Saturday, 10 November 2012

Gdańsk - from Old Town to Main Town and back

Tuesday - an afternoon seminar for exporters near Pruszcz Gdański, not far from Gdańsk. A good excuse to get there early, courtesy of the night train. The weather is a mix of sunshine and showers; as I arrive in the old town, it's raining heavily, while the sun shines across from a low angle.

Join me, then, for a walk from the station, around the old town and back to the station. We start from the Old Town (Stare Miasto), not to be confused with Gdańsk's more famous Main Town (Główne Miasto). Below: statue of  astronomer Jan Heweliusz, who charted the moon's surface, discovered four comets, brewed beer and served as mayor of Gdańsk. The 16th C. old town hall stands behind the statue.

Gdańsk made its fortune on storing, processing and trade in wheat. There are several old granaries and mills, powered by mill-streams. Below: looking along a mill-stream on ul. Na Piaskach, cutting under ul. Młyńska ('Mill Street').

Right:  Mały Młyn (1400), the Small Mill, despite being situated on ul. Wielkie Młyny ('Great Mills St'), built astride the same mill-stream.

Below: turn through 180 degrees and head down Na Piachskach towards ul. Wielkie Młyny, with the recently restored St Catherine's church (built in 1227-29) dominating the view and reflecting off the wet cobbles. To the left, with its many-layered roof, Wielki Młyn, the Great Mill, (built in 1350), now respectfully refurbished within as a shopping gallery.

Below: St Catherine's church viewed from the south side, caught in a brief sunny interlude. Photo taken on ul. Podwale Staromiejskie, where once ran the walls separating the Old Town (Stare Miasto) to the north, from the Main Town (Główne Miasto) to the south.

Below: Is this Edinburgh? Are we in Scotland? No, this is the Parish of St Nicholas the Bishop, overlooked by the back of the late-12th C. Dominican church. We are in the Main Town now. The buildings' dour greyness lends the scene a Scottish air. Some fog would come in handy here...

Turning on to ul. Świętego Ducha ('Holy Ghost St'), below, we see the tower of St. Mary's Basilica dominating the skyline.

Let's now turn off ul. Świętego Ducha onto ul. Szewska ('Cobblers' St'), towards the Marian basilica.

Built between 1343 and 1361, the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to give it its full name, is the world's largest brick church. Each time I see it, I can imagine the awe in which a structure like this would strike in a peasant who's come up to visit Gdańsk in 1412.

Below:  past the massively solid structure of the basilica on the left, I make my way to ul. Piwna ('Beer St'), across the cobbled piazza.

Left: The basilica's tower looms over most of the streets of the Main Town; here we have a view along ul. Kaletnicza.

If the view looks familiar, it's a wide angle take on a tighter cropped shot taken from the same spot back in late August (second shot in this post).

Below: buildings along ul. Piwna, in the distance the clock tower of the Main Town's ratusz or town hall.

Below: the sun comes out as I snap the classic shot of Gdańsk - the waterfront, with the mediaeval crane and town gates (Brama Szeroka) looking out onto the Motława river. A row of posters hanging off each waterside lantern carry the slogan Gdańsk lubi blogerów ('Gdańsk likes bloggers'). Well, this blogger reciprocates the feeling.

Left: the late-Gothic Mariacka gate (completed in 1484), one of four Mediaeval gateways linking the Main Town with the Motława embankment.

It is worth noting that like Warsaw and Wrocław, but unlike Kraków or Łódź, Gdańsk suffered serious wartime damage and was restored to its current condition over many decades. The Mariacka gate, so called because it opens up onto ul. Mariacka with the Marian basilica at the top end, was restored in 1959-61.

Let's take a look through the gate, shall we?

Right: a view of ul. Mariacka framed within the gate. My judgment that this is Poland's most beautiful street was vindicated during this visit; the lack of jostling crowds of tourists and the subtly changing autumnal light made a pleasure to return.

Below: the Mariacka gate, from the inside looking out.

Below: ul. Mariacka - detail. The stoops, with cannonball stones at the bottom, the mossy cobbles, the dark, damp basements, the terraces, the flowers, the klimat.

Below: looking west along ul. Mariacka, towards the Basilica. It's too early for the tourists, so the jewellers have yet to put their displays out onto the pavement.

Below: turning around to look east along ul. Mariacka, towards the gate in the distance and down to the Motława beyond.

Below: looking down Długi Targ with the magnificent clock-tower of the town hall of Główne Miasto. Low sunlight glints off a window, the pavements still wet after the earlier rain.

Right: another view off Długi Targ, looking down ul. Kramarska towards ul. Piwna. An alternative, telephoto shot along the same street is available on my previous post from Gdańsk.

In early November, not yet 9am, there are few people about. A good time to see the city as it should be seen. And on a sunshine-and-clouds kind of day, the lighting can surprise and delight. Grey-sky dullness is suited to Northern European Gothic, while Southern European Baroque needs direct sunlight in order to look its best.

And as it happens, I'm in luck with the weather, heavy cloud and blue sky alternating rapidly in a fast, nor'westerly wind off the Baltic. Wet cobbles add much to the final effect. This time of year offers some fine atmosphere as long as it's not tipping down with rain.

Left: Gdańsk's Academy of Fine Arts (Akademia Sztuk Pięknych) on ul. Kołodziejska ('Wheelwright St'). The building was the city armoury, built in 1602-04, red bricks, gilded stucco.

It's time I returned to the station; I have a train to catch.

This time last year:
What Independence Day means for Poles

This time two years ago:
Words fail me: the Polish for "to fail"?

This time three years ago:
Autumn in Dobra

This time five years ago:
Autumn ploughing

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