Written by marif on 04 Nov, 2012
Shopping possibilities in Wroclaw have become so numerous and diverse that an attempt to choose the best way to spend your extra zlotys has turned into a feat of non-stop wandering around. Although no particular streets entirely dedicated to shopping exist in the city centre,…Read More
Shopping possibilities in Wroclaw have become so numerous and diverse that an attempt to choose the best way to spend your extra zlotys has turned into a feat of non-stop wandering around. Although no particular streets entirely dedicated to shopping exist in the city centre, it must be said that the area around the market square offers the best opportunities to find well-stocked shops of all sorts. The Rynek itself is a hive of shopping activity, particularly if one considers the scores of small specialized stores that fill in the three internal passageways running parallel to each other across the central conglomeration of buildings. Ul Olawska, Ul Wita Stwosza, Ul Odrzanska and the northern section of Ul Swidnicka are all busy streets in close proximity to the Rynek and likewise home to a bewildering array of upmarket boutiques, souvenir shops and food stores.An eagerness for selling and trading complemented by a thirst for buying and consuming has in the last few years taken the city by storm. While strolling around the streets looking at the endless rows of overstocked shop fronts, one cannot help not asking: "how can such a great number of shops thrive and prosper when the total population of the city and its suburbs amounts to just somewhat more than half a million? Or is this perhaps a reaction to the former business scene in the city when retail opportunities were restricted to queuing behind the doorway of a shop just to buy a loaf of bread?"Whatever the reason for such a thriving shopping scene, it must be said that since Wroclaw has been added to Ryanair’s list of low-fare destinations, the number of visitors in the city has exploded overnight. The result is visible for all to see. Not only are the existing shops flourishing beyond expectation but new businesses and familiar international brand names are establishing themselves on the most popular streets of the city. This innovation in the business scene is concerned more with the diversity and quality of whatever is for sale than with the opening of new shops and the renewal or refurbishment of old ones although the latter seems to be on the agenda of any Wroclawski businessman.On the way from the airport to the city centre, one is surprised to encounter a considerable number of new department stores and glistening shopping malls, most of which sited within extensive grounds conveniently equipped with spacious parking spaces and in some cases landscaped areas for recreation and sports. Closer to the centre, the stage for retail business on a large scale is not much different although the open-air parking area is in most cases absent, being substituted by two or three floor levels of underground parking spaces. Obviously, shopping malls in the city centre do not have grounds large enough to host sports activities, although an attempt to include indoor entertainment facilities like cinemas, discos, children play areas and exhibition spaces has become the order of the day. A short stroll west from the back exit of the train station is the answer to Berlin’s KaDeWe, a seven-floor upmarket department store notorious for quality, customer satisfaction and service and considered by many as Germany’s first. Wroclaw’s premium consumer sanctuary called the Arkady Wroclawskie may not be as popular or grand as Germany’s legendary retail institution but it is definitely more innovative in design, more lively and fresh-looking. Boasting five spacious floors teeming with hundred twenty stores crammed with top-quality pieces, it is a paradise of colours and style for fashion aficionados and a happy hunting ground for lovers of the latest in electronic gadgets and contraptions. Take the escalator or elevator to the second floor if your desire to break your shopping tour with a leisurely stop can’t be set aside for later. Here you will be entertained with the most recent films (in English, with Polish sub-titles) inside the Multikino cinema. This is not an ordinary film-showing hall but an eleven-screen complex of small cosy compartments where one gets enthralled with captivating appearances and imageries of exceptional quality. By now, one’s crave for a hot meal or a coffee may be too much to endure. In this case, one will absolutely not be let down because restaurants, fast food outlets, coffee shops and ice-cream parlours are as plentiful and various as the cutting-edge fashion brands that invade the retail spaces of this huge complex. Before making your way out, have a look at two eye-catching attractions normally attributed to a viewing rather than to a shopping gallery. One is a large original manifestation of Salvador Dali’s over-fertile imagination, a 3D figurative showpiece that I dare not classify as a sculpture. The other is less conceptual, more natural and colourful. Suitable to occupy a grand place in a natural history museum, it is a two-storey water tank where all the rich colours of the deep are concentrated in twenty seven gallons of gyrating water. Scores of exotic fish, some as large as a human arm, others as small as a toe nail stare at you from numerous cavernous dens and hideouts formed by multi-coloured coral entanglements. Close to Arkady Wroclawskie and visible from the southernmost edge of Ul Swidnicka is the newest and highest behemoth of commercial temples in Wroclaw. Appropriately named the Galeria Handlowa Sky Tower, it is a three-tiered skyscraper endowed with three full floors of superstores and retail outlets. Extensively spread out over a huge area, it houses in addition scores of residential apartments and offices, a complete fitness centre, a bowling alley and areas for indoor and outdoor recreation and sports. The huge adjacent open-air landscaped parking stands to witness that accessibility of land in out-centre Wroclaw is in no case a drawback. Also not a drawback seems to be the acquisition of monumental art pieces. The entranceway to the Sky Tower is as a matter of fact enriched with another Dali effigy, an out-of-the-world highly imaginative muddle that may appear meaningless to some and absurd to others but definitely peculiar and inquisitive to all. Midway between Arkady Wroclawskie and the market square stands the oldest must-see shopping attraction in the city. A four-floor historic showpiece that predates World War II, Renoma is an extreme example of what renovation and modernisation really entails. Its recent restoration has given back the prestige and style the place rightly deserved, making it able to match and even outclass other competitors in the city. Covered with ceramic tiles and embellished with rows of gilded pyramidal studwork, the façade is an exceptional specimen of pre-war extravagance and showiness. Even if you are not in the mood for shopping, take the escalator to the upper level where an assortment of cafes and restaurants proliferate through a whole floor making selection of fare difficult and tiring. Don’t leave the place before you climb your way up to the roof from where customers and bystanders alike can experience captivating views over the historic centre and the river. A mere five minutes east of the Rynek and so closer to the action than any other shopping mall in the city is Galeria Dominikanska, a three-floor shopping paradise stocked with hundred pleasant retail outlets crammed into a rather small space. Not as grand or attractive as Arkady Wroclawskie, it is nonetheless ideal to stock up on last-minute essentials, particularly where food commodities, mobile phone cards and Polish merchandise are concerned. A short walk east of Most Grunwaldzki is Wroclaw’s largest retail complex, a modern spacious showpiece with more than two hundred stores spread over four floors. The usual cutting-edge fashion brand names are all well represented, in some cases (like C & A) operating from interlinked multi-floor stores conveniently laid out on top of each other. Worthy of mention is the electronic giant Saturn, a huge gadget-and-gizmo store that stocks the latest trailblazing automated devices in the country. Apart from a huge space reserved for parking, the upper floor contains a diversity of entertainment corners, ideal for revitalisation between long rounds of shopping. The Kinderplaneta is a cushy multi-coloured children’s playpen where kids get in enthusiastically but never want to leave. The nearby Multikino is strictly an adult bar area where a long row of large screens put on view the latest films in an atmosphere of drinking and carousing. To complement all this, several laidback restaurants (like Wook, Sphinx and La Grotta) are close by in case one needs an urgent fill-up when the film is over.Visiting a shopping mall is perhaps too time-consuming for tourists whose time in the city is limited to a day or two. Such visitors should disregard impersonal large-scale shopping sanctuaries and head straight to speciality shops where buying turns into an intimate consumer-seller affair. Speciality shops obviously concentrate on one or two specific ranges of items and so choosing becomes an easy and effortless event. Most travel guides including the Rough Guide to Poland give a list of the worthiest branches to visit. Close
Written by marif on 30 Oct, 2012
East of Wroclaw’s medieval centre, the Dabie district teems with spreading hectares of overgrown woodland and smaller areas of parkland and recreational spaces. While these are obviously the prime sights of attraction here, one should not overlook the scores of mansions and manors lining the…Read More
East of Wroclaw’s medieval centre, the Dabie district teems with spreading hectares of overgrown woodland and smaller areas of parkland and recreational spaces. While these are obviously the prime sights of attraction here, one should not overlook the scores of mansions and manors lining the tree-shaded boulevards that lead to the area, Ul Curie-Sklodowskiej and Ul Janiszewskiego in particular. A look at the external features of these residential properties, set away from the uproarious city centre is enough to confirm the grandeur and affluence of what lies inside. This is definitely an area to savour, an elite quarter reserved for Wroclawski who have the money and the taste for style and finesse.This collage of colourful patches of stone and greenery is wasted if one dares follow the advice of tourist brochures and guide books and take a tram from Plac Dominikanski to Most Zwierzyniecki. While transport is acceptable for those who are unable to cover long distances on foot or do not have enough time at their disposal, it is absolutely not recommended to whoever can wander around at leisure independently. Such visitors will get the chance to discover for themselves while on the way interesting corners and favourable niches which would otherwise go unnoticed.There are at least two walking routes one can follow to reach the green district of Dabie from the city centre, each route taking about one hour. One route takes Plac Dominikanski as its starting point. This busy square dominated by the Galeria Dominikanska shopping mall is only a short eastbound stroll away from the city’s market square. Starting right behind the east edge of Plac Dominikanski, Park Slowackiego spreads out towards the river terminating at a point where a number of main thoroughfares meet.The best route to follow is to walk along the entire length of Al Slowackiego, a beautiful avenue that runs along the southern edge of the park and ends at Plac Powstancow Warszawy. From here, one cannot miss the mighty greyish iron structure of Most Grunwaldzki, the oldest suspension bridge in Wroclaw and perhaps the most structurally imposing and architecturally beautiful metal composition in the city. Crossing over this fairly long structure gives one quite a few strong vibrational jerks that often result in a lot of tummy turning, particularly if one’s passing along the side walkway happens to coincide with loaded carriers traversing in both directions. Avoid making any show-offs of fear or annoyance because locals will laugh at you instantly. After all, this bridge has been there playing safe for more than a century. The other edge of Most Grunwaldzki further away from the city centre puts one on a dual carriageway, a wide traffic-infested thoroughfare that leads out of the city. Fortunately, it’s only a short walk here before one arrives at an intersection that marks out the most pleasant section of Ul Curie-Sklodowskiej, a tree-lined avenue that heads straight to Wroclaw’s eastern district.Another walking route that is perhaps more pleasant and rewarding than the former and definitely less time-consuming takes the Cathedral on Ostrow Tumski as its starting point. A pleasant spot to linger is the small green zone right behind the Cathedral, an area crammed with old chestnut trees that offer shade over the scores of wooden benches lining its perimeter. From here, a short eastbound walk leads to Ul. Kard. Wyszynskiego, a hectic thoroughfare that heads north to the suburb of Olbin. On the opposite side of Ul Wyszynskiego close to the traffic lights, a secondary street named Ul Szczytnicka offers a pleasant walking ground to those who want to take a shortcut to Wroclaw’s eastern district. Lined with beautiful houses and almost entirely roofed with an abundance of foliage, Ul Szczytnicka and its continuation Ul Curie-Sklodowskiej are undoubtedly paradisiacal promenades, ethereal walkways that stand to confirm the rewarding advantages of walking over embarking on a bus or tram. Alternatively, sluggish visitors or pressed-for-time sightseers can make the trip to Wroclaw’s eastern parkland either on a tram or on a bus, both means of transport being frequently accessible from Plac Dominikanski. Choose to hop on either Tram 2, 4 or 10 or else Bus 145 or 146, all of which ply along the eastern district of Dabie.Most Zwierzyniecki is another old picturesque metal construction that spans over the Stara Odra at a point where this portrait-pretty slow-running tributary branches out of the mainstream in the vicinity of the Zoological Gardens. Once one crosses the overpass with lovely views of weeping willows rising out of the embankment on both sides, one finds oneself on Ul Wroblewskiego, immediately alongside the cagey entranceway to the zoo. This is Poland’s largest animal house, an enclosure of grassland and woodland that spreads out over several hectares. It must be said that it is not easy to navigate through its maze of intriguing passageways, some of these leading to nowhere, others cutting across stretches of uncultivated landscape. But obviously, anybody who visits a zoo does so to see the animals, not to wander around aimlessly. Although signposting is scarce, with some intuition one will soon find oneself near the cages where six hundred species of animals have found a home. Lions, leopards and crocodiles are well represented and considering their robust body appearance, all seem to be well fed and well cared for as well. Colourful exotic birds (alas, also in cages) that seem to be on a catwalk (more appropriately, a birdwalk) in a beauty parade are as common as the pigeons in your country while couples of speaking macaws are thrown in here and there for good measure. All this is unquestionably enjoyable and amusing but … isn’t keeping so many creatures under lock and key shameful?Before making your way out of the zoo, it is advisable to walk towards the southernmost zone of the gardens to see a collection of elegant post-war historic reconstructions, the originals formerly scattered across the gardens having suffered extensive wartime damage beyond repair during World War II. On the other side of Ul Wroblewskiego is Wroclaw’s largest concentration of parkland and woodland. Known as Park Szczytnicki, this sublime zone of charming greenery covers more than one hundred hectares of well-groomed parkland and forested landscape. Following the crowds on Ul Wystawowa for a few minutes brings one right in front of the Iglica, a towering ninety-six-metre high bolted metal spire that is definitely high on physical loftiness but short on aesthetic beauty, function and architectural composition. The gargantuan monolith right behind the Iglica is the Hala Ludowa, an ingeniously designed reinforced concrete structure that unquestionably stands to witness the engineering skills of its German designer. Although the structure will celebrate its hundredth anniversary next year, it is still regarded as a great architectural achievement, particularly when one considers the perfect design of the dome, its weight supported on a skeleton of radial concrete ribs that converge towards its topmost centre. The external architectural features have not always been to everybody’s taste and as a consequence, its design was heavily criticised over the years and the structure was given quite a few degrading nicknames such as the hatbox, the wedding cake or the monster.However, when I got inside, I could only have words of praise for the beauty, spaciousness and functional arrangement of its huge auditorium. Equipped with a central arena of impressive dimensions for large scale performances, the interior space has been surrounded with an extravaganza of terraced seating rows designed to offer optimum views over the stage from all positions. Back outside, I found myself close to Wroclaw’s most stunning attraction, the multimedia fountain. Appropriately embedded across the central zone of a huge pond, this is a wonderful spectacle of water, light, music and laser displays giving hourly ten-minute performances so enticing and stupefying that viewers keep asking for more. Consider coming here late on Friday or Saturday for the most stunning displays of the week when the full potential of the fountain is in operation. It’s an unforgettable experience you’ll talk about back home. The semi-circular trellised walkway that enclosed the exhibition grounds and the fountain was a perfect diorama of green foliage and red bougainvillea blooms, so beautiful that I walked through several times before I made my way to the Japanese Garden. A miniature Japan in an otherwise extensive park, this is definitely the best tranquil hideaway in the city. While walking along its narrow pathways and bridges, one comes across thousands of oriental shrubs, exotic trees, water-sprinkling cascades and a handful of colourful pagodas thrown here and there to add to the Japanese atmosphere. If you still have time and verve, venture to the Szczytnicki woodland where the atmosphere is calmer and quieter with few visitors around. While making your way amidst the thicket of trees, keep your eyes open for the signposted pathway that heads to the Church of St John Nepomuk. It is a small but marvellous fourteenth-century construction you’ll never see anything like it elsewhere. Close
Written by marif on 22 Oct, 2012
The semi-forested countryside around Wroclaw’s outer districts is surprisingly green and well maintained and so ideal for hiking and picnicking. Worthy of mention is the vast hillside tract of land north of Wroclaw, a lovely pine-and-oak forest that extends further north to the town of…Read More
The semi-forested countryside around Wroclaw’s outer districts is surprisingly green and well maintained and so ideal for hiking and picnicking. Worthy of mention is the vast hillside tract of land north of Wroclaw, a lovely pine-and-oak forest that extends further north to the town of Trzebnica. Cut across by several narrow tributaries of the River Odra and patched with fertile meadows, this is one area in southwest Poland that experienced ramblers should in no case miss. Bus transport to Wroclaw’s outer districts and beyond is unfortunately scarce, making the region somewhat difficult to explore on a day trip unless one has private transport.Wroclaw visitors who are reluctant to venture beyond the city limits should in no case be disappointed either. To fulfil any passion these might have for things natural, enough parks and patches of greenwood and grassland exist right in the city centre or just a short tram ride away.One has only to look at a map of Wroclaw to see how the city is patched with green. The riverside promenades north of the medieval quarter are the most extensive swaths of greenery in the city and without doubt the most impressive. Frequently chosen as walking grounds by the local inhabitants, these alternating patchworks of forest and lawn are an ideal retreat for anyone wanting to enjoy the essence of nature in an atmosphere of old trees, trailing plants, flowering shrubs and running water. Noted for seclusion and tranquillity are the three uninhabited islets west of Piasek Island. Entirely carpeted in variegated green hues, they are admirable hideaways ideal for reflection, particularly appealing to those who have been fed up of city life or have had enough of bricks and mortar. As a matter of fact, I always took shelter here from the hectic atmosphere of the city whenever I felt the need to record the details of my sightseeing trips in quiet. Wyspa Tamka is a tiny dot on the Odra, a forested spot with no streets at all but easily reachable via a graceful overpass from Ul Grodzka right in front of the Ossolinski Library. Wyspa Slodowa and Wyspa Bielarska are much larger than Wyspa Tamka and not as secluded. However, all three are equally ideal to walk along being a nonpareil of forested greenery, manicured spots and small recreational areas. The two larger islets interlinked by the graceful Most Sw. Klary are reachable via a tiny footbridge from the northwest edge of Piasek Island. Both Wyspa Slodowa and Wyspa Bielarska are bisected by one solitary traffic-free street that runs along the whole length of each islet. South of the medieval city centre and not on the riverbank but likewise bordered by the water (of the Fosa Miejska - the former defensive moat, nowadays drowned in stagnant water) is Park Kopernika, a green lung enclosed within busy streets and lofty building conglomerates. Accessible from behind the Corpus Christi Church on Ul Swidnicka, the initial section consists of a green landscaped belt cut across by several crisscrossing passageways ideal for a short stroll or a stopover after a session of shopping at the nearby Renoma shopping mall. If one proceeds further east along the tree-shaded gravelled pathway that borders the Fosa Miejska, one will soon reach Ul Skargi. Once here, it’s impossible to miss the white crescent-shaped structure rising out of the woodland near Skargi Bridge. Known as Wzgorze Partyzantow or Guerrilla Hill, this is a remnant of the ancient fortifications that formerly watched over the city. These defensive ramparts were partly demolished at the turn of the nineteenth century but the area was later redeveloped and designed to serve as a public recreational space. This otherwise beautiful expanse of greenery is presently forlorn and neglected but it is nonetheless great for walking. I later made an attempt to elicit more information about Guerrilla Hill from the hotel receptionist who was unmistakably a native Wroclawski. "We seldom, if ever venture to Wzgorze Partyzantow. That’s an utterly haunted place. Many long-forgotten inhabitants of Wroclaw repeatedly heard ghostly shrieks in the vicinity of the fort. My grandfather who worked in the tunnels under the hill during the Nazi occupation feared himself to death whenever he came face to face with visions of prisoners who had been tortured to death in the underground dungeon of the fort."I had no words to add to the receptionist because during my two-hour visit, I neither heard nor saw anything queer or freakish. But within myself, I couldn’t help not saying: "Lots of superstitious s---!" Superstition seems to be the order of the day everywhere not just on Wzgorze Partyzantow. A stroll with eyes wide open along the streets of Ostrow Tumski with an occasional peep into one of its many churches brought me face to face with a number of religious superstitions that were often absurd and meaningless and at times tedious. When I couldn’t take more of these religious fantasies and staunch symbolisms, I found relief inside the city’s Botanical Gardens, a large swath of greenery appropriately sited behind the churches of Ostrow Tumski. Only a stone’s throw from the Cathedral and accessible from Ul Kanonia or Ul Sienkiewicza, Wroclaw’s Botanical Gardens double as a leisure attraction for Wroclawski and visitors and as a scientific experimental site for university students of biology and botany. It is a real refuge, a sanctuary devoid of tombstones and crosses but replete with fountains, waterfalls, shrubs, flowers and landscaped patches of greenery. It is a superb garden, sadly overlooked by visitors but without doubt a great place for a pleasant stroll. In addition to several rare tree species and colourful flower beds, the gardens contain charming palm houses and the largest collection of cacti in the country. Nearby (entry gate on Ul Sienkiewicza) is the excellent Museum of Natural History. Newly renovated, it contains more than three million exhibits that include animal skeletons from the primordial world, stuffed animal corpses placed in simulated natural habitats, butterflies pinned to hanging boards and a beautiful collection of colourful shells. From Plac Dominikanski, a short eastbound stroll on Ul Slowackiego leads one to Wroclaw’s most popular park. Known as Park Slowackiego, it is a huge grove cut across by several passageways that provide a crosslink between three of the most frequently visited attractions. On the extreme west edge of the park, the Museum of Architecture housed inside the former Bernardine Monastery is just a nostalgic reminder of what Wroclaw looked like before World War II. With the exception of a large model of the city, there is not much else to see but the building is itself a gorgeous display of early Gothic architecture dating back to the sixteenth century. Several signposted passageways head towards the Raclawice Panorama, a gargantuan display of painted canvas that depicts the victory of the Polish peasants over the Russian forces in 1794. The painting is certainly a monumental masterpiece but the structure of the rotunda around which it is carefully wrapped is without doubt more inspiring and imposing than the canvas itself. Nearby, apart from the bronze statue of Juliusz Slowacki after whom the park is named, one encounters the Monument to the Victims of the Katyn Massacre, a huge evocative structure with granite walls behind which thousands of Polish military officers and civil servants were reburied after their remains were collected from mass graves. Also in Park Slowackiego but closer to the Odra is the National Museum, a three-floor building that is dedicated exclusively to Polish art. Most of the exhibits consist of collections of sacred artworks that include both paintings and sculptures. Worthy of mention for their ornamental details and aesthetic beauty are the Romanesque portal of the Olbin Abbey and the wooden altarpiece of St Hedwig, the latter being a three-figure painted-and-gilded sculptured bas-relief in limewood. Once you’ve finished your tour of the park’s three most appealing attractions, it is advisable to spend some time walking at leisure along the scores of walkways that run gracefully between rows of well-manicured hedges. Most major walkways are lined with stone statues of Polish celebrities and war heroes. Although most of these images have no connection whatsoever with the park, yet they impart an air of stateliness to the otherwise bleak pathways. The name of the personality on the pedestal supporting the statue may not be to your cognizance; so reading the script (alas…in Polish only!) is essential if you wish to find out the reason why these personalities were given such an iconic status.The eastern edge of Park Slowackiego does not in any way mark out the termination of Wroclaw’s acres of green breathing spaces. If one craves for more greenery, perhaps wilder and more natural, one has to venture further east past the Odra to the picturesque conglomeration of gardens and parks in Wroclaw’s Dabie district, only a stone’s throw away from Szczytnicki Bridge. Close
Written by marif on 10 Oct, 2012
A one-day stopover in Wroclaw should give priority to the Market Square, a huge medieval piazza that undeniably embodies the traditions and culture of the city. Buildings on the square are post-war reconstructed replicas of the originals but all are somehow or other steeped in…Read More
A one-day stopover in Wroclaw should give priority to the Market Square, a huge medieval piazza that undeniably embodies the traditions and culture of the city. Buildings on the square are post-war reconstructed replicas of the originals but all are somehow or other steeped in history, their architectural features clearly reflecting at least one period in the long era of dominance that has seen the city changing hands several times.But obviously, the Market Square is not the be-all and the end-of-all of Wroclaw. The city has enough awe-inspiring churches, bridges and museums to keep one occupied for days, if not for a whole week. But these places of interest are scattered around the city in such a way that the only method of discovering them is aimless wandering around. After I took my share out of the eerie ambience on the Rynek the first day I arrived, I decided to amble around the city the next day in a bid to look out for the missing jigsaw pieces that I so intensely craved to find out.My first port of call was the Gothic Church of St Elizabeth, a monumental fourteenth-century brick construction located just northeast of the Rynek. Each time I visited and that means three times in five days, the church was packed with believers and so I couldn’t inspect in detail the impressive altars and tombstones that embellished its interior. But what I missed inside was recompensed with sweeping panoramic views from its ninety-one-metre tower. The endless number of narrow twisting steps makes the journey to the top an arduous exercise for the heart but the views are more than worth the effort.From here, several narrow pedestrianized side streets head straight to the Odra River. Adjacent to the Church of St Elizabeth, Ul Ordzanska is an atmospheric street cut midway by an elevated cobbled alleyway known as Stare Jatki. Formerly filled with rows of meat-selling stalls, it presently features a collection of cast-iron farm animals, thrown here and there as a symbol of the past use of the street as a slaughter house. The stalls were turned into upscale artisan shops selling local paintings and handmade ornaments to those with plenty of cash at their disposal. A short northbound stroll on Ul Ordzanska leads straight to Most Pomorski, a mighty bridge that stands at a point where the Odra branches out into two distinct watercourses. Walking along the bridge gives one the opportunity to observe from a distance the scores of graceful bridges interlinking the conglomeration of islands that lie within a wide section of the Odra. From the southern foot of Most Pomorski, pretty Ul Grodzka runs along the river’s embankment. The views over the river are great, becoming more defined as Ul Grodzka takes a sharp turn and Piasek Island comes into view. The stretch of imposing buildings one sees here on the opposite side of Ul Grodzka is the University Quarter, a complex of stunning constructions that deserves more than the passing attention of run-down students who attend lessons within its grand lecture rooms. Those with limited time should head straight to the first floor where the highlight is unquestionably the Aula Leopoldina. Decorated with delicate stucco work, rows of paintings and ceiling frescoes of impressive artistry, this ostentatious ceremonial hall is an extreme example of the best baroque interiors in the country. From here, arrowed signposts lead to the Mathematical Tower, an imposing edifice devoid of ornamentation but high enough to afford excellent panoramic views from its top look-out platform.Forming part of the University complex on the extreme east edge of Plac Uniwersytecki stands the baroque Church of the Name of Jesus. It is undoubtedly the most impressive place of worship in Wroclaw. Its spacious richly-gilded interior is crammed with fine ornamental work and artistic furnishings, the frescoes on the vaults being a masterpiece display of mysticism and symbolism. The walls are not covered in marble as one may inconsiderately conclude but what you see is just a coat of multi-coloured marble-imitating paint. Nevertheless this fake skilful show-off complements the intricate ornamentation well and adds to the beauty of the interior.A stone’s throw west of the University Church, two other places of worship stand near each other on Plac Nankiera. The small Church of St Matthew was always closed when I visited. The spacious Church of St Vincent on the extreme east corner of the square is a recent reconstruction and has no more than a handful of interior decorative features worthy of note.A short stroll east on Ul Uniwersytecka leads to a busy thoroughfare named Ul Piaskowa that links the riverbank with Plac Dominikanski, a spot humming with business activities of all sorts. But before making your way south to Plac Dominikanski, it is advisable to visit the Hala Targowa, a market hall located on the extreme northernmost edge of Ul Piaskowa right in front of the river. You can’t miss it - next to the doorway, you will come across scores of locals selling small lots of garden crops, flowers, handmade embroidered tablecloths and other unwanted items they pick from home. Inside, the ground floor display of eatables, vegetables and fruit is surprisingly well-organized and utterly clean. On the first floor, the emphasis is on plastic items, cheap clothing, key cutting and shoe mending. Overall, a visit to the Hala Targowa is a real hands-on Polish experience that gives one the opportunity to watch where the heart of locals beats. An additional Polish encounter can be experienced if one dares join the local shoppers inside the nameless restaurant near the main entrance. Serving Polish fare only, it is the place to go for freshly-prepared pierogi at utterly cheap prices.Ul Piaskowa and its continuation Ul Sw. Katarzyny are not traffic free but are nonetheless ideal for amblers, particularly for those who commit themselves to walking in an attempt to identify specialized shops that sell local or Polish products. One particular shop renowned for its wide choice of vodka sells most Polish brands of this alcoholic concoction in fancy gift boxes. Another shop that specializes in items much smaller than bottles of distilled liquid deals in amber jewellery and filigreed silverware. Clothing stores with a common name (all are appropriately signposted ‘Tania Odziez’ that is, cheap clothes) and a similarly common particular balmy smell are so plentiful that I counted four such stores along the length of Ul Piaskowa. The southernmost end of Ul Katarzyny is dominated by Plac Dominikanski, a modern square and a busy transport hub overshadowed by two conveniently interlinked behemoths: Galeria Dominikanska and the high-rise Hotel Mercure Panorama. Whether one reaches the square through Ul Katarzyny or through the underground criss-crossing passageways under the Olawska and Kazimierza Wielkiego intersection, one feels a compelling urge to ignore anything else within view and instantaneously proceed to Galeria Dominikanska. Is it the sheer bulkiness of the three-floor structure or the combination of the good name and moderate prices that draws so many visitors inside? During my five-day visit in Wroclaw, the basement-level food store in Galeria Dominikanska became my port of call for all my gastronomic requirements. The reason is simple: the choice is endless, the prices utterly discounted and the location perfect.Only a stone’s throw away from Galeria Dominikanska is the massive conventual Church of St Adalbert. It is actually a post-war reconstruction although its exterior brickwork appears much older than it really is. The interior decorations are few and short on elaboration but the alabaster sepulchre of St Czeslaw is worth a visit. From Plac Dominikanski, Ul Olawska is a westbound shortcut to the Rynek. Entirely pedestrianized, it is a short walkway of prestige and stature, crammed as it is with upscale boutiques, speciality shops and financial institutions. At its westernmost edge stands the city branch of the UK Embassy in Poland.Just off the UK Embassy stands another massive place of worship. Dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, it is an imposing brick structure with a couple of interesting exterior features. Its twelfth-century splendid Romanesque portico, formerly incorporated in the entranceway of the Benedictine Abbey in Olbin is the most valuable showpiece of antique craftwork in Wroclaw. Another interesting feature is the stone bridge that joins the two soaring bell towers, a pair of amputated structures whose top section was never built up.The top Wroclaw attractions are neither churches nor museums. Surprisingly, they are dwarf-like knee-high bronze castings of miniature humans that dot the streets and corners of the city. I failed to mention them before not because I didn’t stumble upon them several times, neither because they are small and maybe insignificant but simply because whatever I write about them is definitely a repetition of what guide books have already included in their writings. All I can add is that each krasnoludek (literally red dwarf) is an object of admiration and idolisation. I counted somewhat more than a score while I strolled around the city. How many can you find? Close
Written by marif on 04 Oct, 2012
Wroclaw train station is a twenty-minute walk south of the Old Town quarter. Several tram routes clearly marked in red on city maps link major stops in the city with the train station. Entirely pedestrianized, the heart of the Old Town quarter is not traversed…Read More
Wroclaw train station is a twenty-minute walk south of the Old Town quarter. Several tram routes clearly marked in red on city maps link major stops in the city with the train station. Entirely pedestrianized, the heart of the Old Town quarter is not traversed by tram routes and the nearest tram stops are at least a five-minute walk away from the Rynek (Old Market Square). In order of proximity, the closest to the Rynek first, these are: Ul Swidnicka right in front of Hotel Metropole, Ul Piaskowa right in front of the Hala Targowa (Market Hall), Plac Dominikanski west of the Rynek and Plac Jana Pawla II east of the Rynek. These stops, though close to the central scene of action cannot unfortunately be reached directly from the train station but one must necessarily change trams somewhere along the route. So, if you are heading for the centre, it is advisable to avoid the hassle of transport once and for all and make your way on foot. After all a twenty-minute walk along dead flat streets is not a feat of exertion beyond recuperation and walking with a street map in hand (you can pick one for free from the train station) is in addition the best way to get a good orientation of your whereabouts.One can get out of the train station either through the main doorway on Ul Pilsudskiego or through the back exit on Ul Sucha. While the station’s reconstruction and renovation programme was in progress, the area right in front of the main entrance, formerly dilapidated and frequented by more than a couple of outcasts was turned into a crafted spot of manicured lawns and flower beds. A fair share of wooden benches where one can stay and wait away from the busy ambience of the station’s main hall is an additional feature of convenience. From here, a sharp turn left on Ul Pilsudskiego and a short stroll brings you on the spot where Ul Pilsudskiego meets Ul Swidnicka. A straight-on walk along the whole stretch of Ul Swidnicka for about fifteen minutes terminates with the Rynek which is indisputably the starting point of any visit to Wroclaw. Exiting on Ul Sucha, you will find the bus terminal on the opposite side. Unless you need a bus to travel to another town, do not cross to the other side but take a sharp turn right and walk straight until you come across the Arkady Wroclawskie shopping mall. Located right on the corner between Ul Swobodna and Ul Swidnicka, it is a huge centre of upscale retail stores, restaurants and indoor attractions that definitely cannot be missed. If one takes a sharp turn on Ul Swidnicka, crosses the underpass under the train tracks and continues straight for about twenty minutes, one will find oneself right on the Rynek.Wroclaw’s Rynek is indisputably a focus of activity, a place of action where people gather together to see, explore and participate in the daily happenings. The moment I arrived here, unaware of the best route to follow to ensure that nothing was missed out, I stood in awe amidst the crowds of passers-by and onlookers. This square is so huge that walking around its perimeter is undeniably a tiring experience, particularly if one has already exercised one’s feet in a bid to get here from the train station. Exhausted after hours of travelling, I decided to retreat under one of the numerous parasols that unexceptionally all restaurant owners on the market square set up outside in fine weather to extend their dining area. But which parasol should I choose? Without further consideration, I walked towards Kawiarnia Literatka, a splendid colourful bar that seemed to ooze comfort and elegance even at first sight. Having sat at a table outside under an orange-yellow parasol, I quenched my thirst with a nameless brand of Polish brew while I enjoyed the busy but serene open-air atmosphere on the market square and reconsidered what was best to do next.Having observed from a vantage point the display of side-by-side buildings enclosing the square, I decided to go around and examine in detail the aesthetic beauty of this showcase of architectural wonders. Much of what one sees today is an authentic detailed replica of a collection of thirteenth-century original constructions, the latter having been wiped off almost entirely during World War II by the besieging Russian army. Restructured mostly from the debris of war after careful planning and remarkable attention to detail, the present-day surrounding ensemble consists of a colourful mix of architectural styles that range from Gothic to baroque, from Renaissance to Art Nouveau. Having been recently given a face-lift with a new coat of paint and a refurbishment of the decorative stonework, most buildings look fresh, colourful and beautiful. Peculiar to the oldest buildings on the square were the house names, formerly used in lieu of numbers as a means of identification. Some of these have been appropriately passed on to the bars and restaurants that presently occupy the place. Pod Zlotym Psem (Under the Golden Dog) is a subterranean restaurant named after the symbolic dog sculpture that one can still see above the doorway. Similarly, Pod Zlotym Orlem is named after the symbolic sculpture of a golden eagle that still shines with wings wide open above the main entrance. There are more, not only on the Rynek but also along the grid of streets that run across Wroclaw’s historic centre. Explore, observe and you will definitely find more than a handful.Proudly standing in the centre of this vast piazza is the city’s conspicuous Town Hall, one of the few original buildings on the Rynek that miraculously escaped the war without major damages. Adjacent to the Town Hall, the conglomeration of buildings in the centre is subdivided into small blocks by three internal passageways, each packed with bars and shops of all sorts. Wandering around here at leisure with eyes wide open is without doubt a rewarding experience you will not easily forget. But beware… a feeling of nostalgia for the calm ghostly atmosphere of the medieval past may haunt you if you stay too long, particularly if you dare go underground into the labyrinthine sublevel cellars of one of the bars or restaurants that fill up the place.Although all the buildings that form part of this central conglomeration are architecturally amazing and aesthetically colourful, it is the Town Hall on the southern side of the block that is the most remarkable. Consisting of three architecturally distinct buildings, internally joined together to form one whole, it reflects the stages of its stepped development. The oldest section has pure Gothic features while the most recent exposes an early Renaissance style. The central section which is also the largest is a display of impressive ornamental brickwork, its triangular roof cross-section topped with a row of sculptured pinnacles and its eastern façade adorned with a lovely decorative clock embedded skilfully in the brickwork.The door on the western side of the Town Hall leads to the Museum of City Art. The display of period furniture, silverware and intricately-carved decorations is remarkable but more stunning is the magnificent décor that adorns the halls and chambers of its majestic interior. The external features are indisputably eye-catching and awe-inspiring; the interior ornamentation could easily fit a palatial building rather than an unpretentious Town Hall. The Tourist Information Centre on the southwest corner of the Rynek is the place to go for anything you may need to ask about the city. Brochures, basic street maps and leaflets about current events can be picked up for free from the stand near the doorway. Internet access is also free provided one of the three available computers is not being used – a rare occasion indeed. Anything else on display is for sale. This includes an endless collection of souvenirs, a small range of English guide books, an assortment of trinkets of questionable quality and worthless plastic knickknacks.A few steps west of the Tourist Information Centre, another colourful square, much smaller than the Rynek but equally impressive hosts a thriving twenty-four-hour flower market. Thanks to the multi-coloured flower displays, the square is a bright place, an ideal spot to relax in peacefulness away from the crowds on the Rynek but still a stone’s throw away from the scene of action. The colourful arrangements of flowers on display are impressive but don’t fail to glance further up at the imposing architectural details of the surrounding buildings. Rows of intricately-carved reliefs and statuettes adorn most facades; the elaborate parapets topping the roofs are themselves stonework displays of fine craftsmanship.The collection of colourful jigsaw pieces that interlock to form the Rynek comprises only a small section of the picture. To uncover the whole picture, it is essential to wander around aimlessly and pick up the preferred pieces from here and there in the process. Close
Written by marif on 27 Sep, 2012
Germany’s eastern regions are excellent gateways to Poland’s western cities. In most cases, reaching a city in west Poland is harder and longer from Warsaw than from cities in east Germany. In particular, cities in Poland’s western regions like Wroclaw, Zielona Gora and Opole are…Read More
Germany’s eastern regions are excellent gateways to Poland’s western cities. In most cases, reaching a city in west Poland is harder and longer from Warsaw than from cities in east Germany. In particular, cities in Poland’s western regions like Wroclaw, Zielona Gora and Opole are only an easy train trip away from Cottbus, Leipzig and Dresden.With this in mind after five days in Dresden, I thought it wise to take a train trip to Wroclaw, spend some days at leisure in the city and then continue southeast to Krakow. Having no fixed itinerary and longing to get first-hand experience of the route, I took the 9:00 am slow train from Dresden to Wroclaw. Dresden main train station, reconstructed and refurbished from scratch in 2004 is a grand edifice that contains the latest in virtual technology. A couple of old-fashioned information points where the customer gets face to face with an attendant still exist but with so many computers ready day and night to dish out all the essential information one may require, who needs personal assistance? Start your trip of manipulation with a click on the union-jack icon and instantly the key to the puzzling German writing gets into operation and unlocks the script into comprehensible English. Besides selling out train tickets to both local and international destinations, these present-day contrivances of automated technology have inbuilt potential to locate hotels, check for hotel vacancies, display city attractions and trace out on a google map the route from the station to your selected destination in the city. Isn’t this enough? If not, insert 1 Euro in the money slot, click print and in a jiffy out goes a colour print-out of the current screen display.Information and technology apart, Dresden train station is in addition a smart shopping mall, containing a fair share of fast-food outlets, cafeterias, patisseries, souvenir shops and not less than two spacious book stores that sell street maps, English dailies and periodicals, English books (both Rough Guides and Lonely Planet guides are well represented), and all the bits and ends one can think of. Have you ever thought of needing a pair of shoe laces or a strap for your watch? Here they were as well. The train packed with backpackers who occupied all the seating available left Dresden main station on an eastbound trip to Warsaw. In a couple of minutes, it crossed the mighty bridge over the Elbe making its way towards Dresden Neustadt station, north of the city centre. Through the train’s window, I could easily pinpoint the Bruhl Terrasse, overshadowed by the stretched-up dome of the Frauenkirche, a wonderful church reconstruction that has become in a few years a symbol of the city and its most distinguished landmark. After having made its way through Dresden’s newest urban suburb of apartment blocks, the train stopped at Neustadt station for several minutes. More backpackers and families with children got on board, filling in all imaginable places including the corridors. The region east of Dresden Neustadt is mostly a forested zone of oak and pine. Thrown here and there amidst green hillsides, tiny picturesque villages or hamlets consisting of just a small conglomeration of cottages and country houses are appropriate living quarters for farmers, fruit growers and cattle breeders. Close to the train tracks and clearly visible through the train’s window is Arnsdorf, a countryside village with red-roofed houses set deep within a lush valley. Smaller than Arnsdorf and right on the train tracks is Seeligstadt, a country settlement dominated by a majestic church, its lofty bell tower being a lovely sight ideal for a snapshot, set as it is amidst a panoramic kaleidoscope of natural hues. Proceeding eastwards, the train traversed the tunnel under the No: 6 single carriageway and made its way towards Bischofswerda where it stopped for a few minutes. Having left Bischofswerda behind, it crossed a green zone, cut across the village of Demitz-Thumitz and resumed its journey towards Bautzen. The majority of trippers who invaded the train at Dresden terminated their trip at Bautzen station in a bid to take a southbound bus to the picturesque Naturpark, a green zone of hilly outcrops and dense forest ideal for hiking and picnicking. Crisscrossed by a tributary of the River Spree, this is east Germany’s most remarkable green lung.Departing from Bautzen station after a stop of several minutes, the train stopped at Lobau before it proceeded towards the German - Polish border. The train tracks along this section of the route run in close proximity to the No: 6 single carriageway but beyond Reichenbach, they suddenly change direction and head directly towards Gorlitz.Gorlitz is a huge town on the border. The train station located right in the town centre and in touch with the No: 30 single carriageway is a huge building with old-fashioned facilities. The passport control booths where formerly German army officials checked entry documents are still standing but no longer in use since 2007 when Poland joined the Schengen zone after its affiliation with the European Union. The Polish equivalent of Gorlitz is Zgorzelec, a town of considerable size located right beyond the border crossing. The train station outside the town’s southern outskirts is a dilapidated place and compared to the well-equipped station at Gorlitz, it is just an insignificant stop on the route.Having departed from Zgorzelec, the train delved south and wended its way through stunning lush valley corridors, their sloping green walls patched here and there with thorny shrubs and clusters of wild yellow flowers. The train soon reached Luban, the first Polish town of significance beyond the border crossing. The train station at Luban is a one-room waiting area but being on the main train route, it is a major station through which several daily trains pass on their way from Germany to Poland.Making another southbound deviation, the train continued through more picturesque countryside, stopping at several minor stations along the route. On reaching Gryfow, the train took a sharp turn east and passed through the Lubomierz mountain zone, a picturesque area of sloping grassland and ascending winding pathways. After changing its route again, the train passed close to the Dolina Bobru Park, one of Poland’s most beautiful natural areas. It then stopped at Lwowek Slaski, a tiny urban settlement on the extreme north edge of the Dolina Bobru Park. For a few minutes, I could enjoy through the train’s window the portrait-pretty view of the landscape, its natural beauty enhanced by the fast-running water of the Bobr watercourse and its fertile embankments. Having departed from Lwowek Slaski, the train proceeded eastwards towards Zlotoryja, a town of considerable size located right on the edge of a forested hillside grove of pine, oak and beech. After a short stop at Zlotoryja station on the western outskirts of the town, the train changed direction and travelled northeast to Legnica. A huge town with a medieval centre that dates back to the thirteenth century, Legnica encloses a conglomeration of church constructions, the pinnacles of their Gothic bell towers being visible at a distance through the train’s window. Legnica’s redbrick towering castle perched on the top of a hill south of the train station was clearly in sight.The final section of the route from Legnica to Wroclaw is a straight eastbound railroad that passes over flat countryside peppered with stretches of grazing land, crop fields and fruit orchards. Several minor stations along the route rendered this last ten-mile tract too time-consuming but the ethereal views over sweeps of grassy meadows that filled in the space between the stations compensated for the utterly slow progression. At Mrozow station, the train delved south before it crossed the overpass that bypasses the thoroughfare connecting Legnica with Wroclaw. After a couple of minutes, the train passed over the huge concrete railway bridge that hangs over the A8 motorway before it touched Wroclaw station, terminating its journey in somewhat less than four hours.Recently renovated, enlarged and refurbished with digital display screens, elevators, conveyor belts and comfortable waiting areas, Wroclaw train station (Dworzec Glowny) is a grandiose Neo-Gothic edifice that has never looked so great since its inception. The bright orange-yellow paint that presently coats its external walls, the decorative turrets and architectural details topping the roof and the grandness of its main doorways give the building an air of opulence and stateliness. An air of functionality reigns inside. In addition to a couple of fully-equipped information points, one finds currency exchange offices, ATMs, left luggage rooms and ticket-sales windows that open round the clock. Fast-food outlets and cafeterias have already found a space here; more will undoubtedly move in as the place starts gathering momentum. Similar to what goes on in other major stations in Poland, departures (odjazdy) are unfailingly displayed in yellow on a black background, arrivals (przyjazdy) in white. The large digital board in the main hall dishes out the information one may require for one’s trip, the departure time and platform number included. Close
Written by Owen Lipsett on 17 Dec, 2004
Wroclaw may truly be said to begin on Ostrow Tumski, where Slavs founded a merchant town in the 9th century. Its name, which means Cathedral Island, derives from the diocese founded upon it in the year 1,000 by Boleslaw the Brave. With five…Read More
Wroclaw may truly be said to begin on Ostrow Tumski, where Slavs founded a merchant town in the 9th century. Its name, which means Cathedral Island, derives from the diocese founded upon it in the year 1,000 by Boleslaw the Brave. With five churches and various other ecclesiastical buildings, it remains the nerve center of Wroclaw’s religious life. To reach it from the historic center, first cross the Piaskowski Bridge to the sandbank of Wyspa Piasek. The sandbank itself contains several fine sights, including a pair of churches and the University Library formerly used by the Nazis as a military headquarters. Most Tumski (Cathedral Bridge) connects Wyspa Piasek with Ostrow Tumski.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
As a result of 19th century silting, Ostrow Tumski is no longer an island; however, the first half of its name still rings true in the twin-spired Gothic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. It was originally completed in 1272, but so severely damaged in the Second World War that what you see today is largely the result of painstaking restoration work – there is a small exhibition detailing the process inside the church. Although little of the information is in English, it includes several photographs, one of which shows that both towers were blown off. An elevator runs to the top of one of the restored towers at a cost of 4 zl., providing unsurpassed views over Ostrow Tumski and Wroclaw as a whole.
At the time of its original construction, it was the first Gothic cathedral in Poland, although its most interesting contents, the three chapels behind the high altar, all reflect later architectural styles to some degree. St. Elizabeth’s Chapel, on the south side of the church, features Baroque frescoes, sculptures, and architecture in the style of Bernini. The Lady Chapel, while it retains the cathedral’s Gothic style in its architecture, features the Renaissance funerary plaque of Bishop Jan Roth by Peter Vischer of Nuremberg. The Corpus Christi Chapel on the north side was designed by the Viennese court architect Fischer von Erlach in a rather subtler Baroque style than the Lady Chapel.
Other Churches on Ostrow Tumski
The large church which you see upon crossing Most Tumski to reach Ostrow Tumski is the Church of the Holy Cross and St. Bartholomew, which, as its name suggests, is actually two churches under one roof. The Church of St. Bartholomew was built first in 1288, as a mausoleum for the Piast dukes. Ironically, the tomb of Duke Henryk the Righteous, who ordered its construction, has since been moved to the National Museum. Today it’s used by a Uniate congregation. The Church of the Holy Cross, which has since been deconsecrated, was completed in the next century.
Easy to miss on your way to the more imposing double church is a small 15th-century church dedicated to SS Peter and Paul. Behind it is the squat brick hexagonal Church of St. Martin, sitting somewhat forlornly away from the streets that bustle with priests and nuns hurrying between Ostrow Tumski’s churches and charitable institutions. Both churches are only open for services, as is the early 13th-century Church of St. Giles, the only one of Wroclaw’s churches to survive the Tartar sack of the city in 1241 and thus its oldest. The Archdiocesan Museum across the street holds the city’s ecclesiastical treasures, and the city’s pleasant Botanical Gardens are adjacent to both.
Written by Owen Lipsett on 16 Dec, 2004
Wroclaw's History Museum suffers from both a paucity of explanations in English and a rather selective interpretation of historical events in favor of the Polish perspective. Interestingly, the city’s coat of arms bears a prominent "W" that serves to efface the memory of its…Read More
Wroclaw's History Museum suffers from both a paucity of explanations in English and a rather selective interpretation of historical events in favor of the Polish perspective. Interestingly, the city’s coat of arms bears a prominent "W" that serves to efface the memory of its past history as Vratislavia and Breslau. What follows is a brief summary of the history of Wroclaw.
Archaelogical evidence suggests that a Slav market town known as Vratislavia occupied a large island in the River Oder as early as the 9th century. In 1000, this district acquired the name Ostrow Tumski (Cathedral Island) in honor of the diocese founded by Boleslaw the Brave, which it retains to this day. Its strategic position made it attractive to Germans alike, although Boleslaw the Wrymouth famously defeated the army of Emperor Henry V. The site of the battle has long since been incorporated into the city as the district of Psie Pole (Dogs’ Field), a moniker supposedly derived from the chaotic German retreat that resulted in leaving their wounded and dead literally to the dogs.
Boleslaw’s victory was only temporary, however, as upon his death in 1138, his successors created the Duchy of Lower Silesia and encouraged German settlement on the southern bank of the Oder, resulting in the development of the city in its present location. After its destruction by the Tartars in 1241, Wroclaw was rebuilt on the grid system that still survives. In 1259, rechristened as Breslau (an indication of its increasingly German polity), it became the capital of an independent duchy and soon thereafter joined both the Hanseatic League and the Holy Roman Empire, of which its bishop became an elector.
German control proved as evanescent as Polish rule, for in 1335, Breslau was annexed by Bohemia, which controlled the city until the crown of Bohemia passed to the Austrian Hapsburgs in 1526. In the intervening period, a thriving metropolis inhabited largely harmoniously by Germans, Poles, and Czechs developed, and with it, many of the city’s brick churches. Uniquely in the Austrian realm, there was also a modicum of religious diversity, as the generally staunchly Catholic Hapsburg rulers turned a blind eye to the use of some of the churches by Protestants. Religious tensions became manifest during the Thirty Years War, however, resulting in fierce fighting that halved the city’s population.
Nevertheless, Breslau remained an important, and increasingly Teutonic, city within the Hapsburg Empire, until its loss to Frederick the Great’s expansionist Prussian state in 1763. Breslau became Prussia’s second most important city after Berlin. It twice expelled occupying French troops during the Napoleonic wars, earning its citizens a reputation for loyalty to the state. It prospered further when the Prussian kings became German Emperors serving as a major industrial center within the German Empire.
After the First World War, Breslau’s Polish population sought unsuccessfully to have it annexed to the reincarnated Polish state. In fact, it was not included in the referendum held throughout much of the rest of Silesia to determine the German-Polish border, although with Germans outnumbering Poles by 20 to 1, the result would most likely have been academic. Even when the defeat of Nazi Germany was imminent, Polish leaders did not press territorial claims to the city. However, the Nazis choice to fortify the city to use it to make an ultimately abortive last stand against the Red Army resulted in the destruction of two thirds of the city’s building and the evacuation of the vast majority of its population.
In the aftermath of the war, the Soviet Union kept most of lands it had carved from eastern Poland under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact while Poland was compensated by having its borders shifted westward at Germany’s expense. The people of the formerly Polish city of Lwow (today L’viv in Ukraine) were encouraged to repopulate the newly rechristened Wroclaw and brought with them many of their cultural and social institutions, as well as the contents of most of the city’s museums.
Although Wroclaw was largely ruined, it had not been flattened as Warsaw had, nor did its rebirth have the psychological importance (and potential international prestige) that Poland’s capital, or for that matter, Gdansk, did. Consequently, not much money was put toward its reconstruction, which may only really be said to have been completed when its population surpassed its prewar level of 625,000 in the 1980s. Nevertheless, it has risen to become Poland’s fourth largest city, and with Poland’s entry into the European Union, its proximity and historic ties with Germany are likely to be to its advantage.
Should you wish to read further, European friends have recommended Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City by Norman Davies and Roger Moorhouse, although it is not available in the United States.
Written by Brad2 on 20 Jul, 2005
The whole Wavel area is open for free, and it’s worth walking around and getting orientated with the day before you want to visit the interiors if you can. They have moved the ticket office onto the slope up from Ul. Bernardynska. There is…Read More
The whole Wavel area is open for free, and it’s worth walking around and getting orientated with the day before you want to visit the interiors if you can. They have moved the ticket office onto the slope up from Ul. Bernardynska. There is an indicator board to tell you how many tickets are left for that day, and it drops by large numbers as the guided parties collect their tickets. Eentry to the Royal Apartments is by timed ticket, and the rooms are always uncrowded. You can go free on Monday between 9:30am and 1pm, but go EARLY, or else you won't get in. You buy tickets for the cathedral from an office just opposite its entrance. Close
If you like old towns and new culture, Poland is for you. The language is no problem, as everyone wants to use their English but love you for trying to speak Polish. We are in our late 50's and found it easygoing.
We stayed in…Read More
If you like old towns and new culture, Poland is for you. The language is no problem, as everyone wants to use their English but love you for trying to speak Polish. We are in our late 50's and found it easygoing.
We stayed in Hotel Monopole in Wroclaw, full of faded grandeur and creaky parquet, but clean, comfortable, and very convenient to the sights.
In Warsaw, go to the Reytan, modern but convenient to the trams and buses. Look for the steakhouse in the street on the right side of the cinema.
The Europejski in Krakow is better than the Rough Guide suggests. The rooms, with bathrooms, have been refurbished and are very comfortable, and it had the best beds we have slept in!