Numerous European capitals are within a 600-km radius from Katowice, the region’s capital: Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava, Vienna and Berlin.
The exceptional nature of the Silesian region is clearly supported by the fact that although the Voivodeship ranks only as fourteenth in terms of area, it ranks as second in terms of population! This relatively small area, which covers 12,331 km2 (3.9% of Polish territory), has a population of 4,714,982.
The region has four city agglomerations: Upper Silesian – of European importance, and Bielsko-Biała, Częstochowa and Rybnik – of national significance.
The Voivodeship is divided into 36 counties: 19 municipal counties and 17 land counties.
The following cities play the greatest administrative, economic and cultural roles: Katowice, Sosnowiec, Bytom, Gliwice, Zabrze, Tychy and Chorzów. They are the seats of institutions of higher learning, cultural institutions and larger companies. Rybnik, Bielsko-Biała and Częstochowa are the capitals of the other sub-regions.
The Upper Silesian Agglomeration is the decisive factor of the region’s uniqueness – it is a grouping of cities practically adjacent to each other, forming a 70 km strip: from Dąbrowa Górnicza to Gliwice. The agglomeration covers app. 18% of the Voivodeship’s area (1,200 km2), populated by nearly 60% of the region’s inhabitants.
This uniqueness is, of course, linked with the region’s history, and with the natural resources that have been exploited for centuries in Silesia.
The region was already a part of Poland during the reign of its first monarch, Mieszko I, who annexed the region in 990 and added it to the state founded by him.
During the course of subsequent centuries, Polish kings waged wars over Silesia with Czechs and Hungarians; during Poland’s feudal fragmentation (1138 – 1320), Silesia came within the orbit of Brandenburg, at the time a Czech dependency.
At the beginning of the XVI century, Silesia came under the rule of Ferdinand I Hapsburg, king of Bohemia and Hungary,.
Prussia conquered the region in1741.
Despite centuries of foreign rule, Silesians fought for maintaining their identity and using the Polish language. Authorities were opposed to this, and at numerous occasions prohibited the teaching of Polish at schools (inter alia, in 1819 and 1872).
In 1903, the first Polish deputy was elected to the Reichstag – Wojciech Korfanty (1873 – 1939), a patriot committed to the Polish character of Upper Silesia. 1919, 1920 and 1921 marked three so-called Silesian Insurrections of the Polish population against Germany, w with a view of having the region returned to Poland, reborn in 1918 after decades of foreign domination. As a result of the III Silesian Insurrection (Wojciech Korfanty was its dictator), a substantial portion of Silesia was incorporated into Poland. After the Second World War and the surrender of Nazi Germany, pursuant to agreements between the Allies, all of Poland, including Silesia, came into the Soviet orbit.
The Śląśkie Voidodeship was formed in 1999, as a part of the democratic III Republic.
Silesian wars were no coincidence – this was always an economically viable area as a crossroad for trade and mining, with which it is presently associated.
Already in the early Middle Ages, trade routes were formed and crossed each other in this region, from South to North, and from East to West. Centres of fairs rose next to such routes, for example Bytom and Gliwice.
The first mine shafts were built in the vicinity of Bytom, as early as in the XIII century, where iron ore was extracted. The XVI century marked the beginning of the exploitation of silver and lead ores. A century later, coal mining commenced, at first strip mining, and subsequently, deep mining.
Despite Silesia’ heavy industrialization, it is fortunate that many natural areas have been maintained, untouched by man, which are on the itinerary of trips of nature lovers and tourists. This is all the more so important, as the Voivodeship is situated in areas of different geological structures, different climates, soils and topography; there is also a rich variety of fauna and flora. One can find features typical for European lowlands, as well as for plateaus, mountain areas and sub-alpine basins. This differentiation makes the area very attractive for numerous forms of tourism.
There are 61 natural reserves in the Voivodeship, with a total area of over 3619 ha, which amounts to 0.3% of the Voivodeship’s total area. Reserves are mostly located in the north; only small areas are dispersed within the central part of the Voivodeship. 8 landscape parks have also been established in the region, protecting areas of special natural, landscape and cultural value. Landscape parks cover an area of 235,752 ha, which amounts to 19.2% of the Śląskie Voivodeship’s territory. The region also contains 22 areas of protected landscapes, which include distinct landscape areas with different types of ecosystems.
Many charming spots await tourists interested in active recreation: the uplands: Śląska, Krakowsko-Częstochowska, Pagóry Jaworznickie, Kotlina Oświęcimska; plateaus: Głubczycki and Rybnicki; mountains: Beskid Śląski, Beskid Żywiecki and Beskid Mały, as well as the Kotlina Żywiecka, the mountain chains of Beskid Śląski and Beskid Żywiecki- located in the southern part of the Voivodeship - and the areas of the Jura Krakowsko-Częstochowska.
The Jura – due to its unusual topography and rock formations – attracts rock climbers. The following areas have been earmarked for rock climbing: Skałki Kroczyckie, Skałki Podlesickie, Skałki Rzędowickie, and Skałki Włodowickie, the vicinity of: Podlesice, Okiennik, Olsztyn, Podzamcze and Ryczów. As a result of karts phenomena, over 900 caves and rock shelters have been formed within the Krakowsko-Częstochowska upland, grouped in the vicinity of Olsztyn, Potok Zloty, Podlesice and Smoleń, the destinations of rock climbers.
During winter, the Beskid, with over 150 ski lifts, await lovers of “white madness”. Szczyrk, Korbelów, Brenna, Ustroń, Istebna, Wisła – these are only some of the spots with excellent skiing conditions. In the summer, the Beskidy encourage foot tourism.
The Pustynia Błędowska (Błędowska Desert) is a Silesian natural curiosity (extending between Błędów and Klucze – the largest volatile sand area in Poland) – the only natural desert in Europe.
Over 4670 km of tourist foot routes have been designated and marked; newer and newer bicycle routes are also being formed.
The region boasts over 4000 historical sites and premises entered onto the state register. However, the number of sites meriting restoration and making them available to tourists is much lengthier. As a rule, these are architectural structures: castles, palaces, manor houses, churches and chapels, municipal structures, workers’ compounds, as well as monuments of technology and industry, and cemeteries and parks.
The region contains many destinations of pilgrimages, of which 5 are crowned images of the Holy Mother. Among numerous museums in the region, some are particularly attractive on a national scale.
Undoubtedly, the most renowned historical and religious site is the Pauline monastery of Jasna Góra, Częstochowa. This shrine, founded in 1382, is famous for its Black Madonna icon of the Virgin Mary (the painting was brought to Jasna Góra from the East a few years after the founding of the monastery; according to legend, it was painted by St. Luke). The fact that the monastery was able to defend itself successfully against sieges during wars with Sweden (1655 – 1704) is attributed to the icon’s miraculous features.
Presently, millions of pilgrims arrive in Częstochowa – not only from Poland.
Numerous castles and palaces are situated in Silesia, either of a defensive or residential nature. The palatial and park estate of the Dukes of Pszczyna in Pszczyna, with the castle museum. It is worthwhile to visit the Piast Castle in Gliwice, the monastery and palace complex in Rudy, the basilicas in Piekary Śląskie, Rybnik and Panewniki. Of course, historical technology sites are a special treat for tourists visiting Silesia. In Tarnowskie Góry, two silver and lead mining sites await them: the Kopalnia Zabytkowa (Historical Mine) and Sztolnia Czarnego Pstrąga (Black Trout Adit) – the greatest attraction is a 600 m subterranean boat ride through mine tunnels. Zabrze is home to historical coal mining sites: the Subterranean “Guido” Skansen, “Królowa Luiza (Queen Louise)” Skansen and Museum of Coal Mining.
EU funds assist in the implementation of the following project: “Zabrze – the city of industrial tourism”, the purpose of which is the appropriate adoption of existing historical sites to the needs of tourists. The connecting component of all sites operating in Zabrze will be the Kluczowa Sztolnia Dziedziczna (Hereditary Key Adit) – a system of underground tunnels for transporting coal in the XIX century. In a short time, visitors will be able to familiarize themselves with the work of yesterday’s miners, by commuting underground with the assistance of boats, cog-wheel railway and suspended monorail.
A visit to the Ducal Brewery in Tychy and Museum of Brewing is an attraction - not only for beer drinkers – where the history of brewing is presented in a modern manner, since as long ago as 1629. The climax of each trip is the tasting of beer from today’s brewers.
Gliwice is home to a 110 m radio mast – the highest wooden structure in Europe. The Match Museum is an interesting industrial historical site in Częstochowa, where one can closely watch the manufacturing of matches in the traditional manner.
Since 150 years, a narrow gauge railway has been continuously operated. It is a 23 km route, running from Bytom to Miasteczko Śląskie. Not too far away, Radzionków is home to the only Museum of Bread in Poland, where visitors can prepare and bake bread manually.
Bielsko-Biała is host to the Museum of Textile Industry, which houses textile machinery, and the Central Fire Fighting Museum is situated in Mysłowice, with its historical fire-fighting vehicles.
All of these interesting venues are components of the Historical Technology Route of the Śląskie Voivodeship. (which included 36 sites in the fall of 2014).