|Trip page||This page contains excerpts from a guide to Wroclaw. It is added as background information for a write-up of a trip to Wroclaw.|
Welcome to Wroclaw
Wroclaw (Breslau until 1945) was once called the Venice of the North - due to its location on the River Oder and its four tributaries as well as because of its numerous bridges (together with railway and foot bridges numbering over 120 in total) which to this day continue to add a charming dimension to the city. Wroclaw is the fourth most populous and the fifth largest city in Poland. It has almost 640 thousand residents and covers the area of approx. 293 km2.
The first traces of human settlement of the numerous regions of Wroclaw - the historical capital of Silesia and the present-day capital of Lower Silesia - date back to the late Stone Age (4500-1900 years BC). A permanent settlement at Ostrów Tumski (the Cathedral Island) existed since the 9th century. At the close of the 9th century the environs of Wroclaw, settled by the tribe of Slezanie, were incorporated into the Great Moravian Reich and, after its downfall, into Bohemia.
According to legend the name of the settlement, which at around 990 was conquered by Mieszko I, the founder of the Polish state, originates from the name of Duke Wrocistaw (Lat. Vratislav). In 1000, when a Palish bishoprics was founded here (at the same time as in Cracow and Kolobrzeg) a burgeoning duke's castle with about 2 thousand inhabitants al ready existed on Ostrów Tumski.
Breslau continued to develop over the course of subsequent centuries mainly due to thriving trade and craftsmanship, enlarging its territory and increasing its wealth and importance. In the Middle Ages the city was a member of the Hanseatic League. During the course of its history Breslau has belonged to Bohemia, Austria, Prussia, Germany and Poland.
After the Second World War, during which some 70 percent of its buildings were destroyed, Breslau, along with the region of Lower Silesia was incorporated into an independent but territorially redefined Poland. The city was officially named "Wroclaw". The German population was forcibly expelled, and replaced by newcomers, many of them arriving from Poland's former eastern territories, which had been annexed and incorporated into the Soviet Union after the War. In 2000 Wroclaw celebrated the millennial anniversary of the founding of its bishopric.
Wroclaw is the cultural centre of Lower Silesia as well as being home to dozens of museums, galleries and cultural institutions, numerous events, and musical and theatrical festivals are organised here. The city boasts many higher education institutions at which over 140 thousand students are enrolled.
Among Wroclaw's many tourist attractions the meticulously restored late-Gothic Market Square draws particular attention as does charming Ostrów Tumski (the Cathedral Island), which represents the historical cradle of the eity with a medieval cathedral as well as several other churches located within its boundaries.
Other remarkable sites include The Panorama of Raciawice - a unique painting from Lvov which is displayed in a rotunda, historical bridges, Centennial Hall- an innovative achievement of modernist architecture as well as the Zoological Garden which is well known in Poland and the picturesque Szczytnicki Park, all of which are well worth seeing.
THE MARKET SQUARE - THE EASTERN AND SOUTHERN FRONTAGES
In terms of size, Wroclaw Market Square is second only to Cracow's as the largest market square in Poland. The establishment and delimitation of this 3.7 hectare square was associated with the privileges granted to the city by the Magdeburg Statutes which can be seen to this day in the form of the Market Square. It consists of a flat rectangular space with small streets converging at its corners (two streets at every corner) and passages in the center of three frontages.
Presently there are two such passages - Wiezienna street in the northern frontage, with a prison which was inaugurated in the I 4th century and Kurzy Targ street which leads to St. Mary Magdalene Church in the eastern frontage. There is also a partially preserved passage in the southern frontage, which led to the gallows which stood at Wygon Swidnicki (present-day Kosciuszki Square). The Market Square was delimited in its present form soon after the Mongol invasion, by 1242 at the latest.
Each side of the Market Square bears a name. The eastern frontage was called The Green Pipe Side. This name derives from a well which was once located in this region of the Market Square. It is worth while taking a closer look at two outstanding buildings - the "Under the Golden Crown" tenament house and the "Feniks" department store.
The "Under the Golden Crown" tenament house (Rynek 29) boasted a beautiful Renaissance attic, which served as a model not only in Silesia for many buildings constructed afterwards. In 1904, despite the protests of its occupants, the tenament house was demolished and an Art Nouveau department store was erected in its place. In the course of the tenement's postwar reconstruction some elements of its Renaissance appearance were restored.
The construction of the present-day Town Hall, an outstanding example of bourgeois art, lasted from the end of the 13th century to the beginning of the 16th century. Earlier the 50 called Merchant's House was located here.
The late-Gothic eastern frontage of the Town Hall adoms a stone gable, beautiful pinnacles topped with fleurons which were added during the 19th century renovation and an original astronomical clock dating from 1580. The Southern frontage is called the Golden Cup Side, and it used to be the finest side of the Market Square. The frontage derives its name from the "Under the Golden Cup" tenament-house (Rynek 26), where Archduke Albrecht II, the first supreme ruler of Silesia and a representative of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty, resided during the period of 1438-1439. This tenament had an extremely dark and steep stairwell, in which the Archduke once broke his leg after a camival party - an unfortunate accident which prolonged his stay in the city.
The southern facade of the town hall, featuring beautiful ornamental decoration with plant and geometric attributes, was built in the second half of the 15th century. Friezes running along the facade which represent a lifelike chronicle of the medieval city are also very characteristic. Among the figures of previous residents which are featured on the consoles we can recognize effigies of persons living in Breslau at the close of the 19th century. It is possible because they were created at that time and were mounted on the elevation in 1891. For instanee Richard Plüddemann, an eminent architect, was immortalized in the form of a menk's figure and Heinrich Kom, a well-known publisher and bookseller in the city, was portrayed in the sculpture of a patrician.
MUNICIPAL MUSEUM: TOWN HALL AND THE ROYAL PALACE
The Breslau Town Hall is frequently referred to as a pearl of Gothic bourgeois architecture. Its construction commenced in the 1270's and finished as late as the middle of the 16th century. Its construction was associated with organizing the life in the city according to Magdeburg Statues, consolidating the privileges and freedoms of townsmen and protecting them from ducal lawlessness. An alderman had his seat here and was assisted in the fulfillment of his duties by the city council, overseeing trade and craft industry. The alderman represented the townsmen to the Duke, collected taxes and handled the invitation of new settlers to the city. He also presided over the court and passed sentences.
Originally the Town Hall was a single-story building and fulfilled only commercial functions. As the time went by further rooms were added and another storey was built. It took on its present late-Gothic form at the end of the 15th century. The eastern and southern facades stand out with their particularly rich ornamentation.
The town hall, a seat of the Museum of Towns-people's Art, is one of the branches of the Municipal Museum of Wroclaw. A new branch of the museum has been opened in 2009 - it is the Royal Palace situated on 35 Kazimierz Wielki street.
It was here that in 1813 a Prussian king Frederick Wilhelm III issued his famous prodamation "Än mein Volk", calling to enter into a general fight with Napoleon, and established an order of the Iron Cross. Nowadays in the resto red interiors one can watch a great exhibition titled "1000 years of Wroclaw". The Palace also houses a gallery of pictures and sculptures by artists associated with Breslau in the 19th and 20th century.
THE SALT MARKET
The Salt Market, where as early as the 13th century salt was traded, adjoins the southwestern corner of the Market Square. In the Middle Ages it was also called the Polish Market because it was mainly Poles who traded here in salt originating from the famous mine in Wieliczka. Apart from that, fish, furs, honey and wax were also sold here. Nowadays flower stalls, open round the clock, continue to remind us of the historical and commercial function of the square.
Since 1830s this place was known the Blücher Square in honor of the Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, who gained renown for his victories in the Napoleonic wars and whose monument stood in the centre of the square. Presently in place of the field marshal's monument stands an obelisk alluding to the events of the 15th century when a famous Inquisitor John of Capistrano came to Breslau.
Under the influence of his fiery sermons, delivered among others at the Salt Square, residents brought furniture and other luxurious items from their apartments and burnt them on the square. Capistrano's sermons indirectly provoked pogroms against the city's Jewish population. These events also provided the inspiration for the present-day monument, designed by Adam Wyspianski in 1996, which takes the form of a symbolic flame.
The largest building on the Salt Square is the classical edifice of the Old Exchange, constructed in the first half of the 19th century by the eminent architect Karl Ferdinand Langhans (Langhans the Younger). This building was erected in place of the Palace of Rehdigers (which had existed here since the 16th century), a patrician family, which owing to trade with virtually whole of Europe became the wealthiest family in Breslau at that time. A famous book and art collector came from this family - Thomas Rehdiger - whose precious collections were bequeathed to the city and became the germ of the present-day University Library. Thomas conceived the idea of creating a collection for the city during his studies in Wittenberg.
In 1566. at the age of twenty, he set out on a journey across Europe intending to make his dreams come true. While visiting various cities he purchased rare manuscripts, coins and works of art. One year before his death (in an unfortunate accident involving the cart on which he was traveling) in 1575 he drew up his will, instructing his brother to transfer the works from Cologne to Breslau and place them in a building constructed especially to house them. However. it was not until 1661 that the library was finally opened. In honor of the founder it was called Rehdigeriana. The collections of Thomas Rehdiger are estimated to comprise some six thousand volumes and over three hundred manuscripts.
The Salt Square and its environs were inhabited mainly by wealthy townsmen. One of whom was the patrician Heinrich Rybisch, court advisor to the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I Habsburg, who possessed a splendid Renaissance residence on the present-day Ofiar Oswiecimskich street, which combined the features of a palace and tenament house. Since it stirred up envy of many residents of the city, Rybisch mounted an inscription on the portal of his house the sense of which can be conveyed as follows: Be pious, without envy or hatred, and so being build yourself a better one and leave this one for me. In the upper part of the original, Renaissance portal one can find a unique Lower Silesian depiction of a childbirth, alluding to the birth of Rybisch's son.
THE MARKET SQUARE - THE WESTERN FRONTAGE
The pavilion of the Great Scale, connected with the Weight, Warehousing and Mile Rights applied by the city, stood in the westem part of the Market Square, hence its name - the Side of the Scale. A Wool Market was held on the western side of the market and it was here that transit goods were stored and wool traded. In the mid-19th century the Great Scale building was demolished and a monument of the Prussian King Frederick II mounted on a horse erected in its place.
A substantial corner building (Rynek 9/11), constructed according to the design of Heinrich Rump during the period 1929-1931 in place of three demolished tenements, was designated for the Municipal Savings Bank. Plans for modern reconstruction of the Market Square were developed in the interwar period. A gigantic skyscraper - a symbol of the city's modemity - was to stand next to the Town Hall. Fortunately these plans were never carried out, and the only building belonging to this concept is this very edifice. The entrance to the building alludes to forms taken from the Egyptian pyramids and a relief featuring ancient figures probably represents an admiration for the tomb of Tutenchamon which was discovered in 1922.
New Town Hall
The New Town Hall was built according to the design of Friedrich August Stüler over the period of 1860-1863. Today the building houses the seat of the city authorities and the mayor of Wroclaw.
As early as the beginning of the 14th century cloth stalls and numerous other stands stood in place of the New Town Hall and the whole inner Market Square area. The original cloth stalls were a complex of forty brick stands where fabric was traded.
ST. ELISABETH CHURCH
In the southwestern corner of the Market Square stands the Gothic St. Elisabeth Church with its characteristic tower crowned with a Renaissance cupola. One can admire the city panorama from the top of this 90-meter tower - provided one is able to climb its 302 steps.
Originally the tower was almost 130 meters high and was one of the highest buildings of its kind in Silesia. However, in 1529 its cupola was destroyed during a hurricane and was not completely restored. Since no lives were lost in the catastrophe a legend was born that angels supported the church tower. A relief depicting this scene may still be seen on the outer wall of the temple.
Over the period of 1253-1525 the church belonged to the Order of Crusaders of the Red Star but subsequently became the property of the Protestants. The building took on its present appearance in the 15th century. Nowadays it is a Roman Catholic garrison church and a smaller basilica.
The church building survived the World War II but after the War has caught fire on several occasions (in 1962, 1975 and 1976) and many of the historic furnishings of the temple have been irrecoverably destroyed. However, collections of epitaphs, grave plaques and monuments dating from various periods - from the Middle Ages to classicism - remain preserved in the church.
It can be said that the church has become the mausoleum of Breslau's most eminent residents. Inside the church one can also find a beautiful, fifteen meters high Gothic sandstone sacramentarium and late-Gothic choir stalls.
St. Elisabeth Church
Hensel and Gretel houses
Houses of altar brothers (assistant priests who celebrated funded Masses), gravediggers and bellringers were formerly situated around the church. Only two of them have been preserved to the present - Jas i Malgosia (Hensel and Gretel), connected by a gate overwhich the following sentence can be seen: MORIS IANUA VITAE (death is a gateway to life).
Beyond the gate formerly stood a church cemetery. Soon, the Renaissance building of "JaS" will house the exhibition presenting the life achievements of arts and the working techniques of the prominent copper engraver Eugeniusz Get-Stankiewicz, who died in 2011. The baroque "Malgosia" tenement houses the Wroclaw Lovers Society where it is possible to arrange a tour of Wroclaw on the antique "Jas i Malgosia" tram.
Stare Jatki (old butcher's stalIs) - where meat was once traded - are located north of St. Elisabeth church. As early as the 13th century butcher stalls, then under ducal administration, stood here. Their number depended on the number of residents because in the Middle Ages meat as well as bread and groats constituted the main ingredients of the townspeople's diet. Originally forty two small meat stalls catered to the needs of the customers. Later this number increased.
The stalls generated handsome profits and was avenue much sought after by local butchers. Animals were slaughtered in abattoirs situated close to the River Oder. Residents also purchased grease for lighting their homes. The butchers lost their monopoly in the 19th century and since then traders offering other products have set up shops at Jatki.
Jatki were destroyed during the Second World War. This unique complex of buildings was restored between 1950-1951 and 1956-1974. The modem constructions have little in common with the former medieval stands though architects have managed to preserve the site's original, narrow, commercial-craft side-street atmosphere with gutters and wooden arcades. Currently several art galleries operate at Jatki. There is also a unique monument featuring statues of several animals and bearing the unusual inscription: "In honor of the slaughtered animals - from the consumers".
The building of Wroclaw University stands in place of a medieval castle - a former ducal seat relocated here from Ostrów Tumski (the Cathedralisland) - the origins of which data back to the second half of the 13th century. In the 17th century this building fell into partial ruin. Under the rule of Catholic Habsburgs two jesuit priests were secretly brought to Protestant Breslau in 1638. That same year they began to train twelve students. Despite dissatisfadion of the Protestant city council the jesuits soon obtained their own building and founded a school which was later turned into a college which included a faculty of philosophy.
In 1659 as many as four hundred students were enrolled here. In the same year the Emperor Leopold I handed the castle over to the jesuits. The educational successes of monks were so pronounced that even Protestants sent their sons to this Catholic school.
At the close of the 17th century as many as seven hundred students attended classes here and the jesuits gained grounds to apply for permission to open a university.
The foundation act was signed in 1702 but the construction of the university edifice did not commence until 1728. The construction works were halted by the war for Silesia against the Prussian king Frederick the Great, in the course of which a field hospital, stabie, prison and stores were arranged in the future university building. Under the Prussian rule the Catholic University began to decline.
In 1811 following a decision by King Frederick Wilhelm III the Breslau Leopoldina was joined with Viadrina, the Evangelical University in Frankfurt am Oder. Until 1945 it was known as the Frederick Wilhelm Silesian University.
Following the Second World War the destroyed building was taken over by a group of Polish scholars and in November 1945 classes started here. Presently almost 40 thousand students study in the ten faculties of Wroclaw University. Numerous University buildings are located at various sites throughout the city.
This splendid baroque building originally belonged to the Order of Crusaders of the Red Star, whom Anna, the wife of Henryk the Pious and a duchess of Bohemian descent, invited to Breslau as early as the 13th century. The St. Elisabeth hospital was originally situated at this site.
In the second half of the 17th century the building was converted to assume a baroque style according to the design of French architect jean-Baptiste Mathieu. Following the secularization of the building the famous Catholic St. Matthias College was based here. It was attended by such eminent personalities as the poet joseph von Eichendorff, jozef Elsner - a composer and teacher to Frederick Chopin and the Reverend jan Dzierzon - a famous bee-keeper who pioneered a new type of bee hive. The building was reconstructed after the Second World War and now houses the collections of the Ossolinscy National Institute which were brought here from Lvov.
The collections of the Ossolinscy National Institute are one of the most extensive and most valuable in Poland. The Ossolineum collection comprises among otherthings manuscripts of Polish authors (Pon Todeusz by Adam Mickiewicz, Potop by Henryk Sienkiewicz, Chlopi by Wtadystaw Reymont, works of Juliusz Stowacki, Aleksander Fredro and others) as well as first editions, for instance of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) by Nicolas Copernicus, first printed in 1543 in Nuremberg.
THE COVERED MARKET
The Covered Market was erected in 1908 in place of the demolished Sand Arsenal where weapons had been stored since at least 1523. The arsenal fulfilled its function up until the 18th century (when the municipal army was abolished) of which stone bullets set in the northern wall of the dock tower serve as a reminder. It is one of two covered markets built at the beginning of the 20th century in order to eliminate all outdoor markets in the city. The second covered market was badly damaged during the Second World War and demolished afterwards.
Richard Plüddemann, who headed the Breslau construction administration for twenty years (1885-1908), operated in the period of Breslau's most dynamic urban development. Breslau was the third largest German city, exceeded only by Berlin and Hamburg, at that time, with the population of about 300 thousand residents. Almost one hundred new buildings, mainly schools and hospitais, were built in this period.
A novel structure, made of reinforced concrete in the form of parabolic arches as if forming a ship's skeleton, was applied inside the Covered Market. This structure anticipated similar European solutions which would later emerge during the 1920's. On its commissioning the Covered Market was al ready equipped with all the necessary technical and sanitary devices: cold stores, lifts and ventilation. It has retained its unique market atmosphere to this day.
THE SAND ISLAND AND PETER WLOST BOULEVARD
The boulevard running along the Sand Island bank toward Ostrów Tumski (the Cathedral lsland) was named after one of the most famous medieval figures of Breslau, about whose life and wealth many chroniclers have written. Peter Wlost was a palatine of Polish King Boleslaw the Wry-mouth and decided everything that happened in the city. Huge tracts of land and numerous municipal estates situated in and around the city, including Sleza mountain and all settlements at its foot, belonged to Wlost who was undoubtedly one of the richest persons in the 12th century Poland.
Only few remains of the original Romanesque church, constructed by the wife and son of Peter Wlost, have survived to the present. One of them is a Romanesque tympanum on the southern isle of the Most Holy Virgin Mary on Sand Church - a building which was erected in its present form during the second half of the I 4th century. Its main nave houses a splendid stellar vault, and its aisles a tri-pillar vault.
During the Second World War some 75% of the building was ruined. After reconstruction Gothic altars from different Lower Silesian churches were mounted in the temple. The icon of Mariampol Mother of God brought from Mariampol on Dniester (in modern-day Ukraine) is particularly worthy of note.
Peter Wlost Boulevard
The monastery situated in the temple took on its present architectural shape in the 18th century, Following a secularization of ecclesiastic goods in 1811 the University library was opened in the edifice. During the Second World War a decision was made to move the seat of Festung Breslau to the library's cellar. This was no coincidence because the cellars on the Sands were considered the most durable and secure in the city.
At the beginning the commanders of the fortress decided to blow up the building with its book collection in order to camouflage the quarters, however thanks to efforts of library's employee's it was agreed that the precious collection would be moved to St. Anna church situated opposite first. It is estimated that the library comprised about half a million volumes at that time. The evacuation continued when the general quarters of general Niehoff moved from the Partisan Hill (Liebichshöhe at that time). This was completed as late as May 4th, two days before the capitulation of the city. The greatest catastrophe happened a few days later.
On May 11th 1945 fire spread from adjacent tenements to St. Anna church and 300 hundred thousand invaluable volumes were lost. This massive destruction was compounded by exploding mines and munitions stored on Sand Island. In this way the church and the library building almost completely vanished from the face of the earth.
Today the library editlee of Wroclaw University houses numerous special collections including the largest collection of antique books in Poland.
THE TUMSKI BRIDGE
Wroclaw, like Venice, boasts many bridges, including a "bridge of sighs". This is namely the Tumski Bridge, which is also called the Cathedral or Green Bridge, on which the enamoured traditionally sigh out of love. To made their love etemal, they lock the locks with their names engraved on them on the bridge and they throw the keys to the Oder River.
The view of Ostrów Tumski (the Cathedral island) from Sand Island through the 19th century bridge connecting them is a popular photographic and painting motif. Scenes from many films have been shot here.
As early as the 11th century there was a bridge here connecting the Cathedral island with Sand Island and hence with the left-bank part of the city. Since the 12th century the bridge represented the boundary of ecclesiastical, ducal and municipal jurisdiction. Criminals frequently sought refuge on Ostrów Tumski (the Cathedral island) in an attempt to escape the civil judiciary. Additionally, the Duke was forced to yield to the laws of the is land if he wanted to participate in a service - he had to dismount from his horse, put aside his weapon and walk to the cathedral on foot.
There are two statues at the entry to the bridge, those of St. jadwiga, the patron saint of Silesia, and of St. john the Baptist - the patron saint of the Cathedral and the Breslau Archdiocese.
St. jadwiga came from the famous Bavarian family of Andechs. At the age of twelve she married Breslau Duke Henryk I (the Bearded) and soon became much loved in 13th century Silesia. She was famous for her mercy and piety, and enjoyed great popularity and respect. As aresuit, only twenty four years after her death in 1267 she was canonized. She is a symbol of peaceful coexistence between the Polish and German nations.
HOLY CROSS CHURCH AND ST. BARTHOLOMEW CHURCH
This two-level, two-halled church is a precious gem of Silesian Gothic. Owing to its structure (application of 9 poles and stellar vault in the main nave) it became the model for churches constructed in Silesia. Completed around 1350 it houses two churches: the lower of St. Bartholomew, patron of Piast dynasty, and the other of the Holy Cross.
The history of many year's of dispute between the Piast Duke Henryk IV Probus (the Righteous) with Breslau bishop Thomas II is closely intertwined with its construction. According to legends after many years of disputes with the bishop the Duke finally decided to build St. Bartholomew's Church as a token of reconciliation. When construction began a crossshaped root was encountered and was taken to be a divine sign. As a result the decision was made that the church should be dedicated to Holy Cross. Since a church had been promised to St. Bartholomew - two churches were eventually built.
Despite this legend the scholars think that the church was designed to have two levels from the very beginning and was to serve as the mausoleum of Henryk IV, a duke who was not only politically but also poetically gifted. He tried to unite the dispersed Silesian lands, conquer Cracow and maybe one day he would have become the king of Poland had he not died in unclear circumstances at the age of thirty in 1290. His years-Iong antagonist Bishop Thomas II was said by some to have had a hand in his death, while others think that the Duke was poisoned by his court doctor.
Originally the sarcophagus of the founder, Henryk IV Probus, considered the most outstanding work of Gothic grave sculpture in Silesia (presently in the National Museum), was housed in the church.
Holy Cross Church
St. Martin's Church
ST. MARTIN'S CHURCH
The St Martin church was raised in its present form at the close of 13th century which was later somewhat distorted by conversion work which was carried out in the 14th century. The temple was reconstructed following the destruction of the Second World War.
The guide to Wroclaw writes that the St. Martin's Church played an important role in the life of the Polish population of prewar Wroclaw. From 1921 to September 17th, 1939 church services in Polish were held here.
The Five truths of Poles and a plaque commemorating Poles under the sign of Rodlo (a sign in a stylized form used by members of the Poles Association in Germany, i.e. the former Polish community which in this period numbered about 2-3 thousand members). The members of Polish community in the German city claimed that although one could speak German in daily life one could pray only in Polish.
Since 1956 the Poles under the sign of Rodlo have been members of the Wroclaw Lovers' Society. Only a dozen or so of them are still alive.
In front of the Church stands a granite statue of Pope John XXIII which was made by the design of Ludwika Nitschowa and unveiled in 1968. The inscription on the pedestal is actually the title of a papal encyclical published in 1963: PACEM IN TERRIS (peace on earth), in which the Pope exhorted peace and respect for all human beings. The fact that the statue was founded by the Communist authorities had a political subtext associated with the statement of Pope John XXIII concerning the right of Poland to its western territories.
Ostrów Tumski is the oldest part of the city. Its name in Old Polish meant an "island with a cathedral", and indeed, up until the 19th century, when one of the branches of the river Oder was filled in, it was an island. Ostrów Tumski is a complex of sacral buildings. The most significant of them is the Cathedral, the patron saint of which, like Breslau and Silesia, is St. John the Baptist (along with St. Jadwiga). In 2000 the city celebrated the millennial anniversary of the foundation of the bishopric here.
The cathedral was the fifth temple to be raised on this site. Even prior to the founding of the bishopric a small church existed on Ostrów furnski. Remains of this building were discovered after the flood of 1997.
In around 990 Silesia was incorporated into the newly emerged Polish state. However, it had been subjected to Christian infiuences before this, while still being a part of Bohernia.
In 1000 the Polish Ruler Bolestaw the Brave purchased the mortal remains of St. Wojciech (St. Adalbert) from the Pagan Prussians who had killed him. Thanks to this he won favor with the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, for whom the saint-bishop was both a friend and missionary. An archbishopric was established in Gniezno (Gnieznienska Archdiocese), which had three new bishoprics under its authority - in Kotobrzeg, Cracow and Breslau, It was then that the construction of a cathedral was commenced on Ostrów Tumski. This cathedral was subsequently destroyed during an invasion by Bohemian Duke Bretislav in 1037.
A new temple was erected in the second half of the 11th century, during the reign of Polish King Kazimierz the Restorer, by the Bishop Jerome. He brought the remains of St. Vincent who then became the second patron saint of the Cathedral and Cathedral Chapter.
Between 1158-1178, on an initiative by Bishop Walter of Malonne, a fourth temple was built in this place. A figure of St. john, a copy of which is to be found on the northern wall of the Cathedral, and small columns as well as the Romanesque lion in the portico are all remains of this Romanesque building. The construction of the present cathedral was begun by Bishop Thomas I in the 13th century. His work was continued by Bishops Nanker and przedaw of Pogorzela. The construction was finished in 1361. In the structure of this cathedral an architectural system featuring relieving arches, which transfer the vault pressure on to counterforts outside the side aisles, was used for the first time and enabled the construction of a high vault.
In 1540 an enormous fire broke out in the Cathedral as a result of the dock maker's carelessness. He had left lighted candles in the tower. In consequence of the blaze, the tower, bells and roof trusses were burnt and the interior of the church was also damaged. The fire was put out only thanks to the assistance and commitment of townsmen.
In 1580 Renaissance cupolas appeared on the cathedral towers. During the seven years war, in 1759, another fire wreaked havoc in the temple, causing considerable damage. The Catbedral bells melted, the organ and half of the remaining buildings on Ostrów Turnski were destroyed. The reconstruction of the Cathedral following the blaze took approximately twelve years.
During the Second World War ammunition stored in the Cathedral exploded during a bombardment destroying an estimated 70% of its structure. The first phase of the reconstruction, started in 1946, was completed with the solemn reconsecration of the temple in 1951. The subsequent work lasted for many years. The cupolas on the towers (40 meters high and 19 tons each) were erected in 1991.
From the westem side in front of the main entrance to the Cathedral there is a Gothic portico dating from the 15th century and converted in a later period. Fragments of the medieval décor of the church - its Roman columns with plant motifs and a figure of a Roman lion - are, according to legend, imbued with an extraordinary power. Persons seeking their life partner should stroke the lion on Easter Monday, an action which is guaranteed to result in a change in their marital status within a year.
On the outer southern wall of the cathedral there is a figure of St. Vincent, the second patron of the Cathedral, and an original Renaissance gargoyle in the form a dragon's head (all the other gargoyles being but imitations of this one). On the southern wall there is also the entrance to the choir gallery. The head positioned over the small window reputedly once belonged to the apprentice of a Wroclaw jeweler. When the apprentice sought to marry his master's daughter her father refused. The young man, in a fit of vengeance, set fire to his master's house and rushed to the Cathedral in order to gain a better view of the conflagration. In retribution the heavens turned his head to stone and left it in the temple as a reminder.
Looking at the Cathedral from the east, one can see the four towers and three chapels, which survived the ravages of the War: the Gothic chapel of The Most Holy Virgin Mary (in the middle) and two baroque chapels - of St. Elisabeth (on the left) and Corpus Christi, also called the Electoral (on the right).
THE PEACE BRIDGE
The bridge, which existed here before the War, bore the name of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, a famous German philosopher, poet and literary critie. He lived in Breslau for almost five years (1760-1765) fulfilling the post of secretary to the Prussian general Friedrich Bogislav von Tauentzien, the commandant of Wroclaw during the war with Austria. Lessing did not have opportunity to officially devote himself to literary work and so used his time for noting numerous observations, particularly those of officer's life. During his stay in Breslau he commenced the writing of a comedy entitled Minna van Bamhelm.
During the Second World War the Leesing Bridge was seriously damaged. It was replaced by the Peace Bridge, constructed over the period of 1954-1959 according to the design of Jan Kmita.
The red brick edifice which stands at the Oder river next to the Peace bridge was raised over the period of 1883-1886 in the Netherlandish neo-Mannerism style (presently the National Museum) to be the seat of the Board of Silesian Province. The Museum houses preserved collections of Polish paintings dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries and the largest collection of contemporary art in Poland.
Panorama of Wraclawice
THE PANORAMA OF RACLAWICE
Near the National Museum is situated the Panorama of Raclawice. In a rotunda specially constructed in 1967 according to the design of Ewa and Marek Dziekonscy a monumental painting is exhibited - the canvas is 114 meters long, 15 meters wide and with the surface of almost 1800 square meters. It depicts battle scenes of the victorious battle of Tadeusz Kosciuszko who in 1794 led Polish insurgents against the Russian army commanded by general Alexander Tormasow. The painting with the realistic staffage "coming out of" the canvas surrounds the spectator from all sides, enabling to observe various episodes of the five hour long battle of Radawice (a village situated 38 km from Cracow).
The Panorama of Raclawice was painted in Lvov on the centennial anniversary of the Kosciuszkowskie insurrection to commemorate this armed bid for independence. The authors of the canvas, which was painted for ten months, are Jan Styka and a wellknown battle scene painter Wojciech Kossak who, while painting this enormous work, co-operated with other painters. The painting was damaged during the Second World War bombardment of Lvov.
In 1946 it was transported to Wroclaw where it was kept rolled up for many years. It was not exhibited for political reasons - after all it depicts the victory of Polish insurgents over the Russian army which was not accepted under Communism.
Thanks to the efforts of the Radawice Panorama Social Committee, formed during the "Solidarity movement" period, the canvas was renovated and opened to the public in 1985. The Panorama of Racfawice is currently one of the most famous tourist attractions in Wroclaw.
DOMINIKANSKI SQUARE AND ST. ADALBERT'S CHURCH
Since time immemorial two important trade routes led through Wroclaw: one from the south to the north, traversing the region because of the convenient crossing of the River Oder, the so called Amber route, and the second one from the east to the west - from Russia and Black Sea coasts to the countries of West Europe, the so called high route. Both routes met in the vicinity of the present-day Dominikanski Square.
Thus Wroclaw very quickly became a place where merchant's caravans travelling to various countries as well as pilgrims going to the St. Adalbert's grave from Bohemia converged. Therefore a settlement emerged in the vicinity and at the beginning of the 12th century St. Adalbert's Church was erected. It was the oldest church in Wroclaw on the left bank of the Oder river. The church assumed its present-day appearance in the 14th century.
The baroque chapel of Blessed Czestaw Odrowaz, a Dominican friar who arrived here in 1225 with a group of monks from Cracow adjoins the southern wall of the temple. He became famous for his heroic conduct during the Mongol invasion of 1241, when having sheltered behind the embankments of Ostrów Tumski, he contributed to the rescue of the town with his prayers and miraculous activities.
The construction of the chapel in the 13th century, founded by Konstanty Sobieski amongst others, had a symbolic character: Czestaw Odrowaz was, so to speak, a precursor of Polish King Jan III Sobieski's deeds centuries later, because he saved Breslau from Mongols (and Jan III Sobieski saved Vienna from the Turks). As a matter of fact the efforts aimed at the beatification of father Czestaw (which took place in 1713) were undertaken by Marysienska Sobieska, wife of Jan III.
St. Adalbert's Church
A large shopping centre situated next to the church - Dominikanska Gallery - was erected in place of the dense urban development which was destroyed during the Second World War and opened in 2002.
ST. MARY MAGDALENE CHURCH
This church served as one of two parish churches of the late-medieval city. The second was St. Elisabeth church and attracted mainly wealthy townsmen, called patricians.
St. Mary Magdalene church was established in the 13th century and its present form dates from the 14th century. The similarity of the St. John the Baptist cathedral to the St. Mary Magdalene church may be an indication that both temples were built by the master Pieszko who, having finished this construction, went on to take over the work at Oströw Tumski. It was there that the first evangelical service in Breslau was celebrated.
A student of Martin Luther; Johannes Hess, was a parish priest there for a several years. In his time the décor of the church was changed. The majority of Gothic altars (there were 58 of them at the beginning of the 16th century) were sold. The towers of churches were also lowered to avoid the misfortune which befell St. Elizabeth's church.
Although the St. Mary Magdalene church has survived the test of time but has not entirely avoided catastrophes. For example in 1887, on the occasion of the Prussian Emperor Wilhelm I's birthday a firework display was staged on a bridge connecting the towers. Sparks caused the northem tower to catch on fire. After the fire it was reconstructed in its original form.
During the Second World War the church was seriously damaged. In 1945 the legendary Sinner's Bell, which was the biggest Silesian bell (it weighed 113 centners), was also damaged.
St. Mary Magdalena Church
Inside St. Mary Magdalena Church
St. Mary Magdalene's, rebuilt over the period of 1947-1953, is currently a cathedral of the Polish-Catholic church, also dubbed the national Church. Although many epitaph plaques and gravestones have been preserved, the most precious relic of the church is a Romanesque portal dating from the 12th century, which was fixed in 1546 to the outer southem wall of the temple. Considered to be one of the oldest and most beautiful in the Central Europe, it comes from a Benedictine Monastery on the Elbing, torn down in 1529 at the whim of Heinrich Rybisch.
The church also hides a Gothic sacramentarium, one of the oldest in Silesia, and an evangelical Mannerist pulpit made of sandstone, green Silesian serpentinate and Wotynski alabaster.
THE GRUNWALDZKI BRIDGE AND GRUNWALDZKI SQUARE
Built over the years 1908-1910 the Imperial Bridge, named to honour the German Emperor Wilhelm II - soon after its opening became a symbol of the city. It was at that time the second longest suspension bridge in Germany. To this day it remains one of the longest bridges of its kind in Poland being 112,5 meters long, 18 meters wide and weighing 2.3 thousand tons. It was constructed of Silesian granite at a cost of 3.7 million German marks - an astronomical sum by the standards of the day.
The bridge was damaged during the War but by September 1947 it had been repaired and was open again. The work of R. Weyrauch and M. Mayer went down in history of the world's bridges due to the application of original, novel construction techniques which can be admired to this day.
Before the Second World War the vicinity of the present-day Grunwaldzki Square had a completely different character. It was one of the most appealing spots in the city boasting wealthy tenements dating from the turn of the 20th century.
In 1945, when the city was besieged a fortress' (Festung Breslau) and the Red Army occupied the airport at Gandau (presently Gadöw), the German command made the decision to demolish the existing buildings and build a field airport. The construction was carried out under constant artillery bombardment and was achieved only at the cost of the lives of 13 thousand people. Gauleiter Karl Hanke, who was in command of the city's defence, fled from the airport at Grunwaldzki Square.
CENTENNIAL HALL AND SZCZYTNICKI PARK
Centennial Hall (1945-2006, People's Hall) is situated in the eastern part of the city, in the vicinity of Szczytnicki Park and Zoological Garden. A fishing and agricultural settlement, called Alt Scheitnig once existed here but at the end of the 18th century the site was purchased by Prince Friedrich Ludwig von Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen with a view to building a summer residence there. The garden, called "ducal", the design of which the owner himself conceived in co-operation with the famous architect Carl Gotthard Langhans, was undoubtedly it primary boon, being partially accessible to Breslau residents and formed the precursor of the later Szczytnicki Park.
In 1815 the property of the Prince von Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen was sold by auction. Pastures situated between Alt Scheitnig and the village of Dabie were leased by the Silesian Horse Racing Association and between the years 1833-1906 horse races were held here.
The dynamically developing city at the close of the 19th century did not yet have a building which could be used for exhibition purposes. The horse racing circuit seemed the ideal site for the construction of such a hall. The approaching commemoration of the centennial anniversary of King Frederick Wilhelm III's proclamation to the German nation (An mein Volk) in 1813 which initiated the anti-Napoleonic campaign, and the centennial anniversary of Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Leipzig was the perfect time to raise a hall of this kind. The Centennial Hall was to be the main building of the Centennial Exhibition.
Max Berg, was appointed as the city architect in 1909 and in the following year set about designing it. In 1911 his design was approved by the city council. The final realisation of the design was overseen by Berg himself and the eminent architect Hans Poelzig who was responsible for several other elements of the Centennial Exhibition including the Four-Dome Pavilion and pergola surrounding the pond which exist to this day.
The hall is an early modernist building raised as a novel structure and supported on arches made of reinforeed concrete with a dome 23 meters high and diameter of 65 meters. It once housed the world's largest organ (the preserved fragments of which may now be found in the Cathedral). The main artistic event of the Centennial Hall, apart from the historic exhibition in the Four-Dome Pavilion, was the staging of Nobel prize winner Gerhart Hauptmann's drama Festspiel in Deutschen Reimen in 1912.
In 1948 the Restored Lands Exhibition, which demonstrated the output and achievements of Poland on the German territory incorporated into Poland in 1945, was held here. A steel spire designed by professor Stanislaw Hempel, is situated on the square in front of People's Hall and is a lasting remainder of this event.
In September 1948 the hall co-hosted (along with the Technical University) the World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace in which many eminent artists and academies including Pablo Picasso, Bertold Brecht and Max Frisch participated. Today the building is used to house exhibitions as well as to stage concerts, monumental operatic performances and other events such as sporting competitions.
In 2006 the Centennial Hall was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In the historical vicinity of the Centennial Hall and the Wroclaw Congress Center there is the Multimedia Fountain which was built in 2009 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first democratie election in the history of post-war Poland. From May till the end of October you can come and watch amazing performances of water, laser lights and musical sounds.
THE JAPANESE GARDEN
The japanese Garden (situated to the north of Centennial Hall) was established in 1913 as one of the exhibitions of the Artistic Gardening Exposition which complemented the Centennial Exhibition. The general arrangement of the garden with a pond and system of small streams is a legacy of that time.
The present garden was opened in May 1997 having been re-established following two years of close co-operation between Polish and japanese specialists and fulfils all the traditional criteria of japanese garden art. The area was damaged during the Centennial flooding, which occurred in Wroclaw two months later. However, thanks to the financial support of the japanese city of Nagoya its unique character was later restored.
Water, special arrangements of rocks and plants fulfil a very special role in the japanese Garden. Two water cascades form the main attractions of the arrangement. The placid one is referred to as the female and the turbulent one as the male. The two separate streams converge to form a large pond, the banks of which connect with the Pavilion of Love.
Today the japanese Garden is part of Szczytnicki Park and is home to many species of Asian plants which add an additional charm to this peaceful and harmonious setting. The Japanese Garden is open from the beginning of April to the end of October.
Wroclaw Zoo is the oldest zoological garden in Poland. The garden was established in 1865 near the village of Dabie (Grüneiche), on an undeveloped area near the River Oder, and one could reach it by stagecoach, crossing the Zwierzyniecki bridge (subsequently called Paßbrücke after a municipal tollbooth) and additionally by boat during holidays.
During the Second World War the garden was destroyed. Owing to the to efforts of Wroclaw University employees it was reconstructed and opened again in 1948. At the time the collection of animals comprised only 150 animals representing 60 species.
After the War the garden was gradually expanded, incorporating further exhibition grounds situated south of Centennial Hall. The old zoo along with its historic buildings is situated in the southem part of the present garden. Wroclaw Zoological Garden's collection is one of the largest in Poland, containing an estimated 4 thousand specimens representing 575 different species. Here it is possible to see animals which are no longer to be found in the wild as well as species threatened with extinction.
Wroclaw Zoo entrance