6 Przemysłowa, Gdansk, Poland
58 760 16 42
Latarnia Morska Gdansk Reviews
The Lighthouse where World War Two Started Aug 30, 2013
The Latarnia Morski – Lighthouse – in Gdansk harbour is an attractive, unassuming late-nineteenth century lighthouse with a pivotal role in European History. From its window, in the early morning of the 1st September, 1939, the first shots of World War Two were fired.
Built in 1893, apparently as a copy of an American lighthouse in Cleveland that the architect thought was particularly beautiful, the lighthouse guided shipping through the shifting mouth of Gdansk harbour. It was also equipped with a timeball, like the one in Greenwich, which dropped at certain times of day so that ships could reset their clocks. Gdansk was disputed territory for much of its history, and between the wars it was a Free City – an independent city state. The German and Polish military were both maintaining a presence; the Germans on the lighthouse side of the river, and in the battleship Schleswig-Hostein in the bay, and the Poles on the island of Westerplatte. At 4.45am, a German gun in the window of the lighthouse opened fire on the Polish position, rapidly followed by bombardment from the Schleswig-Holstein. Although the Poles tried to defend themselves (and the lighthouse displays badly damaged plates from the warship to prove it), they were overwhelmed and Gdansk (now Danzig) fell to German control. This forced war.
The lighthouse, unusually, survived the war more or less intact and can be visited today. Climbing the lighthouse, you can see the window where the shots were fired, the lamp in the lighthouse, and information about the timeball and the war. There is also, of course, a wonderful view out over the ports and docklands and towards the Baltic and the city itself. The armoured plates from the Schleswig-Holstein are on display, as are some photos and information about the Westerplatte and the Polish navy. There is also a display of information about Canadian lighthouses – I have no idea why, but it’s moderately interesting too.
Although you can do tours from Gdansk, the easiest thing to do is to get a tram out to the Latarnia Morski tram stop (a 3, then a 5 from the main train station; takes roughly an hour). Then cross the abandoned railway tracks and follow the (slightly well hidden) signs out to the headland. The lighthouse itself is a few zloty to climb up the narrow staircase, and for a couple of zloty more you can borrow some binoculars. No one speaks English, but the signs and information boards are in English as well as Polish so that isn’t a problem. There are signs that the site is being done up a little – more information boards down at the water and some workmen building something – so there might be a more formal attraction if you visit in a few months. This is an interesting place, however, and if you have any interest in twentieth century history and some time to spare it’s well worth it.
Part of the Poland travel blog
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