Gdańsk and the region of eastern Pomerania possess a fascinating history and a complex identity. Power shifted variously over the last millennium between the Piast dynasty, the Teutonic Order, the Hanseatic League, the Kingdom of Poland and the strange phenomenon of Prussia. Each left behind an eclectic group of remarkable monuments: castles, churches and monasteries, palaces, urban spaces and town houses.
Gdańsk (Danzig), the great Hanseatic port on the Baltic, is one of the finest sights in Northern Europe. Its fortunes bear witness to the fiercely contested history of these lands. First mentioned in the tenth century, the settlement became a stronghold of the Polish Piast rulers. In the fourteenth century the Teutonic Order took over the town and its hinterland and began the Germanisation of the region. They constructed a fortress and a number of Brick Gothic buildings (among them the world’s second-largest brick church), and made the city a member of the Hanseatic League.
The following centuries saw a continuous struggle between the Polish and Prussian rulers for control of the city. Gdańsk suffered extensive damage during the Second World War, but was painstakingly rebuilt to rescue the former historic beauty of the old town and the harbour. Today, Gdańsk is at once a monument to its maritime and international past as well as a bustling and ambitious modern city with much to see, explore, and savour.
The city of Toruń (Thorn), once a rich military stronghold and thriving cultural and economic centre, offers a fine assembly of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. It came to prominence when the early medieval settlement was turned into a fortress by the Teutonic Knights, who were brought to Poland to assist in the subjugation of the Pomeranian pagans. The Knights were followed by the mendicant orders, who continued to expand the city and built vast churches in the Brick Gothic style. A member of the Hanseatic League, Toruń soon established itself as an important trading post and centre of manufacturing, which is reflected in the surviving fabric of the city.
Though geographically removed from the tour’s primary focus, it would be remiss not to include a sojourn in Warsaw, Poland’s vibrant capital. A fascinating blend of turbulent history and cultural treasures, it provides counterpoint and context, as well as the magnificent collection of medieval art in the National Museum, an essential ingredient in this tour.
Fly at c. 10.15am (LOT Polish Airlines) from London Heathrow to Warsaw. Drive north to Toruń. Dinner and first of two nights here.
Toruń. Picturesquely located on the banks of the Vistula River, Toruń is one of the most attractive and least spoilt of Europe’s medieval towns. Visit the ruins of the first Teutonic castle to be built in Poland and the church of St James, with its monumental, five-storey tower crowned with a pair of hip roofs. The Old Town Hall is an outstanding achievement of medieval civic architecture. Overnight Toruń.
Chełmno, Gniew, Gdańsk. Downstream along the Vistula lies Chełmno, the first political and administrative centre of the Teutonic Order. On a hilltop site, the town is very well preserved, with medieval walls, fine Gothic churches and a splendid Renaissance town hall. Continue to the commanding castle at Gniew, one of Poland’s first privatised monuments. Arrive in Gdansk early evening. First of three nights here.
Gdańsk, Oliwa. Morning walk in and around the Long Market (Długi Targ): the imposing Gothic-Renaissance Town Hall, the Artus Court – with its magnificent 16th-century Renaissance stove – and the vast Brick Gothic Church of St Mary (1343). After lunch visit the National Museum’s branch for early art, which houses Hans Memling’s Last Judgement altarpiece. Drive to the medieval cathedral in the suburb of Oliwa and hear its famous organ. Overnight in Gdańsk.
Malbork, Pelpin. Drive to Malbork Castle, an awesome structure of three linked castles comprising the largest medieval fortress in Europe. Cross the Vistula to Pelpin – an outstanding Cistercian abbey boasting portal structure and spectacular vaults. Final night in Gdańsk.
Gdańsk, Warsaw. Walk along the picturesque waterfront to the Crane (1442), a defining symbol of Gdańsk and a relic of the city’s great trading age. After the war it was rebuilt and donated to the Polish Maritime Museum, of which it remains a part today. Fly at c.2.55pm from Gdańsk to Warsaw (LOT Polish Airlines). First of two nights in Warsaw.
Warsaw. The Royal Castle is a Renaissance and later building whose magnificent interiors have been scrupulously reconstructed and enhanced with original furnishings and paintings. After lunch visit the National Museum, a magnificent collection of Polish art which is particularly strong on the medieval and Romantic periods. The rest of the day is free; there are many museums, galleries and historic buildings to chose from.
Warsaw, Wilanów. With its spreading layout and splendid Baroque interiors, the country palace of Wilanów was built by King Jan Sobieski in the 1680s, though during the next two centuries fine furnishings, pictures and an English park were added. Drive to Warsaw airport for the return flight to London Heathrow arriving c. 5.20pm.
Dr Agata Gomółka
Art historian, lecturer and researcher specialising in Romanesque architectural sculpture. She obtained her MA at the University of Warwick and her PhD at the University of East Anglia. Her research interests include medieval art and architecture, pre-modern building methods, sculptural techniques, and representation of the human body in art. She is an editor of the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland, and an apprentice stonemason.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,110 or £2,870 without international flights. Single occupancy: £3,540 or £3,300 without international flights.
Flights (economy class) including an internal flight with LOT Polish Airlines (Airbus 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 2 lunches and 6 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Internal flight: the flight from Gdańsk to Warsaw on day 6 is included in the price of the tour, even if you take the ‘no flights’ option.
Hotel Bulwar, Toruń: 4-star in a converted building with modern interiors by the Vistula river. Radisson Blu Hotel, Gdańsk: 5-star hotel on the Long Market. Hotel Bristol, Warsaw: elegant 5-star in an art deco building, 10-minute walk from the Royal Castle. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole use.
This tour involves a lot of walking in the historic centres so you will be on your feet for lengthy stretches of time. There is also a lot of standing in museums and churches. A good level of fitness is essential. Average distance by coach per day: 45 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.