Hel, Poland
Hel AUD is a town in Puck County
Puck County
Puck County is a unit of territorial administration and local government in Pomeranian Voivodeship, northern Poland, on the Baltic coast. It came into being on January 1, 1999, as a result of the Polish local government reforms passed in 1998. Its administrative seat is the town of Puck, which...

, Pomeranian Voivodeship
Pomeranian Voivodeship
Pomeranian Voivodeship, or Pomerania Province , is a voivodeship, or province, in north-central Poland. It comprises most of Pomerelia , as well as an area east of the Vistula River...

, Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, located on the tip of the Hel Peninsula
Hel Peninsula
Hel Peninsula |Nehrung]]) is a 35-km-long sand bar peninsula in northern Poland separating the Bay of Puck from the open Baltic Sea. It is located in Puck County of the Pomeranian Voivodeship.- Geography :...

, some 33 kilometres from the Polish mainland.

Early developments

The Kashubia
Kashubia or Cassubia - is a language area in the historic Eastern Pomerania region of northwestern Poland. Located west of Gdańsk and the mouth of the Vistula river, it is inhabited by members of the Kashubian ethnic group....

n village of Hel was first mentioned in 1198 as a centre of herring
Herring is an oily fish of the genus Clupea, found in the shallow, temperate waters of the North Pacific and the North Atlantic oceans, including the Baltic Sea. Three species of Clupea are recognized. The main taxa, the Atlantic herring and the Pacific herring may each be divided into subspecies...

 trade area named Gellen. In one of the Danish
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 chronicles of 1219 it is mentioned that a damaged ship of King Valdemar II the Victorious
Valdemar II of Denmark
Valdemar II , called Valdemar the Victorious or Valdemar the Conqueror , was the King of Denmark from 1202 until his death in 1241. The nickname Sejr is a later invention and was not used during the King's own lifetime...

 was set ashore on an "Island of Hel". By 13th century the village became one of the most important trade centres of the area, competing with the nearby town of Gdańsk
Gdańsk is a Polish city on the Baltic coast, at the centre of the country's fourth-largest metropolitan area.The city lies on the southern edge of Gdańsk Bay , in a conurbation with the city of Gdynia, spa town of Sopot, and suburban communities, which together form a metropolitan area called the...

 (German: Danzig). It was then that the village was granted city rights by Duke
A duke or duchess is a member of the nobility, historically of highest rank below the monarch, and historically controlling a duchy...

 Świętopełk II the Great of Pomerania
Pomerania is a historical region on the south shore of the Baltic Sea. Divided between Germany and Poland, it stretches roughly from the Recknitz River near Stralsund in the West, via the Oder River delta near Szczecin, to the mouth of the Vistula River near Gdańsk in the East...

. The privileges were later confirmed in 1378 when the town came under the rule of the Teutonic Knights
Teutonic Knights
The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem , commonly the Teutonic Order , is a German medieval military order, in modern times a purely religious Catholic order...


Initially the town was located some 1.5 kilometres from its present-day centre. It contained a church, hospital, city house, two market places, several guest houses and a small port. However, during the 15th century the peninsula started to shrink through marine erosion and soon the town was relocated to a safer location. In 1417 St Peter's Church was built in the town, devoted to the patron saint
Patron saint
A patron saint is a saint who is regarded as the intercessor and advocate in heaven of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family, or person...

 of fishermen. Hel experienced a period of growth, but was later left behind by the faster 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
Gdansk Bay
Gdańsk Bay or the Bay of Gdańsk or Danzig Bay is a southeastern bay of the Baltic Sea. It is named after the adjacent port city of Gdańsk in Poland and is sometimes referred to as a gulf.-Geography:...

. In 1526 King Sigismund I the Old
Sigismund I the Old
Sigismund I of Poland , of the Jagiellon dynasty, reigned as King of Poland and also as the Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1506 until 1548...

 withdrew all privileges previously granted to Hel and sold the town and the peninsula to the city authorities of Gdańsk. Since then Hel's fate was tied to the fortunes of its bigger neighbour.

In the 17th and 18th centuries prolonged warfare and a series of natural disasters severely damaged the town. It was severely depopulated and in 1872 the government of the newly formed German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 state abolished the city rights granted to Hel six centuries previously. After that the village of Hela (as it is called in German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

) lost much of its significance.

Modern times

The period of decline was halted in 1893 when a fishing harbour was built in the village. It provided a shelter for fishing vessels, but also became a popular destination for weekend trips of the inhabitants of Gdańsk
Gdańsk is a Polish city on the Baltic coast, at the centre of the country's fourth-largest metropolitan area.The city lies on the southern edge of Gdańsk Bay , in a conurbation with the city of Gdynia, spa town of Sopot, and suburban communities, which together form a metropolitan area called the...

 and Sopot
Sopot is a seaside town in Eastern Pomerania on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea in northern Poland, with a population of approximately 40,000....

 (German: Zoppot). In 1896 the village was granted the status of a sea-side resort.
As a result of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...

 Poland was re-established as an independent nation, Hel became part of Poland. In 1921 a new railway was built along the peninsula connecting the town to the mainland. The authorities of the Pomeranian voivodship also planned to build a road to the village, but the peninsula was found too narrow at the time. Soon Hel became one of the most important tourism
Tourism is travel for recreational, leisure or business purposes. The World Tourism Organization defines tourists as people "traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes".Tourism has become a...

 centres in Polish Pomerania. New suburbs of villas were built for 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
Polish Navy
The Marynarka Wojenna Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej - MW RP Polish Navy, is the branch of Republic of Poland Armed Forces responsible for naval operations...

. The harbour was expanded and in 1936 the president 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 Invasion of Poland
Invasion of Poland (1939)
The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War in Poland and the Poland Campaign in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the start of World War II in Europe...

 the Hel Peninsula
Hel Peninsula
Hel Peninsula |Nehrung]]) is a 35-km-long sand bar peninsula in northern Poland separating the Bay of Puck from the open Baltic Sea. It is located in Puck County of the Pomeranian Voivodeship.- Geography :...

 was one of the longest-defended pockets of Polish Army resistance. Approximately 3,000 soldiers of the Coastal Defence Group (Grupa Obrony Wybrzeża) units under Kapitan [Stanislaw Zwartynski]"The Defender of Hel" defended the area
Battle of Hel
The Battle of Hel was one of the longest battles of the Invasion of Poland during World War II.The Hel Peninsula, together with the town of Hel, was the pocket of Polish Army resistance that held out the longest against the German invasion...

 against overwhelming odds until October 2, 1939. Shortly before capitulation
Capitulation (surrender)
Capitulation , an agreement in time of war for the surrender to a hostile armed force of a particular body of troops, a town or a territory....

, Polish military engineers detonated a number of torpedo
The modern torpedo is a self-propelled missile weapon with an explosive warhead, launched above or below the water surface, propelled underwater towards a target, and designed to detonate either on contact with it or in proximity to it.The term torpedo was originally employed for...

 warheads, which separated the peninsula from the mainland transforming it into an island. During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 the Kriegsmarine
The Kriegsmarine was the name of the German Navy during the Nazi regime . It superseded the Kaiserliche Marine of World War I and the post-war Reichsmarine. The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches of the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany.The Kriegsmarine grew rapidly...

 used the Hel naval base to train U-Boat
U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot , and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II...

 crews. At the end of the war the village was the last part of Polish soil to be liberated: the German units encircled there surrendered 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
Jastarnia is a small town in Puck County, Pomeranian Voivodship, northern Poland. It is located on the Hel Peninsula on the Baltic Sea. Popular Polish seaside resort and small fishing port....

 on the mainland was built. Three years later city rights were reintroduced. Since then the tourist industry started to recover and several hotels, guest houses 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 located there today.

The harbour now serves primarily as a yacht
A yacht is a recreational boat or ship. The term originated from the Dutch Jacht meaning "hunt". It was originally defined as a light fast sailing vessel used by the Dutch navy to pursue pirates and other transgressors around and into the shallow waters of the Low Countries...

A marina is a dock or basin with moorings and supplies for yachts and small boats.A marina differs from a port in that a marina does not handle large passenger ships or cargo from freighters....

. Hel houses a sea life biological laboratory and there are interesting examples of naval armament and equipment exhibited throughout the town.

The most easterly edge of Hel, which was once a military territory, can now be accessed by the general public making it possible to walk all the way around the peninsula.

External links

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