Today, Oliwa’s biggest attraction is the beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral with the Palace of Abbots and the adjacent park, not to mention the extraordinary architecture, charming, historic villas, and adored by children the Municipal Zoological Garden.
The first building of Oliwa Cathedral, the small oratory, was erected in the 12th century. Built of brick on a stone foundation building had one nave and a tower located on the south side. The current shape of the temple dates from the 13th / 14th century, which was later rebuilt several times. Unfortunately, the Gothic furnishings of the church did not survive the conflict between the city and king Batory that in 1577 completely destroyed Oliwa. What remained were the walls of the Metropolitan Cathedral. Thanks to numerous donations, as well as compensations the reconstruction lasted many years.
The most famous element of the church are the musical organs which, like the pulpit and rococo decoration of chapels and the west facade have been funded by the Abbot of the Order – Jacek Rybiński.
After a period of prosperity came the years of defeat. Partitions of Poland, the Napoleonic wars, the inclusion of Oliwa to the Kingdom of Prussia led to a strong depletion of the Order, which consequently led, in 1831 to liquidation and renaming of the monastery church to the parish.
World War II brought no significant losses and damages. Among the most serious was the loss of helmets from the west facade and damage of the musical organs. In 1976 Oliwa Cathedral was honored with the title of minor basilica, and in 1992 it was raised to the rank of metropolitan cathedral.
Right next to the metropolitan cathedral is Abbot’s Palace around which the park was created. The residence was once visited by King Sigismund III Vasa, and the Queen Mary Louis during her trip to meet with the spouse Wladyslaw IV. During World War II, the palace was used as a warehouse which burned down in 1945. The reconstructed building now houses a branch of the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
At the western entrance gate to the park there is a former Abbot’s Granary, which was built with used bricks. It was created in 1723 in place of two smaller granaries. Since 1988 the building houses a branch of the National Museum of Ethnography.
Oliwa’s famous attraction is the Oliwa Park, whose origins lie in the 12th and 13th centuries when a Cistercian abbey was funded. Back then it was a monastery garden. Along with the construction of an abbot’s residence the garden began to transform into a recreation – ornate park. It was on July 26, 1734 that the name-day feast in honor of Tsarina Anna Ivanovna took place, issued by King Augustus III of Saxony.
The appearance of the present garden we owe the last abbots of Oliwa, in particular abbot Jacek Rybinski. The project was modeled on the gardens at the Blue Palace in Warsaw, and its realization was done by a gardener Kazimierz Dembinski from Kockam who once worked at the gardens in Wilanów. In 1910 in the park it was created a rockery with a series of rock alpine plants, and the existing greenhouses were rebuilt into a greenhouse and a small palm house.
Another interesting and the most characteristic place in Oliwa is Pacholek Hill, which offers a panoramic view of the city. Its lookout is located at an altitude of just over 100 MAMSL. During the Cistercian abbey the hill was called the Mountain of Oliwa, which was associated with the biblical Mount of Olives. Currently at the top of the Pacholek there is a metal viewing platform.
According to a monastery tradition, a monastery had to be placed at the stream, which later was called Oliwa Stream. Its source is located at an altitude of 140 MAMSL in the area of Matarnia and around the slopes of the valley it flows towards the Bay of Gdansk. In the beginnings of the abbey began to form mills and forges powered by the waters of the stream. Their main development occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries where there were twenty of mills and forges.
The most beautiful of valleys, through which flows a stream of Oliwa is the Joy Valley (Dolina Radosci). In addition to the outstanding natural and scenic features the valley has interesting architectural buildings. Particularly noteworthy is the Manor of Schwabe, now called Oliwa Manor Hotel, and the unique wooden water forge with authentic pieces of equipment. Joy Valley is a perfect place for walking and cycling.
The heart of “old” Oliwa is located in the Old Oliwa Market, where it is located one of the most important buildings of this part of the district – a gate house (House of Plague/Dom Zarazy). It is a former headquarter of mayor of the Order as well as the main gate of the monastery of Oliwa. With this place there is connected a story from 1709 when the plague prevailed. History has it that the monks locked themselves against the plague in the monastery but did not want to leave people without spiritual ministry so one of the monks settled in the gatehouse to perform duties. When he died he was replaced by another, and then another. In this way, in the building died 10 monks, including the pastor of the Church of St. Jacob. Since that time, the abbey gate is called the House of the Plague.
The Old Oliwa Market area, as well as the side street-Polanki street are full of old houses, mansions and villas of rich people of Gdańsk.