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The Dutch spirit of Gdansk

Gdansk is sometimes compared to Amsterdam, and for a good reason. Dutch influence on Gdansk's architecture and works of art is significant. What else does our city have in common with the Netherlands? Learn more from an article by prof. Andrzej Januszajtis.

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The oldest of Gdansk’s relations were forged with the cities of the Southern Netherlands (modern-day Belgium), most importantly with Bruges. In the 16th century, Antwerp became Gdansk’s most prominent trade partner, before giving way to Amsterdam in the 17th century. In Bruges, lessened trade restrictions for League members were introduced in 1252. Traders from Gdansk used them from the moment they joined the Hanseatic League in 1361. They would mostly sell wood and grain, and bring back broadcloth and exotic spices. In 1379, they even employed their own factors there, who were usually Flemish.

Trade connections also led to a cultural exchange. Both sides influenced each other when it comes to architecture, art and craftsmanship. It is no coincidence that the tower of Gdansk’s Saint Mary Church resembles those of the churches in Damme and Lisseweghe, as well as the tower of the Saint Mary Church in Bruges (with the exception of its spiked tented roof).

The Hanseatic League trading post in Bruges (the so-called Osterling House), built between 1478 and 1481, and the City Hall in Gdansk’s Main Town, elevated between 1486 and 1492, are so similar it is as though they were designed by the same person – the same resemblance can be found in the decorative wall leading from the Long Market, with its similar recesses and towers, as well as the similar tower (the Bruges counterpart of which has not survived to the present) with a gilded monument of the current ruler (there – of Emperor Frederick, here – one century later – of Sigismund Augustus). The designer of the marvellous tented roof of our tower from 1560 was Dirk Daniels, a Dutch city builder.

The northern Enlightenment trend was brought to Gdansk by Dutch architects fleeing from the Spanish inquisition. The most talented of those was Antoni van Obberghen of Mechelen (1543-1611), the creator of Castle Kronborg in Elsinor, known as Hamlet’s Castle. From 1586, he worked in Gdansk. His designs include the Old Town City Hall (1587-1595), the spire of the Prison Tower (1586), the spires of the Torture Chamber (1594), the Naturalists’ House (1599) and, most importantly, the Great Armoury (1601-1609). The perfect proportions, his liberal take on the rules of symmetry and the rich colour palette prove that Obberghen was indeed a genius.

Highland Gate
Highland Gate

 

Van Obberghen also collaborated with other architects from Mechelen, Wilhelm van den Block (ca. 1550-1628) and his son Abraham (1572-1628), who were active in Gdansk from 1584. Wilhelm was the designer of the High Gate (1588), and Abraham designed the Golden Townhouse (1609-1619), the House of the Pelpin Priors (1612), the Golden Gate (1612), the redesigned facade of the Artus manor house (1617), the Townhouses at 30 (1617) and 29 (1620) Dluga Street and 1 (1620) Garbary Street, as well as many other buildings.

The influence of the Netherlands also manifested in the common usage in architectural design of templates created by Cornelius Floris of Antwerp, as well as the templates created by his student from Leeuwarden, Jan Fredeman de Vries, who worked in Gdansk between 1592 and 1595. Some of the later architects worth mentioning include Tylman van Gameren of Utrecht (1632-1706), the designer of the Royal Chapel, according to which Bartlomiej Ranisch, a Gdansk architect, built it between 1678 and 1681.

Another thing we have in common with the Netherlands is our love of the carillon. The first such instrument, consisting of 14 bells and embellished with the coats of arms of Poland, Gdansk and Polish Prussia, was created for the City Hall by Jan Moer in 1561 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and another one, containing 35 bells, was Made by Mikolaj Derck for St Catherine Church in 1738 in Hoorn. Since 2000, 37 bells ring from the City Hall, and 50 play their melodies from the tower of St Catherine Church (since 2016). Both carillons were built by the company Eijsbouts in‘s-Hertogenbosch – current industry leaders when it comes to carillon manufacturing. Our third carillon numbers 37 bells and is mobile – it was also built by the same company.

Immigrants from the Netherlands included the followers of Menno Simons, the so-called Mennonites. Exiled from their homeland, they found shelter in tolerant Poland and Gdansk. They were adept at utilising the wetlands of the Zulawy area, and some were also successful in other fields. In 1644, Wiebe Adams of Harlingen, an engineer involved in building the city’s fortifications, built the world’s first cable car with multiple supports in Gdansk.

Artus Court
Artus Court

 

Ambrose Vermollen, a Mennonite who arrived in Gdansk in 1598, invented the famous Gdansk gold vodka (Goldwasser). The recipe lists 17 or 44 spices, as well as flakes of 24-carat gold. Extremely thin, nearly transparent and imperceptible to your sense of taste, they glow pleasantly when the liquid is poured.

Alkmaari engineers Wilhelm Jansen Benning and Adrian Olbrants designed the Stone Lock – built between 1619 and 1623, it could be used (in conjunction with another lock further down, which has not survived to this day) to flood the area and limit the enemy’s mobility. It is a unique piece of technology, as similar locks are not found even in the Netherlands – to flood an area, they would simply use explosives to destroy the protective floodbanks.