Wrocław: Gnomes and the City

They lurk in alleyways, hide around corners, perch on windowsills, eat and drink excessively, take naps, and occasionally read books or put out fires. They are the gnomes. Although they are also called „dwarves”, my garden gnomes correctly identify Wrocław’s gnomes as close relatives. Wrocław is home to around 400 small, brass gnome statues. These charming sculptures, about one foot tall, are the object of pursuit by tourists wielding cameras and smart phones. Gotta catch them all!

Gnome statues were first placed around Wrocław in 2005. Gnome images appeared earlier in Wrocław in 1980’s anti-communist graffitti. Gnomes generally represent an imaginary entity sometimes mischievious or playful. However, today’s gnomes are also depicted as prosocial types (scholars and firefighters). The location of the gnome statues is related to the functions of nearby buildings (e.g., the scholarly gnome is right by the University of Wrocław).

Wroclaw is a city of 641,000 inhabitants located on the banks of the Odra River in southwestern Poland. Over the course of its history, Wrocław was under the political control of various powers including the Polish State, Bohemia, the Hapsburg Monarchy, Prussia, and Germany. The earliest local settlement from around the 6th century, called „Ostrów Tumski”, was Slavic. Prince Mieszko I of the Piast Dynasty brought Ostrów Tumski under the control of the Polish State. In the year 1000 Wrocław became the site of one of three bishoprics in Poland that were established by King Bolesław I the Brave (son of Mieszko I) who was the first crowned king of Poland.

Sand Bridge, a pedestrian walkway, connects the main bank of the Odra River with Sand Island. The two towers of St. John the Baptist Cathedral are visible ahead.

Ostrów Tumski

The oldest neighborhood of Wrocław, called Ostrów Tumski or Cathedral Island, is a former island on the river Odra. Bolesław I the Tall, Duke of Wrocław, made Ostrów Tumski the capital of his realm back in 1163. Later the entire area came under Church jurisdiction and today boasts a large number of churches and ecclesiastical buildings.

Tumski Bridge connects Sand Island with Ostrów Tumski. This photo was taken looking back towards Sand Island and the Church of the Holiest Virgin on Sand Island.
Ostrów Tumski with the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (with two towers) straight ahead.

Art students can be seen sketching the picturesque St. John the Baptist Cathedral, built between 1244 and 1590. The front of this church (middle photo) looks very different than the back (right-hand photo).

The Odra River Islands And the Riverbank

The Odra River twists and turns as it meanders through Wrocław. There are 12 river islands and 130 bridges! The scenic waterways offer many inviting pedestrian walkways. The attractive riverbank is prone to occasional flooding (there is unfortunately a cloud around every silver lining). The Ostrów Tumski district, once an island, was converted into a peninsula to help manage this problem.

Market Square and Town Hall

Wrocław has a huge market square that forms the nexus of the old city. The square is colorful and full of people having a good time. The beautiful fountain with a glass sculpture draws both adults and children. There are two town halls in the square: Old Town Hall and New Town Hall. The stunning Old Town Hall, built of red brick and completed in 1504, has an astronomical clock made of larch wood. The New Town Hall is yellow and sits right next to the modern glass sculpture fountain. The contrast of older architecture and the modern sculpture may seem to be too great, but somehow it works beautifully.

Market Square in the evening. St. Elisabeth Basilica is visible in the distance to the right.

Millenium Hall

We took a tram from our apartment near the Market Hall to Millenium Hall. This UNESCO World Heritage site was constructed in the years 1911-1913 and is an example of monumental reinforced-concrete architecture.

Panorama Racławicka

Panorama Racławicka is a very large painting presented continuously on a round surface. Of course, the building housing the painting is round. The painting represents the victory of Polish forces led by Tadeusz Kościuszko over Russian Tsarist forces at Racławice in 1794. Prior to his involvement in the Kościuszko Uprising, Kościuszko had fought on the U.S. side in the American Revolutionary War.

The viewing of the panorama painting was suppressed in communist Poland, because the Russians (Poland’s „friends” to the east) didn’t like it for the representation of a Polish victory in the struggle for independence. The one photo that you see below with Kościuszko on horseback is but a small fragment of this huge painting.

The Gothic 14th c. Basilica of St. Elisabeth

University of Wrocław

The university has a beautiful Baroque hall called „Aula Leopoldinum”. The viewing deck at the top of the building is worth accessing for a panoramic view of Wrocław.

Hansel and Gretel Buildings

The Hansel and Gretel buildings with connecting archway are right off Market Square, as you can see through the archway. Walking through the archway from Market Square takes you to St. Elisabeth’s. I visited Wrocław in July of 2014, and was using a micro 4/3 camera or my iphone for all of the photos (my son took the photo of me).

That’s me in front of two connected buildings called „Jaś i Małgosia” (translated as Hansel and Gretel). The buildings and archway are right off Market Square.

Street Scenes

Ugly graffitti over very good bones produce a beautiful effect.
A humorous homage to the film „Miś”, a satire on communist Poland. Note that the silverware is chained down to keep people from stealing it.
Really fresh flowers at an outdoor market.
Communist era „tour bus” and stunning graffitti.
Young people and dogs.

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