Żary  (Sorau) is a town in western Poland with 39,900 inhabitants (2006). Situated in the Lubusz Voivodeship (since 1999), previously in Zielona Góra Voivodeship (1975-1998). Żary is located in the borderland between the Silesian Lowland and the Wielkopolska Lowland, outlined by two tributaries of the Oder River, Bóbr and Nysa Łużycka. The city is one of the biggest economic and tourist centers in the south of the Lubuski Region.
Żary, which is a county seat, features headquarters of many offices and institutions, used by residents of this part of the region, including the Tax Office, Social Insurance Institution, Employment Office, 8 bank branches, insurance companies, high schools, and the Lusatian Higher School of the Humanities. Żary's border area location has a significant influence on its economic growth. In the proximity of the city (20-40 km) there are Polish-German border crossings in Olszyna, Łęknica, Przewóz, and Zasieki as well as a railroad checkpoint in Forst. Żary is also an attractive tourist destination. The city, which history dates back almost 1000 years, features many precious historic sites. Prior to 1945, the city was predominantly German and known as Sorau.
Żary is the biggest city in the Polish part of Lusatia, stretching from Bogatynia to Gubin, fully deserving the title of the capital of Polish Lusati.
The city was under the domain of Silesian Piasts until 1364, Bohemian kings until 1635, Saxon electors until 1815, and sovereigns of Prussia until the German states were united into a single German state in 1871. As Sorau, prominent families included the Dewins, Packs, Bibersteins and Promnitzs, whose residence was the castle-palace complex.
Red Army troops entered Sorau in February 1945. At the Potsdam Conference, British and American representatives were initially unwilling to agree to Polish administration being extended as far west as Stalin desired. After some negotiations, both the Soviet and Polish representatives indicated that they would be willing to concede a frontier along the Nysa-Odra-Bóbr-Kwisa rivers, which would have left Sorau German. This small concession ultimately proved unnecessary, however, since the next day at Potsdam the US Secretary of State told the Soviet Foreign Minister the US would agree to today's Western Niesse frontier (US Dept of State, Foreign Relations of the US, The Conference of Berlin (Potsdam) 1945, vol. II p. 480). The city was then renamed Żary and populated by Poles.
For several centuries Sorau was a center of a “free state”. Its residents grew wealthy through trade and craftsmanship. As early as the 14th century the city featured guilds of clothiers, dry-goods merchants, brewers, cobblers, and dyers. During the 19th century Sorau had become a powerful industrial center. The local textile factories, employing 50% of all area people working in industry, played a particular role in the city's economy.
Two main roads, no. 12 and 27 intersect in Żary. They run together on a stretch of the city bypass. Two of the three sections of the city bypass that have been opened have significantly improved the traffic in the city. Construction of the bypass was subsidized by the Phare Fund. Presently, work continues on the last section of the bypass, which will be completed in 2005.
In the proximity of the city we can find the international road E-36 (Berlin-Silesia-Kraków), which soon will be transformed into the A-18 highway. On this road, near the border with Germany, 25 km from Żary, in nearby Olszyna there is one of the biggest cargo terminals in the country. Construction of the A18 and A4 highways is underway and should be completed by the end of 2007. This highway on the German side is known as the A-15 highway, providing a quick access to Berlin via a network of motorways. The international airports in Berlin are about 160÷185 km away, about a one-and-a-half-hour drive away.
Inter-City trains travel from Berlin and Hamburg via Żary to Kraków. In a relatively short distance from Żary there is an airport in Babimost near Zielona Góra, and in Rothenburg (about 15 km from the border crossing in Przewóz).
In Żary there are two telecommunication companies, having a great effect on the quality of provided service. The city has also good coverage of wireless service providers. It also has a fiber optic network that offers quick Internet access.
In the northwest part of the city there is the Dewin-Biberstein Castle, a huge, 13th century structure, reconstructed later in the Renaissance style. It neighbors on the Baroque Promnitz Palace, which was designed by Italian architect Giovanni Simonetti. Both residences, purchased by a private investor, continue to wait for renovation. They are surrounded by the remains of an old geometrical park, with a garden palace and the Blue Gate dating from 1708.
The Gothic Sacred Heart Church towers above the Old Town. The church, which obtained its principal shape in the 15th century, remembers the times when the city was chartered; fragments of the wall in the northern wing date from the 13th century. The Baroque Promnitz Chapel near the eastern wall was added in 1670-1672. In the vicinity of the church we can find a Gothic rectory and a Gothic-Renaissance building of the old commissariat. Today it houses the city archive.
One of the main treasures of the Market Square is the newly renovated Town Hall dating from the turn of the 14th century, featuring a beautiful Renaissance portal. There are also tenement houses that surround the Market Square and some at Bolesława Chrobrego Street, which is a major commercial thoroughfare of the city. The oldest buildings date from the 17th century.
The remains of the medieval fortifications of the city are fragments of walls, two defense towers (the taller one, with ashlars made from meadow ore, has become a “landmark” of Żary), and a stone belfry from the turn of the 14th century. One of the tourist and natural attractions of the area is the “Green Forest” located near the southern border of the city, featuring the highest altitude in the Lubuski Region (227 m above sea level).
Żary invites to its new complex of indoor swimming pools called “Wodnik”, featuring state-of-the-art fitness equipment. Other places in the city that offer pleasant atmosphere during meetings include myriad restaurants, cafes, and pubs. On the first Saturday of every month a flea market is held in the pedestrian precinct in Żary and the Exhibition Salon is located in the Żary pedestrian precinct near the Town Hall.
Thanks to an annual growth of revenues from local taxes and quick privatization of the municipal property, the community was able to finance several large-scale investment projects. The city has a sewage treatment plant with throughput of 15,000 cu. m per day, and a municipal landfill that meets the requirements of European standards. In 1998 a new water treatment plant was opened. Work continues on expansion of gas grid, heat distribution system, and water-sewage hookups.
In 2000 a large section of the bypass and a complex of indoor swimming pools were opened. Modernization of local roads is underway. In 2005 the last section of the bypass will be opened. Preparations continue on revitalization of the Old Town of Żary. The pavement of the market square will be soon renovated. The projects of development of the town's pedestrian zone, park and the former military area.
The communication arrangement of the town is being modernized and expenses are being appropriated for the educational infrastructure. The construction of the sports and show room is underway and junior high schools and primary schools are being redecorated. The community has benefited significantly from the funds of the European Union such as Phare CBC and Interreg.