The Main Town Hall
(the main headquarters of the Gdańsk History Museum) is a Gothic-Renaissance building, located at the corner of Długa Street and Długi Targ, dominating the panorama of the Royal Route – the most representative route of the listed part of the city.
The origins of the Town Hall, which from the very beginning was the seat of the authorities of the main Gdańsk area, from the 14th century referred to as the Main City, go back to the early Middle Ages. From the mid 15th century it became the centre of power for the entire area located on the Motława river. It served this function for a few centuries, and throughout this time was the main municipal building.
The exact date of the creation of the building is unknown. According to 17th century Gdansk chronicler, Stephan Graua, the construction of the Town Hall was started in the spring of 1327 and completed in December 1336. The Gdańsk chronicler did not however provide the source of this information. In the 14th century the Town Hall was probably a small one-storey building constructed as a frame structure from bricks and wood.
The accounting books from 1379 – 1382 contain information on the expenditures on building materials and works carried out in the Town Hall by the bricklayer Heinrich Ungeradin. The works concerned the reconstruction and extension of the building to the west.
The next extension of the building was carried out from 1454 – 1457. In 1457 Gdansk was visited by the Polish king, Casimir Jagiellon. In the enlarged and renovated Main Town Hall, the Polish ruler added the crown to the Gdańsk coat of arms as visible evidence of recognising it as a royal city.
The general development of the city and the enlargement of the city’s local government by King Sigismund I the Old in 1526 by adding a third chamber (the first one formed the Council, the second the Board) for the representation of the merchants and guilds, brought about further extension of the building. The building in its current size was not able to fulfil its regular and occasional functions (it accommodated the Mayor’s office; the City Council and the court held their meetings in the building; it was the seat of the burgrave, who was the representative of the Polish king in the city; and in addition it was a meeting place of the Third Chamber). Around 1537 the construction of a two-storey high annex started around the internal courtyard in the place of the former inn.
On October 3, 1556 a hazardous fire broke out in the Town Hall. Repair of the damage took several years and initiated the reconstruction of the building in the Renaissance style. First, from 1559 – 1560 a new glamorous cupola for the tower was constructed and on its spire a gold covered statue of the then Polish king, Sigismund II August, was installed in 1561. A set of 14 chime bells, called a carillon, was installed inside the cupola.
The Gdańsk merchants were becoming increasingly rich on trade and strived to accentuate the city’s position by giving appropriate splendour to the interior of the Town Hall. At the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century, this interior was decorated by artists of the golden age of Gdańsk arts, including such masters as: Izaak van den Block, Hans Vredeman de Vries, Willem van der Meer, Anton Moeller and Szymon Herle. Overall administration of the works was managed by Dutchman, Anton van Obberghen, who at the time held the position of town builder.
The first floor became the most representative storey. It accommodated the most important rooms of the Town Hall – the Great Council Hall, also called the Red Hall, and the Great Wety Hall, from the 19th century called the White Hall. Beautiful rooms were also created inside the annex, to which two wings (northern and eastern) were added in the 16th century, which include the Small Council Hall (also called the Winter Hall) and the Small Wety Court Hall (the Fireplace Hall). The annex and the side wings formed a rectangular internal courtyard.
The seizure of Gdańsk by Prussia under the second partition of Poland brought about changes to the city’s government system. This was also reflected in the new functional layout of the Town Hall, as in the creation of the Mayor’s office in the former Town Cash Office Hall.
This valuable monument was badly damaged during World War II. In March 1945 fire destroyed the cupola of the tower, while the wooden ceilings and the walls were damaged by bombs and gun fire. The saved fragments of the walls were so weak that even an ordinary storm could be disastrous. According to preliminary arrangements, the building was not fit for reconstruction and was classified for demolition. However in the end the building survived.
Reconstruction of the town hall, started in 1946, was a difficult project and is regarded as one of the outstanding Polish post-war conservation achievements. After extensive bricklaying-conservation work, on 2 April 1970, the reconstructed town hall was commissioned to accommodate the Gdańsk Historical Museum, which since 2000 has been the Gdańsk History Museum.
The town hall performed functional and ideological tasks. The latter were reflected especially in the design of its most beautiful interior, i.e. the preserved Great Council Hall (the Red Hall). In this enormous painting-sculpture complex, the creators of the program presented – generally speaking – the moral norms and the rules of conduct for the city authorities.
At present, exhibitions presenting Gdańsk history are held at the Town Hall. The splendid building also performs reception functions. During the tourist season (in the spring and summer), the sightseeing gallery of the tower is open to tourists, and at around 50m high the tower provides a great view of Gdańsk.
The specific atmosphere of Gdańsk is also created by its bells. In 2000 a new outstanding 37-bell carillon was installed in the town hall tower The carillon was built by the Dutch bells and carillon manufacturer, Royal Eijsbouts in Asten. The Town Hall’s chiming bells are the background and at the same time a sort of rival to events held in the city.