The Port of Gdansk is located in north central Poland at the mouth of the Motlawa River on the southern shores of Gdansk Bay off the Baltic Sea. The is one of three cities (with Gdynia and Sopot) that form the Trojmiasto (Three-City) metropolitan area. The Port of Gdansk is about nine nautical miles southeast of the Port of Gdynia and about 67 nautical miles west-southwest of the Port of Kaliningrad in Russia. The Port of Gdansk is connected with the nation's capital, Warsaw, by the Vistula River that supplies much of Warsaw's water supply. In 1980, unrest by laborers in the Port of Gdansk's shipyards led to the now-famous Solidarity movement in Poland. In 2007, over 456 thousand people lived in the Port of Gdansk, but over 880 thousand lived in the Three-City region.
The Port of Gdansk houses two port areas. Nowy Port (New Port) is a major industrial center, and Port Polnocny (North Port) is the largest maritime development project in Poland and an important hub for exports of coal and imports of petroleum. The Port of Gdansk's industrial sections include shipbuilders, petrochemical and chemical plants, and food processors. New high-tech industries in the city are growing and include electronics, information technology engineering, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. Much of the world's amber deposits stretch along the Baltic coast, and processing amber is important to the local economy. The Port of Gdansk is an important cultural center for Poland, including many institutes of higher-education and fine arts. It is also a popular tourist destination.
Archeological evidence shows that Mieszko I of Poland built a stronghold on the site of the Port of Gdansk (known as Danzig at the time) after conquering the local tribes, and modern Poles view this as the founding of the city. In 997 AD, Saint Adalbert of Prague baptized the people who lived there for Boleslaw the Brave, and this is considered the founding date of the city. In 1186 AD, a Cistercian monastery was established in the area.
In 1215, the Port of Gdansk became a burgh of Pomerelia. During a German expansion to the east in 1224-25, they established a settlement near Mieszko's fortress. In 1226, Swantopolk II, Duke of Pomerania-Danzig, granted city rights and an autonomy charter to the city. In the following years, the Port of Gdansk grew in importance as merchants and trade increased. At the same time, Germans settlers used the Port of Gdansk as a base for their settlement of the lands around the Vistula.
During the first decade of the 14th Century, Poland struggled for dominance of the region with a major principality of the Holy Roman Empire, the Margraviate of Brandenburg. Poland called in the Order of the Teutonic Knights to support them, but the Knights took the city and made it part of the Teutonic Monastic State of Prussia. After some 30 years of Polish-Teutonic Wars, the Knights agreed to hold Pomerelia for the Kingdom of Poland under the Treaty of Kalisz in 1343.
Under the control of the Teutonic Knights, the Port of Gdansk began to handle increased exports from Prussia and Poland that included wheat, timber, tar, and forestry goods. The city prospered and German immigrants increased. The city became a member of the Hanseatic League in 1361. The Kingdom of Poland, allied with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, went to war against the Teutonic Knights and won control of the Port of Gdansk in 1410; however, the First Peace of Thorn returned it to the Teutonic Order the following year.
In 1440, the Port of Gdansk was a founding member of the Prussian Confederation and a participant in the Thirteen Years' War for independence from the Teutonic Monastic State of Prussia. In 1457, the Port of Gdansk and Royal Prussia were brought into the Kingdom of Poland, although it had the status of an autonomous city. Having privileged access to Polish markets and trade with other Hanseatic cities, the Port of Gdansk grew rich.
After the six-month Siege of Danzig in 1577, the city was defeated by King Stephen Bathory, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. Despite the military victory, his armies could not take the city, forcing King Stephen to grant the same special status that the city had held under the former Polish kings. The Port of Gdansk recognized his sovereignty and paid a small fortune to the King as an "apology."
During the wars of the 18th Century, the Port of Gdansk went into an economic decline. It was taken by Russia in 1734 after the Siege of Danzig. It was annexed into the Kingdom of Prussia in 1793. It was made a semi-independent free city under Napoleon's Empire in the early 19th Century, and it was returned to Prussia after Napoleon's final defeat. In 1815, it became the capital of the province of West Prussia. In 1871, the Port of Gdansk became part of the German Empire until the end of World War I in 1918.
When Poland became independent again after World War I, the Polish government hoped that the Port of Gdansk would also become part of the state. Due the city's largely German population, it became the Free City of Danzig under the "protection" of the League of Nations, while Poland controlled its external affairs. The Port of Gdansk had its own constitution, national anthem, parliament, and government, and this independence led to great tension with the Republic of Poland.
The Germans of the Port of Gdansk wanted to rejoin Germany. In the early 1930s, the local Nazi Party won 38% of the vote in parliament and dominated the city government, even though it was still under the League of Nations. The party demanded that the Port of Gdansk be returned to Germany with other lands in the Polish Corridor as they had existed before World War I. While the Polish government initially agreed in principal to the demands, their willingness to negotiate ended when the German-Polish Non-Aggression Pack of 1934 was cancelled in 1939. Relations between the two countries deteriorated quickly, and the German Nazi army invaded Poland and took the Port of Gdansk, effectively beginning World War II.
The war began when German infantry landed at the Port of Gdansk, defeating the Polish defenders after seven days of fighting. Many defenders were murdered immediately. The city was annexed into Nazi Germany. While most of the Jews in the Port of Gdansk escaped shortly before the invasion, Nazi secret police had been gathering information that they used to identify Poles to capture in Operation Tannenberg. On the first day of the war, some 1500 Poles were arrested, and one-tenth of them were sent to the nearby Stutthof concentration camp to be killed. Deportations and murders of Port of Gdansk residents continued throughout the war.
In 1944, as Germans began to flee the advancing Soviet Army, the Port of Gdansk underwent a dramatic population shift. Hundreds of thousands of Germans tried to escape through the Port of Gdansk that involved hundreds of German ships. The Soviets sank some of the ships, including the Wilhelm Gustloff where over nine thousand people died.
The Port of Gdansk underwent heavy bombing by Allied planes. The citizens who survived the bombing were captured by the Soviet Army when it took the city in March 1945. At the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, the Allies agreed that the Port of Gdansk would become part of Poland. Remaining Germans were expelled to Germany, and the city was repopulated with ethnic Poles deported from Polish areas that had been annexed by the USSR. Many younger residents were eventually deported to Siberia.
The Port of Gdansk's old city suffered massive destruction after the Soviets' arrival. The Port of Gdansk was rebuilt during the 1950s and 1960s. The Soviets invested heavily in the port and three shipyards to serve Soviet ambitions, and the Port of Gdansk became the main industrial and shipping center of the Communist People's Republic of Poland. German territorial claims on the Port of Gdansk were renounced and, in 1970, the Treaty of Warsaw recognized the city's return to Poland. The reunited Germany confirmed this agreement in the early 1990s.
The Port of Gdansk was the site for demonstrations in 1970 that led to the demise of Wladyslaw Gomulka, Poland's communist leader. A decade later, the Solidarity movement was born in the Port of Gdansk Shipyard. Their opposition led to the end of Communist Party rule in 1989 and eventually to the end of Communist regimes throughout the former USSR. In 1990, Solidarity's leader and Port of Gdansk native, Lech Walesa, was elected President of Poland. In 2007, Donald Tusk, another Port of Gdansk native, became Poland's Prime Minister.
In the 21st Century, the Port of Gdansk is an important tourist destination and shipping port for the country of Poland. In 2010, it will be the site of Wikimania 2010, the 6th Annual Wikimedia Conference.