Sunday, August 28, 2011

Wrocław, Poland

Back in '97, several of my friends opened a T.G.I. Friday's restaurant in Wrocław, Poland. They all said what a pretty little town it was so I knew that I wanted to check it out one day. It's about a six hour train ride from Brno and, with my In-Karta, a round trip train ticket is only €40 (~$55).
Sitting in the southwest, Wrocław (pronounced "Vrots-wahv") is over 1000 years old and through the centuries it has been a part of Poland, Bohemia, Austria, Prussia and Germany. At the end of WWII, the city was taken from Germany and became a part of Poland. With a population of +630,000 it is the country's 4th largest city. It's a major student city and it reminds me of a slightly larger Brno, except for all of the bridges. Wrocław sits on 12 islands and is connected by 112 bridges.

The main attraction is the Market Square; founded in the 1200s. It's huge, but after Kraków, is Europe's 2nd largest square. Around the square are some very beautiful buildings ranging in style from Gothic to Art Nouveau. In the center of the square is the New City Hall, as well as, the historic Town Hall. The Gothic Town Hall dates back to the 13th century. It is absolutely beautiful! Today, it houses Wrocław's City Museum and in the cellar is, Świdnicka, Europe's oldest beer hall.

Off of the main square is the much smaller Salt Square. It too dates back to the 13th century and got its name from the salt stalls that used to line the square. The salt has been replaced by flowers because now you can purchase them from outside vendors 24/7/365. I bet the flower stalls are popular with husbands, headed home to their wives, after a night at Świdnicka.

On the other side of the main square is St. Elisabeth's Church. It's a 14th century Gothic church. Now it's a minor basilica. The observation deck in the tower is open to the public and provides a great view of the city. Not far from the church is where the town's butchers' stalls used to be 700 years ago. The stalls are now galleries and in front of the them now are bronze statues to commemorate all of the animals that met their end there.

At the University of Wrocław it is possible to visit the ceremonial hall, Aula Leopoldina, named after Emperor Leopold I, when the town was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Baroque frescoes inside are great!

The Centennial Hall was built in 1911 - 1913. It was modeled after Istanbul's Hagia Sophia. The hall commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Leipzig where Napoleon was defeated. In 2006, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Near the hall is a multimedia fountain with regular shows. There is also a traditional Japanese Garden that was built for the 1913 World's Fair.

Panorama Racławicka is a huge painting (120 m x 15 m) in a rotunda that depicts the victory of Tadeusz Kościuszko and a group of peasants over the Russian Army in 1794. I really wanted to see it but wasn't able to. By 2 pm every 30-minute session for the rest of the day was sold out. I guess I'll have to get there earlier next time.

However, near the Panorama is a memorial to those Poles killed at Katyń by the NKVD.

And no visit to Wrocław is complete without the dwarfs.

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