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All about Wrocław history
Wrocław is one of the most beautiful and oldest cities in Poland, initially established on one of the islands formed by the multiple channels of the river Odra near its junction with the Sleza, the Oława, and the Widawa. As a city of 12 islands and 112 bridges, it is known as the ‘Polish Venice’. After the first settlements appeared in the 7th century on what would later be known as Cathedral Island (Ostrów Tumski), Wrocław developed rapidly as an important province in the early Piast monarchy. The increasing importance of the city at the turn of the eleventh century was confirmed by the establishment there of one of three new bishoprics established at the Gniezno Congress in the year 1000.


The thirteenth century was particularly important in the history of Wrocław. The city’s commercial centre of gravity moved to the left bank of the river Odra, where a town was established by Henry I the Bearded (1202–1238). The fortified town on Cathedral Island, which was the ducal seat and the bishop’s see, continued to play a major role politically and culturally until the end of the 13th century, but increasingly it was becoming church land. By 1429 the entire island had come to be owned by the clergy, becoming terra sancta. Until the early 19th century, a criminal who crossed the Tumski Bridge could be pursued no further, while the dukes and all lay officials had to take off their headgear to cross the bridge.


The 13th century was also a period of rapid development in architecture, especially in church construction, and the introduction of a new building material: bricks. The construction of St John the Baptist’s Cathedral, one of the most precious monuments of church architecture in Wrocław, was started at that time. On 2 March 1242 Wrocław received a foundation charter based on the German law, which marked the completion of a process whereby the settlements around the ducal castle turned into a town of the Western European type – a centre of commerce and crafts. Wrocław secured a number of trading privileges. The number of guilds grew (more than 20), as did the number of craftsmen (about 1700). An important role in the economic development of the city was played by the Odra, on whose bank there was a port used for shipping goods down the river. The first ship carrying grain arrived there in 1557. Between 1526 and 1741 Wrocław was under Habsburg rule and continued to develop despite religious wars in neighbouring Germany and wars between Poland and Moscow. In 1530 the Emperor Charles V affirmed the city’s privileges and granted it a new coat of arms, restored in June 1990. During that time Wrocław became a strong manufacturing centre: its establishments included weaving mills that produced fabrics shot through with silver and gold and a so-called Dutch wool spinning mill.


In 1742 king Frederick the Great of Prussia elevated Wrocław to the status of a capital and residential city of Prussia, next to Königsberg and Berlin. Wrocław’s revenues in 1803 were 3.5 times as large as Berlin’s and 4 times as large as those of Königsberg. Significant developments were seen in higher learning. In 1702 the Jesuits obtained an imperial foundation letter and Universitas Leopoldina was opened, even though the construction of the university did not begin until 1728. In 1811 the Jesuit academy was combined with the University of Frankfurt an der Oder (known as Viadrina), which was transferred to Wrocław. The resulting establishment was a five-faculty university, Universitas Litterarum Wratislaviensis, which would become the Polish Uniwersytet Wrocławski (Wrocław University) in 1945. Its students and professors included numerous outstanding scholars, including a number of Nobel prize winner, such as Paul Erlich (Nobel prize in medicine), Max Born (physics), and Theodor Mommsen (literature).


In the 19th century Wrocław became an important commercial and cultural hub. In 1816 it was made the official capital of the province of Silesia. Railways were built with a growing number of connections available from Wrocław. Around the turn of the 20th century the city grew in importance as an industrial and commercial centre, becoming a large market not only for local products.

After World War II, a major reconstruction effort began in Wrocław, where wartime damage was estimated at 68%. Not only houses were rebuilt but the restoration of the damaged historical monuments also started, their historical forms known from old drawings and paintings being carefully recreated. Literary life started to develop anew. A Club of Polish Literature and Language Lovers was founded, and more and more periodicals were published. Wrocław is one of the largest centres of higher learning, research, and culture in Poland. A number of cultural events are hosted in Wrocław annually, including the Wratislavia Cantans International Festival, Jazz on the Odra, the Singing Actors Festival, and many more. The attractiveness of Wrocław has been growing year by year, with increasing numbers of visiting tourists, business people, and artists.
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