Our tour of Wrocław begins at the monument of Pope John XXIII,one of the city’s landmarks, placed here in 1968. John XXIII was the first pope who recognized the Polish church administration in postwar western and northern territories of the country.
The route of our tour leads near the St. Martin chapel, whose history reaches back to the twelfth century. Situated in close proximity to the castle of the Wrocław dukes, it went through many reconstructions. In the second decade of the twentieth century the members of the Poles’ Union in Germany ”Sign of the Vistula” used to meet here for Polish language services.
The magnificent Holy Cross collegiate church, constructed at the end of the fourteenth century, appears along the route of our walk. The unique two-storey temple of St. Bartholomew and the Holy Cross was called a Polish church in the nineteenth century. The statue of Jan of Nepomuk, sculptured by Jan Jerzy Urbański in 1732, stands in front of the church.
Cathedral Street leads us to St John the Baptist Cathedral. On the way we pass Renaissance houses. At number 11 is the former Suffragans’ Palace (now the residence of the archbishop of Wroclaw), next door is the former Bishop’s Palace (now the Papal Faculty of the Seminary).
Worth visiting are the reconstructed Bishop Gardens on the bank of the Odra.
We enter the cathedral through an exquisite portico composed of Romanesque and Renaissance architectural details. The beginnings of this edifice are from the mid-tenth century. The outstanding present shape of the cathedral comes from fourteenth century. The spring of 1945 brought destruction to the church, but the efforts of architects and the clergy have returned its old glory. Today we may admire the great pulpit, bas-reliefs done by Urbański, a winged altar from the Wit Stwosz school, a miraculous painting of God’s Mother, and superb stained-glass windows designed by Krystyna and Stanisław Pękalski.
The baroque chapels of Saint Elisabeth, Corpus Christi, and the gothic Saint Mary’s chapel with the sarcophagus of Bishop Przecław from Pogorzela are situated on the cathedral’s eastern side. From the cathedral tower one can admire the splendid panorama of Wrocław.
Exiting the cathedral we come across St Giles church – the oldest in Wrocław, and the superb collections of the Archdiocesan Museum - the oldest temple of muses in Wrocław with an Egyptian mummy, amphorae of the Etruscans, and multiple Silesian works of art.
Now we may take a rest among the flowers and greenery of the University of Wrocław botanical gardens established in 1811. Here the Nature Museum tempts nature lovers with its collections including the original skeleton of a whale.
Next we stroll toward Sand Island, passing The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul and walking over the Tumski Bridge. In front of us stands the huge edifice of the gothic Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Our path takes us along the riverbank now, along Piotr Włostowic and Stanisław Kulczyński boulevards. We are getting familiar with the Odra islands, on which Wrocław has its 1000 year-old origins. Through walks and footbridges we cross Malt Island and reach Mill Island with the oldest mill, “Maria”, built more than 600 years ago. Crossing the Mill Bridge we return to Sand Island and visit the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It houses a votive picture of the Victorious Mother of God. The painting has come a long way- from Marianpol on the Volhynia in Ukraine to Wrocław. Located in the adjoining chapels are the church center for the handicapped and the only Nativity crib in town that is open all-year-round.
Now we turn south and walk along the University Library on the Sand and the Saints Cyril, Methodius, and Anne’s Orthodox church. On the other side of the Sand Bridge we go to the east with the X and proceed along Dunikowskiego Boulevard, on which stands the monument to the Poles murdered in the prewar eastern border lands. Near the buildings of the Academy of Fine Arts we climb up to the vantage point on top of the old defensive bastion called today Polish Hill (Wzgórze Polskie). The superb panorama of Cathedral Island (Ostrów Tumski) and Sand Island stretches out from here. At the foot of the hill is the Gulf of Gondolas, a remnant of the former municipal moat and right next to it the National Museum and the Rotunda of the Panorama Racławicka, transferred to Wrocław from Lvov in 1946 and opened to the public in 1985. The Third of May Constitution monument and the Katyń Crime monument are situated nearby. A stroll through J. Słowacki Park brings us to the poet’s monument and two cultural institutions unique in the country and well worth visiting: the Museum of Architecture and the Museum of Postal Service and Telecommunication.
Along J. Słowackiego Avenue we head to the west. In front of us appears the massive block of St Adalbert Church with the baroque chapel of blessed Czesław – the founder of the Silesian Dominican friars, regarded as the city’s defender against the Mongolian incursion of 1241, and the patron saint of Wrocław.
Our walk now follows Piaskowa Street, along Nowy Targ – one of the oldest market squares in Wrocław. We take Purkyniego Street and then Kraińskiego Street. Passing the remnants of the city fortifications and the only preserved bastion, we arrive at the Market Hall. This edifice of the year 1907 has an interesting construction of reinforced concrete supporting parabolic arcs. Through Holy Spirit Street we enter “Prince Promontory" – a small area situated on the left bank of Odra, once the property of the dukes of Wrocław who, in thirteenth century, founded numerous cloisters and a new ducal castle here.
Here, at present-day Bishop Nankier Square, one can visit St. James (formerly St Vincent) Church. It was meant to be the necropolis of the Piasts of Wrocław, but only the body of Prince Henry II the Pious was buried here after his defeat at Legnica. Now the church serves as the Greek Catholic cathedral. Located right next to the cathedral is the former Clarisses (at present Ursuline nuns) cloister- the foundation of the duchess Anne, Henry’s II the Pious’ widow. It houses the Silesian Piasts Mausoleum with the magnificent tombstone of Duke Henry IV - the last Piast ruler of the Wrocław principality. It is a place worth seeing.
Along the very narrow Ossolińskich Lane going between the buildings of the Ursuline cloister and the Ossolińskich National Institution Library, we now approach Grodzka Street. The collections of the Ossoliński Library arrived in Wrocław from Lvov in 1946 and were placed in the former cloister of the Red Star Crusaders. Since 1811 the monastery was the abode of the St. Matthew secondary school. Among its students were Jan Dzierżoń and Józef Elsner. Today the collections of the Ossolineum Library are among the greatest and richest in the country and contain old prints, manuscripts of Polish literature, graphic arts, miniatures, ex libris, maps, and old coins.
Across the small square by the Pharmaceutical Department of the
Medical Academy, we walk toward the former Jesuit college - now the
main edifice of the University of Wrocław.
On our way we pass the baroque Most Holy Name of Jesus Church with the sumptuous frescoes of F.A. Scheffler, and pieta – the copy of Michelangelo’s Vatican sculpture. Next to the church is the entrance building of the old college leading to offices and the former chemist’s shop – now a snug university cafeteria with a splendid ceiling fresco. We pass the Emperor's Gate and come to the statue of the Fencer, created in 1904 by H. Lederer. Next is the main entrance - the richly adorned portal crowned with a balcony.
Entering, we see the roomy central staircase of the main university edifice which is also generously decorated with excellent frescoes of F. A. Scheffler painted in 1734 and constituting an apotheosis of the land of Silesia. On the first floor is the most representative university hall – the baroque Aula Leopoldina. Admiration is inspired by impressively lavish sculptures (F. J. Mangholdt), stucco works (I. A. Provisore) and illusionist frescos (J. Ch. Handke). From Aula Leopoldina we can climb to the Mathematical Tower and enjoy the magnificent panorama of Wrocław from there.
Before leaving the University one should walk along the so called rector corridor, where plaques commemorate the names of the Nobel prize winners coming from Wrocław, professors of the University of Lwów murdered in 1941, and the former rectors and professors of Slavonic languages - Wojciech Cybulski and Władysław Nehring.
On the ground floor one should look into the Oratorium Marianum, originally a chapel in the nineteenth century and turned into the Musical Room where concerts were given by F. Liszt, H. Wieniawski among many others.
One cannot also overlook Longshamps Hall – across the vestibule – with an exhibit illustrating the three hundred-year (1702–2002) history of the Jesuit college and the university.
Leaving the university building we cross a square with statues of the four seasons and continue along Więzienna (means prison) Street until we see the fourteenth century city prison with an interesting rectangular yard (today the Institute of Ethnology of Polish Academy of Sciences).
Then, following KuĽnicza Street and Malarska Street we enter Kiełba