The Elbląg Canal, Elbląg
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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A structure unique on a global scale, the canal is still in use and features the surviving original hydro-technical solutions, including the ingenuous system of platforms used for transporting ships over inclined planes. Today, it is the longest navigable canal in Poland. The canal has an immense historic and technical value. It is considered to be a monument of history pursuant to the regulation of the President of the Republic of Poland.


The canal was designed by the engineer Georg Jakob Steenke (born in 1801 in Königsberg, died in 1884 in Elbląg), who went on to become the site manager and administrator of the water route. Before the commencement of works, he went on a study trip during which he visited the Morris Canal and the Pennsylvania Canal in the USA; the technical solution that he witnessed there formed an inspiration for further design works. The construction of the canal started in 1844. The opening ceremony was held in 1860 with respect to the section from Elbląg to Iława via Miłomłyn and the slipway in Buczyniec. At that time, the canal was already navigable, and four slipways (Buczyniec, Kąty, Oleśnica, Jelenie) were already in use. In 1881 the fifth slipway in Całuny was put into service, replacing a set of five locks. An artificially composed arrangement of greenery was planted around the slipway. In years 1872-1876, the section between Miłomłyn and Ostróda was constructed. The technical equipment necessary for the canal to operate was manufactured at the Royal Machinery Works in Tczew. The canal was modernised several times; it was built primarily for utility purposes, including the transportation of timber and agricultural produce. Before World War I, the canal also became a tourist attraction. During the inter-war period, canal locks and protective gates were replaced, with the earlier wooden structures giving way to concrete ones. In addition, a winter port, a shipyard and a dry dock with a small slipway were built. During the period of World War II, the canal was damaged and all the ships were sunk before the Red Army invaded the area. In 1946, the transportation of both goods and passengers resumed. In the following years a boatbuilding plant - still active today - was put into service. From 2013 onwards, revitalisation works have been carried out at the canal, including the deepening and desludging of the canal as well as the strengthening of the banks of several sections thereof; in addition, canal locks were renovated, tracks for freight cars were constructed on the slipways and the building of the History Chamber of the Elbląg Canal in Buczyniec was erected. Today, the canal remains under the administration of Ostróda and Elbląg Shipping Company.


Within the boundaries of the Warmińsko-Mazurskie voivodeship, the canal runs through areas of Iława, Ostróda and Elbląg districts. It connects a number of lakes, including Drużno, Szeląg and Jeziorak, as well as navigable sections of rivers (e.g. Elbląg, Nogat, Vistula) with the Vistula Lagoon and Baltic Sea. The canal is approx. 150 km long (including branches and lakes; the canal itself is approx. 80 km long) with differences of water levels reaching over 100 m. Along the canal there are numerous, historic hydro-technical structures making it possible to ensure its maintenance and navigation. These are the slipways and six weirs, barrages with brick and stone locks (Miłomłyn, Zielona, Mała Ruś, Ostróda), four flood control gates, spillways, a tunnel, water thresholds, dams, an aqueduct, machine rooms with equipment (turbines and water wheels) as well as bridges and culverts - most of them preserved in their original form. Above the canal there are currently 42 bridges (mostly concrete, six bridges were erected after World War II). A dry dock with a slipway was built in Ostróda. The canal is accompanied by administration buildings connected with its operation (e.g. building of the Hydroengineering Office in Ostróda in A. Mickiewicza street), residential and utility buildings. The various types of period machinery supporting the functioning of the canal which used to this day all use hydropower, supplied by means of water wheels or Francis turbines. The differences between water levels are overcome by means of five two-direction slipways equipped with devices based exclusively on water power (Buczyniec, Kąty, Oleśnica, Jelenie, Całuny - with Francis turbines being used in the case of the latter); the slipways feature a set of tracks designed to accommodate special platforms used to carry ships up and down the slope; pulled along by a system of lines, the platforms move in two opposite directions at once, each of them serving as a counterbalance. The differences of water levels between the Karnickie lake and the canal were reduced by connecting them by means of a purpose-built canal; to that end, a dike in the form of an embankment incorporating a water canal whose water surface is above the water level of the lake was built across the said lake, with navigation taking place along the central part thereof. The waters of the bisected lake flow through a set of pipes placed across the embankment. Remains of towing paths can still be seen alongside the canal. In Buczyniec, there is an obelisk commemorating the engineer responsible for the construction of the canal (removed in 1945, it was restored to its original location in 1990).

The historic site is open to visitors.

Compiled by Maurycy Domino, 8.12.2014.



  • Hochleitner J., Kanał Elbląski - zabytek techniki wpisany w dziedzictwo przyrodnicze i kulturowe, [w:] Pomniki historii na Warmii i Mazurach, Olsztyn - Grunwald 2014, p. 61-78.
  • Kowalski R., Wawrzyński C., 100 lat żeglugi pasażerskiej Ostróda-Iława-Elbląg 2012-2012, Olsztyn 2012.
  • Płoski A., Historyczna infrastruktura wodna Warmii i Mazur, „Warmińsko-Mazurski Biuletyn Konserwatorski” 2014, no. 6, p. 98-99, 101-103.
  • Wawrzyński C., Osiem wieków wschodniopruskiej żeglugi, kanałów i dróg wodnych, Olsztyn 2014, p. 101-136.

General information

  • Type: industrial architecture
  • Chronology: 1844-1860
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Elbląg
  • Location: Voivodeship warmińsko-mazurskie, district Elbląg, commune Elbląg
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland


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