Hel, Poland

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Template:Infobox Poland

Hel (pronounce: Missing image

['xεl], Kashubian Hél, German Hela) is a town in Puck County, Pomeranian Voivodship, Poland, located on the tip of the Hel peninsula, some 33 kilometres from the Polish mainland.


The Kashubian village of Hel was first mentioned in 1198 as a centre of herring trade area named Gellen. In one of the Danish chronicles of 1219 it is mentioned that a damaged ship of king Valdemar II the Victorious was set ashore on an "Island of Hel". By 13th century the village became one of the most important trade centres of the area, competiting with the nearby town of Gdańsk. It was then when the village was granted with city rights by duke Świętopełk II the Great of Pomerania. The privileges were later confirmed in 1378 when the town got under the rule of the Teutonic Knights.

Missing image
wz. 08/39 naval mine in the open-air museum of naval equipment

Initially the town was located some 1,5 kilometre from the present-day town centre. It housed a church, hospital, city house, two marketplaces, several guest houses and a small port. However, since 15th century the peninsula started to shrink and soon the town was moved to its new location. In 1417 a St. Peter's Church is built in the town, devoted to patron saint of fishermen. The town experiences a period of fast growth, but is soon left behind by the fast growing city of Gdańsk. In 1466 king Casimir IV of Poland granted the town as a fief to the rulers of Gdańsk, which ended the century-long struggle for economical domination over the Gdańsk Bay. In 1526 king Sigismund I the Old halted all privileges granted previously to Hel and sold the town and the peninsula to the city authorities of Gdańsk. Since then the town shared the fate of its bigger neighbour.

In 17th and 18th centuries several consecutive wars and natural disasters demolished the town. It was severely depopulated and in 1872 the authorities of the newly-formed state of Germany decided to abolish the city rights granted to Hel 6 centuries earlier. After that the village of Hela, as it is called in German language, lost much of its significance.

The period of decline stopped in 1893 when a fishing harbour was built in the village. It provided a shelter for fishing vessels, but also became a popular destination of weekend trips of the inhabitants of Danzig and Zoppot. In 1896 the village was granted the status of a sea-side resort.

 in Hel
Lighthouse in Hel

As a result of the World War I and the Treaty of Versailles the village was returned to Poland. In 1921 it is connected to the mainland with a railroad. The authorities of the Pomeranian Voivodship were also planning to build a road to the village, but the peninsula was found too narrow at the time. Soon the village became one of the important centres of tourism of the Polish Pomerania. New borough of villas was built for the tourists as well as a new church, school, Fishing Institute and Geophysical Observatory. In addition, the village became one of the two main naval bases of the Polish Navy. The harbour was expanded and in 1936 the President of Poland declared the peninsula a "Fortified Area" under jurisdiction of the Polish Army. The naval base was expanded significantly and a battery of coastal artillery was built to provide cover for the military facilities.

During the Polish Defence War of 1939 the Hel Peninsula was one of the longest-defended pockets of Polish Army resistance. Approximately 3 000 soldiers of the Lądowa Obrona Wybrzeża units under kmdr Włodzimierz Steyer defended the area against overwhelming odds until October 2, 1939. Shortly before the capitulation, the Polish engineers detonated a number of unused torpedo warheads, which separated the peninsula from the mainland and turned it into an island. During World War II the Kriegsmarine used the naval base at Hel as a training port for the U-Boot crews. At the end of the war the village was liberated as the last part of Polish soil: the German units encircled there capitulated on May 10, 1945, two days after Germany capitulated.

After the war the village yet again became a naval base. In 1960 a road linking Hel with Jastarnia on the mainland was built. Three years later the city rights were reintroduced. Since then the tourist movement started to recover and several hotels and pensions were built. In 1996 the Polish Navy sold all remaining parts of the peninsula to the civilian authorities and only a small naval base is currently located there.

The harbour serves primarily as a yacht marina nowadays. Currently the town is home to several hotels and sea life biological laboratory. There is also an interesting naval armament exposition spread throughout the town.

External links:

csb:Hél pl:Hel (miasto)


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