Wroclaw city guide
The capital of Lower Silesia does not leave any visitor unaffected and with its outstanding architectural highlights, historical monuments and buzzing nightlife it could become just as popular with foreign travellers as Krakow is nowadays. The city’s location on the Odra River, comprising 12 islands, 130 bridges and riverside parks, is extremely picturesque. Just 3 European cities have more bridges than Wroclaw and with so many islands and canals it is no wonder that Wroclaw is also called the Venice of Poland. Seen from a boat Wroclaw seems to float on the water. But Wroclaw resembles also very much a smaller version of Prague when you see the numerous Gothic spires dominating the skyline and the twisting cobbled streets which are a constant challenge to the elegant local girls wearing high heels. Everywhere you can feel the Bohemian, Austrian and Prussian influences that Wroclaw underwent throughout the centuries. Wrocław was seen as a magic city and often referred to as the holy flower of Europe. Claimed by many and ruled by the Polish, Czech, Austrians, Hungarians and German. Wallons, Jewish, Italians and Russians moved to Wroclaw and nations, religions and cultures mixed to one big melting pot.
After being extensively damaged during World War II and stagnated under Communism, Wroclaw has bounced back in a big way and is now one of Poland’s most successful and wealthiest cities. Its rapid development was also stimulated by its location close to the German border which made the city easy accessible to German day-trippers and investors. Thanks to its location Wroclaw had always German influences. Wroclaw was founded some 1,000 years ago by Slavs, but throughout the centuries its population had become increasingly Germanized and until the end of World War II Wroclaw was known as the German city of Breslau. With the defeat of Nazi Germany and the shifting of Poland's borders to the West the city fell back into Polish territory. The last Germans were driven out of the city and Wroclaw was repopulated by Poles, amongst many of them from Lwow, - now Lviv in Ukraine - and other east areas of the country after coming under Soviet domination. Despite its German roots, the only German you're likely to hear nowadays is from the day-trippers ordering their coffee. Nevertheless the city keeps an unmistakable feel of a German provincial town, especially around the magnificent central square Rynek and the streets of the Old Town.
With brilliantly painted baroque and Renaissance houses that line the square on all sides and an eye-catching Gothic Town Hall the Rynek is Wroclaw’s biggest attraction. On warm summer evenings the square bursts out into life, when everyone sits down there for a glass of beer or a cup of coffee. Fans of Gothic architecture will start to drool when walking through the beautifully preserved ecclesiastical district.
Another attraction not to be missed is Cathedral Island (Ostrow Tumski), a magic and peaceful place full of religious monuments and picturesquely located near the river. Here one can have a good rest here sitting on a bench and overlooking the river and enjoying the view of the city. Cathedral Island is the oldest part of Wroclaw with traces of the earliest settlements of the Silesian tribe. Wroclaw is also famous for Panorama Raclawicka (The Raclawice Panorama), a colossal painting (120 metres x 15 metres) depicting the victory during the Kościuszko Uprising over the Russian Army at the battle of Raclawice on April 4th, 1794. Thanks to the paining techniques implemented, a viewer has an impression of being right in the middle of this historical event. Lovers of modernism should see the Hala Ludowa (The Centennial Hall). When this exhibition hall was opened in 1913 to host the World Exhibition of 1913, it was the largest concrete construction of the world and Hala Ludow is one of the thirteen historical monuments of Poland registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. With its enormous central space and the dome (23 m high), the Centennial Hall is a landmark in the history of architecture.
Wroclaw is a remarkable green city and there are several artificial land parks worth visiting. Ogrod Japonski (The Japanese Garden) was set up on the occasion of the World Exhibition of 1913 and the quiet green surroundings make a great place for relaxing and escaping the hectic city life. Ogrod Botaniczny (the Botanical Garden of Wroclaw), is a perfect recreation site with quiet lanes amidst its rich exotic vegetation. The Dwarfs of Wroclaw are statues erected on Wroclaw’s streets as a tribute to the Orange Alternative movement in 1982. At that time some dwarfs with funny hats and smiling faces were painted as a graffiti covering anti-Communist slogans.