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History of ports

Port of Szczecin has a history as old as the city itself. It is difficult to even determine if the port was created by the city or perhaps the city by the port. The early existence of the port is reflected in the Slavic boat wreck dating from the late ninth century. Furthermore, from the area of Szczecin are known boats made from a single trunk, which are 1500 years old.

In the early period of the early medieval city, the port was located on the left bank of the Oder River, in the bay near the borough, close to the residence of the Prince. The water depth at this point reached about 1.5 meters and at that time was sufficient for vessels, whose capacity fluctuated mostly between 2 to 5 tons. Even at that time there was developed a far-reaching sea exchange, what confirm archaeological sources. Objects of exchange were both bulk and general cargo, and luxury goods. Therefore, good that passed through the port included grain, meat, herring, leather, salt, honey, wax, iron and stone products, and wood. In Szczecin had been found luxury goods imported from the region of the Baltic and North Sea, and for example of Arab origin.

It soon became apparent that the depth of the port and its size is insufficient. In the thirteenth century, the port has been moved closer to the mainstream of the Oder and eventually located along the left bank of the Oder River, below the city walls. From the south, it was limited by the Long Bridge and from the north by the Kłodny Bridge, in which a special device, called log, closed the way to vessels intending to go in or out of the port. Since the end of the thirteenth century, vessels were also calling to the Lasztownia Island, lying on the right bank of the Oder, across town. Location of the port between the two bridges was regulated by law and maintained for a relatively long time until the mid-eighteenth century. Outside of the port functioned smaller ports, but they served only the local population engaged in the fisheries.

Thanks to its favorable location at the estuary of the Oder, good investments and obtaining the right to store all the goods floated up and down the river, in the Middle Ages Szczecin became one of the largest Baltic ports. Port of Szczecin mediated in the transport and trade with overseas partners and inland facilities. The division of facilities between different countries and changing political relations between them often limited and sometimes even made it impossible to trade with different regions - Greater Poland, Silesia and Brandenburg.

Technical infrastructure had been still developed. Since the beginning of the fourteenth century, certainly there were bridges going forward into the river that enabled the unloading without using smaller boats. These bridges had to be very important, because they were given their own names: a butcher’s bridge, fish bridge, sredzki bridge, "crow's foot" bridge or cleric’s bridge. Two other bridges were already outside the port and served probably for the monasteries located in the vicinity. In the mid-sixteenth century the left bank of the Oder was fortified by the wide quay of about 20 meters long, so that unloading and loading of the ships could be done with the use of horse transport. The quay also served for temporary storage of goods for further transportation, as well as a place of trade with imported goods.However, not all goods could be stored in the open air, so special department stores were established, used not only for storing goods but also for mercantile transactions. The first department store was founded in the middle of the thirteenth century and had a general purpose. In subsequent centuries, department stores became more specialized. From historical sources we can learn about the warehouses used to store grain, herring, flour, copper or wine. On the Lasztownia island, next to the Long Bridge was located in a crane for handling heavy goods such as millstones. General cargo and bulk goods were unloaded by trained workers affiliated in fraternities. Over time porters specialized in handling certain types of goods and became controllers of their quality and quantity. Since the Middle Ages, Szczecin port authority belonged to the city council, which gradually took over the powers formerly lying outside its influence. In the mid-fourteenth century, the city purchased from the prince the right to collect duties, and during the seventeenth century it subordinated the brotherhood of port workers. The princes kept for a long time the right to collect fees for closing and opening the logs for passing ships.

In the Middle Ages Szczecin belonged to the Hanseatic League and maintained relations mainly with the Baltic ports and their land facilities in the Oder and Warta. From the sixteenth century, an interest in the markets of Western Europe, mainly English, Dutch and French, started to grow rapidly. At that time, at the North Sea went up to 100 Szczecin ship-owners per year. They mainly exported grain, animal skins and wood, imported herring, salt and wine.

After the end of the Pomeranian princes’ dynasty, the Oder region, along with Szczecin, has been taken by Sweden. This resulted in the increase of trade with ports in Sweden, but - for political reasons - stopped the exchange with Poland and Brandenburg. The relations with Sweden were so complicated that the electors of Brandenburg led to the construction of the Oder - Spree channel to direct Oder trade to Hamburg. At the time of Swedish rule the city with the port became a heavily fortified port. The port was still located between the Long Bridge and the Kłodny Bridge. This lasted for the most part of a Prussian domination in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During this period, however, were carried numerous renovations and expansion of the wharves, warehouses and other port facilities. Port connected with its land facilities, which after the partitions of Poland came under the Prussian domination. At the end of the eighteenth century was built Bydgoski Channel that allowed Szczecin to take over some part of the Vistula trade. Among the goods passing these days through the port of Szczecin were coffee, rice, sugar, tropical fruits and spices, exported spirit, cakes and canvas.

A major problem has always been the navigability of the port water route from Szczecin to the open sea. This problem became especially important in the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century - when the western estuary of the Oder (Piana) was dominated by the Swedes, who imposed high duties on vessels going to Szczecin. With the financial support from the Prussian Government, Szczecin authorities began dredging the center of the mouth of the Odra River and building the port of Swinoujscie. Since that moment, the bigger size vessels were partially unloaded in Swinoujscie port and part of their cargo transported to Szczecin on flat-bottomed boats. In 1880 yet another important event for the port was the opening of the Piastowski canal shortening the waterway distance between Szczecin and Swinoujscie.

Ten years later, the depth of the fairway through the Szczecin Lagoon reached seven meters. The nineteenth century also brought the development of land transport links with the land facilities. Szczecin received solid road connections with other urban centers of Pomerania and in the mid-nineteenth century rail connections with Berlin, Poznan and Wroclaw. These investments, coupled with increasing transport capacities of the floating fleet, caused a significant increase in turnover of the port. In 1823, when the first steamer came to Szczecin, the turnover amounted to less than 50 thousand tons; in 1880 it was already around 1.2 million tons.

Increase in the quantity of transshipments necessitated the development of port areas. Initially, the new waterfront was situated along the banks of Parnica and Dunczyca. At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century, when it was not enough, quays started to be built along the west bank of the Oder (Chrobry Embankment), and two port basins at Łasztownia island (East and West Basins) with transshipment facilities and warehouses. These basins were included in the created duty free zone and used mainly for cargo handling. In order to improve handling of bulk goods, constructors started to build canals and basins near the eastern branch of the Oder - Regalica. Provided with railway sidings, loading facilities and storage warehouses, they were completed in 1919 (Gorniczy Basin). Such a significant expansion of the port at that time was mainly a result of the government policy of Prussia, who saw the Szczecin port’s ability to resist the Allied blockade in case of war. In the interwar period, after laying the relations with France and England, further expansion was abandoned and state shares in investment were withdrawn. Port development was mainly driven by market rules; at this time special emphasis was put on the development of technical facilities: grain elevators, refrigerators, specialized magazines, modernization of railway sidings and handling equipment.

During World War I the port of Szczecin became the most important German port.  The period between the wars witnessed stagnation in the port activity.

During World War II, the port and the economy of Szczecin have been harnessed in a totalitarian war machine of Hitler. It was even planned to implement huge investments to adapt the port of Szczecin for the transshipment of goods from the territories conquered by Germany in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, at the end of the war - because of the extensive arms industry - Szczecin became the target of Allied bombing raids. Air raids have caused significant damage, particularly in port. Further devastation has been done by the retreating German army. For example, all cranes and many warehouses have been destroyed; the least affected were quays. The damage was so serious that the first vessels calling at Szczecin after the war had to be unloaded and loaded manually. This method was also applied to bulk cargo, coal inclusively.

The normal functioning of the port was hampered by a number of sunken wrecks, siltation and mined waters. Furthermore, part of the port had been occupied by the Russian army; in the Port of Szczecin some quays have been passed to the Polish government in 1954, and in Swinoujscie even in 1992. Management of port areas in the postwar years were the responsibility of several institutions that were responsible for different sections of the port's activity. Much of the work has been performed by private companies or cooperatives. More or less by 1950, private initiatives have been eliminated or incorporated into the structure of state enterprises. The port management has been centralized.

Today, it is a rapidly developing port complex, with annual handling volumes reaching 20 million tons.