The Polish Roads to Freedom Solidarity Museum project was born in March 1998, based on the idea of Chairman of the Gdańsk City Council Paweł Adamowicz and historian Dr. Jerzy Kukliński. Nine months later — on 29 December 1999 — on the initiative of Gdańsk Mayor Paweł Adamowicz, with the support of Lech Wałęsa and the Institute that bears his name, Gdańsk Metropolitan Archbishop Tadeusz Gocłowski, the Solidarity Trade Union, Gdańsk Shipyard, and the government of the Pomorskie Voivodship, the Solidarity Centre Foundation was established with the mission to create the European Solidarity Centre. Bogdan Lis became the Foundation’s president.


Crowds of Gdańsk inhabitants and visitors from all over the world filled Gdańsk’s Solidarity Square on 31 August 2005. “… So that this living monument — a symbol of the victory of the Solidarity movement’s peaceful revolution — becomes the world’s centre for the ideas of freedom, democracy and solidarity to be fostered,” was the joint proclamation of 29 signatories, including 22 European prime ministers and presidents.

“This way we want to transfer the ideas we had then to the pages of today, with future generations in mind,” emphasised Lech Wałęsa, Solidarity’s legendary leader.
“I have come today to repeat your words loud and clear. You said there is no freedom without solidarity,” said President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso. “Without the Solidarity movement we would not have the European Union that we have today. And we know that there is no Europe without freedom and solidarity. We thank Solidarity for everything they have done for freedom in Europe.” A huge pen, just like the one with which Lech Wałęsa signed the August Agreements in 1980, played a leading role on that day again.


On 29 January 2007, an agreement of intent was signed on the establishment of a cultural institution called „European Solidarity Centre” (ECS) in Gdańsk. The signatories of the agreement were: Kazimierz Michał Ujazdowski – Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Paweł Adamowicz – Mayor of the City of Gdańsk, Jan Kozłowski – Pomorskie Voivodeship Marshal, Janusz Śniadek – chairman of the the Solidarity Trade Union national committee, Jan Langer – deputy chairman of the the Solidarity Trade Union national committee and Bogdan Lis – chairman of the Solidarity Centre Foundation. On 8 November 2007, the City of Gdańsk, the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Local Government of the Pomorskie Voivodship, the Solidarity Trade Union and the Solidarity Centre Foundation established the European Solidarity Centre as a cultural institution.


The international architectural competition for the conceptual design of the European Solidarity Centre received entries from 58 teams of architects from all over the world. The winning design was delivered by Fort Design Studio from Gdańsk. The designers have intended the building’s shape “to be marked with radical simplicity, just like the goals and methods of the Solidarity movement.”
The walls are lined with COR-TEN (weathering) steel, with its rusty colour reminding of a ship’s hull.
The Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers, the former Lenin Shipyard’s Gate No. 2 and the nearby H&S Hall, where on 31 August 1980 the striking workers signed an agreement with the government of the Polish People’s Republic, have been included as parts of the permanent ECS exhibition which is the heart of the building.
The ECS chief designers were architects: Wojciech Targowski, Piotr Mazur, Antoni Taraszkiewicz, and Paweł Czarzasty.


European Solidarity Centre, the cultural institution, starts working at the temporary seat, located at the former Lenin Gdańsk Shipyard, in the former management building. On 23 August, the decision on the competition for the screenplay of the permanent exhibition was announced, and on 14 November, for the set design, in which the competition will be realized.


Mr. Bogdan Zdrojewski, The Minister of Culture and National Heritage, and Mr Paweł Adamowicz, Mayor of Gdańsk, sign the ECS building financing agreement. Construction works on the European Solidarity Centre start.


The cornerstone for the construction of the European Solidarity Centre was laid on 14 May 2011. The first trowel of cement was laid by Polish President Bronisław Komorowski. “We remember our concern that other important events became the icons of Europe’s transformation. We want Polish Solidarity to be the symbol of changes for the better and of the end of the totalitarian system. We need to share our pride here in Gdańsk,” said President Bronisław Komorowski. “The idea of Solidarity should go on and grow regardless of any Polish disputes, likes and dislikes.”


The ceremony took place at high noon on 4 April 2012. “The ECS is being built for our children, our grandchildren, and for the generations to come. Because we deeply believe that the story of Solidarity is beautiful and positive, much different from the other ones proffered by Poland’s history. It’s a story with a happy ending, like in a Hollywood movie. Most of all, it’s a story without bloodshed,” said Gdańsk Mayor Paweł Adamowicz, the host of the celebration and one of the founders of the ECS.
The ECS cost PLN 231 million (approx. € 53.3 million) to build, with PLN 113 million (approx. € 26 million) provided by the European Union, and the remaining funds coming from Gdańsk’s city budget. The municipality carried out the project through the GIK sp. z o.o. company, while Polimex-Mostostal SA was the main contractor, assisted by 50 subcontractors. Almost 30 people — including historians, archivists and political scientists — were involved in preparing the content of the ECS permanent exhibition. Its setting and layout were designed by Studio 1:1 of Gdańsk. The exhibition was delivered by a consortium of the Qumak SA and Maciej Lubocki Multimedia Art & Education companies, with the support of 10 subcontractors. The concept of the Play Department, a space for fun and education for children, was developed by Grupa Smacznego of Gdańsk


The ECS building is a modern agora, a space for people and ideas that shape and develop a civic society, a meeting place for people who hold the world’s future dear.
The ECS continues to run projects addressed to various groups in Poland, Europe, and the entire world: conferences, debates, children’s and youth projects, theatre productions, film screenings, and temporary exhibitions.
Seventeen rooms in the ECS building are taken up by non-government organisations which work for the common good, freedom, and human rights. The Winter Garden is open all year to provide a venue for artistic activities, meetings, and leisure. And from spring till autumn, an observation deck is available on the roof, with a beautiful panoramic view of the post-Shipyard area, and Gdańsk’s Old and Main Town.


The verdict was a great joy for us. According to the jury, the ECS "succeeds in making the history of the trade union Solidarność a powerful and moving source of inspiration for civic engagement and action." The Centre "connects history with life and makes a direct link between culture and democracy.”


More than two million people have already visited the ECS: participants of cultural events, researchers using the ECS collections, young people participating in educational activities, small children and their supervisors in the Play Department, tourists using the winter garden, observation deck and café – and above all, visitors of the permanent exhibition. It was visited among others by Prince William and Princess Catherine, successors of the British throne, who met Lech Wałęsa at the ECS on 18th July.
To celebrate the anniversary we prepared the PICTURE OF THE FIRST DECADE, in which people of the ECS speak about the past and challenges that our institution is facing.



In January we said good-bye to Paweł Adamowicz (1965–2019), Gdańsk Mayor, ECS originator. According to his family’s will, ECS was one of the places where Poles could say farewell to the Mayor. His coffin was laid out in the winter garden for 24 hours (17th-18th January). 53 thousand people came to pay their respects to a visionary who greatly loved Gdańsk.

During the celebration of 15th anniversary of Poland’s European Union membership, ECS was awarded the Pomeranian Super Storm of 15 Years (27th March). It is an award for the best investment realized with European funds that supports the idea of European solidarity.

Due to public collection and support of Polish self-governments, we were able to organise the CELEBRATION OF FREEDOM AND SOLIDARITY (1st-11th June). 229 thousand visitors participated in the versatile programme that included debates and meetings at the ECS, the Social Zone that presented NGOs from all over Poland, and cultural events that took place in many places all over the city. Alone on 4th June, on the anniversary of the first free election 1989, ECS was visited by 27 thousand people. All were combined by the round table – a piece of city furniture that was first placed at the ECS fountains, and later, due to its modular design, appeared in many venues in Gdańsk, among others during the event UNDERSTANDING 89/19.


The fifth anniversary of ECS’s presence in the facilities at Solidarność Square 1 coincided with the celebration of 39th anniversary of signing the Gdańsk Agreement and 80th anniversary of the beginning of WW2 (30th-31st August and 1st September). Also in that time the ECS was visited by the four millionth participant of ECS activities. The permanent exhibition alone was visited by one million people (11th December).

The crowning of our work in favour of promoting Solidarity heritage and Gdańsk as city of freedom and solidarity was the fact that the European Solidarity Centre was awarded the prestigious St. Adalbert’s Medal by Gdańsk City Council (28th October).

How do you work behind closed doors when the permanent exhibition is inaccessible and the public cannot be invited into the auditorium or library? We faced this problem like the whole world affected by the pandemic. We moved all activity online. We invited our guests to #ecsonline, including a series of meetings with the permanent exhibition, ECS FORUM - roundtable discussions in the winter garden, and to ECS WORLD - guests from abroad. The Tadeusz Mazowiecki Civic Thought Club, a friend of the ECS, also developed in a virtual formula.

In the short period when the government loosened pandemic restrictions and we were able to open the building, the ECS was visited by 476,000 guests, including 96,000 who visited the permanent exhibition. In a hybrid formula of online meetings and events at a social distance we organized celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Solidarity and the great August strike (August 30-31). On December 16 at Solidarity Square we paid tribute to the victims of December ’70 and commemorated the 40th anniversary of the erection of the Fallen Shipyard Workers Monument in 1970.

The sadness following the passing of Mayor Paweł Adamowicz was soothed by the book DEATH OF THE PRESIDENT. DID THAT JANUARY CHANGE US? It’s a series of conversations that Katarzyna Zelazek conducted with people who declared transformation in January 2019, shared their resolutions on social media, confided deep experiences to their friends. It was premiered during a memorial EVENING FOR A FRIEND (January 13).


The European Heritage Award / Europa Nostra 2021 - the European Union’s most important distinction in the field of cultural heritage - was awarded to the ECS permanent exhibition. The international jury appreciated the promotion of human, labour and political rights and the importance of civic involvement. On 31 August we unveiled a commemorative plaque in the winter garden.

Visitors to the permanent exhibition included Věra Jourová, President of the European Commission, who attended the Freedom Day celebrations. 637 thousand people visited the ECS and took part in our activities, despite the fact that the building was open 267 days a year instead of the usual 356. We welcomed 113,000 visitors to the permanent exhibition (15,000 requests for an audio guide in languages other than Polish), and 7,800 in the Play Department.

On the initiative of female and male employees, the following were created: The Green Team, working to promote green practices in daily work and in the organisation of events, and the Accessibility Team, which develops and implements solutions to make the building and its programme offer even more accessible. In September the ECS Historical and Programme College was constituted, and in November the ECS Council, approving the ECS strategic plan and expenditures. The Council’s members elected Bogdan Lis, a former activist of the trade unions and Solidarność, a signatory of the Gdańsk Agreement, as chairman.

fot. Grzegorz Mehring / ECS Archive
fot. Dawid Linkowski / ECS Archive