Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and… Gdansk
Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia – names of those 3 Baltic Republics are usually named almost simultaneously. However every one of them had a different influence on Gdansk’s history and development. What kind of? Learn more from the latest article by professor Andrzej Januszajtis.
Gdansk’s relationship with Lithuania is long-standing and rich. According to legend, the Lithuanians who visited the local St Dominic Fair in 1361 attempted to “raid the Teutonic castle and put the town to the torch, as Kestutis (the ruler of Lithuania) wanted to exact his revenge. Their goods were taken from them and justice was meted out”. This may be a depiction of an actual quarrel, but one which is in no way related to Kestutis, who had been imprisoned in Malbork Castle and who had not been able to make his escape before late September, long after the fair was over.
From 1441 at the latest, Gdansk, as one of the most important cities in the Hanseatic League, had its own trading post in Kowno (modern-day Kaunas). From the early 15th century, it was situated on a street leading from the Market Square to the docks on the Niemen. In 1448, it was managed by Hans Meynrick and Mikolaj Ranow. Soon after, however, the business deteriorated and, by 1540, virtually ceased to exist. It was forgotten so completely that its surviving building (built ca. 1500, certainly before 1504) is now known as the House of Perkunas.
Michal Enkinger, a builder from Gdansk and the creator of the upper storeys of the Prison Tower and the beautiful brick spires of Gdansk’s churches (e.g. the Holy Trinity Church), also worked in Vilnius in the early 16th century, for example on the Bernardine and St Anne Churches (some authors dispute that, claiming that Benedict Rejt, a Czech, was responsible for designing those), as well as in Kowno, where he was the most likely creator of the aforementioned trading post building with its rich, late-Gothic spires.
Vestiges of our relationship with Lithuania (after all, Poland and Lithuania used to be one state) can also be found in Gdansk in the form of the Lithuanian coat of arms which can be seen in the Main Town City Hall (in both Council chambers), on the facade of the Royal Chapel (as part of the coat of arms of the Republic of Poland) and in other places as well.
What Gdansk and Latvia had in common was their love of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The recently-rebuilt House of the Blackheads in Riga used to be referred to as the House of Artus. The Dutch ornaments on its spire are identical in style to those found on Gdansk townhouses.
When the dukes of Courland from House Kettler lost their power, the last of their name, Ferdinand, found shelter in Gdansk. He lived here for 36 years. In 1703 (two years after his arrival), he purchased the neighbouring villages of Niestepowo and Rychtowo (now part of the town of Sulmin) for 18 thousand zlotys, only to re-sell them five days later for 7 thousand zlotys more! When he died in 1737, his body was moved to the family crypt located in Mitau, the capital of Courland. The Duchy was taken over by Biron, who had the support of Russia.
Certain paintings located in the Main Town City Hall, in the so-called Little Christopher, are indirectly related to Latvia. The eastern and western wall brandish paintings of tribunes, each with four, richly decorated lodges. There is a lady surrounded by two men in each of the lodges. One of the men (the tournament winner, perhaps?) can be seen wearing a wreath. The paintings, estimated to have been painted ca. 1400, may be depictions of the celebrations which accompanied the negotiations between the Arch-bishop of Riga, the Bishop of Dorpat (modern-day Tartu) and the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, who attempted to reconcile the two quarrelling parties. These negotiations took place in Gdansk in 1397.
Gdansk also had close ties to Estonia, and they were not only strictly commercial. Malgorzata Samborowna (the niece of the Duke of Gdansk, Swietopelk, and the Queen of Denmark from 1252), after handing over power to her now-adult son, Eric, moved to Estonia – which was Denmark’s property at the time – and ruled it. Her reign lasted from 1266 to 1282. During that time, Tallinn (known as Reval at the time) maintained its marvellous stone walls, which have survived to the present.
Our close commercial ties were sometimes used to import construction materials. This way, the city was able to import limestone for the construction of the plinth of the Saint Mary Church in Gdansk, which has survived to this day. In 1428, the city council turned to their Tallinn friends for help in this regard. The fact that several musicians from Gdansk were active in Tallinn also proves how lively the relationship between the two was.