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The Stages of the Cultural Landscape Transformation of Seaside Resorts in Poland against the Background of the Evolving Nature of Tourism

Wojciech Bal
Magdalena Czalczynska-Podolska
Department of Contemporary Architecture, Theory and Methodology of Design, West Pomeranian University of Technology, 70–310 Szczecin, Poland
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Submission received: 22 January 2020 / Revised: 10 February 2020 / Accepted: 10 February 2020 / Published: 13 February 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Landscape and Tourism, Landscapes of Tourism)


The development of tourism determines the cultural landscape transformation, spatial development of coastal localities, scale of recreational architecture and other forms of development related to tourism services. The article presents research aiming to analyze tourism development in the context of its impact on the cultural landscape of Polish coastal localities, taking into account the specificity of post-communist countries and supra-regional tendencies. The main objective of this study was to analyze the development of tourism in the context of its impact on the cultural landscape seaside towns and to identify, on the basis of the changes, the nature of tourism and forms of recreation in particular stages of the shaping of elements in coastal locality spaces and recreational architecture. The research was based on historical-interpretation studies, field studies of selected coastal localities, including urban-planning inventories, landscape, and functional and spatial analyses. The research carried out resulted in the identification of the stages of the cultural landscape transformation of coastal localities and indication of characteristic features of architecture and landscape. The journey along the coastline is a temporal journey through the changing nature of buildings, allowing observation of the stage-by-stage nature of investment processes in response to the changing needs of tourists.

1. Introduction and Past Studies on Tourism Development

1.1. Introduction

The Baltic Sea coast is one of the most attractive tourist regions in Poland, visited by four million tourists annually, while the coastal regions of Pomerania and West Pomerania have the highest indicators of tourism intensity in the country, significantly exceeding the national average [1]. The landscape, natural and cultural values are conducive to recreation tourism, health-resort, sightseeing and sport-based tourism. Nowadays, “marine and coastal tourism is one of the fastest-growing areas within the world’s largest industry” [2] (p. 601). The development of tourism and recreation functions has a significant impact on the transformation of the cultural and natural landscape of the coast, which, being a peculiar area between land and sea, is characterized by high sensitivity and susceptibility to changes caused by urbanization. The era of industrial tourism was characterized by change, commercialization and commoditization, while the post-industrial era of tourism is characterized by meaning, novelty and identity [3]. Nowadays, the 4A model of tourism prevails (attractions, amenities, accommodation, access). It is commonly observed that traditional tourism marked with the “3S” symbol (sun, sea, sand) has been largely replaced by 3E tourism (entertainment, experience, education). Moreover, statistics from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) show a steady and continuous increase in both the number of tourists and the revenue from tourism [4,5]. This entails significant spatial management changes aimed at expanding the offer and program.
In regions where tourism takes on a mass character, we can observe the progressive westernization or “McDonaldization” of the landscape [6] and problem with authenticity [7], which results from the commercialization of space. It can lead to the destruction of landscape values that have attracted tourists in the past [8]. Where tourism is seen as a problem, “islands of affluence are built within the country, walled in and separate from the rest of the population” [9] (p. 7). This is the so-called “tourism bubble effect”; that is, the creation of a safe and familiar environment for tourists from rich societies [10] and exclusively planned space [11]. Intensive expansion of the tourism function means that hotels of well-known chains with extensive catering, sports and recreation facilities become the basis for the development of seaside resorts. This makes seaside towns and cities more and more similar to each other. These changes are widespread and affect most tourist regions. One distinctive feature of the changes occurring in tourism and recreation on the Polish coast was the emergence of holiday centers of the Workers Holiday Fund, characteristic of socialist countries (especially in the years 1960–1980), forming specific enclaves of large facilities or camping houses. On the other hand, in recent years, there is a clearly increasing expansion of tourism development into areas of natural value, dunes and coastal forests.
Therefore, changes in tourism and recreation are both global (trends observed in the world and in Europe) and local (dynamic transformation of tourist processes at the Polish sea and in post-communist countries). Understanding the evolutionary processes taking place on the coast is necessary to support the sustainable planning and development of the coast [12].

1.2. Past Studies

The current state of research into changes occurring under the influence of tourism development are illustrated by tourism area life-cycle models, which allow identification of factors of tourism development [13], as well as the concepts of “path dependence”, “path creation” and “lock-in” as key ingredients in constructing an evolutionary approach to tourism studies. They represent alternative frameworks to explain trends and stages in the management and development of touristic areas.
One of the first authors to do research on this field was Gilbert [14], who has indicated three phases of the tourist area life cycle: discovery, growth and decline. Among the general concepts developed, we can find models aimed at identifying spatial factors for tourism development [15,16,17], planning and management [18,19,20] and economic growth [21,22]. Butler’s Tourism Area Life Cycle [18], a general model of an evolution of a hypothetical tourist area, is one of the best known and most cited concepts [2,23]. Due to its universality, TALC is willingly used for studies in selected tourism areas [24,25,26,27], as well as a basis and starting point for the work on modified development concepts. However, according to Choy [28], tourist areas should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, with their specific characteristics. Therefore, there is a need to develop concepts that include the nature, history and local resources of tourist regions.
Few models recognize the specificity of tourist regions and relate strictly to the coastline and coastal towns. In this context, the following models can be considered exceptional: Liszewski’s phases of development of tourist space [29], Butowski’s model of development of maritime tourism areas for sailing tourism [30,31], Gormsen’s model of tourism development specific to a coastal resort [32] and Smith’s beach resort model [33].
Gormsen’s model [32] drew from historical studies of the development of coastal tourism and was based on the following criteria: nature of accommodation, the level of local and non-local participation in tourism development, and social structure of tourists. With these criteria, Gormsen identified four ‘peripheries’ (regions): Periphery I (Channel and Baltic coast resorts), Periphery II (Mediterranean Europe), Periphery III (North Africa, Balearic and Canary Islands) and Periphery IV (resorts in West Africa, Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Oceans, South East Asia). Each of the indicated regions is passing through its successive stages of development. In the early stages, there are few tourists accommodated in hotels and external investors operate. In subsequent stages, accommodation is more diversified, and the local community becomes more involved. The beach resort model put forward by Smith [33] shows eight stages of a resort (pre-tourism datum, second homes, first hotel, resort established, business district established, inland hotels, transformation and city resort), which are characterized by differentiated morphological, physical, environmental, economic and political features. Barrett’s beach resort model [34] was based on studies on seaside resorts in England and Wales. According to this concept, resorts develop from “the core of central businesses inland from a beach-front strip of holiday shops and accommodation with hotels occupying prime locations around core facilities. Boarding houses and bed-and-breakfast accommodation are located less centrally” [33] (p. 189). According to Liszewski [35], there are three phases of development of seaside towns. In the first phase, there is an influx of tourists, but it is simultaneous to an absence of any tourism investment projects and other functions still dominate in the economy. The second phase is characterized by a change in the economy of the town, that is, tourism services are becoming increasingly important and the first investments appear in connection with tourism development. The third phase involves an increase in the wealth of inhabitants and emergence of tourism investments and external investors. There are transformations of space that permanently change the character of towns.
The tourism development models created so far are mostly general and highlight the roles of location, planning and management, transport or economic development. Research conducted mainly by geographers and economists does not contain any direct references to architecture and cultural landscape. There is an insufficient number of studies on the development of coastal tourism that would analyze changes taking place in the cultural landscape and forms of development. The studies concerning the spatial development of the Polish coast are few and most often partial. It is thus necessary to analyze the development of tourism in the context of its impact on the cultural landscape of Polish seaside resorts, taking into account both the specificity of post-communist countries and supra-regional tendencies.

1.3. Research Goals

Identification of the stages of the cultural landscape transformation of seaside resorts may be an alternative and a contribution to the discussion on commonly known models of tourism development. A good understanding of the cultural landscape transformation process is the basis for sustainable coastal development.
The main purposes of this study are:
  • To analyze tourism development for its impact on the cultural landscape of seaside resorts on the Baltic coastline of Poland;
  • To identify, on the basis of transformations of the nature and forms of recreation, the particular stages of the shaping of spatial elements in seaside resorts and recreational architecture and to indicate characteristic features of architecture and landscape.

2. Materials and Methods

The research topics are interdisciplinary and concern architecture, urban planning, landscape architecture and tourism geography.
The research process was based on a descriptive and interpretative method as part of historical and landscape studies of selected seaside resorts and carried out through their:
  • Iconology and iconography—interpretation of graphic representations (e.g., historic postcards),
  • Historiography—archival research (e.g., archived documents),
  • Secondary description (aerial photographs),
  • Observation—site studies and photography analysis,
  • Query project documentations.
The research methods included historical-interpretation studies based on the analysis of source materials, primarily cartographic and iconographic (photographs and historical drawings), guidebooks and leaflets, as well as field studies of selected seaside resorts, including urban-planning inventories, landscape analysis and functional-spatial analysis. The source materials used in the analysis include coast development maps with a scale of 1:25,000 from the year 1890, aerial and satellite photographs. Source materials were obtained primarily from commune offices, the Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments, the National Digital Archives and websites with archival materials.
The article is the result of many years of research. It is a kind of summary of a certain stage of studies and analyses regarding the history of tourist architecture. The authors’ observations are presented in chronological order, presenting linear, historical conditions of geopolitical changes (changes regarding the state borders, length of its coast as well as national and cultural changes in the studied area). This allowed to highlight the characteristic stages of the development of tourist architecture.
The territorial scope of the research covers the strip of the southern coast of the Baltic Sea located currently in Poland that extends from the west (Pomeranian Bay, Szczecinski Lagoon) to the east (Gdańsk Bay, the Vistula Lagoon) over a distance of 528 km (Figure 1). Detailed analysis focuses on the seaside region of Western Pomerania (communes and municipalities: Świnoujście, Międzyzdroje, Kamień Pomorski, Dziwnów, Rewal, Trzebiatów, Kołobrzeg, Ustronie Morskie, Będzino, Mielno, Sławno, Darłowo, Postomino). This analysis concerns selected seaside resorts located in Poland and before the war, in Germany: Świnoujście, Międzyzdroje, Kołobrzeg, for which field studies were conducted. The temporal extent of the research is the period from the second half of the 19th century (when tourism began to develop in the analyzed area) to present times.

3. Results: Development of Tourism in the Context of Its Impact on the Architecture and Cultural Landscape of Seaside Resorts in Poland

Social and economic transformations related to the increasing wealth of societies and the development of means of transport occurred throughout the world in the 19th century, especially in Europe. These changes created favorable conditions for the development of tourism in Poland as well as other countries in Europe. However, this process took place on Polish territory in a slightly different way than in other European countries and was historically connected with political partition, changes of borders, influences of neighboring countries and social events.

3.1. From 19th Century to 1918

In general, coastal tourist resorts were established in locations of former fishing settlements or small harbor towns. The idea of creating the first holiday resorts in Pomerania was born in the circles of the German aristocracy, in parallel to the popularity of sea baths growing in England. The oldest of these are the English Scarborough [36], founded in 1720 and Brighton, founded in 1780. In 1793, Heiligendamm in Mecklenburg, Germany, was founded as the first seaside resort of the European continent. The first known Baltic seaside health resorts, such as Heiligendamm and Putbus, were established in the gentry era. However, as early as at the beginning of the nineteenth century, there came about small bathing resorts in Pomerania, using local buildings as accommodation facilities, such as those in Boltenhagen and Międzyzdroje (Misdroy) [37]. Therefore, the recreation culture has been shaped at the Baltic Sea in the Pomerania since the first half of the 19th century. In 1802, a bathing resort in Brzeźno was established, and in 1823, a swimming facility in Sopot was established. In 1813, Pałąga (Lithuanian: Palanga) began to function as a bathing resort.
The coastal tourism in the southern strip of the Baltic Sea initially developed when the lands of the Republic of Poland were being annexed (Figure 2).
German resorts, such as Sopot (Zoppot), Świnoujście (Swinemünde) or Kołobrzeg (Kolberg), developed on the lands that were annexed by Prussia. The section of the coast, together with the first Polish seaside resort of Połąga was annexed by Russia. At the end of the 19th century, Poles rested mainly in two resorts: Sopot, which was visited by residents of the Prussian partition and Połąga, available to residents of the former Kingdom of Poland as part of the Russian partition [38].
Although the beginnings of the developments focused on therapeutic functions date back in the early 19th century, most of the seaside resorts in Western and Central Pomerania were developed only in the interwar period. This was the result of the evolution of pre-existing settlements and villages into so-called summer resorts, climatic stations or resorts (various forms and scales of holiday resorts). Some of them eventually attained the status of a health resort (Table 1). For example, Świnoujście, which in the 18th century functioned as an important port town, in the 1820s, became a resort, and then, after discovering deposits of brine and therapeutic mud, became a health resort. Kołobrzeg was developed in a similar way—being a fortress-town in the 17th century, it was transformed into a resort and health resort in the 19th century.
The evolution of recreation by the sea, apart from undeniable natural values (wide sandy beaches, dunes, forests, high content of iodine and ozone, deposits of brine and therapeutic mud), was significantly influenced by the development of railways (Table 1). The opening of a railway line connecting a seaside resort with a larger urban center has always been associated with improved accessibility and development of both the therapeutic function and the whole town.
This was the case with Świnoujście and Kołobrzeg, which, thanks to convenient railway connections, became the most important health resorts at the end of the 19th century. Before the war, thanks to the good railway connection with Berlin, Świnoujście was visited by between 20,000 and 50,000 patients and clients every year. The construction of railway lines also stimulated the growth of smaller holiday resorts. After the railway line to Ustka was established in 1878, the number of holidaymakers annually visiting the small settlement increased to several thousand. In the middle of the 19th century, the number of patients visiting the Sopot bathing beaches in summer reached 800–1200 per year. The construction of the railway line contributed to the number of holiday-makers arriving in Sopot, reaching 12,500 in 1900.
Initially, the architecture of seaside health resorts was modeled on English examples, but over time it developed into an original building style [37]. As a rule, seaside resorts from the beginning of the 19th century had features more specific to sanatoriums than to bathing resorts, such as hotels typical for sanatoriums. This was due to the nature of seaside recreation at the time, which was aimed at improving health as people bathed in the sea for therapeutic rather than recreational purposes. The first forms of sea bathing were wooden beach wagons equipped with a special hood that protected a bather and special rooms, where they waited for a bath and were served seawater as a curative drink [37]. Few people could swim. For this reason, they enjoyed the sea cautiously and for a short time. Tanning became popular only in the 1920s and 1930s on the wave of socio-cultural changes and more modern forms of leisure culture. In the 19th century, pale skin was still associated with a higher social status. Until the end of World War I, men and women bathed separately, which had a significant influence on the management and functioning of the beach (Figure 3). For example, at Świnoujście and Kołobrzeg, there were three beaches: for men, for women and for families, and in Ustronie Morskie (German: Henkenhagen), bathing hours were different depending on gender.
In the 19th century, the nature of travel meant that “going to the sea” and “meeting” there was mainly for higher social circles, such as aristocracy, which contributed to the exclusivity of recreation by the sea. Aristocrats including Tsar Nicholas, Emperor Frederick William II and Emperor Franz Joseph I visited Świnoujście. Other resorts, such as Sopot and Kołobrzeg, primarily attracted doctors, lawyers and civil servants. Both Polish aristocracy and artists rested in Połąga.
The seaside resorts were given a setting that was in line with the lifestyle of the guests staying there. In the 19th century, the wealthiest elite rested by the seaside, usually arriving with their entire family and servants to stay for a few months. The seaside resorts of the 19th century had to be able to rent entire villas. With the influx of patients, new villas and guest houses were built, as well as places that satisfied the needs for entertainment and rest, including numerous cafés, restaurants and casinos. The public space played an important part in the functioning of a resort and dominated over the private zone, being a kind of elites’ drawing room (Figure 4). The most important element of the resort’s arrangement, serving as the heart of the public space, was a walking promenade running parallel to the shoreline. When shaping the public space, patterns were drawn from inland health resorts. The most important and most representative buildings of the resort were the spa house and the impressive beach palaces. Seaside health resorts also developed a specific method of beach space management, where distinctive U-shaped wooden structures of bathing facilities were introduced, shaped by a system of specially separated changing rooms and piers. Other facilities established included piers, concert shells and architectural forms (such as winter gardens and conservatories, and buildings with verandas and loggias) that allowed people to experience nature [39].
As one example, Połąga, the only health resort founded by the Polish aristocrats, Tyszkiewicz, functioned in 1813 as a balneological station, at that time including a park establishment (designed by Édouard André) with an area of over 80 hectares with a pond, cave and rose garden available for patients. They built a spa house designed by the Berlin architect Franz Heinrich Schwechten in 1886 and a summer theatre for 600 spectators in 1908 with a bathing facility and wooden beach changing rooms for rent. In Świnoujście, Spa Park was established in 1827, designed by Piotr Józef Lenne. The first bathhouses at Spa Park were built in the 19th century, to which seawater was brought in barrels. A promenade was also established, being a walking path along the sea, leading to the most important places in the spa quarter—bathrooms forming a bathing complex located at the beach. Between 1899 and 1913, about 300 new houses were built, mainly in the present seaside quarter [40] (collection of documents, maps and photographs on the history of the city Świnoujście and West Pomeranian coast). Staying by the sea in such a unique place was considered food for the soul and body, the experience of comfort, luxury, aesthetics, various forms of art and intellectual development.

3.2. The Interwar Period (1918–1939)

The beginnings of mass tourism date back to the first half of the 19th century, but recreation by the sea became fashionable for many people only in the interwar period (1918–1939). The popularization of tourism in this period made trips to seaside resorts sought-after not only by aristocracy but by the lower social classes.
After World War I, as Poland regained independence in 1918 (after 146 years of bondage), she also gained access to the Baltic Sea through the Gulf of Gdańsk, Gulf of Puck and the Hel Peninsula, the framework of the Pomeranian Voivodeship. As a result of the post-war transformations and geopolitical divisions, the new Poland was granted 140 km of the coastline, a “window on the world” (Figure 5a,b). Poles tried to make the most of this new treasure, in both economic and touristic aspects. Due to the strong sense of statehood, seaside recreation became national in character. It was considered to be almost every Pole’s duty and an expression of patriotic attitudes.
Even though Poland had only a small part of the Pomeranian coastline, each kilometer of coast received 30 times more investment as compared to the land border [41] (p. 8). For many towns, the tourist function became dominant [42]. The basis for future development was the seaside road built in 1921, leading from Hallerowo to Karwia. This coastal strip and its development was a matter of particular concern for the authorities, leading to the establishment of the Coastal Settlement Agency in 1931, which dealt with the development of the coastline, compiling plans for individual localities and the evaluation of land parceling plans. Comprehensive development plans were drawn up, new seaside towns built and existing ones expanded, which increased the interest in coastal tourism. Even so, the social division of the patients remained clear. Sopot, Jurata and Jastarnia were exceptionally popular in the artistic and aristocratic circles. People looking for less expensive holidays went to fishing villages or suburban bathing resorts, such as Brzeźno, Jelitkowo, Dębki, Karwia, Karwieńskie Błoto, Bór, Chałupy or Chłapowo. Holiday resorts differed in terms of class of accommodation and price [43,44,45,46,47].
The coastline was expanded to include new locations in the 1920s and 1930s. Completely new health resorts and summer resorts were established in previously undeveloped coastal areas, such as Wielka Wieś-Hallerowo (Władysławowo), Jurata, Jastrzębia Góra. One important development was Gdynia, where a bathing beach (1920), Hotel “Polska Riviera” (1922–1925), wooden bathrooms (1925), and a spa house (1929) were built [45,47,48]. In Jurata, which was developed on raw land and designed as a European resort, the first summer season opened in 1931. A holiday estate with typical single-story wooden houses, Jurata included custom-designed villas, the Lido Hotel (1932–1933) and, right on the shore, the Cafe Cassino with a dance hall (1935). These buildings represented the trend of modern, avant-garde, modern architecture. In the 1920s, Jastrzębia Góra was developed after a property purchased by engineer Jerzy Osmołowski was divided into parcels and gradually built up. Between 1921 and 1922, the first house “Kaszubka” was built. The Baltic spa house (1930) was built with swimming pools supplied with seawater, and subsequent villas, guest houses and small summer houses were built according to repetitive designs. At a newly developed housing colony called Jasne Wybrzeże, buildings included the villa of Marshal Piłsudski, the villa of President Ignacy Mościcki and villas of various members of the government. Several modernist-style spa villas were built at that time in the health resort of Hel, although the resort’s growth was suspended for a long time due to the strategic decision to create a militarized zone in this area. In Jastarnia, a modern fishing port (1927–1938), a shipping station exemplifying an inspiration by ship design, a spa house with almost completely glazed façades (1938) and a number of modernist villas and guest houses were constructed (Figure 6a–d).
Originally, in the first years of the interwar period, the architecture of Polish seaside localities continued the tradition of the 19th-century national and regional architecture. Its form was desired to be native and not based on adapted or existing German patterns. Any ties to the Swiss style, popular in 19th-century German resorts, and the Prussian half-timbered construction were cut off. Therefore, most of the summer villas built in the 1920s were in the manor style, continuing the regional architecture and contributing to desires to develop an original, national style. This trend subsided over time, and, in the following years, new buildings were kept in the modernist style. In the 1930s, health resorts willingly modeled development based on the French Riviera as well as the ship’s style, with windows resembling portholes and superstructures in the shape of a captain’s bridge.

3.3. The Post-War Period (1945–1989)

After World War II, Poland gained access to a coastline of over 770 km with a 440 km sea border (Figure 7a,b).
In this belt were developed seaside resorts of various origins and cultural traditions, both German and Polish. There were areas, which, until that time, had been within the borders of Germany (including Pommern province, East Prussia and Free City of Gdańsk), with a fully-formed structure of health resorts and health spas, including Świnoujście, Kołobrzeg and Łeba.
However, the early years of post-war Poland saw a collapse in tourism and recreation. The necessary infrastructure was lacking, and the authorities focused on the reconstruction of the country from post-war destruction and the introduction of a new socio-political order. The new areas were inhabited by displaced persons, often being people who had not previously been tied to the seaside economy.
In the mid-1950s, however, the construction of new resorts began, as national propaganda began to see tourism as its tool—citizens resting on the Baltic Sea were to manifest the Polish identity of the coastline and social equality. According to the Constitution of 1952, Polish citizens were guaranteed the right to rest, including annual holidays and “package recreation”, both covered by the state [49]. Already in 1945, the Workers’ Holidays Department was established, which in 1949 became Workers’ Holidays Fund, an institution that was responsible for organizing holidays in Poland following the example of solutions provided by the USSR. Regularized trips and collective spending of free time were supposed to combine leisure and cultural life, meant to play an educational role and thus shape desirable social attitudes, ensure egalitarianism and even out social differences. This was a pretense, though. People occupying the highest positions in the People’s Republic of Poland rested far away from ordinary citizens. Closed holiday centers were established for the employees of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PUWP), the Office of the Council of Ministers and senior party officers only. Such centers by the sea existed in Sopot, Jurata and Międzyzdroje. The factories and works, which were crucial for the economy, received subsidies for building new holiday resorts in attractive coastal areas. Others rested in more modest facilities, often camping sites, including cabins built of fiberboard, a separate brick building with a canteen and a recreation room for guests or tent sites. The model of the state-arranged recreation worked in the entire period of the People’s Republic of Poland, until 1989. At that time, the most popular health resorts included Kołobrzeg, Międzyzdroje, Krynica Morska, Sopot, Chałupy and Jurata.
The architecture of cheap holiday accommodation was typified and standardized, with houses forming complexes of pavilions or terraced housing predominant in places such as Dźwirzyno, Międzyzdroje and Dziwnów. However, there were also a fair number of well-designed custom buildings that recognized the situational context. Hotels and recreation centers built at that time were interesting and often futuristic examples of modernist architecture. Utilizing dynamic shapes and forms, buildings with lightweight constructions and large glazings were created. Examples of these forms can be found in the Health Resort Sanatorium “Baltic” and Sanatorium “Kormoran” buildings in Kołobrzeg (Figure 8a). The facade at the Skalpol Hotel and Natural Medicine Facility was covered with mosaic, characteristic for the architecture of the 1960s and 1970s. In Jelitkowo, a Craft and Recreation Center was established (Figure 8b), while in Jastrzębia Góra, a Recreation Center “Gwarek” and “Thorez” were established.
The dominant formula of rest (organized, collective and prescriptive), contributed to the emergence of large resorts, influencing both the “proletarian” availability of resorts and economic success (through the implementation of the social package, full occupancy was ensured during the season). The post-war period for seaside resorts was the beginning of the journey towards egalitarianism and pluralism, which began to manifest very clearly in the landscape of seaside resorts.

3.4. The Period after 1989

After 1989, socio-economic changes took place, which had a direct impact on the functioning of tourism and spatial development of seaside resorts. The commercialization of tourist services occurred alongside a simultaneous decrease in real incomes of the society, increase in prices of services and enterprises and workplaces limiting the co-financing of tourist trips from the social fund. This led to a regression in package tourism, which has been replaced by individual tourism and going on leave, distinctive for the free market economy.
Many holiday centers run by workplaces (mostly belonging to WHF) have closed down. According to GUS data, in 1990, there were 4200 recreation centers in Poland. A decade later, their number decreased by half, and in 2010, there were only about one thousand [50] (GUS, 2010). Instead, private accommodation, guesthouses and hotels have become the basis for the nation’s rest. Large centers that were previously part of state-owned companies had to find a way to continue operating. Some of them have privatized, thoroughly reconstructed and adapted to new standards of recreation (Figure 9), including Hotel Stary Dziwnów, Porta Mare Wellness and Spa suites in Dziwnówek. Others were demolished to use their valuable locations for new investments, such as Cristal Wellness Center in Dźwirzyno. The remaining ones have operated until the end of the 1990s, as less prestigious holiday centers, exploited as much as possible.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, we have observed a very intensive development of coastal development with a clear tendency towards the unification of architecture, building closer to the shoreline and intensification of buildings (Figure 10a,b). Generally, large hotel facilities of high standard are being built with extensive recreational and catering facilities, which are mostly situated in the first line close to the beach. An example is the Baltic Park complex in Świnoujście, consisting of 12 buildings that invasively shape the waterfront. In 2017, the five-star Radisson Blue Resort on the Świnoujście promenade and the Hilton Świnoujście Resort and Spa were completed. The buildings’ volume and height dominate the surrounding land development. Rising above the line of the forest, they are the only structures visible from the beach. In 2020, the Gołębiewski Hotel in Pobierowo will be completed—a 10-story hotel facility that has the chance to become the largest facility of this type in Poland.
Such large hotel facilities of a high standard often provide not only food and accommodation but also plenty of entertainment and recreation, generating the so-called “tourist bubble” effect. More and more frequently, landlords have invested in so-called “second houses”, a phenomenon affecting the landscape and the life of seaside resorts. A complex of five 11-story Wave Apartments apartment buildings will be built in Międzyzdroje in 2021, which will be located on the first shoreline, just 60 m from the beach. The residential function of the development is complemented by recreational, sport, and shopping and service functions. There is a new specificity in the use of apartment buildings by a wealthy social group, who are able to invest funds in real estate, which remains uninhabited for most of the year.

4. Discussion—Stages of Transformation of the Cultural Landscape of Coastal Towns in Poland

The development of tourism in seaside towns has had a significant impact on their spatial development [51,52], land and landscape [53,54,55]. Cubic capacity and physiognomy of residential buildings are changing [56] and foreign architectural forms often appear [35], leading to deformation of the coexistence of spatial cultures [57]. The landscape and the way seaside towns are shaped has changed since the early health resorts, which is visible and inevitable. This results from changes in tourism influenced by social, demographic [58], economic and political factors [59].
A number of authors [33,60,61] have suggested that resort development goes through a predictable sequence of stages, moving from a discovery stage to full tourism development. In Poland, tourism development is most often divided into five basic periods: the first—precursor (early-historical); the second—founding or discovery, falling in the nineteenth and early twentieth century; the third—flourishing, covering the interwar period (1918–1939); the fourth—falling in the years of People’s Poland related to the development of mass tourism and social tourism (1945–1989); and the fifth—beginning after the political changes in 1989, the period of creating a free tourism market, tourism economy and mass commercial tourism [62,63,64]. This division is quite general and is based only on key events in the history of Poland, not directly related to changes in architecture. On the other hand, researchers of the history of architecture usually identify the stages of architecture development and indicate the characteristic features of buildings, without combining them with the specificity of the development of seaside resorts [65,66]. Polish historians of architecture and urban planning focus on political conditions [67,68,69] without referring to the specifics of seaside tourist architecture. The division into stages of the development of seaside resorts proposed below combines two perspectives: the history of architecture and urban planning and the development of tourism.
In most seaside towns in Poland, the tourist function was initiated in the second half of the 19th century and further developed in the interwar period. The analysis of its evolution allowed the identification of four basic phases of cultural landscape transformations and architectural transformations:
  • Stage I: Formation—Elite resort (main features: elite tourism, the first buildings associated with the recreation and therapeutic function, public space as an important compositional element, architecture adapted to the expectations of the elite) (Supplementary Materials available online: Supplementary Materials S1—Stage I: Elite resort—architecture and landscape);
  • Stage II: Regionalism—National resort (main features: tourism becoming common, intensive development of the curative idea, a mature form of a seaside resort, search for a national style) (Supplementary Materials available online: Supplementary Materials S2—Stage II: National resort—architecture and landscape);
  • Stage III: Socialization—A resort for working masses (main features: model of the state organization of recreation, loss of cultural continuity of the landscape, devaluation of public space, the establishment of holiday centers) (Supplementary Materials available online: Supplementary Materials S3—Stage III: A resort for working masses—architecture and landscape);
  • Stage IV: Pluralism—Egalitarian resort (main features: mass tourism, numerous investments strongly interfering with the landscape, architectural eclecticism, regional features reduced to a minimum, unification) (Supplementary Materials available online: Supplementary Materials S4—Stage IV: Egalitarian resort—architecture and landscape).
All stages have characteristic architectural features and have a specific impact on the landscape (Table 2).
This analysis of changes also allows hypotheses in the direction of further development. Further development of coastal towns is likely to be based on the continuation of mass tourism development. As a result, we expect to see a deepening of trends visible in Stage IV. In this case, Stage V—Unified Pluralism—Networked Tourist Resort—may be the stage at which coastal towns will create unified structures devoid of regional features. Stopping changes towards further unification of architecture and devastation of the landscape and moving away from mass tourism to sustainable tourism, may, however, bring an alternative: Stage V—Secondary regionalization—Sustainable Resort—the stage reflecting a return to the original curative idea.
From the point of view of architecture and landscape transformation of coastal towns on the Polish coast, the stages indicated do not correspond exactly to the stages indicated by Butler and his followers. Processes for the development of culture, art and architecture, although linked to economic development, do not always develop in parallel. The phase of education of a mature form of a seaside town (stage II: regionalism—national resort, 1918–1939) is not at the same time as the stage of the tourist development of the town, numerous investments and mass tourism.

5. Conclusions

The development of tourist and leisure functions has a significant impact on the cultural landscape. It significantly determines the spatial development of seaside towns and cities, the scale of recreational architecture and other forms of development related to tourism services. The stage-wise nature of this process results from evolutionary changes in the culture of recreation and habits connected with tourist trips since the colonization of the coast.
Identified stages of transformation of the cultural landscape and architecture of coastal towns on the Polish coast (formation, regionalism, socialization, pluralism) clearly differ in the way the sea is used and the form of recreation, which directly affects the way the town and the beach are developed and functioning (new forms of development and their location).
The changes are accompanied by worrying trends that affect the blurring of the founding idea of seaside resorts, such as the lack of proper protection and display of historical buildings, leading to the loss of its value and replacement with newer buildings; expansion of development and apartment buildings into valuable natural areas, leading to the chaotic and unbalanced expansion of the village and loss of natural and landscape resources; and the lack of planning protection of cultural heritage and provision in the development plans of common (public) spaces essential for the continuation of the original curative idea. Spatial diagnosis is unambiguous—we observe a progressing decline in its quality and disharmonious growth in size. Assuming that holiday towns are built in accordance with the existing culture of recreation and they reflect the culture, we should think that we are witnessing a clear cultural crisis. At present, despite the fact that modern, increasingly large developments are being delivered in the coastal area, it is still not being diagnosed or created with reference to its founding tradition, creating a modern development perspective, building a new, cultural identity with an awareness of the place.
It seems that the condition for further development of coastal towns without losing their natural and cultural values is reaching for the roots and somehow stepping back in the approach to shaping space to the stage of Regionalism, which was characterized by a relative balance in its management and legibility of the founding (curative) idea. Defining the “old” identity and confronting it with contemporary universal culture present in the recreation space may be the basis for building a “new” identity and cultural awareness of the coastal region. It seems desirable to initiate protective actions related to the creation of a cultural park consisting of several therapeutic autonomous areas and to undertake detailed research aimed to select landscape units, separate areas and enclaves with revitalization potential.
As a result, assumptions of sustainable development, in which the tradition of place and respect for the landscape, cultural and natural resources play an important role, will be realized.

Supplementary Materials

The following are available online at, Figure S1—Stage I: Formation—Elite resort, Figure S2—Stage II: Regionalism—National resort, Figure S3—Stage III: Socialization—A resort for working masses, Figure S4—Stage IV: Pluralism—Egalitarian resort.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, W.B. and M.C.-P.; Methodology, W.B. and M.C.-P.; Formal Analysis, W.B. and M.C.-P.; Investigation, W.B. and M.C.-P.; Resources, W.B. and M.C.-P.; Writing–Original Draft Preparation, W.B. and M.C.-P.; Writing–Review & Editing, W.B. and M.C.-P. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. The territorial scope of the research. Source: Authors’ work.
Figure 1. The territorial scope of the research. Source: Authors’ work.
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Figure 2. Partitions of Poland, (1772, 1793, 1795). The map shows the collapse of Poland divided into parts by its neighbors. As a result, Poland disappeared from the maps for 123 years and lost access to the sea and the opportunity to shape coastal buildings. Source: Halibutt, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Figure 2. Partitions of Poland, (1772, 1793, 1795). The map shows the collapse of Poland divided into parts by its neighbors. As a result, Poland disappeared from the maps for 123 years and lost access to the sea and the opportunity to shape coastal buildings. Source: Halibutt, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
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Figure 3. The beach in Dziwnow—the postcards. Source: Author’s private collection.
Figure 3. The beach in Dziwnow—the postcards. Source: Author’s private collection.
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Figure 4. Public space in Sopot. Source:
Figure 4. Public space in Sopot. Source:
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Figure 5. Map of the Polish coast (1930) and borders of Poland in 1920. Source: Mapster (a); Esemono (Public domain) Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository (b).
Figure 5. Map of the Polish coast (1930) and borders of Poland in 1920. Source: Mapster (a); Esemono (Public domain) Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository (b).
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Figure 6. Modernist architecture: Spa House in Jastarnia (a,b), Cafe Casino in Jurata (c), Lido Hotel (d). Source: (a); (b); The National Digital Archives (c,d).
Figure 6. Modernist architecture: Spa House in Jastarnia (a,b), Cafe Casino in Jurata (c), Lido Hotel (d). Source: (a); (b); The National Digital Archives (c,d).
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Figure 7. Map of Poland after 1945. Source: Narodowi Konserwatyś (a), Esemono (Public domain) Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository (b).
Figure 7. Map of Poland after 1945. Source: Narodowi Konserwatyś (a), Esemono (Public domain) Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository (b).
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Figure 8. Architecture of the 1960s and 1970s: Health Resort Sanatorium “Baltic” (a) and Sanatorium Kormoran in Kołobrzeg (b), Recreation Centre “Rzemieślinik” in Jelitkowo (c)—a postcard (1960–1963), Sources: (a,b). Fot. J. Rydzewski, Journal “Morze”, no. 524 (c).
Figure 8. Architecture of the 1960s and 1970s: Health Resort Sanatorium “Baltic” (a) and Sanatorium Kormoran in Kołobrzeg (b), Recreation Centre “Rzemieślinik” in Jelitkowo (c)—a postcard (1960–1963), Sources: (a,b). Fot. J. Rydzewski, Journal “Morze”, no. 524 (c).
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Figure 9. Aurora Hotel in Międzyzdroje, before and after changes. Source: Author’s work.
Figure 9. Aurora Hotel in Międzyzdroje, before and after changes. Source: Author’s work.
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Figure 10. Intensive development of seaside resorts. Source: Author’s work (a), C. Skórka, 4Dfoto (b).
Figure 10. Intensive development of seaside resorts. Source: Author’s work (a), C. Skórka, 4Dfoto (b).
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Table 1. Genesis and direction of transformations of selected seaside resorts. Source: Authors’ work.
Table 1. Genesis and direction of transformations of selected seaside resorts. Source: Authors’ work.
LocalityEstablishmentOriginBeginning of the Therapeutic Function 1Factors Influencing the DevelopmentDirection of Changes
Świnoujście (Swinemünde)1743port town1824railway line to Berlin (1876) brine deposits (1890–1898)Luxury resort, health resort
Międzyzdroje (Misdroy)12th centuryfishing village1832railway line to Świnoujście (1902)summer resort, bathing resort
Dziwnów (Divenov)12th centuryfishing village1828brine deposits (late 19th century)summer resort, bathing resort
Pobierowo (Poberow)14th centuryknights’ estate1906bus link to Berlin (early 20th century)summer resort, bathing resort
Rewal (Rewahl)2nd half of the 14th centuryfishing village1895narrow-gauge railway line to Gryfice (1896)summer resort, bathing resort
Niechorze (Horst)14th centuryfishing village1870narrow-gauge railway line to Gryfice (1896)summer resort, bathing resort
Ustronie Morskie (Henkenhagen)13th centuryfishing village1899railway line from Koszalin to Kołobrzeg (1899)bathing resort, health resort
Kołobrzeg (Kolberg)8th centuryport town1830deposits of brine and therapeutic mud (early 19th century) railway connections with Szczecin and Gdańsk (1859) decommissioning of fortifications (1872)health resort
Dąbki (Neuwasser)13th centuryfishing village1915road from Koszalin to Darłowo (1927)bathing resort, health resort
Ustka (Stolpmunde)5th–6th centuryport town1911railway line (1878)bathing resort, health resort
Łeba (Leba)13th centuryfishing village1906road from Łeba to Lębork railway line to Lębork (1899)summer resort, bathing resort
Sopot (Zoppot)13th centuryfishing village1819railway line from Koszalin to Gdańsk (1870)Luxury resort
Jurata1928part of the town of Jastarnia1931railway line from Gdynia to Hel (1922/1923)Luxury resort
Hel (Hela)12th centuryfishing village1896railway line from Gdynia to Hel (1922)summer resort, health resort
Połąga (Palanga)early 19th centurysummer seat of the Polish aristocracy1840sInvestments of the Tyszkiewicz familyGentry resort
1 The town is granted the status of a bathing or health resort, often associated with the official opening of the first summer season or printing a village name in a tour guide to holiday resorts on the Baltic Sea.
Table 2. Stages of cultural landscape transformations of seaside resorts in Poland—landscape and architectural features. Source: Authors’ work.
Table 2. Stages of cultural landscape transformations of seaside resorts in Poland—landscape and architectural features. Source: Authors’ work.
Stage of Shaping Seaside ResortsTourismArchitectural FeaturesImpact on Landscape
Stage I: Formation—Elite resort (early 19th century 20th century)Elite tourismthe first buildings associated with the recreation and therapeutic function; representative buildings inspired by Renaissance and Classicism; villas with bay windows, sophisticated towers; “Swiss style”—wooden summer architecture (late 19th century); Norwegian style architecture (until 1910)few tourists and little impact on the landscape; areas with low forest coverage; the first parks, promenades, walking alleys and squares; public space as an important compositional element and summer drawing room for the upper classes cultural landscape formation
Stage II: Regionalism—National resort (1918–1939)Popularized tourismrejection of the Swiss style; regionalism, manor style; search for the national style—modernism inspired by ship style; new leisure facilitiesintensive development of the curative idea and developing a mature form of a seaside town (national resort); new holiday resorts founded on raw root; the main arrangement element—a promenade parallel to the shoreline, a pier—a perpendicular element going out into the sea; characteristic elements of the landscape: beach pavilions and bathing areas;
Stage III: Socialization—Resort for working masses (1945–1989)Package tourism (in socialism)establishment of holiday centers (usually large buildings or complexes of cabins); introduction of facilities with non-matching appearance; standardization and repeatability of solutions; futuristic examples of modernist architecturegradual loss of the original founding character of resorts; point devaluation of the landscape; partly appropriated beaches (gastronomic services in the dunes belt); devaluation of public space; loss of landscape cultural continuity;
Stage IV: Pluralism—an Egalitarian health resort (since 1989)Mass tourism—snowballingthe development based on hotels of renown chains (“second houses”), large hotel complexes (“luxury residential buildings”); dense, “frontage buildings” the dominance of buildings of large cubic capacity, self-sufficient facilities with extensive catering, sports and recreation base; architectural eclecticism, regional features reduced to a minimumnumerous investments on the coast strongly interfering with the landscape; mass degradation of landscape localities becoming more and more similar to each other; urbanization and commercialization of space; attractions such as amusement parks; chaos and lack of spatial order; discontinuity of the public space; the phenomenon of the ‘merging’ of towns

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Bal, W.; Czalczynska-Podolska, M. The Stages of the Cultural Landscape Transformation of Seaside Resorts in Poland against the Background of the Evolving Nature of Tourism. Land 2020, 9, 55.

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Bal W, Czalczynska-Podolska M. The Stages of the Cultural Landscape Transformation of Seaside Resorts in Poland against the Background of the Evolving Nature of Tourism. Land. 2020; 9(2):55.

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Bal, Wojciech, and Magdalena Czalczynska-Podolska. 2020. "The Stages of the Cultural Landscape Transformation of Seaside Resorts in Poland against the Background of the Evolving Nature of Tourism" Land 9, no. 2: 55.

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