Location and history
With the second largest town square in Europe (13th century), its mid-10th century Cathedral, the University of Wroclaw first mentioned in 1505, and its more than 100 bridges and canals, Poland’s fourth largest city is a three hour-drive northwest of Krakow.
Wroclaw is at the confluence of five rivers, the crossroads of two trade routes: the silk route from China to western Europe, and the amber route from the Baltic coast to the Roman Empire. This town has been a Polish jewel for centuries, that is, when it actually belonged to Poland.
Guides rattle off the quick and dirty story: Poland might be the most fought over territory in Central Europe. Nowhere is this tug-of-war more evident than in Lower Silesia’s capital: it has been tossed from Bohemia, to Poland, Austro-Hungary, Prussia, Germany (called Breslau then), Czechoslovakia, and Germany, before returning to Poland under the Yalta Treaty in 1945.
It is precisely this history that makes Wroclaw tolerant, cosmopolitan, linking labor and traditions of many nations. Following World War II, the largest population exchange in Europe took place here.
For centuries, this cultural cross-pollination has enriched Wroclaw by attracting scientific, economic, cultural, sporting and now culinary events to its doorstep; the ECOC may do the same in 2016.
Zany Wroclaw on View
The “Let’s Face It” project plastered Facebook shots of students and professors on the University of Economics’ tired facade. On the walk from the Rynek to Arkady Mall, 14 anonymous human-sized bronze pedestrians created by Polish sculptor Jerzy Kalina seem to emerge and descend out of the pavement. Spotting that other Wroclaw creature -- squat, bronze fairytale gnomes - is a game natives and tourists play; while little bronze cages hold free books.
These are not the most salient facts about Wroclaw, but an international honor may soon showcase this classy city of 633,000. A jury from the European Commission reviewed a short list of finalist Polish cities (Bialystok, Gdansk, Lublin, Lódz, Katowice, Poznan, Szczecin, Torun and Warsaw) in the competition for European Capital of Culture (ECOC), and Wroclaw won. (To be shared with San Sebastian, Spain.)
After hosting the Global Forum, a transatlantic conference on economic and political transitions, Wroclaw was the setting for two culinary events. Europe on a Fork, a foodie fest in Market Square featuring Polish celebrity chefs and carp, a fish raised in Lower Silesia, and MOOD4FOOD Festival of Food Trucks took place at Centennial Hall. Come 2016, Wroclaw will welcome the Theatre Olympics and the European Film Awards and, in 2017 the World Games.
Must-Sees in Wroclaw
Visit Market Square in the heart of the city day or night; with Gothic, Renaissance architecture, surrounded by historic tenement houses. Observation Points include the tower of the St. John the Baptist Cathedral at Ostrów Tumski, the Mathematical Tower at the University, the Witches’ Bridge on top of St. Mary Magdalene Cathedral, and the top of the Garrison Church.
The Royal Palace Complex, also known as the Castle of the Prussian Kings has a baroque garden. The University, a baroque complex includes University of Wroclaw Museum.
Centennial Hall, a UNESCO site, is one of the most important works in 20th century world architecture, designed by Max Berg. Wroclaw Stadium’s design includes a mesh of glass fiber covered with teflon and the external walls can be lit.
Visit Ostrów Tumski for the Gothic St. John the Baptist Cathedral, the Collegiate Church of the Holy Cross and St Bartholomew, a two-story brick hall church.
Wroclaw’s Botanical Garden dates from 1811; one of its curiosities is a geological section of a Lower Silesian black coal deposit, and the Natural History Museum. Szczytnicki Park was once a private garden, now is the city’s largest park: don’t miss the Japanese Garden, created in 1913. See Wroclaw Fountain, its 300 nozzles spurt water 120 feet into the air, illuminated by 800 light points below to create a multimedia performance to music. In winter the Fountain becomes an ice skating rink.
Wroclaw Zoological Garden features historic 19th-century buildings and the new Afrykarium, a huge complex that debuted in Oct., 2014. Enjoy cruises on the Oder where eight vessels sail the river from four moorings: Visitors can also hire canoes, row boats and motor boats.
Wroclaw’s hoteliers have engaged in elaborate restoration projects such as The Hotel Tumski, and its barge dining on the river close to Cathedral Island and the Botanic Gardens.
Its sister property, the Zamek Kliczkow, is a castle in Osiecznica, near the center of Polish stoneware in Boleslawiec. www.kliczkow.com.pl