Wrocław (Breslau; Vratislav; Vratislavia or Wratislavia; Yiddish: ברעסלוי) is the chief city of the historical region of Lower Silesia in south-western Poland, situated on the Oder (Odra) river. Over the centuries the city has been part of Poland, Bohemia, Austria, Prussia, and Germany. In 1945, the Potsdam Agreement returned the city to Poland after many centuries. Since 1999 it has been the capital of Lower Silesian Voivodeship. According to official population figures for 2006, its population is 635,280, making it the fourth largest city in Poland.
The city is traditionally believed to be named after Wrocisław or Vratislav, often believed to be Duke Vratislaus I of Bohemia. It is also possible that the city was named after the tribal duke of the Silesians or after an early ruler of the city called Vratislav.
The city's name in various foreign languages include in Wroclaw, Boroszló, Breslavia, Vratislavia or Wratislavia, Hebrew: ורוצלב (Vrotsláv), Vratislav or Vroclav, Уроцлаў (Vrotslai), Βρότσλαβ (Vrotslav), Вроцлав (Vrotslav); also Бреславль (Breslavl), Вроцлав or Vroclav and Вроцлав (Vrotslav). Names of Wrocław in other languages are also available.
The city of Wrocław originated in Lower Silesia as a Bohemian stronghold at the intersection of two trade routes, the Via Regia and the Amber Road. The city was first recorded in the 10th century as Vratislavia, possibly derived from the name of a Bohemian duke Vratislav I. Its initial extent was limited to district of Ostrów Tumski (the Cathedral Island).
The city became a commercial center and expanded to Wyspa Piaskowa (Sand Island), then to the left bank of the Oder River. Around 1000 the town had 1000 inhabitants. By 1139 a settlement belonging to Governor Piotr Włostowic (a.k.a Piotr Włast Dunin) was built, and another was founded on the left bank of the Oder River, near the present seat of the university. While the city was Polish, there were also communities of Bohemians, Jews, Walloonsand Germans.
The city was devastated in 1241 during the Mongol invasion of Europe. The inhabitants burned the city to force the Mongols to a quick withdrawal.
The population was replenished by Germans who settled there and became the dominant ethnic group, though the city remained multi-ethnic. Breslau, the Germanised name of the city, appeared for the first time in written records, and the city council used only Latin and Germanfrom the beginning.
Breslau was expanded by adopting a German town law. The expanded town was around 60 hectares and the new Main Market Square (Rynek), which was covered with timber framed houses, became the new center of the town. The original foundation, Ostrów Tumski, became the religious center. Breslau adopted Magdeburg rights in 1262 and, at the end of the 13th century joined the Hanseatic League. The Polish Piast dynasty remained in control of the region, however the self-administration rights of the city council increased.
In 1335, Breslau was incorporated with almost all of Silesia into the Kingdom of Bohemia. Between 1342 and 1344 two fires destroyed large parts of the city.
The emperor brought in the Counter-Reformation by encouraging Catholic orders to settle in Breslau, starting in 1610 with the Minorites, followed by Jesuits, Capucins, Franciscans, and finally Ursulines in 1687. These orders erected buildings which shaped the Breslau's appearance until 1945. At the end of the Thirty Years' War, however, Breslau was one of only a few Silesian cities to stay Protestant.
During the Counter-Reformation the intellectual life of the city, shaped by Protestantism and Humanism, flourished, even as the Protestant bourgeoisie lost its role as the patron of the arts to the Catholic orders. Breslau became the center of German Baroque literature and was home to the First and Second Silesian school of poets.
Prussian reforms increased prosperity in Silesia and Breslau. The leveled fortifications opened space for Breslau to grow beyond her old borders. Breslau became an important railway hub and industrial centre, notably of linen and cotton manufacture and metal industry. The unified university resulted in the city becoming a major Prussian center of sciences, and the secularization laid the base for a rich museum landscape.
German unification in 1871 left Breslau the sixth-largest city in the German Empire. Its population more than tripled to over half a million between 1860 and 1910. The 1905 census lists 470,904 residents, including 20,536 Jews, 6,020 Poles and 3,752 others. In 1919, Breslau became the capital of the newly created Province of Lower Silesia. Due to increased ethnic tensions, in August 1920 during the pro-Polish Silesian Uprising in neighbouring Upper Silesia, local Polish institutions were devastated. The number of Poles in Breslau dropped from 2 percent before World War I to 0.5 percent after the reconstitution of Poland. Antisemitic riots occurred in 1923.
The city boundaries were expanded between 1925 and 1930 to include an area of 175 km² with a population of 600.000. In 1929 the Werkbund opened WuWa (German: Wohnungs- und Werkraumausstellung) in Breslau-Scheitnig, a international showcase of modern architecture by architects of the Silesian branch of the Werkbund. In June 1930 Breslau hosted the Deutsche Kampfspiele, a sporting event for German athletes after Germany was excluded from the Olympic Games after World War I.
The city became one of the largest support bases of Nazis, who in the 1932 elections received 43,5 % of Breslau's votes, their third largest total in the entire country.
After Hitler's Putsch, the Gestapo began actions against Polish and Jewish students, Communists, Social Democrats, and trade unionists. Arrests were even made for using Polish in public. In 1938 the police destroyed Polish cultural centre. Many of the city's 10,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps; those who remained were killed during the Nazi Holocaust. Most of the Polish elites also left during 1920s and 1930s; leaders who remained were sent to camps. A network of concentration camps and forced labour camps was established around Breslau, to serve industrial concerns, including FAMO, Junkers and Krupp. Tens of thousands were imprisoned there.
In February 1945 the Soviet Red Army approached the city. Gauleiter Karl Hanke declared the city a Festung (fortress) to be held at all costs. Hanke finally lifted a ban on the evacuation of women and children when it was almost too late. During his poorly organised evacuation in early March 1945, 18,000 people froze to death in icy snowstorms and -20°C weather. By the end of the Siege of Breslau, half the city had been destroyed. 40,000 inhabitants lay dead in the ruins of homes and factories. After a siege of nearly three months, "Fortress Breslau" surrendered on May 7 1945, just before the end of the war.
After World War II Wrocław became part of Poland under the terms of the Potsdam Conference. Most remaining German inhabitants fled or were expelled. The population of Wrocław was increased by resettlement of Poles.
Wrocław is now a European city with a Polish population and a mixed architectural heritage, influenced by Bohemian, Austrian, and Prussian traditions, as well as a number of buildings by eminent German modernist architects.
In July 1997, the city was heavily affected by a flood of the Oder River, the worst flooding in post-war Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Around one third of the city's area stood under water. An earlier equally devastating flood of the river took place in 1903.
Wrocław has been historically considered one of the warmest cities in Poland. Lying in the Lower-Silesian region, one of the warmest in Poland, the mean annual temperature is 8.5 °C.
Wrocław is the capital city of Lower Silesian Voivodeship, a province (voivodeship) created in 1999. It was previously the seat of Wrocław Voivodeship. The city is a separate urban gmina and city county (powiat). It is also the seat of Wrocław County, which adjoins but does not include the city.
Wrocław is subdivided into five boroughs (dzielnicas):
as well as numerous private institutions of higher education