Gdansk castle

written by Maciek Bogdanski

Gdansk castle

Before coming to Gdansk, you may have heard about Gdansk castle. There used to be a castle in Gdansk, indeed, but it doesn’t exist anymore. It was built shortly after Teutonic Knights took over the city in 1308 and later demolished by Gdansk citizens. And although I’m quite sure, that looking for Gdansk castle you were actually looking for information about Malbork Castle, However, I’ll take advantage of your error to provide you with information about that little-known but interesting part of Gdansk history.

If you are not interested in the history of Gdansk Castle, we have also an article about Malbork Castle.

What do we know about Gdansk castle?

The seizure of the stronghold and the city founded under Lübeck law in 1308 by the Teutonic Knights and the carrying out of the so-called “slaughter of Danzig” was a watershed moment in the city’s history.

On the ruins of the destroyed center, the new rulers founded the Main City, which was granted the Chelm Law around 1342. For more than 150 years Gdansk was within the borders of the monastic state, which had a profound effect on its spatial development and architecture.

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Gdansk castle was much smaller than Malbork Castle, but it was enough to keep control over the city and ships entering the harbour. It was erected in the area where there was a stronghold of the Dukes of Gdansk before 1308. Today it is the area of Rycerska, Karpia, Na Dylach, Dylinka, Wapiennicza and Wartka streets (it is at the latter where the most famous relics of the castle are located). The name of Rycerska Street comes precisely from the former inhabitants of the area, but the street does not have a medieval origin: it was laid out in the mid-17th century. The decision to build the castle is linked to the person of Grand Master Dytryk of Altenburg.

Gdansk Castle in a plan of Gdansk from 1400. Source: Gedanopedia
Gdansk Castle in a plan of Gdansk from 1400. Source: Gedanopedia

The main part of the entire castle complex, i.e. the blocks of the High Castle, was built of brick on a rectangular plan. It was located approximately in the quarter of Knights Street, Czopowa Street, Grodzka Street and Cloth Street. There were towers at the corners of the building, and the whole was surrounded by an additional inner moat.

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For a long time, historians were pretty sure that Gdansk Castle was painted in the background of the XV century painting “The ship of the church” by an unknown author. The painting is missed since WWII, but the copy may be seen in the Arthus Court. Now other theories are discussed, that the view in the painting is rather a presentation of Motlawa river bank, with towers of the Town Hall and St. Mary Church visible.

The Ship of Church painting. The alleged Gdansk Castle is in the upper left corner.
The Ship of Church painting. The alleged Gdansk Castle is in the upper left corner.

Gdansk castle was demolished in the XVth century by Gdansk citizens, shortly after Teutonic Knight surrendered and left the town in the course of the Thirteen Years’ War between the Order and the Kingdom of Poland. The moats still existed in the 16th century, and fragments of the walls still survive today on Wartka Street. The tenement at 6/7 Wartka Street, which extends beyond the line of the walls, was built on the relics of the former castle tower.

So called Stockholm Plan showing the area of Gdansk castle after its demolishing
So called Stockholm Plan showing the area of Gdansk castle after its demolition

Now the only remains of the castle in Gdansk are the Swan Tower and the brick wall by the Motlawa river, in Wartka Street.

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The Swan Tower and the small brick wall to the right are what’s left of Gdansk castle

As the remains of the Gdansk castle do not stand out of the architecture of Gdansk, even many citizens do not realize, that there was a castle in Gdansk. So if you want to visit this place, look for the Swan Tower or simply go to the opposite side of Motlawa river – to the Amber Sky Wheel. The remains of the castle are clearly visible from here.

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