Elbląg (Elbing; Elbinga) is a city in northern Poland with 127,892 inhabitants (2006). It is the capital of Elbląg County and has been assigned to the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship since 1999. Before then it was the capital of Elbląg Voivodeship (1975–1998) and a county seat in Gdańsk Voivodeship (1945–1975). The city is a port on the Elbląg River which flows into the Vistula Lagoon about 10 km to the north, thus giving the city access to the Baltic Sea via the Russian-controlled Strait of Baltiysk.
It was first mentioned as "Ilfing" in Bright's Anglo-Saxon Reader/The Voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan which was written in Anglo-Saxon in King Alfred's reign using information from a Viking who had visited the area.
During the Middle Ages, the Old Prussian settlement of Truso was located at Lake Drużno near the current site of Elbląg in historical Pogesania; the settlement burned down in the 10th century. The Teutonic Knights conquered the region and the inhabitants dispersed in the process. The Teutonic Order built a castle and founded Elbing at the lake with a population mostly from Lübeck; today the much smaller lake does not reach the city any more. After the defeat of the Teutonic Knights and the destruction of the castle by the inhabitants, the city successively was under the sovereignty of the Polish crown (1466), the Kingdom of Prussia (1772), and Germany (1871). Elbing was heavily damaged in World War II, its German citizens were expelled upon the war's end. The city became part of Poland in 1945 and was repopulated with Polish citizens.
The modern city covers over 50% of the distance between Lake Drużno and Elbląg Bay (Zatoka Elbląska), an arm of the Vistula Lagoon, and extends on either side of the river, but especially to the east. On the east is the Elbląg Upland (Wysoczyzna Elbląska), a dome pushed up by glacial compression, 390 square km in diameter and 200 m high at its greatest elevation. It gives the appearance of ridges and parkland.
Elbląg is situated in flat land extending to the west in the Vistula Delta (Żuławy Wiślane) used mainly for agricultural purposes. Views to the west show flat fields extending to the horizon, while to the south are the marshes and swamps of Drużno. The Elbląg River has been left in a more natural state through the city, but elsewhere it is a controlled channel with branches. One of them, the Jagielonski Channel (Kanał Jagieloński), leads to the Nogat River, along which navigation to Gdańsk is common. The Elbląg Canal (Kanał Elbląski) connecting Lake Drużno with Drwęca River and Lake Jeziorak is a popular tourist site.
Elbląg is not a deep-water port. The draft of vessels using its waterways must be no greater than 1.5 m by law. The turning area at Elbląg is 120 m diameter and a pilot is required for large vessels. Deep water vessels cannot maneuver; in that sense, Elbląg has become a subsidiary port of Gdańsk. The city features three quay complexes, movable cranes, and railways. One of its specialities is heavy machinery.
Elbląg is the Polish derivative of the German name Elbing, which was assigned by the Teutonic Knights to the citadel and subsequent town placed by them in 1237 next to the river. The purpose of the citadel was to prevent the Old Prussian settlement of Truso from being reoccupied, as the German crusaders were at war with the pagan Prussians. The citadel was named after the river, itself of uncertain etymology. One traditional etymology connects it to the name of the Helveconae, a Germanic tribe mentioned in Ancient Greek and Latin sources, but the etymology or language of the tribal name is not known.
The seaport of Truso was first mentioned ca. 890 by Wulfstan of Hedeby, an Anglo-Saxon sailor, travelling on the south coast of the Baltic Sea at the behest of King Alfred the Great of England. The exact location of Truso was not known for a long time, as the seashore has significantly changed, but most historians trace the settlement inside or near to modern Elbląg on Lake Drużno. Truso was located at territory already known to the Roman Empire and earlier.
It was an important seaport serving the Vistula River bay on the early medieval Baltic Sea trade routes which led from Birka in the north to the island of Gotland and to Visby in the Baltic Sea. From there, traders continued further south to Carnuntum along the Amber Road. The ancient Amber Road led further southwest and southeast to the Black Sea and eventually to Asia. The east-west trade route went from Truso, along the Baltic Sea to Jutland, and from there inland by river to Hedeby, a large trading center in Jutland. The main goods of Truso were amber, furs, and slaves.
Archaeological finds in 1897 and diggings in the 1920s placed Truso at Gut Hansdorf. A large burial field was also found at Elbing. Artifacts were placed in the Elbing Museum. Recent Polish diggings show burned beams and ashes and many 1000 year old artifacts on an area about 20 hectares.
The attempts at conquest of Prussian land began in 997, when Boleslaw I Chrobry sent his soldiers with Adalbert of Prague, in order to conquer and convert the pagan Prussian. They came up to the Baltic Sea coast, converted a number of Prussians in the area of today's Gdansk and went all along the coast to Sambia. Starting 1209 a number of crusades were called for by Konrad of Masovia, who again sought to conquer Prussian territory and continued with wars that led to the loss of Old Prussian sovereignty began with the preaching of a crusade against them in 1217 and 1218 by Pope Honorius III. The Prussians were bordered by the Slavic Pomeranians, who also had to fight off conquest attempts by Polish rulers many times and in the south by the Duchy of Masovia, both by then Christianised peoples. The crusade came in 1223, but was soundly defeated by the Prussians. They besieged the Polish forces in Chełmno, the seat of Christian of Oliva, the first Bishop of Prussia, and attacked Pomerania and Masovia.
In 1226 Duke Konrad I of Masovia summoned the Teutonic Knights for assistance; by 1230 they had secured Chełmno (Culm) and begun claiming conquered territories for themselves under the authority of the Holy Roman Empire, although these claims were rejected by the Poles, who had several times tried to conquer Prussia. The Teutonic Order's strategy was to move down the Vistula and secure the delta, establishing a barrier between the Prussians and Gdańsk. Next in order was Pomesania, containing Truso.
The Chronicon terrae Prussiae describes the conflict in the vicinity of Lake Drusen (now Drużno) shortly before the founding of Elbing:
Truso did not disappear suddenly to be replaced with the citadel and town of Elbing during the Prussian Crusade. Truso was burned down already in the tenth century. Population was dispersed in the area.
Both landings were amphibious operations conducted from the ships. The Chronicon relates that they were in use for many years and then were sunk in Lake Drusen. In 1238 the Dominican Order was invited to build a monastery on a grant of land. Pomesania was not secured, however, and from 1240-1242 the order began building a brick castle on the south side of the settlement, where archaeologists now believe Truso had been. It may be significant that Elbing's first industry was the same as Truso's had been: manufacture of amber and bone artifacts for export. In 1243 William of Modena created the Diocese of Pomesania and three others. They were at first only ideological constructs, but the tides of time turned them into reality in that same century.
The foundation of Elbing was perhaps not the end of the Old Prussian story in the region. In 1825 a manuscript listing a vocabulary of the Baltic Old Prussian language, named the Elbing-Prussian Dictionary (Elbing-Preußisches Wörterbuch), or more commonly in English just Elbing Vocabulary, was found among some manuscripts from a merchant's house. It contained 802 words in a dialect now termed Pomesanian with their equivalents in an early form of German.
The origin of the vocabulary remains unknown. Its format is like that of modern travel dictionaries; i.e., it may have been used by German speakers to communicate with Old Prussians, but the specific circumstances are only speculative. The manuscript became the Codex Neumannianus. It disappeared after a British bombing raid destroyed the library at Elbing but before then facsimiles had been made. The date of the MSS was estimated at ca. 1400, but it was a copy. There is no evidence concerning the provenance of the original, except that it must have been in Pomesanian.
In 1246 the town was granted a constitution under Lübeck law, used in maritime circumstances, instead of Magdeburg rights common in other cities in Central Europe. This decision of the Order was in keeping with its general strategy of espousing the trade association that in 1358 would become the Hanseatic League. The Order seized on this association early and used it to establish bases throughout the Baltic. The Order's involvement in the League was somewhat contradictory. In whatever cities they founded the ultimate authority was the commander of the town, who kept office in the citadel, typically used as a prison. Lübeck law, on the other hand, provided for self-government of the town.
Membership in the Hanseatic League meant having important trading contacts with England, Flanders, France, and the Netherlands. The city received numerous merchant privileges from the rulers of England, Poland, Pomerania, and the Teutonic Order. For instance, the privilege of the Old Town (Altstadt, Stare Miasto) was upgraded in 1343, while in 1393 it was granted an emporium privilege for grains, metals, and forest products.
Except for the citadel and churches, Elbing at the time was more of a small village by modern standards. Its area was 300 m by 500 m. It featured a wharf, a marketplace and five streets, as well as a number of churches. The castle was completed in 1251. In 1288 fire destroyed the entire settlement except for the churches, which were of brick. A new circuit wall was started immediately. From 1315 to 1340 Elbląg was rebuilt. A separate settlement called New Town (Neustadt) was founded ca. 1337 and received Lübeck rights in 1347. In 1349 the Black Death struck the town, toward the end of the European plague. After the population recovered it continued building up the city and in 1364 a crane was built for the port.
The German-language Elbinger Rechtsbuch, written in Elbing, Prussia documented among other laws for the first time Polish common law. The German-language Polish laws are based on the Sachsenspiegel and were written down to aid the judges. It is thus the oldest source for documented Polish common law and is in Polish referred to as the Księga Elbląska (Book of Elbląg). It was written down in the second half of the 13th century.
In 1440 several western and eastern Prussian towns formed the Prussian Confederation, which led the revolt of Prussia against the rule of the Teutonic Knights in 1454. The burghers destroyed the Teutonic Order castle. For assistance against the Order, the Confederation asked for help from King Casimir IV of Poland; Casimir's subsequent claiming of Prussia led to the Thirteen Years' War.
After the Section of Prussians and Polish victory over the Teutonic Order, the city became part of the autonomous province of Royal Prussia under the suzerainty of the Polish crown in the Second Peace of Thorn. The city was known to the Polish crown by its Polish name Elbląg. With the creation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569, the city was brought under direct control of the Polish crown.
From 1579 Elbląg had close trade relations with England, to which the city accorded free trade. English, Scottish, and Irish merchants settled in the city. They formed the Scottish Reformed Church of Elbląg and became Elbing citizens, aiding Protestant Sweden in the Thirty Years' War. The rivalry of nearby Danzig interrupted trading links several times. By 1618 Elbląg had left the Hanseatic League owing to its close business dealings with England.
Famous inhabitants of the city at that time included native sons Hans von Bodeck and Samuel Hartlib. During the Thirty Years' War, Swedish Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna brought the Moravian Brethren refugee John Amos Comenius to Elbląg for six years (1642-48). In 1642 Johann Stobäus, who composed with Johann Eccard, published the Preussische Fest-Lieder, a number of evangelical Prussian songs. In 1646 the city recorder Daniel Barholz noted that the city council employed Bernsteindreher, or Paternostermacher, licensed and guilded amber craftsmen who worked on prayer beads, rosaries, and many other items made of amber. Members of the Barholz family became mayors and councillors.
During the Thirty Years' War, the Vistula Lagoon was the main southern Baltic base of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, who was hailed as the protector of the Protestants. By 1660 the Vistula Lagoon had gone to Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg-Prussia, but was returned in 1700.
The poet Christian Wernicke was born in 1661 in Elbląg, while Gottfried Achenwall became famous for his teachings in natural law and human rights law. In 1700-1710 it was occupied by Swedish troops. In 1709 it was besieged, taken by storm on February 2nd, 1710 by Russian troops with support of Prussian artillery. Handed over to Polish King Augustus II in 1712.
The Imperial cartographer Johann Friedrich Endersch completed a map of Warmia (Karte des Ermlandes) in 1755 and also made a copper etching of the galley named "The City of Elbląg" (Die Stadt Elbing) .
During the War of the Polish Succession in 1734, Elbląg and Danzig (Gdańsk) were placed under military occupation by Russia and Saxony. The town came again under occupation by Russia from 1758-1762 during the Seven Years' War.
Elbing industrialized under the sovereignty of the Hohenzollern kings in Berlin. In 1828 the first steamship was built by Ignatz Grunau. In 1837 Ferdinand Schichau started the F. Schichau company in Elbing as well as another shipyard in Danzig later on. Schichau constructed the Borussia, the first screw-vessel in Germany. F. Schichau built hydraulic machinery, ships, steam engines, and torpedoes. After the inauguration of the railway to Königsberg in 1853, Elbing's industry began to grow. Schichau worked together with his son-in-law Carl H. Zise, who continued the industrial complex after Schichau's death. Schichau erected large complexes for his many thousands of workers.
Elbing became part of the Prussian-led German Empire in 1871 during the unification of Germany. As Elbing became an industrial city, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) frequently received the majority of votes; in the 1912 Reichstag elections the SPD received 51% of the vote. After World War I, most of West Prussia became part of the Second Polish Republic. Elbing was joined to German East Prussia, and was separated from Weimar Germany by the Polish Corridor.
Elbląg was the scene of one of the riots in the coastal cities in 1970 together with Tricity and Szczecin (see also coastal cities events). Since 1990 there has been an emergence of a German minority group, Elbinger Minderheit, counting around 100 persons.
Restoration of the Old Town began after 1989. Since the beginning of the restoration, an extensive archaeological programme has been carried out. Most of the city's heritage was destroyed during the construction of basements in the 19th century or during World War II, but the backyards and latrines of the houses were not changed and provide information on the city's history. On some occasions the private investors incorporated parts of preserved stonework into new architecture. Approximately 75% of the Old Town has been reconstructed as of 2006. The city museum presents many pieces of art and utilities of everyday use, including the only 15th century binoculars preserved in Europe.