The Elbląg Canal, Elbląg
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl
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The Elbląg Canal (known up to 1945 as the Oberländischer Kanal) - a first-rate model of engineering heritage still in operation to this day - was designed by the Prussian engineer Georg Jacob Steenke, and built in 1844-1881. It is a linear system of hydrotechnical engineering works, notable for its innovative hydraulic and mechanical solutions, and of great value as an educational, environmental and landscape resource. It is regarded as one of three “Wonders of Eastern Prussia”, alongside Malbork Castle and the shifting sand dunes of the Curonian Spit. Construction work commenced in 1844 in order to improve inland transport of agricultural produce and timber from the forests of Warmia to the port of Elbląg. The first ship navigated the Ostróda-Miłomłyn section in 1860; the waterway officially became operational in 1862. Its last component - the inclined plane at Całuny - was completed in 1881. The canal operates to this day in unaltered form, being used exclusively for recreational purposes (tourist trips were inaugurated in 1912). Its ceased to be used for shipping goods after the creation of railway networks and the introduction of road haulage.

Comprising a system of canals and locks connecting a series of lakes, the waterway has a total length of c. 210 km. Its route passes along artificial cuttings, dykes and lakes: Drużno, Piniewo, Sambród, Ruda Woda, Ilińsk, Drwęckie, Pauzeńskie, Szeląg, Dauby, and Jeziorak. The entire complex extends across the Iława and Ostróda lakelands, between the towns of Ostróda and Elbląg. The canal incorporates four locks, five inclines, four floodgates, three weirs, operational buildings, culverts, and water supply systems, as well as administrative and residential buildings for employees. A number of green areas were designed especially for the route.

This visionary project waited nearly 20 years to be implemented. The fundamental technical problem in designing the canal was how to overcome the 99.15 m difference in water levels between Lake Druzno and Lake Buczyniec. This was achieved by installing a number of inclined planes over a stretch of c. 10 km (Całuny, Jelenie, Oleśnica, Kąty, Buczyniec). Steenke, drawing inspiration from the best Belgian and English examples and from the Morris Canal in the USA, introduced his own modifications, designing a dry incline which enabled a sailing vessel placed on a special carriage to be carried along a track laid on the incline. Steenke’s pioneering solutions gained a permanent place in the history of hydraulic engineering, whilst the a inclines of the Elbląg Canal became the standard model for longitudinal canal inclined planes. In 1872, on the 50th anniversary of Steenke’s career, a commemorative obelisk was unveiled next to the Buczyniec incline. On retiring in 1875, Steenke was awarded the title of Royal Construction Councillor and was made an honorary citizen of Elbląg, Miłomłyn and Zalew. He lived in his villa on Lake Ruda Woda until his death.

In time, as advances were made in devising structures to improve navigation, so water slopes became the preferred solution. The only extant hydrotechnical structures featuring dry inclined planes are the Elbląg Canal and the Morris Canal, which was closed down in 1922. A unique phenomenon on a worldwide scale is the fact that the Elbląg Canal has been in continuous use for over 140 years using its original infrastructure. Although individual mechanisms have been repaired, renovated and overhauled on many occasions, these were merely maintenance measures and did not alter the original parameters, cross-sections, depths or specifications of the canal’s route, or any of its machines or buildings. It is worth highlighting that all refurbishment work was carried out using the principle of restoration, casting any necessary mechanical components using patterns kept for this very purpose.

General information

  • Type: technical monument
  • Chronology: 1844 - 1881
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Elbląg
  • Location: Voivodeship warmińsko-mazurskie, district Elbląg, commune Elbląg
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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