The origins of Vistulamouth Fortress probably date to the early medieval period, when a lighthouse and watchtower guarding the mouth of the Vistula River occupied the site of the current structures. In the late 15th century, a brick fortress and lighthouse were constructed on the site. A three-storey gun tower and moat were added in the mid-16th century. The current fortress was constructed at the end of the 16th century. After 1919, Vistulamouth Fortress lost its military significance and many of the smaller forts along the Vistula River were pulled down, though Vistulamouth survived. Today the fortress sits in the port of Gdansk and is surrounded by the largely inactive remains of the harbor industries. Further inland from the fortress, masses of railroad tracks, abandoned warehouses, and train cars litter the area. Industrial pollution and time have taken their toll on the fortress.
1998 and 2000 World Monuments Watch
In 1999, WMF conducted a survey of general conditions around the fortress, which documented masonry spalling, cracking, salt efflorescence, and failing previous repairs, all which were contributing to the deterioration of the fortress walls. Other pressing dangers included water infiltration eroding the structure and pollution from a nearby factory’s sulfur oxide emissions. In 2001, WMF secured support from American Express, the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage, and the Headley Trust to undertake emergency reinforcement of the underwater foundation and exterior masonry, as well as the erection of barriers to provide the structure with greater protection from water infiltration and improved structural stability. In addition to conservation work, substantial archival research was conducted on the site’s use and development over time. Scholars discovered historic plans and architectural drawings with exceptional value for understanding the original dimensions and shape of the current fortress structure and its changes over time.
Vistulamouth Fortress is one of Europe’s most interesting and valuable examples of costal defense architecture. Because of the numerous additions and renovations, the fortress boasts a range of architectural styles and influences from Italy, the Netherlands, and the Prussian Empire from the 15th to 19th centuries. Despite its close proximity to Westerplatte, the site where the first shots of World War II were fired, it is one of the few historic buildings in Gdansk to have survived the shelling of the city by German forces. As one of the last surviving fortress complexes of its kind in the region, it offers significant potential for interpretation and research related to art history, medieval engineering, trade, and military technology.