The Main Town Hall in Gdansk

 Important dates:

 1298                    –    Privilege of King Vladislaus Lokietek for setting up a pallatium

  1327                    –   Construction of a new building replacing the old one

 1336                    –    Construction of the first town hall

 1379 – 1382       –    Modernisation

 1454 – 1457       –     Adding height to the building and adding a gable to the eastern wall

 1486 – 1492       –     Building of the tower

 1499                    –     Construction of the tower clock

 1537-1552         –     Modernisation of the building

 3.10.1556           –     Fire destroys the building

 1559 – 1562      –      Rebuilding

 abt. 1585            –      Building the wing around the yard

 End of XVIc.        –     Placing a sundial on the south-east corner of the building

 1593 – 1611      –     Mannerist works in and on the edifice

 1766 – 1768       –    Main portal is done

 1945                    –     Destruction of the building during the shelling and bombing also during the fire of the city in March

 1946                    –     Decision to rebuild the Town Hall

 2.04.1970           –     Termination of Works

 2000                    –     Assembling of 37-bell carillon, produced by Dutch Royal Eijsbouts in Asten.

 Architecture:

Gothic building with mannerist influence – with clear Flemish references

 Builders

Heinrich Ungeradin 

Hans Kreczmer

Heinrich Hetzel

Michael Enkinger - woodworker

Dirk Daniels

Architectural supervision in XVI c. – Anton van Obberghen 

Carving works – Willem Richter, Daniel Eggerts, Willem van der Meer, Simon Herle

Paintings – Hans Vredemann do Vries, Isaac van den Blocke, Anton Möller, and Józefa Wnukowa

Attracts attention:

Eastern attic 

Tower adorned with gilded figure of the Polish king Sigismundus II Augustus

Gdansk Town Hall 

Interesting information:

It is one of the symbols of Gdansk, seen from the distance thanks to the slender Tower and figure of King Sigismundus II Augustus on top, reflecting the sun. The building is also audible, thanks to the charming carillon. 

The town hall in mediaeval times was the most important building in the town. Here – very important decisions were made. They concerned the intramural aspects of town’s life as well as the external politics. Therefore such a building had to be splendid and situated possibly in the centremost place of the city. Such significant place of Gdansk is definitely the intersection of Dluga and Kramarska streets with Long. Maybe it is not a definite centre of the town, but nevertheless the place is very presentable. Approaching the slender structure of the Town Hall one has an impression that it braces the town and is its central point. It is the heart of the Golden Gdansk.  

Originally Gdansk had four town halls.

The seventies of XIV century brought a location privilege[1] to the Old Town, - and following this – a town hall was built there. 

Young Town – situated to the north of the Old Town, roughly where today’s Gdansk Shipyard is – received a town hall in the eighties of XIV century. It did not last long, destroyed as the Young Town itself during the Thirteen Years War.  

Osiek – fishermen’s quarter – extending in a district bordered by Podwale Staromiejskie str., St. Catherine’s Church and the Castle – although never received full civic rights, had a town hall in the intersection of Igielnicka and Stolarska streets.

And the fourth – was the Main or Right Town Hall[2]. About this one is the story.

After numerous modernisations throughout the ages, the Town Hall has changed. The changes are such that it is difficult to write about it ex cathedra. There are not many written mentions about it too. Therefore among the historians there is a constant discussion going on concerning the history of this important building. Even the dating of beginning of construction is problematic. Archaeological investigations were carried between 1971 and 1974 in the basement of the building. Similar works were carried also in the intersection of Długi Targ, Długa and Kramarska streets. They allowed approximately appointing the time of the beginning of this part of the town as far as XIII century. The research showed that in the XIV century the road system was established. Among them – the earliest mentioned is Długa Street (1331). XVII century Gdansk annalist wrote that the building of the town hall started in 1327, and was completed at the end of 1336.

But this is not THIS town hall, which can be seen now. Probably it was a framework building – built of timber and brick wall filling. There is an account book from the years 1379-1382, in which mentions about works on the town hall can be found. Also a name is mentioned there. It is Heinrich Ungeradin, town’s master architect.

Years 1454 – 1457 brought the next extension of the building. It can be said, that everyone was in haste. A special visit was awaited in the city – the visit of His Royal Majesty, King Kazimierz Jagiellończyk (Casimir Jagiellonian). And the town hall, as a representative building of the town had to be suitable for the king. After all it was here, in the Town Hall – the king finally honoured the town’s crest. He adorned it with a crown. To the two crosses a crown was added. Therefore he recognized the town as royal, with all the resultant privileges. After the next extension of the already too small building, a disaster hit it. In 1556 there was a severe fire in the edifice. However it was very quickly rebuilt. And in 1561 the tower’s spire was adorned with the gold-plated figure of graciously ruling at that time King Sigismundus II Augustus. Inside the tower a carillon was installed. It had a set of 14 bells. 1562 is assumed as termination of the works. Such a date is displayed on the Attica of the eastern façade. Also a bell was placed there – a bell called “the bell of poor sinners”, which was ringing during the executions.

The town’s wealth so visible in the increasing sales, as well as in the numerous contacts on the royal courts of Europe, had to find reflection in the decoration of the interior of this most important edifice of the city. Gdansk was just in its Golden Age and that was to be fully shown to the visitor. Best artists available were employed to embellish the interior.

They were: Isaac van den Blocke, Hans Vredemann de Vries, Willem van der Meer, called Barth the Younger, Anton Möller i Simon Herle. All the Works were directed by Anton van Obberghen, known from the extension works of the Kronborg castle in Denmark. That castle situated in Helsingør served Shakespeare as a background for his Hamlet.

Most dignified – and also the most decorated floor was the first storey, holding the famous Great Council Room, and Great Court Room. 

After Poland lost independence, and after the IInd partition Gdansk was seized by Prussia, the Town Hall underwent some changes of function. In the City Safe Room, Mayor’s office was situated.

The II World War, or precisely – March 1945 (called the month of the town’s death) brought a great destruction to the town hall’s beautiful silhouette.

Not only the tower was destroyed, but also timber ceilings; some parts of the walls lost mortar, and the whole body of the building was destroyed during bombing and shelling. The destruction of the building was so big, that initially it was meant for demolition. Luckily the decision to rebuild it was made. The work started in 1946 and is until now considered to be a masterpiece of Polish restoring craft.

The restoration of the town hall finished on 2nd April 1970 r., when the Town Hall officially became a seat of the Gdansk Historical Museum.

It is worth spending some time on the touring the Town Hall. Inside the building there can be seen pieces of art which will take the breaths away, but this is not all.  

Wall could tell stories as they are saturated with ancient rumble and disputes. 

In the Town Hall there also was a Tax Office in the basement.

First mentions about the “tax machinery” come from 1341. The records from the end of the XIV century give an idea not only on its structure but also on its powers. Harbour Tax Office employed clerks, paid by the city puree, precisely from the harbour tax incomes. This tax was paid in the said Harbour Tax Office in the Main Town Hall. The heads of the Office were Pile Masters (Pfahlherren) – as a kind of harbour masters. As a support, there were other tax clerks, as the „pile servants” ad harbour guards. The duty of the then tax office was collection piling payment, maintaining of the port and the waterway, pilotage and supervision of disposal of ballast.

It is worth remembering that the “pile tax” consisted of collected tax and cubic content of the ship. The size and load capacity of the ship were limited not only by construction but also navigation conditions in the ports. The depth of the waterways in the XVth century Gdansk was 3,4 m (11,15 ft). This enabled the biggest ships to moor here. Deadweight was determined by the loading capacity. To do this – most typical loads for the region were considered. So it could have been grain, wine or salt. This resulted in different ways of measuring the loading capacity.

Unit accepted for the Baltic and the Forth Seas was łaszt (last[3]). It was a measure of capacity and mass deriving from the dimension of the load that could be transported on a 4 good horses-drawn cart on an even road. Therefore it was a load of abt. 2 thousand kilos (4 409, 25 pounds). Therefore the Harbour Tax incomes were substantial.   

The goods which passed through the port of Gdansk enable to realise why the town so much had endeavoured after its uniqueness and why it protected its independence so much. This was the main source of the town’s wealth.

Among the goods imported through Gdansk were salt, iron, copper (the wreck of the so called “copper freighter” can be seen in the Gdansk Maritime Museum), alabaster, lime stone, marble, olive oil, wine, figs, raisins, cardamom, exotic fruits, clove, cloth, also such “delicate goods” as ivy or horses.

Among the goods exported through Gdansk port were hop, grain, flax, forest goods such as wax, honey, tar, ash, wood and processed timber, furs, and animals as well as their preserved meat, fish.

All goods were subject to very severe control procedure, and the unreported ones were forfeited.   

It is interesting that among the imported goods were Dutch bricks. Ships sailing to Gdansk - for grain for example– filled the bunkers with brick ballast. Gdansk was in an endless process of construction and modernization of the town’s buildings – so there was a constant need for building materials. The ship owners in turn, very eagerly closed the deal on the brick, as it made the ballast-trip profitable –there was no so called “empty run”. Adding to this – the severe punishment for disposing ballast into the port canal (the captain doing so could have been sentenced to death) no wonder that the sailors eagerly were trading ballast brick. It is worth mentioning that the ballast was of good quality. This resulted in the town’s council decision to discharge the Dutch brick from tax. The effect of such a tax free decision can be seen when wonder ing around Gdansk, this “most Dutch city on the Baltic”. There are many buildings where the small Dutch brick was used.  

Much about the Harbour Tax Office and goods going through Gdansk port can be learned in the Gdansk Maritime Museum. 

In the Main Town Hall one will learn about the results of such wide trade - because when entering the building – everyone is welcomed by the splendidly ornamented interior of this most important municipal edifice.  



[1] Location – in medieval times meant  a set of privileges and laws, which were given to the newly arranged or rearranged town or village

[2] It is often called the Right Town Hall, as the town has been located according to the certain rights 

[3] Last - an ancient northern European unit used in measuring large quantities, either by mass or volume or both. Equals to 2215 kg (4883,24 pounds) "Last" is the German word for "load," a meaning which also survives in the English word "ballast."

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