Lighthouse (the Pilots’ Tower), Gdańsk
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Lighthouse (the Pilots’ Tower)

Gdańsk

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The lighthouse - inextricably linked to the maritime traditions of the city of Gdańsk - is a priceless industrial monument, mostly due to the presence of historical optical and navigation devices. The building also has significant architectural and landscape value, its harmonious proportions and rich architectural detailing setting it apart from other structures of its kind. It is considered to be the most beautiful lighthouse on all of the Polish coast and forms a picturesque dominant feature of the Gdańsk shoreline.

History

The building, commonly referred to as the Pilots’ Tower (the name comes from the small hill upon which it stands) was erected in years 1893-1894, supersiding an earlier lighthouse built in 1758. The design of the structure was modelled after the now-defunct lighthouse built in 1871 in Cleveland, Ohio on the shores of the Erie lake, which was believed to be the most aesthetically pleasing structure of this type in all of North America back when it was originally constructed. During the Chicago World Fair, a group of delegates from Gdańsk had an opportunity to become acquainted with this design. The Gdańsk lighthouse was design by Mr Stegmüller, the building inspector at the Gdańsk garrison.

It was intended to mark the entrance to the Gdańsk seaport and was used as an observation post for maritime pilots and as a navigation point which mate it possible for on-board chronometers to be set correctly. The light emitted by the lighthouse could be seen from 13 nautical miles away. The building came equipped with state-of-the-art optical devices. A state-of-the-art optical lens patented by Augustine Jean Fresnel a French physicist, made by the company Barbier & Fenestre (Paris) was installed inside the lantern room. The light source was powered by electricity stored in batteries which were then recharged during the day using generators connected to a steam engine. This solution was a significant novelty in those times, never seen before anywhere else on the Baltic coastline. The dome above the lantern room incorporated a navigation instrument known as the time ball, relocated to the lighthouse from the maritime pilots’ quarters located nearby, where it was installed back in 1876. The time ball in Gdańsk (with a 1.5 metre diameter and a weight of 70 kg) was modelled after a similar device installed in 1833 in the Greenwich observatory in London. The time ball was originally positioned atop a tall mast. On every day, at noon, it would drop following the receipt of a signal telegraphed from the Royal Astronomical Observatory in Berlin, enabling marine chronometers aboard ships offshore to be set in an accurate manner. The time ball was dismantled following the introduction of time signals transmitted by radio in 1929.

In 1939, when the German blitzkrieg began, a German machine gun emplacement was positioned atop the lighthouse, firing rounds at the Polish outpost on Westerplatte. On September 1, 1939, a shell fired by the Polish crew in response to the attack ripped a sizeable chunk out of the building’s facade. It was subsequently bricked up, although even today the exact spot where it once was is clear to see from the outside.

After the war, the lighthouse was modernised on a number of occasions. The building served its original purpose until 1984, when it was replaced by a new signalling device positioned inside the harbour master’s office. In 2001, the lighthouse was acquired by a private individual and was restored in years 2001-2004. In 2010, the restoration project received the “Well-preserved Historical Monument” award of General Monuments Conservator. Today, the building is open to visitors. Attractions include the time ball, reconstructed in 2008, as well as the preserved optical instruments and an exhibition dedicated to the history of the facility.

Description

The lighthouse, situated in the New Harbour - a seaside district of Gdańsk - at the mouth of the port, on the western coast of the Port Canal, is positioned on a hill on a small plot of land encircled by fence. It is located in the vicinity of the harbour master’s office building which stands north of the lighthouse, bordering on other port structures and storage yards located south and west of the lighthouse tower.

The lighthouse takes the form of an octagonal, slightly tapering brick tower, 27.3 metres in height, divided into three distinct sections. The lowest section of the lighthouse is the monumental ground level, its walls covered with stone quoins. The entrance is located in the eastern wall, preceded by monumental stone steps. The middle section of the building is the slender shaft with austere brick walls, their surface broken only by a number of small windows designed to provide additional interior illumination. The topmost section of the tower, containing its three top storeys, features much more lavish architectural decoration. The base of this section is accentuated by a pronounced balcony which encircles the entire building, supported by a profiled stone cornice as well as a set of corbels and pilasters. The topmost storey of the tower (the lantern room), encircled by a narrow terrace, is topped with an octagonal dome with an oculus. The dome itself is a wooden structure clad with copper sheets. The topmost storey remains in stark contrast to the rest of the building due to its lighter proportions, emphasized by the white-painted plastered walls. Both the balcony and the upper terrace feature decorative, wrought iron balustrades. A mast with a time ball (reconstructed using original plans) is perched atop the dome.

A concrete spiral staircase is located inside the shaft. The building also features preserved original panelled doors with a decorative door handle.

Limited access to the historic building. The building can be explored from May to September.

Compiled by Beata Dygulska, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Gdańsk, 08.08.2014.

Bibliography

  • Czerner M., Latarnie morskie polskiego wybrzeża, Poznań 1971, s. 69-75.
  • Komorowski A.F., Pietkiewicz I., Szulczewski A., Najstarsze latarnie morskie Zatoki Gdańskiej, Gdańsk 2009, s. 78-85.

General information

  • Type: other
  • Chronology: koniec XIX w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Przemysłowa 6a, Gdańsk
  • Location: Voivodeship pomorskie, district Gdańsk, commune Gdańsk
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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