For centuries, this land was contested by Poles and Germans. As a result of the Second World War, lost by Germany, the entire region was given to Poland. Silesian Germans were deported and replaced mainly by the Poles who had to leave their homes in eastern Poland, annexed by the Soviet Union. A difficult period in the region's history began: for many years its inhabitants felt insecure about their future, while intensive development of heavy industry led to environmental disaster. This changed only after 1989, when political transformations prompted environment-oriented projects with focus on the region. Monuments of the German past have been finally appreciated and the dilapidated town centres are slowly regaining their lost splendour. Tourist facilities are being developed and cross-border contacts are being restored.
In 1977 the Silesian town of Wisla became the birthplace of Adam Malysz, the best ski jumper Poland has ever had. In 2001 he won the World Cup, the prestigious Four Hills tournament and the World Championships. At the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City he won two medals, one silver and one bronze.
Despite dense population and heavy industrialization, Silesia boasts many beauty spots and scenic landscapes. Mountain lovers may go to the Sudetes and the Silesian Beskid. Those who value forest quiet and peace will be delighted by the vast Bory Dolnoslaskie. And if you are into sightseeing, you can visit old historic cities and towns like Wroclaw and Klodzko. The roads are good, with well-developed public transport and tourist infrastructure.
Despite being heavily industrialized, Silesia has many places of outstanding natural beauty. One of them is certainly the Bory Dolnoslaskie, the largest forest complex in Poland (1500 sq km) and one of the largest in Central Europe, dotted with postglacial hills and river valleys.
Here you can see one of the most impressive oak trees in the country, Chrobry, about 750 years old and with a 10-metre circumference. There are also numerous tourist trails in the forest.
However, the strongest magnet for nature and adventure lovers is the mountains. In the immensely popular Silesian Beskid (Beskid Slaski) you can visit the sources of the Vistula, Poland's longest river. There are plenty of trails and attractively located mountain refuges as well as the best ski lifts and runs in the country. Valleys harbour trendy resorts such as Wisla, Ustron and Szczyrk.
The Sudetes offer even better tourist facilities. The most attractive ranges in these mountains are the Karkonosze and the Gory Stolowe (Table Mountains). When hiking in the Sudetes, you can watch mouflons and find precious minerals which once constituted the wealth of the mountains (known in the Middle Ages as the "treasury of Europe"). Even today some areas are said to contain gold.
The Karkonosze, which includes the highest summit in the Sudetes, Mt Sniezka (1602 metres), is the highest range, but, like all Sudetian ranges, is easily accessible for tourists. The slopes are gentle, with safe trails which are well-marked and not strenuous. The Karkonosze National Park has plenty of natural attractions including lovely waterfalls (like Kamienczyk Falls) and the Sniezne Kotly (Snow Cirques) with cliffs, rock towers and precipices carved by glaciers.
The first postcard in the world, printed in the second half of the 19th century, featured a drawing of Mt Sniezka.
The Gory Stolowe (Table Mountains) are much lower than the Karkonosze and even easier to hike. These spectacular slab mountains are built of eroded horizontal layers of sandstone which once constituted a sea bed. Million-year-long erosion turned them into an incredible fairy-tale landscape. Summits, slopes and forests are dotted with bizarre rocks reminiscent of huge clubs, mushrooms, spires and gates which make true labyrinths in the uppermost sections. To protect these unique rock formations, a national park has been established. The highlights here are the highest summit, Szczeliniec Wielki (919 metres), and the 20-hectare rock labyrinth called Bledne Skaly (Erratic Boulders).
The biggest and by far most interesting city in the region is Wroclaw in Lower Silesia. With Cracow and Gdansk, it makes up the trio of Poland's most beautiful cities which you must not miss when visiting the country. It is also a busy commercial, industrial, academic and cultural centre. It boasts Poland's biggest complex of religious architecture in the medieval Gothic style. Over the last few years the Old Town has been thoroughly restored and now it is a delight for visitors. The historical centre of Wroclaw, notably its charming market square, has turned into an attractive place every European city would be proud of. Superb architecture, cafes, clubs, pubs, restaurants, casino, cabaret and outdoor events in summer provide countless forms of urban entertainment. The City Hall is rated among the finest buildings of medieval Europe.
While visiting Silesia, you should see Klodzko. This town, lying in the centre of the Klodzko Basin, is over a thousand years old. For centuries it was a melting pot for Polish, Bohemian, German and Flamish settlers of various religions. The result of it was cosmopolitic architecture, awareness and tolerance. There is a beautiful Old Town with stone buildings, churches, a formidable fortress and an underground tourist route leading through old merchants' cellars. Almost 400 buildings are listed as historical monuments.
Another place worth seeing is Gora sw. Anny (St Ann's Hill). The shrine on its top is an impressive complex of Baroque religious buildings that attract crowds of pilgrims. Nearby, a no longer used basalt quarry houses an enormous amphitheatre with about 100,000 seats. This is the biggest natural amphitheatre in Europe, built in the 1930s by the Nazi to host party meetings and commemorate the Germans killed in the Third Silesian Uprising. Nowadays it is the only tourist attraction of this kind in Europe.