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Katowice is a city with a population of just over 300,000 in the southwest of Poland and is the capital of the Silesian Voivodeship (province). This part of Poland forms the most industrialized and urbanized region in the country. Katowice itself, alongside neighbouring towns and cities form part of an urban zone which has a population of 2½ to 3 million people.

Above: View from Main Market Square area (Rynek) towards the Spodek Arena (See Text)

The area is well known for coal mining, although other important industries include the mining of other materials, such as iron, lead and zinc, metallurgy, power generation, engineering, chemicals, building materials and the production of motor vehicles, the latter becoming increasingly more significant over recent years. Katowice forms the centre of science, culture, industry, business, trade, and transportation in this part of Poland; the city's image has traditionally been associated with heavy industry. This stereotypical view of the Katowice has completely changed over the last few years. Today, the city is rapidly growing and being modernised, drawing on it's geographical location, administrative powers, economic influence (including investment opportunities) and academic resources. Major reconstruction of the city centre has been combining a modern feel into the existing traditional environment. For the tourist coming from afar, whilst it may have typically been just a stopping off point on the way to more popular destinations, such as Kraków, today there is an increasing number of visitors coming purposefully to Katowice itself for a city break.

Above: The Wyspianski Silesian Theatre stands on Katowice's Main Market Square (Rynek)

The city's history reflects that of Upper Silesia as a whole. Originally inhabited by ethnic Silesians, the area was ruled by the Polish Piast dynasty.  It then came under Czech rule in 1335 and later (in 1526) was absorbed with the rest of the Czech state into the Habsburg Empire. In 1741, it was transferred to Prussian rule. The city of Katowice was founded in the 19th century, gaining city status in 1865. Poland regained its independence in 1918 and the region's future was then influenced by three Silesian Uprisings and the plebiscite (1919-1921). These uprisings aimed to make the region of Upper Silesia part of the newly independent Polish state. Katowice continued to develop during the 1920's and 30's until World War II broke out - the city was occupied by Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1945. After World War II, the whole of the region became a part of Poland forming the nation's industrial heartland.  Later on in the 20th century, several other historical events took place in the city, notably the Pacification of Wujek in 1981, in which nine striking miners at the city's Wujek coal mine were massacred by Polish authorities as part of a nationwide drive against the Solidarity movement and a  visit by Pope John Paul II in 1983.

Above: The modern Katowice International Conference Centre situated next to the Spodek Arena

Although Katowice does not have the same appeal culturally and historically as say, for example Kraków, it still has a number of attractions and some of these are described here with reference to the thumbnail gallery lower down (where applicable).

For culture vultures, The Wyspianski Silesian Theatre [Photo 12] is located on the main market square (Rynek) in the heart of the city and  was built in 1905-1907. The city also houses the Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra[Photo 55]. Museums in the city include the Katowice Historical Museum (Muzeum Historii Katowic) and the Silesian Museum (Muzeum Śląskie) [Photo 71], located on the site of the former Katowice coal mine along with other institutions in a new complex of buildings (which will form a new cultural district). The city centre provides a fair share of modernistic and Art Nouveau buildings and some contemporary wonders, such as the Katowice International Conference Centre [Photos 65-69, 74] which lies approximately half a mile to the north of the main square. Whilst looking around the city centre, it would be difficult to miss the Altus Skyscraper [Seen from different angles in photos 8, 26, 47, 56 & 78], built in 2001-2003, a 30 floor 125m high multipurpose 'intelligent' building. Next to the Katowice International Conference Centre is the conspicuous Spodek Arena [Photos 53, 64, 76 - 77]. The Spodek Arena (1971) was the largest and technically up-to-date facility in Poland at the time of it's construction. This characteristic and instantly recognisable building (for it's flying saucer shape) forms a multifunctional complex covering some 7 hectares of floor space able to hold different events simultaneously. The building's various facilities host a wide array of events including sports, performing arts (including major international rock and pop acts), fairs, exhibitions and conferences. It  has a capacity of 11,000 people and has been modernised several times, the most recent being in 2011. On the city's architecture, not shown in the photos below is Drapacz Chmur, one of Europe's first skyscrapers (on Wikipedia here). Religious buildings in the city include the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (St. Mary's Church) [Photo 29], a neo-Gothic church dating back to the 19th century and one of the city's oldest and also the Archcathedral of Christ the King [Photos 31 - 40], built in the classicist style between 1927 and 1955 and the largest archcathedral in Poland. Also of note in the city, as you walk from the main square towards the Spodek Arena is the Silesian Insurgents' Monument (1967) [Photos 51, 52, 57, a symbolic monument to those who took part in the three Silesian Uprisings of 1919, 1920 and 1921. For those wishing to relax, the city has a number of parks and open spaces.

References / Further Reading

1. Katowice In Your Pocket (Downloadable PDF Guide) here

2. Official City Guide here

3. A Brief History of Katowice here

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