Remarkable Castles and Powerful Messages of Peace in Gdansk, Poland
This morning we arrived in Gdansk, Poland on a cool, dreary and chilly day. There were many locals out and about despite the rain to welcome us to their country…a hearty group.
Outside the harbor entrance there is a huge memorial known as the Westerplatte Monument.
The monument pays tribute to the defense of the Polish sea coast, the naval battles of WWII in which Polish sailors and soldiers took part.
According to our tour guide today, Gdansk is well known for 3 things. The first is Gdansk was the first city bombed in WWII. Second, they are well known for their amber and salt mining and third, Gdansk is home to the Solidarity Movement and Lech Walesa’s dramatic shipyard labor confrontation that eventually lead to the fall of the communist regimes across Europe.
Today, we toured Malbork Castle about an hour outside of Gdansk. Construction began in 1274 by the Teutonic Knights, a Catholic religious order formed to aid Christians on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land during the Crusades. Malbork is the largest castle in the world. It is an incredibly beautiful Gothic building with very distinctive red bricks. There must be billions of bricks. Pictures don’t do justice to the just how big it is.
It is a fascinating structure made even more so by the fact that about 50% was destroyed in WWII. Reconstruction has been accomplished through Polish government financial support combined with funds obtained from the European Union after Poland was admitted.
This place is an interesting labyrinth of rooms, staircases and hallways. We especially found one of the towers of the castle to be a fascinating piece of engineering.
The outside of the tower is positioned over the moat which surrounded the entire castle. We entered through the drawbridge over the moat. Just like the movies!
Positioned along the walls are “holes” in wood or stone that served as their indoor/outdoor outhouse.
The heating system of the castle was also fascinating. There was a level below the first floor where firewood was burned that heated rocks in the lower areas. The heat from the rocks then rose through a series clever piping up to the floors above providing much needed warmth during the winter months.
On the way back to the Ship we observed storks and their new offspring in HUGE nests scattered among the houses.
These storks migrate here from Africa during the summer months and are viewed as a sign of fertility and prosperity in Poland.
This evening was an incredible honor for the Ship. Former President of Poland and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Lech Walesa spoke, answered questions and participated in an onboard reception. The Ship has hosted a number of Nobel winners and this was a very special treat.
This evening we saw an energetic and enthusiastic man. He spoke of his accomplishments in a very humble and self-deprecating manner using his humble beginnings as his strength.
He came wearing his hallmark tee shirt bearing the word “Konstytucja” (Constitution in Polish) as a symbol of a political struggle in his homeland against the populist government. He wore this same tee shirt to the funeral of President H.W. Bush in 2018.