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Wrocław is a medium-sized city dyed in candy colours, located in southwestern Poland on the Oder River. Not as famous as its bigger brother Krakow, this city should definitely feature on your places to see list. Due to Bohemian, Austrian and Prussian influences Wroclaw has a unique architectural and cultural makeup.
The city has 12 islands, 130 bridges and several parks. This Hanseatic city is also known under the name of Breslau. In 1945 the name was officially changed to Wroclaw.
Dwarves in Wroclaw
Besides a special colour palette, this city boasts a remarkable ethnic minority, namely dwarfs (or gnomes)! The first gnome settled here in 2001. Seven years later female gnomes arrived in Wroclaw. The arrival of the gnomes was facilitated by the Polish ‘Orange Alternative’. This playful resistance movement was founded in the communist era. They used the gnome as their symbol.
At the time of writing the municipality had already welcomed hundreds of these tiny immigrants and the population is still growing. These mythological creatures are now scattered all over the city. Newcomers are sponsored by commercial organisations and local authorities.
Although the immigrants are extremely small, they still have to work for a living. Some of them are aeronauts or artists others mountain climbers or bankers.
The aliens are under close watch by the native population. There is even a website where every gnome is registered with its location, profession and juicy details about their lives. So much for privacy! However, they are not left completely powerless to the benevolence of tourists and locals. Apparently they have to be treated well or they become tormentors and of course, that may not be desirable.
So be sure to make small talk with them about your quest through the city when following their trail.
Start the search for dwarves on the main market, Stare Miasto. This is the heart of the city. The buildings have the colour of candy and mostly house restaurants or cafes.
Pay particular attention to the town hall. This is an example of medieval architecture and took almost two centuries (1327-1504) to complete. The astronomic clock on the front of the former town hall is made of larch wood. It was built in 1580. The building houses a national museum, with an impressive regional art collection.
St. Elizabeth Church
St. Elizabeth is a Gothic church. Climb the 300-plus steps of the tower for a great view over Wroclaw. Of course, you need to be hawkeyed to be able to spot gnomes from this high up.
The city has several parks along the river. The park Juliusza Słowackiego is located in the centre, with gardens spread over almost six hectares. Except for dwarf statues, there are many other attractions nearby, such as the National Muzeum Narodowe, which has one of the largest art collections in the country.
Furthermore, don’t miss the imposing war memorial in the park. This work consists of an image of an angel looking down on a grieving woman, holding in her arms the body of a loved one.
The monument was erected in memory of the Katyn massacre. In the spring of 1940, an estimated 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals were assassinated by the Soviet secret police near this town. With the elimination of the intellectual elite, Stalin hoped to nip any resistance of the Polish people against the communist regime in the bud.
A few meters from the monument you will find the equally bloody Panorama Raclawize.
The Parorama of Raclawize is a circular painting of the struggle for Polish independence.
The work depicts the battle fought between the Polish and the Russian army at Racławize, on April 4, 1794. The Polish won, but to no avail, months later they were crushed by the tsarist army.
The artwork measures 15 by 114 meters.
Tickets can be purchased at the box office. Note that during high season there are long delays since only 85 people are allowed in at a time. It is probably more convenient to order tickets online via the website Panorama of Raclawize prior to a visit.
Ostrów Tumski or Cathedral Island
The idyllic Cathedral Island is a must for lovers of Gothic architecture. This is the oldest part of the city. The ‘island’ has a high number of religious buildings, the Wroclaw diocese owns most of the properties. Nowadays Ostrow Tumski is not really an island anymore. Sustained floods in the 19th century led to the draining of a tributary of the river. The district can be reached via the central bridge over the river.
Katedralna street, in particular, is atmospheric, as to this day it is still illuminated by gas lamps. During twilight, these are lit by hand, which is also an excellent time to spot gnomes.
The cultural agenda, transportation options and other useful tourist information is available on the website of Wroclaw.
The cosy Rzeźniczaapartment is in a fantastic location in the city centre with several restaurants and the big market within walking distance. It is suitable for four people.
If you prefer to sleep in a hotel, the five-star Radisson Blu is located opposite the Panorama Racławice.
Armed Forces on August 15
The Day of the Polish Armed Forces (Polish: Wojska Polskiego Święto) which is celebrated on August 15th, is a national holiday commemorating the victory over the Russians at the Battle of Warsaw in 1920 during the Polish-Soviet War.
Throughout the country, military parades are held to commemorate the event. During the communist regime (from 1947) these celebrations were banned. In 1992 the tradition has been revived.