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Sightseeing the Old Town
The best idea is to start the sightseeing of the city centre from walking round the Market Square. It is here in the Market Square that the cobbled streets, horse-drawn carriages, open-air restaurants create a special atmosphere attracting tourists all year round.
The Market Square of Wroclaw is the main square of the city and one of its most impressive sights. Due to its size (175 m wide and 205 m long), it is said to be one of the largest market squares in Europe. The Market Square dates back to the 13th century. The whole square is surrounded by beautifully painted low-rise buildings constructed in different architectural styles ranging from Gothic to Art Nouveau. Originally, there were as many as 60 buildings - first made of timber, then of brick. The number has remained the same till the present day. The western part of the market square suffered the least during World War II, thus, the most significant and architecturally impressive houses are mainly preserved here. However, all the rest of the townhouses that was destroyed during the war has been renovated and can be admired in their full splendour. Nowadays the buildings mainly recognized not by the number but by the symbols they used to have on their facades, e.g. Under the Golden Dog (Pod Zlotym Psem ) or Under The Blue Sun (Rynek 7). Some of them can still be seen not only on the facades but in the names of the restaurants or cafes which the buildings house nowadays.
In the very centre of the Market Square there is the Town Hall - a Gothic pearl and one of the best preserved town halls in Poland. Its beginnings date back to the 13th century. Then as the economic status of the city grew, the building changed its size and shape. At the end of the 16th century major remodeling works took place – the building was expanded and some decorative elements like bay windows and spires were added. The interiors of the town hall are of great historical and artistic significance to mention among others: The Duke’s Hall, the Councillors’ Chamber and the Great Hall. They have hosted magnificent guests so far. Nowadays the Town Hall houses the City Museum of Wroclaw. In its cellars there is the Swidnicka Cellar - the oldest beer-house in Europe.
The other landmarks of the Market Square include:
The monument of Count Fredro - famous comedy playwright – which was brought from Lvov and was unveiled on the 80th anniversary of his death The stone replica of the original pillory which was used for flogging the culprits from 1492 till the end of the 18th century A glass fountain built in 2000.
Another tourist attraction adjacent to the Market Square is the Salt Market. The market is called so for the reason that salt used to be the major trade item here. Now it is filled with florists. There is also a small fountain in the middle of the square. The buildings around catch the eye. The most outstanding are as follows: the so-called ‘’Little Negro house’’ (No. 2), the Oppenheims’ residence dating from the 18th century and the Old Stock Exchange (No. 16).
While visiting the city centre, one cannot miss the church situated at the other corner of the Market Square. To get to the church, one has to pass under two beautifully painted houses. They are connected by means of an arch with the Latin sentence: ‘’Death is the gate to life.’’ They used to be the houses of the lay guardians of the altar of St. Elizabeth’s Church. The few that have been preserved till the present times are called ‘’Hansel and Gretzel.''
The building on the right houses the Association of the Lovers of Wroclaw which organizes guided tours of the city. Just behind is the St. Elizabeth’s Church. Now a basilica minor, it once used to be one of the two old parish churches in the city. Its outstanding Gothic interior (currently being renovated) abounds in epitaphs of the Wroclaw aristocracy. The church used to have a large organ, however, devastated during the fire in 1976, it is now being renovated. The church tower is nearly 91 m high. From the top of it after climbing about 365 steps one can admire a beautiful panoramic view of the city.
Within a walking distance from the church and the Market Square there is another church worth visiting – namely, the Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. It is famous for its Baroque interior with splendid sculptures e.g. a replica of Vatican's pieta and frescoes made by F.A. Scheffler.
Another attraction worth visiting is the University dating back to the 18th century with a richly adorned portal.
Its main staircase is a masterpiece as it is covered with F.A.Scheffler’s frescoes. On the ground floor there is the Oratorium Marianum. Once a chapel, now the Musical Room famous for hosting such outstanding musicians as Liszt, Paganini and Wieniawski, etc. On the first floor there is the Aula Leopoldina (Leopoldina Hall) constituting the most representative university hall. Its Baroque interior comprises illusionist frescoes made by J. Ch. Handke, stucco works by I.A. Provisore and impressive sculptures by F.J. Mangoldt. One can also climb the stairs and visit the Mathematicians' Tower to enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
While leaving the University, one passes the monument of the Fencer – one of the symbols often placed on the postcards of Wroclaw.
Within a walking distance from here, there is another part of the city which is a must on the tour of Wroclaw, i.e. Cathedral Island. To get there one has to cross Sand Island with the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Sand Island – the former abbey of the St. Augustine Canons– once one of the wealthiest abbeys in Wroclaw. It dates back to the 12th century. Originally the church was built in the Romanesque style. Then on the site another Gothic church was erected in the 14th century. Three chapels were added with the Chapel of the Holy Cross (1666) which is said to be the oldest Baroque construction in Wroclaw. The church is also noted for its votive Baroque picture of the Victorious Mother of God brought from Marianpol (Ukraine). Another peculiarity is the Nativity Crib open to the public all year round.
From here it is close to Cathedral Island, which is a magic place – peaceful, full of sacral monuments and picturesquely situated near the river. One can have a good rest here sitting on one of the benches overlooking the river and enjoying the view of the city. Cathedral Island (Ostrow Tumski)is the oldest part of Wroclaw with the traces of the earliest settlements of the Silesian tribe. As an island it served not only defence purposes. As the influence of the church grew, by 1439 Cathedral Island became the property of the Church. When one of the arms of the river was filled in, OstrowTumski was no longer an island. Nowadays it is the seat of the Wroclaw archidiocese.
Cathedral Island abounds in historical monuments. The most valuable is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
It is a Gothic church with Neo-Gothic additions.Its uniquely beautifu portico consisting of Romanesque and Renaissance architectural details catches the eye. On the site three other churches were built before with the oldest one dating back to the 10th century. Two centuries later it was rebuilt in Gothic style and became the first brick-made construction in the town. The fires of 1540 and 1759 ruined the cathedral so it had to be repaired. At the end of the 17th century its interior was remodelled in the Baroque style. Then in the 19th century the western side and the interiors were rebuilt in the Neo-Gothic style. The worst was yet to come when, during the siege of Wroclaw by the Red Army, the cathedral suffered severely. Almost 70 % of the construction was destroyed. Fortunately, the cathedral has been renovated a few times since then and can be now admired in its full splendour. Its organ, considered to be the largest one in the country, is worth seeing. Other artistic wonders include the winged altar, the outstanding pulpit, great stained-glass windows, etc. During the excavation works the relics of the Romanesque crypt were discovered. The visitors can visit not only the interiors of the cathedral but they can also mount the stairs or take the lift to the north tower and from the terrace up there enjoy a magnificent view of the island, beautiful Bishops’ Gardens, the river and the whole city.
If tired of walking and sightseeing, one can visit the nearby Botanical Garden where sitting on one of the benches it is possible to study in detail the history of the historical monuments of the city of Wroclaw.