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Katowice, the capital of the Śląskie (Silesian) province, today is part
of the largest Polish conurbation. Yet for the first five centuries of its history
it was a typical Upper Silesian village. Only in the mid-1800s, when mining
and metallurgy in the area had taken off, did it start rising in significance.
The growth was as good as explosive, and in 1865 Katowice was granted
town rights. World War I was another period of boom for the city’s industries
– especially the steel and iron plants – fuelled by the favourable business
conditions. The local population was not affected by military operations
and turned up in great numbers for the three Silesian Uprisings (1919–1921)
and the subsequent plebiscite action. As a result, Upper Silesia became
part of the restored Polish state. Between the two wars, Katowice enjoyed
further robust growth. As capital flowed in, new buildings and whole
districts cropped up in the city, featuring public facilities, neighbourhoods
of luxury villas and monumental churches.
At the beginning of World War II, the entire Upper Silesia was incorporated into the Third Reich. The occupying forces made Katowice the capital of the province. Liberated in 1945, the city was restored to its former status of an industrial and administrative hub while gaining new reputation of a scientific and cultural centre. In 1971, “Spodek” (the “Saucer”) Sports and Entertainment Arena was inaugurated. It is situated in the vicinity of the monument to the Silesian Insurgents, cast in bronze and commemorating the three uprisings against the German hegemony. Both the “Saucer” and the monument have become true trademarks of the city.
In the subsequent years, Katowice continued on its path of industrial and urban growth. These days, however, the city is gaining a new, less industrial aspect.
A case in point is a notable initiative of the local government: the restoration of Nikiszowiec (German Nickischschacht), a historical working-class residential estate built in the early 1900s, world-unique in its style. It attracts a multitude of visitors, who particularly admire the distinctive architecture of the complex, radically different from the numerous working class settlements constructed at the turn of the centuries. The estate consists of nine ring-shaped formations of multiresidential three-storey buildings. The settlement was furnished with public facilities such as a school, a cooperative shop, a laundry house (which will soon accommodate a branch of the Museum of the History of Katowice), a bathhouse, a post office, an inn, a building for the contagiously ill and a Baroque revival church of St. Anna. Nikiszowiec is a place with many faces and a unique ambience, a model specimen of industrial architecture and a relic of the waning miners’ culture of Silesia. Having put on a new face, the city attracts a new kind of people and is emerging as the cultural capital of the Upper Silesia. In the process, it is effectively dismantling the cliché of itself as a place full of black dust and slag heaps. The modern image of Katowice is determined by the new impressive buildings which house cultural institutions, by the numerous business and entertainment centres and, last but not least, the shopping malls. Many culture-related projects are currently under construction. The premises of the former “Katowice” colliery are being transformed into the so-called Culture Zone. This will soon encompass the new seat of the National Symphonic Orchestra of the Polish Radio, the Silesian Museum and the International Congress Centre. Not far away, the construction of the combined library of the Silesian University and the Economic University is at its final stage.
With so many projects on the go, and the newly established position of Katowice as a City of Memorable Events, its people felt confident enough to apply for the coveted title of the 2016 European Capital of Culture. Katowice has qualified to the final stage of the selection process. This fact – just like another achievement, being chosen to host the 2014 World Championship in volley ball – seems to confirm that the city is evolving in the right direction.
Today’s modern appearance of Katowice is a product of many years of consistent policy on the part of its authorities. The city’s development is additionally facilitated by its position in the heart of a vast urban area. The changes that are under way, together with projects waiting in the pipeline, promise a further period of economic and social boom in Katowice.
Department of Information and Promotion
Katowice City Office