Katowice is a cultural, scientific, commercial and industrial center in Upper Silesia in southern Poland. Unlike its eastern neighbor, Krakow, Katowice has not been spoiled by foreign visitors. Moreover, just ten years ago, not many travelers knew of its existence. Nowadays, the situation has changed, thanks to the annual world eSL One Katowic championships, international trade fairs, and Pyrzowice Airport, which offers scheduled and charter flights to many destinations around the world.
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History of Katowice
People began living in the region of Upper Silesia long before there was a written language. The earliest surviving documents show that in the 12th century there were small settlements that belonged to the local provinces. Soon after the founding of several villages mentioned in the historical chronicles, these lands became part of the Kingdom of Bohemia and were under Czech rule until the mid-18th century.
Although the name of the village of Katowice appears for the first time in records dating back to 1598, experts suggest that it actually originated 18 years earlier. Anyway, significant changes in the economy and ethnic composition of the region occurred much later.
The Great Synagogue in Katowice, which was destroyed by the Nazis during the invasion of Poland on September 4, 1939
As a result of the war conflict, Silesia was ceded to Prussia, which allowed trade, crafts, and arts from the metropolis to move here. A few decades later, these lands, together with the rest of Western Europe, became a springboard for active industrialization. The industrial revolution gave Katowice a major boost in development, because new plants and factories required energy, and the surrounding Beskydy found substantial reserves of coal. By the way, the city today remains one of the leaders in coal mining and metallurgy on the national scale.
The global upheavals of the twentieth century did not spare the region. After World War I most of the locals defended the right to remain a part of Germany. However, Upper Silesia eventually received limited autonomy as part of the Polish Republic and was invaded by German troops during World War II. During the occupation a large part of Katowice’s population died or was expelled, many historic buildings and religious buildings were turned into ruins.
In the 1950s the city expanded considerably with the annexation of outlying settlements, and the restored factories attracted new people. In recent decades, it has evolved from a purely industrial city into a major center for business, culture, science, and education. More than 100 thousand students, including foreign students, study in two dozen higher educational institutions in Katowice.
Gateway to Europe
Today Katowice is an important transport hub on the scale of the Old World. Its convenient geographical location contributes to this status: six European capitals (Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Bratislava) are located within a radius of 600 km from the city. So there is a lot of promising routes for travel lovers.
The main railway station serves more than 12 million people a year. From its platform it is possible to go to other regions of Poland, as well as outside the country. Many of the long-distance trains are high-speed trains, so travel time to the Czech Republic, France, Austria and Hungary is noticeably shorter than it might seem at first glance.
A popular way to get around Katowice is by bus. Modern comfortable cars are equipped with air conditioning and Wi-Fi. And if you buy tickets in advance, you can get to the capitals mentioned above for less than 10 euros.
Travel by air, of course, is somewhat more expensive. However, it is not too burdensome for your wallet, because Katowice is the starting point for a whole list of flights by well-known low-cost carriers, including seasonal flights to popular resorts. Thanks to this, Pyrzowice International Airport has been steadily increasing its figures. In the first six months of 2018 alone, its three terminals handled 2,680,000 passengers. The airfield is 30 kilometers north of the city and is connected to it by a network of bus routes.
Architecture and attractions
It is immediately noteworthy that Katowice is not particularly old. The historical center was built not in the Middle Ages, but in the period of the rapid growth of prosperity of the city, in the XIX century. However, there are good reasons to call the architecture of the main square, which Poles call Rynek Katowicki, eclectic. German Renaissance, neoclassical and modernist style houses half a century ago are joined by typically “socialist” examples, and modern office buildings and shopping malls vigorously grow in the background. However, in the layout of the streets of the old city there is an expressive imitation of Paris with its boulevards and pedestrian zones.
Stone Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary
The most interesting for foreign visitors, perhaps, are the creations of religious architecture, very different from each other. The stone Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (better known as St. Mary’s Church) is visible from a distance due to its 70-meter tall neo-Gothic tower spire. Inside it is worth paying attention to the stained-glass windows and sculptures. After a few years it became clear that it was too small for the increasing number of worshipers and a brick church of St. Peter and St. Paul was built in the southern part of Katowice. The neo-Romanesque basilica of King Ludwig and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary attracts attention with its monumental facade. The Cathedral of Christ the King, erected in 1927-1955, was called the cathedral for the archdiocese of the city. And the oldest church of Katowice is the Church of St. Michael the Archangel, built of wood back in 1510. What is unusual is that it was created and for 4.5 centuries hosted the faithful in a completely different location. Only in 1938 the church was moved from the village of Syrynya and installed in the capital of the region. The elements of decoration preserved in the church are also of great historical and cultural value.
The most recognizable brainchild of twentieth-century architects is the Spodek Sports and Entertainment Complex, completed in 1971. The auditorium of the “flying saucer” seats 11.5 thousand spectators, so it is the main arena for major concerts and festivals, hosts sports competitions, economic forums and exhibitions of achievements.
Spodek Sports and Entertainment Complex in Katowice
For several generations of local residents the favorite place for walks is Kościuszko Park, laid out in accordance with English landscape traditions. One of the large housing estates in the center boasts its own recreational area – the Valley of Three Ponds, whose name was given to the picturesque bodies of water. But the real green lungs of Katowice should be considered its forest park, located in the southern part of the city. There are no fountains or garden sculptures, but there is plenty of unpretentious Polish flora and fresh air.
Visitors can enjoy the Philharmonic Hall, numerous museums and art galleries, as well as collections of guitars and musical organs. Visitors especially like the unusual furnishings and the Silesia Museum, which is located underground, on the site of an old mine.
The outskirts of Katowice
When all the attractions within the city are seen and photographed, it is time to take a short hike. Very close to Katowice, in Chorzów, the Silesian Park stretches over 620 hectares. In order to appreciate the size of the park, you need to realise that it is almost twice the size of New York’s famous Central Park. In addition to endless lawns, groves and picturesque alleys, there is a zoological garden, a planetarium with an observatory, stadiums and sports grounds, an ethnographic open-air museum and a large amusement park. The latter has recently been completely reconstructed and is now called “Legendia”. About 300 thousand people come every year to take a ride on 40 modern attractions, including the largest “roller coaster” in Central and Eastern Europe.
History-loving people should visit Auschwitz, or rather the memorial complex on the site of the German concentration camp “Auschwitz”. It is 35 kilometers (about 10 train stops) from Katowice. We recommend that you book entrance tickets in advance on the official website. One more piece of advice: you should weigh up the pros and cons if you are an impressionable person.
The Salt Mine in Wieliczka
For a relaxed atmosphere you are better off in the town of Tychy where they produce famous Polish beers and offer guided tours with tastings at the Brewery Museum (entrance is obligatory from 18 years of age!). You can get there by train and change to the local bus number 21.
It will take a little longer to get to Krakow, but if you haven’t been to the old capital of the Polish kings with its cobbled streets, impressive churches and majestic castle, it’s a shame to miss it. Another place worth visiting just half an hour away is the salt mine in Wieliczka. The underground galleries and halls, a result of centuries of mining, are really breathtaking. We can admire the sculptures and bas-reliefs, carved from the salt boulders.
Food for the spirit is fine, of course, but what to fill the body with? Katowice offers a wide range of catering establishments in different price categories: from democratic canteens to expensive restaurants. Of course, there are also branches of international fast food chains, sushi bars, trendy coffee houses, and pizzerias. However, if you are interested in getting to know the local cuisine, look for soup with smoked meat jurek, dumplings with cabbage-mushroom stuffing or mushrooms with meat – kartach, potato dumplings slizki, beef rolls rolada, smoked sheep cheese oszpek, cabbage modra.
Pizza Casserole with cheese Muffin Pastry Meat platter Breakfast at the hotel Katowice Buffet
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How to get there
There are no direct flights to Katowice from Moscow and St. Petersburg and no convenient direct land routes. An independent travel by car will be tedious because of the considerable distance (about 1,500 kilometers) and the need to spend time crossing state borders.
The most convenient way is to get to Warsaw, and from there by plane, train or bus towards the capital of Upper Silesia.
16 Sights of Katowice worth seeing
The political history of Katowice and the region of Upper Silesia is incredibly intricate and rich with uprisings, plebiscites, and autonomy within Poland. Katowice itself is a sight to behold in Poland, with many architectural marvels, from the enormous neoclassical cathedral to the 1970s Spodek stadium which resembles a flying saucer. Below are some of the best sights to see in Katowice.
The first thing you see as you approach the Silesian Museum is a giant over-mine copter, which has not been used since the mine in Katowice closed in 1999 after nearly 180 years in operation. The tower now serves as an observation platform, which is accessible in the summer.
Koper is not the only converted part of the old mine, because the four horizons of underground tunnels underground have also been turned into galleries, where paintings, photographs, ethnographic and archaeological exhibitions, and more are displayed.
The idea behind moving all these exhibitions underground was to preserve the post-industrial landscape of Silesia. Sunlight enters the galleries through glass cubes placed on the surface.
For an extraordinary museum like this, it hardly matters what is shown in the gallery, but an exhibition of Polish fine art from 1800-1945, featuring works by such famous names as Jan Matejko, Piotr Michalowski and Józef Helmoski.
Address: Silesian Museum, Dobrowolskiego, Katowice, Poland.
Nikiszowiec neighborhood. | Photo: Max Bashyrov / Flickr.
A short walk or short bus ride from the center of Katowice is a beautiful place of national heritage of Poland, a pristine urban neighborhood of 8,000 inhabitants, which was built for the miners of the Giesche mine. In fact, Nikiszowiec was a separate, self-sufficient town from the time it was completed in 1918 until Katowice absorbed it in 1951.
This settlement consists of interconnected houses of 12 apartments each, often connected by arcades at ground level. In all, there are 1,000 apartments in beautiful houses, which also house stores, a police station, bakeries, a swimming pool, a hotel, a school and a church, all within walking distance.
Being a very popular place for filming movies, this settlement looks almost as it did a hundred years ago.
Address: Nikiszowiec, Katowice, Poland.
Katowice History Museum
Museum of the History of Katowice.
The central office of this museum, and most of its branches are located on Szafranka Street in an apartment building built in 1908. If you want to find one place where you can learn everything about Katowice, this museum is perfect for that.
The permanent exhibition showcases two apartments. One shows the family life of a wealthy industrialist, and the other – the life of a middle-class member of the new bourgeoisie. Both apartments are furnished with furniture of that period, personal items and household appliances can be seen in them, and their decoration corresponds to the fashion of those days.
Another exhibition shows the history of Katowice’s development, from a modest rural settlement in the 1200s to its transformation into an industrial center in the 20th century. Also on display is a collection of his paintings, including pastel drawings by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, one of Poland’s most highly regarded artists.
Address: Muzeum Historii Katowic, Szafranka, Katowice, Poland.
Kosciuszko Park. | Photo: wikimedia.
Named after one of Poland’s national heroes, Kosciuszko Park is a comfortable green space in the center of Katowice, having grown from the six hectares it occupied when it opened in 1888 to more than 72 hectares today.
Designed in the style of an English landscape, containing dozens of different species of trees, the park has formal flowerbeds, rose alleys, and pergolas decorated with climbing plants.
That said, the park also has fascinating wartime stories to tell. The 40-meter-high parachute tower at the southern end of the park was built during World War II. On top of this metal structure, a group of Boy Scouts made a valiant attempt to defend the city from the Wehrmacht on September 4, 1939.
If you are in town in winter, you will also find a slope for sledging and skiing.
Address: Kosciuszko Park, Kościuszki, Katowice, Poland.
Monument of the Silesian Uprising
Monument of the Silesian Uprising. | Photo: Fred Romero / Flickr.
The best sense of the place itself is conveyed by the giant monument dedicated to the participants in three Silesian uprisings, in 1919, 1920 and 1921. The reason for the uprisings was the forcible annexation of Upper Silesia to the Polish state created after the Treaty of Versailles.
Poland consists of 60% of the population of Upper Silesia, which came face to face with the German armed forces three times, during the plebiscite campaign in 1921.
The monument was erected in 1967, its maximum height is 41 meters, and it is made of 350 separate parts, the total weight of which is 61 tons. Each wing of the monument is dedicated to one of the uprisings, and the details of the individual battles are engraved on its sloping walls.
Address: Silesian Insurgents’ Monument, aleja Korfantego, Katowice, Poland.
Cathedral of Christ the King
Cathedral of Christ the King.| Photo: Max Bashyrov / Flickr.
Construction of this colossal architectural structure, the largest in Poland, began in 1927, but was interrupted by World War II. It was completed in 1955. It is a specimen of neoclassical architecture, with a 40-meter dome and a breathtaking portico.
Despite its classical outline, the structure of this elaborate modern structure is made of reinforced concrete and the façade is then covered with dolomite from the nearby Imelin quarry.
The stained-glass window was painted by Stanislaw Piekalski, while all its connecting pieces were made by one man, Mieczysław Król, in 1973.
In the crypt of the cathedral rest three Bishops of Silesia and to the left of the nave is the coal altar of St. Barbara, patron saint of miners, erected in honor of all those who died in the mines of Silesia.
Address: Cathedral of Christ the King, Plebiscytowa, Katowice, Poland.
Mariacka street (St. Mary’s street)
Mariacka street (St. Mary’s street). | Photo: Marcin Lachowicz / Flickr.
Located in the center of Srodmiescie, Mariacka Street is the main artery of nightlife in Katowice, leading to the Church of St. Mary, which we will describe below. The street became a pedestrian-only zone in 2008, and in 2011, 30 saplings of cherry trees were planted on it, which now color it beautifully in the spring.
There are nearly 20 cafes within a few hundred meters, and even more restaurants, bistros and nightclubs. When cars were closed to travel along this street, in 2009 the city invested in decorating the facades of the houses along the entire route. As a result, the facades were decorated in the same color scheme as the neo-Gothic church on the east end of the street.
Address: Mariacka, 40-014 Katowice, Poland.
Church of St. Mary
Church of St. Mary’s. | Photo: wikimedia.
Given the mass immigration to Upper Silesia, and the city’s blossoming in the mid-19th century, all these new residents needed a place to pray. The answer to this problem was St. Mary’s Church, which was erected in the 1960s.
Although it is a relatively new structure, the church is significant because many famous artists worked on its decoration. The mesmerizing stained-glass windows were created by Adam Bunsch, who learned his art at the Concentration of Beauty in Krakow. The painting on either side of the nave, The Life of Mary, was done by Joseph Uniezski, a pupil (and son-in-law) of everyone’s favorite Jan Matejko.
For lovers of antiquity, the Sacra Conversazione chapel, located in the transverse nave, has a late Gothic altar.
Address: Kościół Rzymskokatolicki p.w. Niepokalanego Poczęcia NMP, plac Szramka, Katowice, Poland.
Spodek Sports and Concert Complex
Sports and concert complex Spodek | Photo: Kris Duda / Flickr.
After the death of Stalin, Polish architecture had the opportunity to move away from Socialist Realism and towards a more exciting frontier. This is beautifully expressed in a prominent structure whose name means “saucer” in Polish.
The construction of the Spodek knowledge stadium began in 1964 and work continued until 1971. From then until 2014, Spodek was the largest indoor stadium in Poland with a capacity of 11,500 spectators.
And if you’re wondering how such a huge structure can support its own weight, know that it uses a concept called tensegrity (connecting cables and rods working in tension and compression), proposed by the great architect Buckminster Fuller. The man who put this idea into practice was engineer Vaclav Zalewski.
Address: Spodek, aleja Korfantego, Katowice, Poland.
The Valley of Three Ponds
Valley of Three Ponds. | Photo: wikimedia.
In the south of Katowice, more than 86 hectares is an area of wooded park. And nine hectares of this area are occupied by water. Despite the name of the park, there are not three but 11 ponds. The largest ponds are allotted for recreation, mainly for fishing, but there is also one pond with a pier for water sports and another with a beach where locals relax with their families on hot days.
On land, you can travel by bicycle or on foot, taking walks in the dense coniferous forest, or if you don’t have your own wheels, you can rent a bike, from the Katowice city office.
Address: Dolina Trzech Stawów, Trzech Stawów, Katowice, Poland.
Giszowiec district.| Photo: grego1402 / Flickr.
If Nikiszowiec has whetted your appetite for early 20th century urban design, then a few kilometers southeast of the city center, there is another mining settlement. The Gishowiec neighborhood was based on Ebenezer Howard’s idea of a garden city, and was developed in just three years, providing a vegetation-filled place of residence for the 600 families who settled there.
Initially, the houses in Gishowiec were occupied by the workers of the Gesche mine. These houses formed four main streets that converged to a central square shaded by lime trees.
Soon the settlement acquired its own infrastructure, such as department stores, a school and swimming pool, along with a narrow-gauge railroad linking the area with the nearby Janów district.
Address: Giszowiec, Katowice, Poland.
The Silesian Parliament.
This government building was the largest structure in Poland before the Palace of Science and Culture was erected in Warsaw in 1955. Built in the neoclassical style, the Silesian Parliament was completed in 1929, after which it housed the authorities of the autonomous Silesia Province, which was created in 1921 after the uprising of Polish residents and the plebiscite that followed World War I.
The huge building is still used to house government offices and is equipped with one of the four paternosters (a single elevator without doors) remaining in all of Poland.
Address: Silesian Parliament, Jagiellońska, Katowice, Poland.
Silesian Philharmonic Hall
Culture lovers may know that Katowice is home to one of Poland’s most famous orchestras. The Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra was founded at the end of World War II and gave its first concert on May 26, 1945. Many famous soloists have performed with this orchestra, including Witold Malcuszynski and Adam Taubitz.
The concert hall, in which the orchestra and the chamber orchestra choir perform, is a permanent part of Katowice’s heritage. It was rebuilt and received a new glass roof in 2013.
When you are in town, check out the program of performances, and if you will be with children, don’t put off visiting the Philharmonic, because in addition to the symphony series by Dvořák, Brahms and Mozart, there are performances geared toward children and family visits, especially during the school vacations.
Address: Filharmonia Śląska, Sokolska, Katowice, Poland.
Guitar History Museum
Guitar History Museum.
This private museum has a large collection of plucked string instruments. The attraction of this place begins with the tradition accepted in the city, according to which culturally interesting houses can be opened to visitors in exchange for a small fee.
The museum door is open Tuesday mornings through Sunday, and there are 60 instruments on display, all of which are in working order.
You can trace the history of the guitar to the instrument we know today, familiarize yourself with its predecessors and related instruments such as lutes and torbans. None of these instruments is older than the 20th century, but there is a reason for this, because the guide invites you to play the instruments he tells you about.
Address: Muzeum Historii Gitary, Krzywa, Katowice, Poland.
Central Market Square
Central Market Square. | Photo: Fred Romero / Flickr.
The city’s central market square is not represented by historical buildings, which can be found everywhere in Silesia. Instead, it is surrounded by monotonous post-war blocks, and has never been rebuilt.
It is a demonstration of the “early Gierek style,” as Poles sarcastically call the architecture that spread during a fleeting period of its apparent prosperity in the early 1970s, when the communist government of Edward Gierek received substantial loans from the West to turn Poland into a “second Japan.
Address: Rynek, 40-000 Katowice, Poland.
Toschek Castle | Photo: wikimedia.
This impressive Gothic castle is first mentioned in extant records in 1222, although some experts believe it was built in the 12th century. It reached the height of its fame in the 15th century, when it served as the residence of the Dukes of Silesia, Habsburg nobles and merchant magnates before it burned down in 1811.
Today it serves as a cultural center and a venue for various events and festivals.
Address: Culture Center “Toszek Castle”, Zamkowa, Toszek, Poland.