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The Crane Gate in Gdańsk
From its inception, Gdańsk owed its economic growth to sea and river trade. Quays for loading and unloading vessels, cargo storage facilities, and docks for building and repairing vessels were constructed in the town as early as the Middle Ages. Archival documents confirm that in 1363 a fortified wooden gate existed within the town’s eastern walls. The gate burnt down in 1442, but in 1444 a Flemish-style brick structure was erected on the same site to serve as a port crane. The name of the gate originates from the tin weathervane in the shape of a crane mounted on top of the gate.
The Crane Gate in Gdańsk is 28 metres long and 10 metres wide. Its ground-level walls are 4 metres thick. From the side of the Motława River, a 30-metre wooden structure rises between its towers. Its lifting mechanism, accommodated on top, extends beyond the quay edge, which enabled cargoes to be lifted from vessels and masts put up on them. The internal lifting structure consisted of two pairs of treadwheels, placed at various heights, with wheels with a diameter of 6 metres. The mechanism was set in motion by people treading inside the wheels. The ropes would lift a weight of 2 tonnes to a height of 27 metres or a weight of 4 tonnes to a height of 11 metres.
In the 18th century, the Crane ceased to function as a port crane but continued to be used to set heading back upstream along the river. Later on, it was used to lift sterns of motor-powered vessels out of the water to repair screw propellers and helms. In the 19th century, the port of Gdańsk was expanding intensively in a new location and the Crane was no longer needed.
During the war, in 1945, the wooden structure of the Crane burnt down, and 40% of its brick towers was destroyed. The walls of the gate were re-built in 1957–1959 and the wooden crane structure was reconstructed between 1963 and 1965. Since 1977, the monument has been a branch of the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk. The Crane of Gdańsk is the largest and the oldest of the surviving port cranes of medieval Europe.
Rev. Prof. dr hab. Wojciech Zawadzki