An important seaport since the Middle Ages and a ship building center, the city was a member of the Hanseatic League. It is today a major industrial center, and is known as the birthplace of the Solidarity movement.
The city was founded in the 980s by Mieszko I of Poland. For years it was run by the Dukes of Pomerania. By 1235 it had obtained a city charter and the official language was German. It flourished as a commercial center but in 1308 the Teutinoc Knights attacked and destroyed it. From the mid-15th Century it came under the Polish crown and was granted royal charters by King Casimir IV and free access to Polish markets. Danzig grew and prospered as a seaport and a trade center. With the arrival of the Reformation, the German population adopted Lutheranism.
The Russians besieged and took the city in 1734. It became part of the Prussian Kingdom in 1793 and part of the German Empire from 1871. After World War I it was proclaimed a free city governed by its predominantly German population. The Nazi Party took advantage of the pro-German orientation, and acquired a leading role in politics from 1933. The city was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1939, marking the beginning of World War II, and many of its Polish citizens were murdered or sent to the Stutthof concentration camp. By the end of the war, the city was in ruins, and much of the German population fled by sea. Those who remained were subjected to a massive ethnic cleansing. After the conferences at Yalta and Potsdam, the city was assigned to Poland and its reconstruction began. The old town was rebuilt in the 1950s - 1960s. In 1970, Gdansk was the site of anti-government demonstrations. In 1980, the Solidarity movement began from the Gdansk Shipyard, and eventually led to the downfall of the communist regime.
Today, Gdansk is a center of shipbuilding, chemical industries, food processing, telecommunications and electronics. Amber processing is important for the local economy, and Gdansk has been referred to as the 'capital of amber'. Most tourist attractions are found on the so-called Long Street, also known as the Royal Way as it was the procession route of visiting kings. It is lined with stately buildings, reminiscent of the city's past as a wealthy commercial center. At its end is the Golden Gate which used to be part of the town's fortifications. It is adorned by figures symbolizing Peace, Freedom, Wealth, Fame, Justice, Piety, Prudence and Agreement.
St Mary's church is one of the largest Gothic buildings in brick in Europe, with room for 25,000 people. It was severely damaged during World War II, and was reconstructed and reconsecrated in 1955. Some of the masterpieces of its interior have been moved to museums, e.g. the 'Last Judgement' by the Flemish artist Hans Memling.
The Crane Gate is an emblematic sight of Gdansk. It was built in the 15th Century and restored after World War II. The crane used to be the biggest in Europe. The Renaissance City Hall also dates back to the 15th Century and is one of the city's most elegant buildings. The Neptune Fountain in front of Artus Court has become a symbol of the city, embodying its connection with the sea.
Tourists can also enjoy kilometers of clean beaches and ample opportunities for water sports such as boating and kayaking.