The Gates of Gdansk

Gdansk has numerous impressive gates allowing entrance into the old town.  The first two you see here are about 50 meters apart, in between there is another old structure that houses the amber museum, amber having been a major trade item in earlier times. 

Golden Gate

Golden Gate

The Golden Gate in the style of Dutch Mannerism (1612–14)  replaced a 13th-century gothic gate, called the Brama Długouliczna (Long Street Gate).  It is located on ulica Długa, the main street, which you see framed through its arch.  Along with Brama Wyżynna, just 50 meters away, and Wieża Więzienna , it was part of the old city fortifications.  It sits next to the late-gothic building of the Brotherhood of St.George.

Inscribed in Latin:  Pax (Peace), Libertas (Freedom), Fortuna (Wealth) and Fama (Fame). On the east side they are Concordia (Agreement), Justitia (Justice), Pietas (Piety) and Prudentia (Prudency). The Latin inscription:  Concordia res publicæ parvæ crescunt – discordia magnæ concidunt (“In agreement small republics grow, because of disagreement great republics fall”).

Largely destroyed by Soviet shelling, beautifully rebuilt in 1957.  

Upland Gate– Brama Wyzynna


Upland Gate
Upland Gate

The Brama Wyzynna, or Upland Gate, was erected in the 16th century as part of the city’s fortification wall. As such it was once joined to an earthen wall of equal height.There are three coats of arms.  In the center is that of Poland, on the right Gdansk, and the left is Royal Prussia.   Below in Latin it says, “‘Justice and piety are the foundations of all states.” Chlebnicka Gate

Chlebnicka Gate

They built this brick Gothic style gate in 1450 at the end of Chlebnicka Street, facing the Motlawa River.   On that side of the gate there is a shield with two crosses but no crown. This was the first symbol of Gdansk.  It is not displayed elsewhere in the city.   On the street side you see a stylized lily, this the gate is also called the Lily Gate. There are various varieties of lilies in Gdansk.  


Chbinka Gate

Mariacka Gate

Mariacka Street has both the tall tower of Mariacka Church but also Mariacka Gate which connects to the Old Town.  It was built in 1485 with the two towers with typical small windows.   In this photo you can also see the cobble stone streets which are throughout the old town. 


Mariacka Gate


Green Gate

Green Gate

The Royal Route, which the king would pursue on city visits,  passed through the Golden Gate,  the Upland Gate, and this one.   The Green Gate was built as the official royal residence while in Gdansk, which no king ever used, considering its location too close to street traffic, noise and the citizenry.   It was inspired by Antwerp’s City Hall.  The Amsterdam architect Regnier built it in 1568-71.  Today the Green Gate houses the National Museum.

Other gates 

The Krowia Gate, Straganiarska Gate, Swietojanska Gate, Zulawska Gate, and the famous Gdansk Crane and the Nizinna Gate


Malbork Castle

Teutonic Knights built Malbork Castle in the 13th century.  At that time Malbork was in Prussia, shifting in and out of Polish control, changing into Polish control in 1945.  It is the largest castle in the world by the land area it covers and when built the largest brick castle in the world. Sitting along the Nogat River, it has been a Polish royal palace, later to become a Nazi fortification in the waning days of the Third Reich, subjecting it to Russian bombardment.  Heavily damaged and afterwards faithfully restored, today you see a structure in fine condition and a great place to wander around, through narrow passages and steep winding staircases.

I’ve included some of the interesting artwork you find there.  The walls were beautifully painted, judging by the remains.  There are many interesting statutes and a few paintings.


There are 6 or 8 of these finely painted panels.


The castle also has a mill.  Here is a pen and ink of the mechanism:

Mill at Malbork Castle


Solidarity Forever

June 28, 2018

Yesterday we took a walking tour offered by the tourist bureau.  There are two, and we chose the Solidarity tour, which covers the period starting in 1945.  She made no comments about the present disturbing situation in Poland, although it was clear she is not a supporter of the current authoritarians in power.

Gdansk is the home of Solidarity, the first non-governmental trade union in the former Soviet bloc.  It became a political movement, reaching a peak of over 9 million members.  Today there remain some 400,000.  It’s full name is Independent Self-governing Labor Union. 

In its effort to crush Solidarity, the government imposed martial law in 1981, imprisoning thousands including Lech Walesa.  This brought financial support from Pope John Paul 2nd, from Krakow, and the US government and the AFL- CIO.  The list of demands made in 1978 was precipitated by female dock workers, our guide recounted, who pressed for additional concessions from the government beyond allowing the formation of a non-government union, including the elimination of censorship.  On the 31st of August 1980, the government agreed to the demands and Solidarity was formed from over twenty labor committees.  

Solidarity’s list of demands
Pieces of Berlin wall











Another demand was a monument to victims of Communist suppression, the first such in a Communist country.   Thirty people died when a 1970 protest was met with machine gun fire

A combination of bad working conditions, massive increases in food prices, shortages and other economic failures led to workers’ decision to take on the Communist government.  The government was backed by the Soviet Union, massively residing on its border, with post war repressions in the Czech Republic and Hungary vividly recalled.  The Soviet Union took 45% of Polish territory following the Yalta conference, a fact which must have been still fresh in the minds of organizers.  That territory remains part of Russia.

The movement was closely tied to Roman Catholic social policies promoting the common good.  Jean Paul II’s photos remains on the entrance to the Solidarity Museum and the shipyard, next to the list of demands.  

The Monument to the fallen Shipyard Workers, 1970 killings

Our guide lived through many years of repression.  I think she said that her family came from the eastern side of Poland that is now part of Russia.  Along with hundreds of thousands, they left when the Russians took control.  The Russian soldiers treated the Poles and particularly Polish women as they did Germans in the immediate post war period.  Brutality and rape were common, thus contributing to this exodus. 

She recalls rationing for just about everything — meat, potatoes, shoes to give just a few examples.  Her shoes were wearing out during that period.  The two stood in line for shoes, after which they could examine the offerings.  There were always just two styles.  Often the shoes came with not two but three shoes in the box.  Sometimes the shoe sizes did not match.  People stood outdoors and traded with others whose sizes were also mismatched.

The government controlled all the sources of information.  When the government did not like what was happening and it suited their purposes it would not mention the incident or give a false version.  

Our guide on the walking tour.  She went to art school and is a sculptor 

The museum recounts the events that led to the expansion of the union to about 9 million, the attempts to counter its impact and the eventual downfall of the Polish government.  

The relationship between the union and the Church greatly facilitated union efforts.  In  Sollicitudo rei socialis, Pope John Paul II preached solidarity with the poor and marginalized.   Wałęsa was publicly Catholic piety, said, “The Holy Father, through his meetings, demonstrated how numerous we were. He told us not to be afraid.”  This sounds like natural reasoning and not an account of divine intervention, but be that as it may, the movement was successful in large measure.

The priest Jerzy Popiełuszko was very active with the union, celebrated masses during strikes.  The Communist regime is blamed for his murder.

G’day from Gdansk, 2018 version

Port area in old town Gdansk


G’day from Gdansk, on the Baltic Sea in northern Poland.  From here Lech Wałęsa led the dock workers union Solidarity on strikes and other actions that set in motion the downfall of the Soviet Union. It has been important in other eras, such as the 1700’s, when it too, like Krakow, was a member of the Hanseatic League — take a walk though the port area and you will think you are in Holland, with all the Dutch Golden Age architecture arising during that period.


Gdansk old town, Golden Age architecture







We traveled via train from Lublin, the first leg on a 1970’s vintage Intercity, a little worn but  clean, and with new seat fabrics.  The compartments were sparsely populated for the 0800 run.  We changed in Warsaw three hours later, averaging just 60 km/35mph for this part of the journey.  The next leg was on a sleek modernity which averaged 100km/60 mph, not the 250km/h you can get in France and Spain, but smooth as well as lovely in all respects.  

We spoke with the woman sitting with us.  She was no more than 40, and spoke English very well.  How is it that so many people speak English so well in Poland, Peg asked?  She said everyone is taught.  She was the first generation to switch from Russian to English, starting class at age 14.  The first year was difficult for her but once she got the basics she could begin to talk,  helping her learn with relative ease.  English grammar, she said, is a lot easier than the Polish, although spelling is more difficult.  In Polish the marks on letters tell you which sound the letter makes, something which would of great benefit in English.  Nowadays children start learning English in kindergarten, using the immersion method—  the English teacher speaks only in English.  This is producing excellent results, judging by the amount of English we encounter.

This is our second time in Poland.  The first came in July of 1998.  You can check it out at Poland 1998.  Our impression of Poland is Poles apart (sorry about that pun!) from our current.  Cars abound along with the traffic jams,  instead of much more crowded public transport from the Communist era.  Restaurants were fewer and lower in quality and there were few foreign, which now abound, especially Italian.  The people then seemed more glum, and there were far fewer tourists, both conditions which no longer apply.  No one spoke English, but today English effective language instruction is universal.  While not everyone speaks English, the ones who get practice speak and understand tourist level English very well, and in some cases their skills go far beyond.  Buildings are clean, new construction is common, while public areas are spic and span still.   

There is a lot to see here, and we’ll be here for a few weeks.  More posts on the way.  Here are additional photos from our walk downtown yesterday

Pen and ink drawings from Lublin

There’s an open air museum just outside Lublin containing houses, churches, barns and some bee hive structures unlike any I’ve ever seen before.  Here are some pen and ink drawings from that visit.  The setting is bucolic, with sloping meadows, wooden buildings on hilltops, a lake, a stream.  You have a good view into the  rural life style of area residents between 1800 and 1930.   Some drawings and a water color from the museum:


Church at the Open Air Museum, Lublin
Bee Hives at the Open Air Museum, Lublin
House at the Open Air Museum, Lublin


Field and Stream, water color, 20 cm x 20 cm, 8″ x *” on Arches



Wawel Castle in Krakow- nearly 1000 years in the making

Wawel Castle
Wawel Castle

June 15, 2018

We climbed Wawel Hill today,  as people have been doing for the last 50,000 years.  Only since circa 1000, however,  has this climb served to gain the entrance to the castle.  Now it’s a museum (1931), sitting in a complex of structures including the Royal Cathedral, atop the modest hill overlooking the Vistula River.

In the 9th century the castle was in its first iteration, a forticiation (castrum) built by the Vislanes. The remains of the castrum are in the northern wing of the present-day Castle.  Subsequently the Piast dynasty (965-1034) chose Wawel Hill as a residence.  Early in the 11th c.  King Bolesław I built the castle that is the forebear of today’s structures.  
Kazimierz III Wielki (Casimir III the Great, 1330-70) transformed it into a fortified Gothic castle.  After its destruction from fire 1499 Zygmunt I Stary (Sigismund I the Old; 1506–48) ordered a  new building in the Renaissance style, with an impressive large courtyard with arcaded galleries,  completed 30 years later,  thus creating the basis for what we have today.
Poland lost its independence in 1795, the castle coming under Austrian control.  The Austrians converted some portions of the site to military hospital use, and some destroyed buildings.  Eventually  the castle because a residence of Emperor Franz Josef I, and occupied by the Austrians until 1911.
Wawel Cathedral
Wawel Royal Cathedral
Krakow Castle, watercolor, 20x20cm, 8×8″ $150
The Nazi governor resided in the castle, but not before securing some of the treasures and in some cases moved to Canada. 

Today there are ten collections, including important Italian Renaissance paintings, prints, sculptures and textiles, including the Sigismund II Augustus tapestry collection, gold, Oriental art including Ottoman tents, armor, ceramics, Meissen porcelain,  as well as period furniture. There are specialized conservation studios, making it a significant restoration center.


Krakow: the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque

Wawel Cathedral

Krakow is replete with finely preserved notable architecture.  The Rynek Glowny (Main Square) is in the center of the old town (Stare Miasto).  Sukiennice (The Cloth Hall, 1400) is a fine example of the Renaissance.  The Cloth Hall was a center for the export of salt (there is a huge salt mine nearby), textiles and lead and the import of spices, silk, leather and wax.  The Rynek Glowey is normally full of visitors, horse drawn carriages, and outdoor seating at the many restaurants.  

Cloth Hall in the main square
Cloth Hall in the Rynek Glowny

A short distance away is St Mary’s Basilica is late Gothic church with two unmatched spires at 80 m (260′).  One was originally a city watch tower.   The Basilica’s foundations date to the early 13th century.  The church has a famous wooden altar piece by Veit Stross (Wit Stwosz).  Every hour a trumpet plays from taller tower, the former watch tower.  It commemorates the 13th c. trumpeter shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before a Mongol attack on the city.  The noon hejnał is broadcast Polish national Radio 1 Station.

St Mary's Basilica
St Mary’s Basilica

The Royal Cathedral is another Gothic structure dating from 1100.  Pope John Paul II gave his first performance as a priest here in 1946.

Wawel Cathedral
Wawel Cathedral


The Church of St. Adalbert, which is one of the few remaining examples of the Polish Romanesque style in Krakow, and the oldest Christian chapel in the city to boot.

Church of St. Adalbert
Church of St. Adalbert

The pointed arches show the Gothic character of the Collegium Maius

Collegium Maius
Collegium Maius

The Barbican is a fortifcation once connected to the city walls just behind it. 



The Church of St Peter and Paul is Baroque in style. 

Church of St Peter and Paul
Church of St Peter and Paul

Polish cuisine

Polish food has long since been a part of American cuisine, even if a small part.  Who has not had kielbasa sausage or dill pickles.   Polish cuisine is a calorie and fat rich cuisine, heavy on pork, chicken and beef to a lesser extent.  Cabbage is a major item —  there were three types of cabbage served with the huge platter we shared on our first night.  They use a lot of cream and eggs, as well as grains. Bigos is a hearty stew made of finely chopped meats sauerkraut and cabbage.  Pirogi are a major feature, stuffed noodles or rolled pancakes–  I had one stuffed with cheese and spinach.  You can get a variety of pretzel (but soft) in food carts and bakeries everywhere.    Sour dough breads are common, including its use in soups.  In the main square there are booths.  At one we tried a grilled smoke cheese with cherry jam.  It was excellent!


Breads and meats in the main square

A small place open just for lunch is called Lunch-  that’s right, Lunch.  We noticed that locals were piling in so figured it was probably both good and a good value, and it was indeed.  This meal plus a beer and coke was just $15.00, and either would have been enough for two people.  The pirogi had a potato pancake on top and another on the bottom.

goulash with potato pancakes
Cheese and spinach pirogi, pancake style

Goulash was borrowed from the Hungarians, becoming an integral part of the cuisine.









I have my doubts about spinach as a traditional ingredient.

I’ll have more to add as we go.  

Krakow: city of architecture and culture

Krakow sits on the banks of the Vistula.  Settlement dates from the 7th century, finding Wawel hill a defensible position. and has long been a major center of Polish culture and economy.  It was a member of the Hanseatic league despite not being coastal and thus had its own fleet during that period (circa 1000-1500).   It was the capitol of Poland from 1038-1569, when Wawel Castle 

Wawel Castle
Wawel Castle

castle burned, after which the capital was moved to Warsaw.  It was capitol again during the Nazi era.  In 1978, Karol Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian in 455 years.  Auschwitz is close by, and Schindler had his factory here, which is now a museum.   Its current population is 760,000, with a total regional population of 8 million.  On our first day it seemed like a few million children were taking a field drip to the city, long lines of them being moved about by teachers trying to show them the town.  

Wawel Castle at night Castle at nightKrakow means “town of Krakus,”  a legendary ruler of the country.  The area’s first named inhabitants, the Vistulian tribe (700 CE), gave the river its name.  However, there is evidence of habitation dating well before, to 50,000 years.  Wawel Castle, now a fine arts museum, was built  circa 1350 and much renovated in the 16th century, when King Sigusmund brought in Italian architects, German decorators as well as local craftsmen.  

In 1364 Casimir III founded the University of Krakow, the second oldest in central Europe after Charles University in Prague.  By the 15th century the city had entered its golden age, whence the examples of Polish Renaissance architecture.  The architecture includes fine examples of Gothic, Renaissance and the Baroque.

Wawel Cathedral
Wawel Cathedral
St Mary CathedraL, Krakow
St Mary Cathedral, Krakow