The city of Wrocław grew around a Bohemian stronghold where the Via Regia and Amber Road crossed.
It first appears on records of the C10 as Vratislavia.
As is usual in Poland, the city changed hands a number of times, before falling into German hands up to, and including, WW2.
Breslau, as it was then called, survived the war relatively intact (and, in fact, it had a huge number of refugees from other parts of Germany) until February 1945 when, with the Soviet Army approaching, Gauleiter Karl Hanke declared the city a Festung (fortress) to be held at all costs. 18,000 people froze to death in the January 1945 evacuation of women and children as temperatures dropped to -20C. By the end of the three-month Siege of Breslau, half the city lay in ruins and 40,000 civilians lay in those ruins.
From a (refugee-inclusive) population of over 1 million, by 1945 the city’s population had fallen to 189,500 Germans and 17,000 Poles. Most of the Germans fled or were expelled and the city was re-populated by Poles during the resettlement programmes we’ve talked about elsewhere, in 1945-1949.
The city lies on the river Oder – in fact, the oldest part of town is Cathedral Island (Ostrów Tumski), now landlocked. Flooding in 1997 left 1/3 of Wrocław under water.
On Cathedral Island you’ll find Wrocław’s market square, the rynek, and Town Hall,
Churches of St Elizabeth and St Mary Magdalene, Wrocław Cathedral,
Tumski Bridge aka Lovers Bridge or Cathedral Bridge, the Church of St Giles and the Archbishop’s Palace
There’s no denying the Centennial Hall and Discovery Centre is not classically beautiful … but it IS a remarkable looking building.
Perhaps, knowing the “hat box” was built in time for the 1913 celebration of the centenary of the Battle of Leipzig, it actually makes more sense, as a product of its time.
Getting this out of the way now – they were celebrating a German battle because Wrocław was, at the time, Breslau in Germany. Poland did not exist, except in the hearts and minds of the Polish people, and Wrocław is pronounced Vrotswahv.
When the workers were building the Hall – the first of its kind – they honestly believed it would collapse. So a surprise, then, that it just celebrated its own centenary and, by the way, it’s the only UNESCO Heritage site listed in Wrocław.
Situated just east of the city centre, the Hall is easily accessible by tram or bus and surrounded by the Szczynicki Park, Poland’s oldest zoo and the Japanese Garden, this is also where you’ll find one of Wrocław’s newest attractions – the Pergola Fountain. The fountain puts on a show every hour, on the house, from 10:00 to 22:00 every day from May to October. Some performances are just 3½ minutes long, some last 18; some are to classical music, some to modern; best are the after-dark shows on Friday and Saturday when the Fountain REALLY shows what it’s made of.
Don’t worry if you’re visiting in winter – the area is transformed into a skating rink!
Next, well now we’re just going to show you some more of what Wrocław has to offer her visitors.
Let’s start with the Racławice Panorama (Polish: Panorama racławicka) , a monumental (15 × 114 meter) cycloramic painting depicting the Battle of Racławice has been displayed in Wrocław since 1985.
The Ossolineum was founded in Lwów in 1817 and is Poland’s second largest library, after that at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.
In the south of Wrocław stands the 1904/5 Water Tower, now a restaurant. It was built under city architect, Karl Klimm, as were Zwierzyniecki Bridge and the Faculty of Architecture of the Wrocław University of Technology.
The White Stork Synagogue in ul. Pawła Włodkowica (1829, rededicated 2010) is the only synagogue in Wrocław to have survived WW2.
Wrocław Central Station (Wrocław Główny) was built in 1855 – 1857, designed by the then royal Prussian architect. Does it remind you of a castle? The Museum of Architecture is the only one of its kind in Poland and is housed in a complex of C15 monastic buildings.
Wrocław Palace (Pałac Królewski) was formerly Breslau City Palace (Breslauer Stadtschloss) and houses the Wrocław City Museum.
Wrocław Opera House was built in 1841. The University of Wrocław is gorgeous, but not as spectacular as its predecessor Leopoldina. And of course it’s not all old – Sky Tower is the tallest residential building in the EU.
There’s yet more …
The Monopol Hotel, the arsenal, the public bath.
And because, like New York, Wrocław is so good you should see it twice (?!) we’re back at the Ratusz. Only about 10% of the Town Hall was destroyed or damaged in WW2.
A phoenix rises from the fires of destruction, though in this case we prefer the original Barasch Brothers’ Department Store to the post-war reconstruction Phoenix Department Store (Dom Handlowy Feniks).
Appetite whetted? We have just a few suggestions for excursions from Wrocław that you might like.
Świdnica, with its Peace Church is only about 30 minutes by private bus from the main bus station in Wrocław .
Or hire a car and visit Jawor, too.
The Churches of Peace were named after the |Peace of Westphalia of 1648 which permitted the Lutherans to build three evangelical churches in the Roman Catholic part of Silesia. Construction materials were limited to wood, loan and straw, the churches had to be built outside the city walls, without steeples and bells,and the construction time was limited to one year. In 2001 the two remaining churches were listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
If you’ve got a car, and especially if you like hot springs or the mountains, head down to Jelenia Góra (+/- 110km).
About 70km south-west of Wrocław is the pretty town of Walbrzych.
The town is well worth a look but it’s most famous for the nearby Książ Castle (aka Schloss Fürstenstein), today in the eponymous Landscape Park.
And if you’re even slightly in love with our decorated earthenware, go to Bolesławiec to see the galleries and workshops and perhaps buy some ceramics and art. The Bolesławiec Clay Festival is held in August each year.
Nearby Kliczków Castle is now a hotel.
One last thing – when you’re in Wrocław , keep an eye open for the dwarfs. These tricksy little ones can be found all over the city – they never stand still long enough to be counted, but official estimates place the total at over 180.
Getting to Wrocław
Wrocław is just off the A4/E40, so if you’re driving to Kamionka Wielka it’s a short diversion or a handy night stop. It’s 270km from Kraków, which can also be reached by a fast (3 hour) coach service.
Ryannair, Wizzair and EuroLOT, among other, serve Wrocław -Copernicus Airport (day bus 406 or night bus 249 runs to the city centre). The city is also a main rail hub and a Eurolines coach destination.
Trams and buses take care of public transport in the city – tickets are either single-journey or time-based.
VALIDATE YOUR TICKET as soon as you get on the bus or tram as tickets are sold at many places (kiosks, corner shops) and need to be validated to travel. The single-journey ticket is 3.00zł for normal lines or 3.20zł for express or night lines. Time-based tickets, like those in Kraków, are valid from the time of validation for 30 minutes, 60 or 90 minutes, 24, 48 or 72 hours.
Of course there are also a number of taxi companies and, with central Wrocław being relatively compact, not too expensive.