If Prague is the City of Spires, then that surely makes Gdańsk the City of Gateways. There are, simply speaking, a fair few, and while some stand out like neon toadstools others can be missed with the blink of an eye. Indeed, while many have been restored to their full, glittery glory, others stand on the periphery, derelict and deserted, their function long since forgotten.
The story begins straightforward enough. In the bad old days it was a good idea to have your city defended by a sturdy set of walls, and this was never truer than in the case of Gdańsk – a town under constant menace from invading parties. Entry and exit points were added over the centuries, and while most of the walls were pulled down, many of these grand gateways survived. Some, such as the Green Gate and Upland Gate, need no introduction, and you’ll find plenty about them later in the guide. Others however remain unsung, until today that is:
Brama ChłebnickaOf all the gateways in Gdańsk it’s this one that’s the best preserved, and that’s no small feat considering the pounding the Russkies gave the city come revenge time at the end of the war. Thought to have been completed in 1450 this signature piece of Gothic style features curved cornices and a pointy arch, and is worth closer inspection on account of the oldest coat of arms on show in the city. Found on the Motława side a beady eyed scan will reveal a crest of two silver crosses imposed on a red shield, added in 1457. That’s not the only piece of identification stamped on the structure. Duck through the passage and you’ll find a lily, once the symbol of the Dukes of Pomerania.
Brama KrowiaSet on the Motława end of ul. Ogarna the ‘cattle gate’ is where livestock were once herded through on their journey to becoming the evening’s dinner. Thought to have been built in the 14th century the building was given a through redesign five hundred years later. This, miraculously almost, survived the war, but not the town planners who arrived after. Clearly inspired by the ruins around them they chose to knock this place down, and rebuild it in something similar to its original form.
Brama MariackaIf there’s a more scenic street in Gdańsk we’ve yet to find it. Mariacka is without doubt the jewel in Gdańsk’s crown, a picturesque street of gabled houses and gruesome gargoyles. Towering over it, St Mary’s, the largest brick church in the world. And there’s no better way to approach it than through Brama Mariacka, a shadowy Gothic gateway that could have been built with Dracula in mind. First mentioned in 1484 this place took a hammering in 1945, and pics from that time reveal an image not unlike Hiroshima. Painstakingly rebuilt between 1958 and 1961, after which time the side wing has served as seat of the Archaeological Museum. Not only is a visit vital if you want to resume hostilities with the fierce curators who guard Polish museums, but also recommended for a snapshot of what these structures look like from the inside. And, even better, you’ll get to wander through startling exhibitions with titles like ‘Prehistoric diseases’ and ‘Mysteries of the Nile’. Back outside, the gate has benefited from a long overdue scrub, and no longer looks like the entry to Hades. The shiny polychrome you see of two lions holding the Gdańsk coat of arms aloft was restored in 2006.
Brama StraganiarskaBuilt between 1481 and 1492 this brick beauty comes crowned with two turrets, and was obviously inspired by the gates to Mariacka and Chłebnicka. The unique feature here is a heraldic coat of arms sat over the entrance bearing the emblems of Gdańsk, Prussia and Poland (taking centre bow), proof if any were required to the peaceful coexistence these rival communities enjoyed for such long spells. Smashed considerably at the tail end of the war this Gothic gate was nearly completely rebuilt in the years after. Interestingly and in keeping with the reconstruction policy of post-war Gdańsk, the gate was not rebuilt to look like it did in 1939 Danzig but instead a historic painting was used so that the gatehouse resembled the way it looked the last time the city had been Gdansk back in the 18th century. It has been used for residential housing since then. Attesting to this is a plaque confirming the presence of one of its more famous residents, Zbyszek Cybulski. ‘Who he’ you ask, and quite rightly so. Unknown in the west Cybulski was basically Poland’s answer to James Dean, a non-conformist rebel known for his intense style, black coat and too-cool-for-school specs. ‘Look, there goes another idiot pretending to be Cybulski’, a train conductor was once heard remarking as this icon walked past. Already famous when he lived here between 1959 and 1963, Cybulski shot Do widzenia, Do jutra close by, as well as performing in the Wybrzeże Theatre down the road. His premature death in 1967 cemented his status as a domestic legend, and it’s not rare to find flowers and candles beneath the signage that honours him. If you like the idea of sleeping in one of the apartments inside, check out Gdansk Apartments who rent one on the first floor overlooking the water.
Brama StągiewnaNot many bother straying across the river, but stray you most certainly should. Think of the Brovarnia microbrewery as the carrot on the end of the stick, and then give a thought to your property portfolio as well. Halfway to your liquid reward you’ll find one of Gdańsk’s most imposing structures standing at the top of ul. Stągiewna, the fearsome looking Brama Stągiewna. Built between 1517 and 1519 to guard access to the Granary buildings on Spichlerze the building features two stout, rotund towers (nicknamed the Milk Churns by locals) connected by an overhead passage. Retouched in the 17th century, during which it received some renaissance flourishes, this whole building – all 389 metres of it – is currently on the market. Now used as offices the place is yours for a cool six million zlots.
Brama ŚwiętojańskaIt might surprise you to learn that one of the most visually arousing gateways of the lot is barely three decades old. Okay, so it originally dates from 1448, but this place took such a shelling that after the war practically all that was left was a couple of brick stumps. And so it stayed until the seventies when the tireless campaigning of the Gdańsk branch of the Polish Association of Engineers finally pushed the city into doing something. Completed on December 31, 1978, this structure has a salmon pink look and the classical façade it was awarded sometime in the 19th century. As for the Association of Engineers, they now have offices there, which possibly explains their enthusiasm to get it rebuilt.