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Passenger terminal in Port of Gdansk 17th Century

andersm 4 | 32
11 Jul 2012 #1
Anyone able to tell me where a passenger ship would disembark in the Port of Gdansk in the mid 17th century? I've almost made myself blind looking at maps of the port area. I need to reference for a novel. Would there have been a pier built out into the water or a quay on land for a ship to pull alongside? Even if someone can point me to a map I would appreciate it.
boletus 30 | 1,361
11 Jul 2012 #2
a passenger ship would disembark in the Port of Gdansk in the mid 17th century?

Well, there was probably no need for passenger ships as such: one would hire a birth or a cabin on a merchant ship. Polish corn was still a major trade product of Polish nobility, although the first signs of corn market crash were already visible in western Europe in the first half of 17th c.

Take a look at the attached Gdańsk plan, showing the location of city walls. I had to reduce the map somehow, so the names of streets are not very clear, but you can get them from Google maps - once you get familiar with this description. In the center is a kind of island - made by two arms of Motława (Motlau) river: Old M. on the west and New M. on the East. The center of the town, with its Arthus Hall, is where the text "Główne Miasto" name is displayed on the plane - at the west of the island, called Granaries' Island. So you must have already guessed right - all the trade business was mostly done on both sides of the Island. At the north tip of the Island, slightly towards the west there is a famous Crane of Gdańsk's Port (Żuraw), which was mostly used for loading thousands of barrels of Gdańsk's beer, destined for England.

At this point the two Motławas join, then split and join again before joining Vistula. Eight kilometers later, after a bit of splitting and joining the westernmost Vistula branch (Dead Vistula) flows - together with Motława - to the Gdańsk Bay.

So now, open the Google maps, focus on Gdańsk, try to get directions from Żuraw to Dwór Arthusa in order to focus on right part of the city, and zoom in and out. You will be able to read all that useful street names, that might be used in your novel (hi there again :-)).

  • Gdansk within the city walls in 17th c.
Ironside 50 | 12,427
11 Jul 2012 #3
Port of Gdansk 17th Century :

OP andersm 4 | 32
11 Jul 2012 #4
I smiled as soon as I saw your name. I might as well put you on speed dial for my questions about Polish history and culture. Again, thank-you for coming to the rescue.

From what you say at that time there were no passenger ships as such so people traveled on the merchant ships. On a larger merchant ship, how many passengers might it hold? I need to figure out how large a crowd would be waiting for the passengers on land. Twenty passengers? Fifty? More?

Here's the rough draft of the opening paragraph.

A large ship with furled sails glides through the Port of Gdansk and makes its final approach through the rippling waters of the Motława River toward Granaries Island. Sailors line the deck, black silhouettes against the blue October sky, patiently waiting for the vessel to draw alongside a wide wooden pier. A gentle bump, a rope snakes from the ship, a dozen hands lift and once more the ocean voyager Is joined to land. A daughter is home.

That first sentence will need work to both get the right sense of place and tighten it up - it's a bit of a run-on. Still not sure if it would slide alongside a pier or pull into a berth but as it will not be mentioned again in the rest of the book perhaps it doesn't matter enough to invest the time. One strives for authenticity but it becomes a matter of how much effort it deserves under the circumstances. I looked at the Google map as you recommended - would the port facilities have generally been the same in the 17th C?

Feel free to recommend different wording in the draft.

Thank-you for posting that picture. That gives a genuine feel for the activity around the port. If people traveled by merchant ship, then there must have been quite a traffic jam in the unloading area unless there was a general procedure of getting rid of the people and their baggage before the cargo holds were unloaded.
boletus 30 | 1,361
12 Jul 2012 #5
would the port facilities have generally been the same in the 17th C?

I really do not know much about sea passenger sailing in 17th c. But I know for the fact that passenger ships sailed on Polish rivers, especially Vistula. Not much is known about the way those ships were built but the richer the owner the more expensive the boat was. The King, lay and clergy magnates owned private boats.

The common people also used the passenger shipping. They were mostly trade people, brokers, agents and runners. In urgent trips they used small boats, taking up to 12 passengers. A journey from Warsaw to Gdansk lasted about 10 days. Including a few days of stay in the city - the round trip took almost 5 weeks.

Take a look at this -, and specifically at the history page of Gdańsk Port. See the first two images showing the congestion of ships in the Old Port. See how the ships are moored at the wharfs. As they say:

Likewise the traffic of ships was substantial considering that time.

Today, Gdansk's port is located in two areas: a so-called Inner Port is located at the mouth of Vistula River and the Outer Port - east of Vistula mouth, facing the Gulf of Gdańsk. There are numerous quys, piers and terminals there, including ferry terminals. See the interactive map here:

The modern port has nothing in common with the historical port. No ships visit Motława river, with possible exception of Tall Ships and and the smaller yachts.

See for example this article and video in Polish, from the Sailors' Parade on Motława, at the last day of Baltic Sail. See also some pictures here:

I have no proof that all the cargo loading took place on Motława. I am speculating here: the Vistula rafts would have hard time navigating upstream Motława, and they were possibly being offloaded (corn, wood, etc.) on the shores of Vistula.
OP andersm 4 | 32
12 Jul 2012 #6
A journey from Warsaw to Gdansk lasted about 10 days. Including a few days of stay in the city - the round trip took almost 5 weeks.

You raise an interesting point. I have the characters collect their daughter then take a horse-drawn carriage to their home in Warsaw. What you suggest is they likely would have taken a boat. That is, picked up their daughter from the ocean-going vessel and transferred to a smaller vessel for the trip up the Vistula to Warsaw.

Thanks for the great photos and information on the Port of Gdansk.


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