure is to play an increasingly important role in the development of the whole city. The growing tonnage of ships, resulting in a larger draft, made it impossible for bigger vessels to navigate on the Motława. An increasing amount of cargo was loaded in Nowy Port, which demanded constant improvements. 1824-1838 a stone breakwater construction was built on the northern side of the west mouth of the Port Canal. In 1840 the Vistula broke out of its levee system, forming a new estuary at Górki village. Vistula sediments kept silting the North Abyss. For that reason, five years later it was decided that Westerplatte would be connected to mainland by a causeway. The island ceased to exist, turning into a peninsula. From then on, all vessels going to Gdańska had to pass through the Port Canal.
The growth of Nowy Port was not hindered by a cholera epidemics in 1831. A railroad to the wharfs was completed. In 1899 Nowy Port and Gdańsk were connected by an electric tramway line going along the Vistula riverbank. At the beginning of the 20th century, the district also enjoyed an excellent water communication system. From 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., steamboats to Nowy Port left the quay at St. John’s Gate [Brama Świętojańska] every one hour, and in summer afternoons even more frequently. In order to go from Nowy Port to Westerplatte, one could choose from four ferries. Another two ferry connections ran across the Duty-free Basin [Basen Wolnocłowy] (present-day Władysława IV street), and one connected Nowy Port with Wisłoujście. Out of those seven waterway connections, only the last one still operates today.
picture and map created about 1908
Factories such as for example a sugar refinery were founded, as well as infantry barracks in the northern part of Nowy Port, between Olivaerstraße and Fischmeister Weg (present-day Wyzwolenia street). And at the Western Entrenchment of the Wisłoujście Fortress, a new fuel depot for Kaiser’s navy was buit.
New private houses were erected, along with public edifices such as schools and churches (a Catholic and an Evangelical one) with cemeteries. Towards the end of the 19th century, Nowy Port ranked second after Wrzeszcz in terms of the pace of development. One important concern was hygiene – a significant scientific and social issue at the beginning of the 20th century. Not all houses had running water or sewage systems. A bathhouse was built as a solution to this problem, serving schoolchildren and adult residents of Nowy Port alike.
The Free City and the Second World War
After the first world war, the development of Nowy Port was not as dynamic as at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. Changes continued, though. In 1929 the tramway line along the Vistula was closed and replaced by a new one, laid out further away from the river. A new tram garage was built, too.
In the demilitarized Free City, Poland received a considerable part of former Kaiser’s army barracks. Also the infantry barracks in Nowy Port became the property of the Republic of Poland. An immigration point was opened there, along with other offices serving the needs of Gdańsk Poles. On the Dead Vistula [Martwa Wisła] riverbank, a Polish post office was established.
A Military Transit Deposit [Wojskowa Składnica Tranzytowa] was located on the Westerplatte peninsula.
The more or less peaceful coexistence of Gdańsk Poles and Germans ended on the 1st day of September 1939. Westerplette was shelled from Nowy Port buildings, e.g. the lighthouse, and when the hostilities ceased, Nazi authorities turned former barracks into a prisoner-of-war camp.
People’s Republic of Poland
In 1945 the majority of port equipment of Nowy Port was destroyed; residential buildings and public edifices, however, suffered relatively minor damages. 1954 witnessed the opening of a new cultural centre of the district: the stately social-realist Maritime Cultural Centre [Morski Dom Kultury].
Land transport and communication between Nowy Port and other Gdańsk districts functioned in a similar way as before the war. In the 1960s one could reach Nowy Port using one of three tram lines (number 3,5 or 15). There was no bus route to this destination. Operating for over five decades, an essential feature of the life of the district used to be the Nowy Port line of the SKM city train [Fast Urban Train], regrettably closed in 2004.
Towards the end of the 1940s, the authorities still kept in operation the so-called “port tram” – a passenger boat running between Targ Rybny [Fishmarket] and Nowy Port. With time, waterway connections with the centre of Gdańsk and with other districts have been reduced, the Westerplatte ferry was the only one left.
In the 1970s, Port Północny [North Port] was launched. Nowy Port, for decades the main load transfer point in Gdańsk, got a competitor.
The recent years witnessed a major change in the spatial structure of Nowy Port. The fuel depot built in the times of Kaiser’s navy opposite the Wisłoujście Fortress was removed. The district regained access to the Vistula, which offers new possibilities for development. Are we going to make good use of them?
Nowy Port Bathhouse
At the turn of the 19th and 20th century, a large educational complex was erected in the quarter between Kirchenstraße (present-day Księdza Mariana Góreckiego street), Albrechtstraße (Strajku Dokerów street), Sasperstraße (Na Zaspę street) and Mühlbergstraße (leading uphill in the direction of a windmill, present-day Mylna street). First, a school overlooking Na Zaspę street was built (it no longer exists), followed by four still standing school buildings and a bathhouse with gym.
Elevation of the bathhouse in Nowy Port
Built 1907-1909, the bathhouse was designed for both pupils from local schools and other residents of the district. The new building closely resembled a slightly earlier similar construction, namely the bathhouse in Jaskółcza street in the district of Dolne Miasto. The two buildings differed in terms of their functional arrangement, though. In Dolne Miasto, next to the bathhouse proper an auxiliary building was erected, whereas in Nowy Port all facilities were located in one building, which resulted in a smaller number of baths and showers than in Jaskółcza street. In the ground floor of the bathhouse in Strajku Dokerów street, there were back-up facilities such as the boiler room, laundry room, drying room, staff room for teachers waiting for their pupils, as well as staff flats. As many as three staircases led up to the first floor, each to a separate set of bathing facilities: for women, men or children. There were five bathtubs and three showers for the ladies, while the gents had three bathtubs and twelve showers at their disposal. Every bath or shower was located in a separate locked bathroom with a cabinet for clothes. The children’s section of the bathhouse had a rather different layout, with 48 small changing cabins and 24 showers. The second floor accommodated a gym with a changing room, a storage room for sports equipment, a toilet and a staffroom for sports teachers.
Bathhouse floor plan
1. Men’s waiting room
2. Men’s bathroom
3. Bathroom for schoolchildren
5. Teachers’ room
6. Towel storage room
7. Women’s bathroom
8. Women’s waiting room
The elevation of the bathhouse building was decorated in the neo-Roman style, with half-round arches, characteristic friezes and portals. These rather sombre forms had one important advantage: they were quite simple and inexpensive to make. Thus, the new monumental building avoided an overwhelming richness of ornament.
In the 1970s, bathroom facilities were already installed in most of the apartments in Gdańsk. Public bathhouses were no longer needed. The building that once housed the Nowy Port bathhouse was falling into disrepair. Eventually, a new owner came along and the concept of a new function of the building was born: the former bathhouse will house a branch of Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art which has its main seat in a twin-bathhouse in Dolne Miasto.
The project "Revitalization of New Port in Gdansk" is co-financed from the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund.