Plac Solidarnosci, Gdansk
The area outside the main gates to the Gdansk
shipyards, famous as the backdrop for crucial parts of the media coverage of the trade union movement Solidarnosc
's struggle for freedom in the 1980s. The square is dominated by a huge monument erected in 1980 in honour of the victims of the violently crushed strikes and demonstrations in 1970, which was a precursor to the Solidarnosc movement in the 1980s that eventually led to the abolition of communism
, the break-up of the entire Eastern Bloc
and the end of the Cold War
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
UPDATE: there have been some big changes at this location since the text below was written. A new European Solidarity Centre (or ECS for the Polish 'Europejskie Centrum Solidarności') has opened just north of the Square, inside the former shipyard area. The hyper-modern edifice now dominate the area and also houses a new exhibition (cf. Roads to Freedom
), auditoriums, shops and what not. I'm planning a visit this summer and will replace the old text when I'm back. Until then I'll leave the old text below, which I initially wrote after my visit to Gdansk in the summer of 2008, as an illustration of what the place used to look like. Much of the square itself will likely remain the same, including the monument and the old gates, just the surroundings will be fundamentally changed.
shipyards were at the forefront of Poland
's organized resistance movement of the 1980s; together with the steelworks in Krakow
's Nowa Huta – when both plants, incidentally, were named after Lenin
. And they had been the site of resistance and strikes before; especially the 1970 strike which was brutally crushed by the militia.
But from 1980 onwards the developments gained momentum, in particular through the founding of the 'independent self-governing trade union' that was given the name Solidarnosc
– with Lech Walesa being their charismatic leader and figurehead. Later he even proceeded to become Poland's president until 1995!
Through the media coverage of the strikes and demonstrations, the Solidarnosc logo became known worldwide as a symbol of resistance against communism
. And the backdrop to much of the protests' footage would have been the shipyard's gates at what is today called Plac Solidarnosci – renamed in honour of those who eventually brought about those massive changes not only in Poland but in the whole of the Eastern Bloc
The later western-oriented governments, esp. after Lech Walesa failed to get re-elected as Poland's president, even tried to close down the Gdansk shipyards altogether, as they were not profitable (and in fact never had been). This in turn sparked a new wave of resistance, now against the non-communist government … But to this day the Polish government has failed to push through the complete closure of this symbol of the country's struggle for freedom.
Peeking through the gates of the Gdansk shipyards today, though, you get the strong impression that this is indeed anything but a thriving industrial complex. It is a rather sad, silent and mostly deserted (and partly overgrown) wasteland. A thing of the past. Only when taking the boat out to Westerplatte
do you get a glimpse of the working parts of the shipyards that still do business, as unprofitable as it may be.
Plac Solidarnosc, however, is well kept and continues to fulfil its role as a powerful reminder of the achievements of the Gdansk shipyard workers.
What there is to see:
NOTE: the description below (from 2008) is somewhat dated – see the UPDATE above
The gates to the Gdansk
shipyards, 'Stocznia Gdansk' in Polish, look rather drab and wouldn't be anything much to take note of if it wasn't for the historical significance of the place.
This is primarily heralded by the huge towering monument to the victims of the militia's crushing of the 1970 strikes. The monument consists mainly of three tall columns ending in crosses at the top that together form a triangle. From the crosses, anchors are suspended – probably to point out the shipbuilding-associations of the place.
At the bottom, the columns are adorned with plaques – as is a whole memorial wall opposite. Here an eclectic collection of plaques and sculptures honour various personalities and organizations involved in this chapter of Poland
's history. Fresh flowers suggest that the site is still in use as an 'active' memorial and well looked-after. Unlike the shipyards beyond the gate, which look pretty much deserted – only in the distance can you see the typical cranes towering over this vast but ailing industrial complex. More can be seen closer-up from the boat to Westerplatte
The shipyard gates themselves are still cheerfully adorned with flags, icons and portraits of former Pope John Paul II. There's even a small souvenir kiosk where you can even buy Solidarnosc
T-shirts, mugs or flags and other such knick-knacks.
That would be it, if it weren't for the excellent "Roads to Freedom" exhibition
whose entrance is located at the other end of Plac Solidarnosci …(NOTE: this will soon change – see UPDATE above
to the north of the historical centre of Gdansk
, about half a mile (800m) from the main train station (Gdansk Glowny), and about a mile (1.4 km) from the Old Town centre and waterfront.
Access and costs: easy and free.
a five-to-ten-minute walk from the station along Podwale Grodzkie and ul. Waly Piastowskie (or one tram stop), and about half an hour on foot from Gdansk
's city centre and waterfront, at the end of ul. Lagiewniki. Access to the site is free at all times.
Having a look around hardly takes half an hour. But add on time for getting there, and most likely a visit to the "Roads to Freedom" exhibition
Combinations with other dark destinations:
When coming to Plac Solidarnosci, going to the excellent "Roads to Freedom" exhibition
is almost obligatory, and vice versa.
And from the waterfront at Targ Rybny a boat trip out to Gdansk's other significant WWII sites at Westerplatte
will also take you past some of the active parts of the Gdansk shipyards, which can also be interesting in itself and ties in with the Solidarnosc
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
- Plac Solidarnosci 1 - with view over the shipyards
- Plac Solidarnosci 2 - old gate and new hotel
- Plac Solidarnosci 3 - dereliction beyond the gate
- Plac Solidarnosci 4 - underused shipyards
- Plac Solidarnosci 5 - top of monument
- Plac Solidarnosci 6 - memorial plaques
- Plac Solidarnosci 7 - drastic
- Plac Solidarnosci 8 - memorials
- Plac Solidarnosci 9 - lots of nostalgic memory
- Plac Solidarnosci