Wroclaw - a magical city
Wrocław was once described as “the holy blossom of Europe, a beautiful gem among cities”, and has always been a bone of contention, changing hands many times throughout its long history. In the past, Wrocław has belonged to Poles, Czechs, Austrians, Hungarians and Germans. Settlers here have included Walloons, Jews, Italians and Ruthenians. The mixture of many different religions and cultures, while troublesome at times, has also contributed a lot to the city. Wrocław lies in the middle of the Silesian Lowland, where the Oder River branches out to form 12 islands. The city is spanned by more than 100 bridges. Seen from the deck of a tour boat, Wrocław looks like a city on the water.
The heart of Wrocław is the Market Square, one of the most beautiful and largest urban squares in Poland. As in centuries past, it is home to large banks, elegant stores and famous restaurants. Wrocław’s Market Square was built on the crossroads of important transport routes running from the Czech Republic in the south, to the north, and from Western Europe to the East. The wealth of Wrocław’s residents was built on international trade, and the city grew rich from the taxes flowing into its coffers. With over 20,000 residents in the 14th century, Wrocław was among the largest cities of Europe at the time. In 1387 it became a member of the Hanseatic league, the powerful union of northern German, Rheinland, Teutonic, Swedish and Polish towns, which monopolized northern European trade and became a political power. People come to Wrocław for more than just business. Kings, emperors and presidents have been guests at the Under the Golden Sun, Under the Seven Electors and Under the Blue Sun tenement houses located on the Market Square. They have received homage, held political negotiations and borrowed money from the city. Today their former residences are the most beautiful buildings in the Market Square, and the Town Hall is recognised as a gem of Gothic- Renaissance urban architecture.
Beer and salt from Wrocław
The southern façade of the Town Hall is also the entrance to Piwnica Świdnicka, Wrocław’s most famous beer cellar, originating from the early 14th century. “Who hasn’t been to Piwnica Świdnicka, hasn’t been to Wrocław”, as the saying goes. As in centuries past, the Old Town and especially the Market Square, is the place for meetings, with close to 200 restaurants, cafés, pubs and clubs. Besides Piwnica Świdnicka, also worth recommending is Spiý brewery, located in the underground section of the new Town Hall. The bar offers homemade wheat beer, which is excellent with wholemeal bread and smalec – a traditional Polish spread made from lard and spices. Wrocław has always made a living off trade, so it has a number of squares. Beside the Market Square, there are Solny (Salt) Square and Nowy Targ (New Market). Salt stalls used to line the northern side of Solny Square. Honey and wax, precious furs, caviar, tea and even goat’s meat were also sold here. The last salt stalls were abolished in 1815, but trading in the square continues. Flower sellers are here until late at night, and it is also a meeting place for lovers, who arrange dates at the fountain with the dragon or at the stone spire.
A city of monuments
Wrocław is full of magical places. The medieval slaughterhouse has a statue in memory of the animals slaughtered there. On Świdnicka Street, near the pedestrian subway, is the monument of the Dwarf, the symbol of Orange Alternative, a movement famous in the 1980s for its protest against martial law.
Every weekend, the Baba Jaga tram departs from Teatralny Square with a café on board. For the ambitious, we recommend the terrace on the tower of St. Elizabeth’s Church (next to the famous tenement houses Jaś (Hansel) and Małgosia (Gretel), with a total of 300 steps. There is also an elevator in the cathedral tower, taking visitors up 60 m to an observation deck. In the evening, we recommend a walk along the streets of Ostrów Tumski, illuminated by the hazy light of gas lamps.
In the shadow of the cathedral
Ostrów Tumski, far from the hubbub of the city, is the terra sancta of Wrocław. To get there, you need to cross Tumski Bridge, once the border of church jurisdiction. Representatives of the lay authorities, including princes, were obliged to take off their hats when they crossed the bridge. This is an area of monumental churches, a marvelous Gothic cathedral, the houses of the canons and the archbishop’s palace. The terrace on the cathedral’s northern tower mentioned above offers a great view of the church towers and the Oder River winding through the city. When the gas lamps are lit at night and the most striking architectural landmarks are illuminated, Ostrów Tumski is a breathtaking sight. Those who enjoy Modernism will be intrigued by the Ludowa Hall, which at its opening in 1913 was the largest reinforced-concrete structure in the world. Today it is a venue for trade fairs, exhibitions, concerts and sports events—first and foremost matches played by Poland’s best basketball club team, slask Wrocław, a 16-time Polish champion. Wrocław is a city where culture plays a special role. Important events include the Wratislavia Cantans Music and Fine Arts festival, featuring oratorio and cantata music, the International Festival of Viennese Music and the Wrocław Organ Summer. The city has an opera house, an operetta, numerous theaters and museums, among which the most important is the rotunda housing the Racławice Panorama, a monumental work by Wojciech Kossak and Jan Styka, portraying the victory of insurgents led by Tadeusz KoÊciuszko over Russian forces at the Battle of Racławice.
Excursions to nearby castles
It takes just an hour and a half to get to the castle complex in Ksiaz. The castle, which has over 400 rooms, was built in the 13th century, and later changes only added to its splendour .The castle is surrounded by terrace gardens. Closer to Wrocław, just 10 km west of the center, in the village of Wojnowice, is Poland’s only castle on water.