Wroc³aw (Wroclaw) is an excellent example of a multicultural metropolis situated at the interface of ethnically diverse areas. For a greater part of the city's history, German was the dominant language in Wroc³aw (Wroclaw). However, for several generations the city was home to the Korn publishing house, which printed many books in Polish (250 titles between 1732 and 1790). Here the German playwright Karl Holtei staged a play about the Polish national hero Tadeusz Koœciuszko (Tadeus Kosciusko) in 1826. The Czechs have also played an important role in the city's history (in 1335- 1526 Wroc³aw (Wroclaw) belonged to the Kingdom of Bohemia). As late as 1719, the great sculptor Johann Georg Urbański (Urbanski) of Bohemia was given the key to the city.

Multiculturalism again left a very deep impress on the city's character after the Second World War, when the city's German population was largely replaced by people arriving from various regions of Poland, including those resettled from the eastern provinces of Poland taken over by the Soviet Union. In particular, many former citizens of Wilno (Vilnius) and Lwów (Lvov) settled here. With them came the great library collection of the Ossoliński (Ossolinski) Institution from Lwów (Lvov), which found a new location in the magnificent Baroque edifice of the former monastery of the Red Star Knights of the Cross. Two other works of unique significance for Polish culture were transferred from Lwów (Lvov): the statue of the leading Polish comic dramatist, Count Aleksander Fredro, and the Panorama of the Battle of Rac³awice (Raclawice), a monumental painting representing the victorious battle with the Russian forces fought by Tadeusz Koœciuszko (Tadeus Kosciusko) on 4 April 1794, one of only several paintings of this kind to have survived in Europe until the present. It took over 35 years before it was possible to show the Panorama to the public, but today it is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions.

Essential facts about history

To understand a city, whether we live there every day or see it for the first time, it is helpful not only to visit its places of interest but also to know essential facts about its history.

7th-8th c. - archaeological sources testify to the existence of a fortified wooden settlement on today's Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island)

1000 - the bishopric of Wroc³aw is established, subordinate to the archbishopric of Gniezno

1017 - the German chronicler Bishop Thietmar makes the first mention of a fortified settlement in Wroc³aw

1138 - with the division of the Polish Crown into five provinces, Wroc³aw becomes the capital of the Duchy of Silesia and the seat of the senior prince of the provincial dukes of the house of Piast

1241 - the Tartar invasion

1242 - incorporation of the city within the limits of today's central Wroc³aw, including Rynek (Town Square) and plac Solny (Salt Market)

1262 - establishment of the city council; Wroc³aw is granted privileges based on the Magdeburg Statutes

1335 - upon the death of Henry VI, the last Wroc³aw Duke of the Piast dynasty, the city along with the entire province of Silesia is incorporated into the Kingdom of Bohemia

1469 - Matthias Corvinus, the King of Hungary, ceremonially enters Wroc³aw, which pays homage to him

1498 - treaty re-incorporating Silesia into the Kingdom of Bohemia

1523 - the first Protestant sermon in Wroc³aw; the beginning of the Reformation in the city

1526 - along with Bohemia and Hungary, Wroc³aw passes to the Habsburgs

1639 - the Jesuits settle in Wroc³aw, initiating the Counter-Reformation in the city

1741 - as a result of a war between Prussia and Austria, Wroc³aw passes to Prussia

1742 - Wroc³aw becomes the third capital city of Prussia, alongside Berlin and Konigsberg

1807 - Wroc³aw is taken over by Napoleon's Army and the demolition of the city's fortifications is ordered by Jeróme Bonaparte

1809 - the first general election of a City Council

1871 - rapid development of the city begins following the unification of Germany under Prussia and large war contributions from France

1928 - the biggest ever enlargement of the city's territory (by almost 250%)

27 February 1945 - 6 May 1945 - by an order of the Nazi authorities the city is turned into a fortress; the siege of Wroc³aw by the Soviet army

9 May 1945 - the Soviet military command turns Wroc³aw over to Polish administration

1948 - the World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace is organized in Wroc³aw

1968 - the unveiling of the monument of Pope John XXIII, who recognized Poland's rights to the western territories

1951, 1973 - the administrative area of Wroc³aw is further enlarged

1980 - the Solidarity trade union movement begins; Wroc³aw becomes one of Poland's major centres of prodemocratic activity

1983 - the Polish-born Pope John Paul II visits Wroc³aw

1990 - the first fully democratic election of a City Council after the Second World War

The city's development has been for the most part harmonious but there have also been some tragic moments. Wroc³aw has not been spared by the ravages of wars, internal conflicts, and natural disasters such as fires and floods, so frequently described by chroniclers. There have also been longer periods of disruption in development. Among the major disasters one has to mention epidemics, especially the 1633 outbreak of plague, brought to Wroc³aw by the Emperor's soldiers, when half of the city's population perished.

The duality of municipal governance - ecclesiastical and secular - gave rise to the famous 'beer war' of 1380. The City Council defended the city's monopoly on the sale of beer against the Cathedral canons, who lived in Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island). As a result, an interdict (a church disciplinary measure) was imposed on the city's churches, which were subsequently pillaged. It took a papal bull to end the conflict.

Another domestic crisis exploded in 1418, caused by tensions resulting from the enormous financial and social inequality between the patriciate and the lower urban classes (including the craftsmen). It culminated in a revolt and the beheading of mayor Nicholas.

The city's spatial development has not been free of disruptions, either. These have arisen from diverse historical causes. For example, in 1263 Duke Henry III founded the so-called New Town, located between branches of the Odra and O³awa rivers, east of the original centre. The New Town was meant as competition for the economic power of the existing urban centre and its economy-based political muscle. However, incapable of offering equally advantageous commercial opportunities and limited in its spatial development, the town ceased to exist as an independent unit as early as 1327.The city's spatial development also reflected its changing fortunes, the moments of glory or relative decline. For example, the perimeter of the city walls actually erected in 1272 was much smaller than initially intended in 1261. Not until around 1330 did the city encompass all of the originally-planned areas. Relics of the inner moat the so-called inner O³awa - were still in evidence in the early 20th century.The final months of the Second World War were the most tragic period in the history of Wroc³aw (Phot. 6, 7, 8). In August 1944, expecting an attack of the Soviet army, the Nazi authorities turned the city into a strong- hold. Many buildings were demolished. Part of the population was evacuated, others - including children - were forced to dig trenches and erect barricades. Three months of siege and heavy fighting resulted in the city being almost completely levelled. The southern and western districts were the hardest hit (destruction rate of 90%); the Old Town and the inner suburbs also suffered heavy damage (50%) as a result of crucial German defences being positioned among historical structures (for example, the main anti-aircraft battery was located in the Nowy Targ Square) and also from extensive demolition for the purposes of defence. For example, the area of the present-day Grunwaldzki Square was levelled to turn it into a military airfield, which was actually used only by a few aircraft, including the one aboard which the German commanding officer fled the besieged city. Statistics reflect the tragic destiny of the city turned fortress: 170,000 civilians and 6,000 German soldiers died during the siege and evacuation. Over 7,000 Soviet soldiers are buried in the military cemeteries in Wroc³aw.

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