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Today is Sunday 22 May 2022 Time 15:50


Herb Świnoujścia

Świnoujście, which enjoyed international popularity well before the last war, is a relatively “young” city. Its foundation and development were influenced by such factors as location, natural conditions and the political situation in the 18th Century. Let us go back in time and revive some of the historical events.

Until the 17th Century, West Pomerania, although scarcely populated, was ruled by the Pomeranian Gryfites Dynasty. This is the area where the three arms of the Oder river, i.e. Świna, Dźwina and Piana, flowed into the sea. Out of these three streams, Piana, used to be the one considered most suitable for commerce, and at the time it constituted a major transport link between the Baltic Sea and Szczecin, which, back in the 11th Century, functioned as a crucial commercial centre. The estuary of Świna, on the contrary, was sandy and unsuitable for sailing, but it was easy to get across. This is why the salt trading route leading from the East to Lübeck, ran through this water section. Ferry services were also available as early as in 1230. What is more, at the end of the 13th Century, the estuary became an important customs clearance centre. In the vicinity of this, the village of West Swine was set up. The 17th and 18th centuries were marked by numerous wars and struggles for power in Pomerania. Finally, under the treaty concluded in 1721, Szczecin and the Isles of Wolin and Usedom were passed into Prussian hands. The treaty, however, carried a clause preventing the Prussian rulers from building a new port or setting up a new town, in these areas. Szczecin was already a prominent commercial port, though it was bound by the severe customs duties that were imposed by the Swedish, as the entire ship movement was directed through Piana, which was then controlled by Sweden. The Prussian rulers, wanting to evade the treaty provisions, directed their attention towards the estuary of Świna which had its own settlement and ferry service, and they made plans to turn it into a port-town. The thinking was that the use of Świna as a shipping route would connect Silesia, Greater Poland and the Pyrzycka Land [then controlled by Prussia] with the Baltic Sea. Therefore the Prussian King Frederick William I ordered the dredging of the Świna river, and “expanded” the port at its estuary.

The river regulation work began in 1721, and in 1747, Świnoujście was pronounced a sea port. Unfortunately, soon the Seven-Year War (1759 – 1762) began, and Świnoujście was raided by Sweden. The retreating Swedish army destroyed the port infrastructure, scuttling several ships. However, port modernisation and expansion recommenced, together with the construction of a settlement. The name “Świnoujście” was used for the first time in 1742 with respect to the settlement established in the port area. This, on 3 June 1765, was granted its municipal charter by King Frederick II. Worth noting, however, is that already by the time (1753), a magistrate was established, and the first mayor appointed.

The construction of breakwaters between the years of 1818 – 1824 made the port entry safe and calm, even during stormy weather. To enhance navigational safety, an illuminating beacon was mounted on the breakwater in 1828, and two years later an observation tower was erected on its eastern seaside. The construction of then the highest lighthouse worldwide began in 1854, and the facility was commissioned in December 1857. Between 1874 – 1880, the Royal Canal [now the Piastowski Canal] was built. This considerably shortened the water route connecting the middle section of Świna directly to Szczecin Lake. This canal was constructed by bisecting the Isle of Usedom [which is how the Isle of Karsibór came into existence]. At the same time, the water tract was deepened. All these actions contributed to Świnoujście's failure as a commercial port. The deepening of Świna let large vessels get to and return from  Szczecin without stopping in Świnoujście. This eventually resulted in many transit and riverine services people losing their jobs.

Under these circumstances, attention was drawn to the location, the beautiful beaches and the healthy climate of Świnoujście. In 1826, these qualities inspired the construction of the first Spa Centre. It housed the first baths, for the purpose of which, sea water was delivered in barrels. The first 613 visitors came that very same year. Shortly afterwards, the Spa Park was established. It was laid-out in 1827, by Peter Joseph Lenne, Manager of the Royal Gardens in Berlin (even today, this park serves as a natural border between the city centre and the resort district). In the 19th Century, a walking path (promenade) was also built, running along the seaside and leading to the major spots of the resort district. This as well, provided access to both the beaches and the pier (back in those days, people would relax upon three different beaches, separate ones for single men, single women and families). Contributing hugely to the further development and expansion of the resort, was the lucky find during the excavation work in 1890 – 1898, and then in 1903 – 1904, of abundant salt springs. These were recognized as offering valuable healing properties.

The convenient water-borne links and the development of passenger shipping services allowed Świnoujście to flourish as a health resort, and the white fleet ensured that Świnoujście was cross-connected with all the great Baltic ports. In 1921, for example, the sea transport services in Świnoujście were used by around 20 thousand passengers. In 1876, a rail connection to Świnoujście was established [a trip from Berlin took around 2 hours], and in 1927, an airport was built. This enabled Świnoujście to become a very popular place, visited in the pre-war period by as many as 20 – 50 thousand tourists and health resort patients per year. At that time, the number of residents amounted to around 12 thousand. The city was also visited by kings and queens, which notably raised its prestige. Indeed, it also served once as a meeting point for the Russian Tsar Nicolas II and the German Emperor William II. This meeting took place on the roadstead, at a specially-constructed platform, half-way between the ships of the two rulers.

The development of tourism gave rise to the construction of various cultural and sports facilities. In 1861, the newly-opened stadium was home to horse races. In addition, since 1859, Świnoujście has run its own theatre. Such was its popularity that in 1939, Świnoujście had 38 hotels, 153 boarding houses and 12 tennis courts (which housed many major International Tennis Tournaments). Indeed, at this time, the number of tourists and holidaymakers reached 600 thousand, and the number of residents was around 40 thousand, half of which were soldiers. However, the image of the Świnoujście port soon changed, evolving from a commercial centre into a military station, and its role as a significant strategic facility increased. Since 1856, it found use as a garrisoned stronghold, and in 1863, the naval station was established, comprising two sailing ships, Nimfa and Arkona. The construction of fortification walls [which began in 1848] was completed the same year, and the Prussian government pronounced Świnoujście to be a 3rd class stronghold.

The wave of economic crises accumulating in Europe since 1908, lead to the outbreak of the First World War, during which, Świnoujście operated as a Kriegsmarine base. The inter-war and World War II period brought further development of the naval base. In 1931, Wilhelm Canaris (later on the Head of Abwehr) was appointed chief commanding officer of the local garrison. Moreover, a submarine base was established in Karsiborz, and the neighbouring areas featured military port infrastructure – warehouses, ammunition storage points, bunkers, etc. The Warszów shipyard also produced small wooden minesweepers, performed repair work and equipped ships with torpedoes. At the turn of 1944, the city had 40 thousand residents, every second one of which was a soldier.  However, the war passed by without serious damage until 12 March 1945, when an air raid destroyed 55% of the city buildings and sunk several dozen ships, causing the deaths of around 23 thousand people. The defences of Świnoujście was finally overcome on 5 May 1945, and it was the last city in Pomerania to fall.

Under the Potsdam treaty, the borders of Poland were set along the Oder and Nysa rivers. However, the exact border of Świnoujście was not determined until 1950. The official transfer of power to Polish administration by the Soviet military forces took place on 4 October 1945. The Polish party was represented by Władysław Matula, who was appointed Government Representative for the Wolin District, and by Roman Berent, his deputy. The first seat of local authorities was situated at 3, Słowiański Square. These were times of hardship. In January 1946, the city had only 500 civil residents, but by 1948, this number had grown to around 8 thousand. The lack of efficient ferry services caused extensive problems. What ferries there were, were run by German crews, and supervised by Soviet officers, who had at their disposal, three post-German vessels, including West Swine, Ost Swine and Kaseburg. Vehicular traffic was also carried by the Riga frontal ferry. In 1946, local authorities received a ship which, once repaired, was renamed Piast. It ran between Szczecin and Świnoujście, and between Międzyzdroje, Karsibór, etc. In 1950, the city also received its first turntable ferry, the former Ost Swine, which was renamed Wolin, and which offered shuttle services operated by a Polish crew, under the Polish administration.

The protection of both the port and the city was a crucial matter. This was entrusted to the Maritime Militia, established in Świnoujście on 1 January 1946. In September 1946, the Port Guards Unit, comprising 20 staff members, was established, although its formal origins date back to December 1946, with Antoni Michalczuk, and then Władysław Erzepka, in command. Post-war reconstruction and modernisation of the Świnoujście port, from a military port into a commercial and fishing port, began in 1948, together with the construction of a large fish factory, a huge pool and several industrial buildings. The Fishing Base in Świnoujście was commissioned only 3 years later. Initially, it was managed by the Dalmor company from Gdynia, but in 1952, an independent Odra Fishing Service Enterprise was set up in Świnoujście. This, during the years of prosperity offered jobs to several thousand people. In 1948, the Poznań Regional Nomenclature Commission renamed a part of Świnoujście {Warszów} as the Odra, and the Polish Rail Services used the name of Odra Port on their tickets. Travellers however could not buy a ticket to Świnoujście, because no such name was used in rail registers. The original name was not re-established until 1959, following the inclusion of Warszów. Once again, the city had risen from the ashes of destruction. In the 1950’s, the seaside district was handed back to the city by the Soviet army, and on 1 May 1958 the Council of Ministers decided to start the reconstruction of Świnoujście. Shortly afterwards, on 1 July 1959, the State-Owned Enterprise of the “Świnoujście Health Resort” came into operation.

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Date Added 03 August 2012