There are places that you wouldn’t even consider visiting as for some reasons they don’t have a good reputation. Yet you somehow end up in them and you’re really impressed, even cursing yourself for being so ignorant and not getting there earlier. That was my story with Bytom, Poland.
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Short history of Bytom, Poland
Bytom is one of the main cities of the Silesian Metropolis – one of the biggest urban areas in the whole European Union. It used to be a heavily industrialized region but not many people know that Bytom is actually one of the oldest cities in Poland, dating back to 11th century. Even now the urban layout of Bytom resembles the Medieval times.
Almost from the beginning it was an important center of trade and industry as the result of being located at the crossroads of trading routes from east to west and from north to south. Over the centuries the city was under the rule of Poland, Kingdom of Bohemia, Austria, Prussia and eventually, after WW2, again Poland.
The long and rich history makes Bytom such a fascinating place and I feel really bad for not knowing about it before!
First impressions of Bytom
The first impression might not be the best as for some people the train station in Bytom might look a little bit neglected, if not scary (especially on the gloomy morning with no one around). But I actually found it beautiful (especially the carport). Fortunately from this moment on things will only get better and better.
As soon as I crossed the street from the train station and entered the pedestrian Dworcowa street I was blown away by the architecture. I didn’t expect to see such a beauty! The key to notice it and fall for Bytom is to look up.
Bytom – the art nouveau gem of Poland
To my great surprise Bytom is a real gem of art nouveau architecture (and if you follow this blog for a while you know I’m a big fan of this style and I’ve found it already in Subotica or Riga). I even heard that the number of art nouveau buildings is one of the biggest in Europe and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised!
When walking around Bytom my jaw was constantly dropped and I didn’t know where to look as almost every second house was special with unique details. Unfortunately the majority of buildings still look neglected but it’s not difficult to imagine how they used to look at their finest moments. And the renovation process is slowly happening so I bet if I visit Bytom again in couple of years I will be even more in awe!
And so the most spectacular examples of Bytom art nouveau are the court, the former post office or one of the high schools. Unfortunately I was in Bytom on Sunday therefore all of these institutions were closed. Too bad as I could only imagine how amazing the interior is, all made in art nouveau style as well.
When visiting Bytom you can basically wander around the center and take random streets left or right and you will stumble across some amazing architecture for sure! Such a walk is a pure pleasure to the eye!
The main square in Bytom
Funny that the place that’s supposed to be the most representative one – the main square – in Bytom is in the shadow of more spectacular buildings around. When I saw pre-war pictures of the city it looked stunning but, as many cities in Central Europe, Bytom also became a victim of communist planning. Couple of grand buildings at the main square were demolished and replaced with more appropriable ones.
Now the main square is a peculiar mix of styles, guarded by the sculpture of sleeping lion (it returned to Bytom only recently, after being found in Warsaw). Still, the heart of the city is a very pleasant place to relax and do people watching from one of the cafes (or the brewery). This is always one of my favorite parts of travels and it was the same in Bytom.
Industrial past and present of Bytom
While the city might be the art nouveau (hidden) gem of Poland the rest of Bytom architecture is really interesting too! As every other city in the Silesian Metropolis it has a strong industrial influences that can be seen all over the place. Sadly these days most of the former mines don’t operate anymore but the sites are really beautiful anyway.
My favorite ones were the mine shaft “Krystyna” and the power plant “Szombierki” (designed by the most popular architects in the region at the beginning of 20th century – Emil and George Zillman) – both a great example of industrial modernism style. Now these buildings wait for the investors to come and give them a new life (and they have a huge potential!).
But there are institutions in Bytom that already use their industrial past: Armada Golf Club (created on the former grounds of “Szombierki” coal mine) or Dance and Movement Theater Rozbark (located in the former pithead of Rozbark mine) just to name few. I really loved how they transformed those spots into their new usability and I really hope the rest of industrial buildings will share their fate. Right now they only come to life once a year during Industriada – a wonderful festival I was lucky to attend a year ago!
The future of Bytom
Even if the city looks somehow forgotten and neglected at times I believe there is a bright future for Bytom. There’s a well established contemporary art gallery “Kronika” or the already mentioned Theater Rozbark, the creative scene is slowly blooming.
On top of that there are those small facts that made Bytom even more interesting: the oldest working tram in Poland (no 38, with probably the shortest route in the whole country), the world’s oldest non-stop working narrow gauge railway (now it runs only in the summer season), the former border at the times of Prussia when from the main square you could walk in three directions and reach the border within 15 minutes or the churches that are very similar to famous sacral buildings in Munich and Limburg, Germany. And those are just few things I’ve managed to find out about during my short visit in Bytom.
I’m well aware that Bytom might not have the best reputation in Poland, that for years it’s been known for major mining damages. But I was really surprised by the city, in the most positive way. It was beautiful, interesting, full of quirkiness and with wide range of attractions. If you ask me if you should visit Bytom I’d certainly say yes, with no hesitation at all!
Sometimes the least obvious destinations turn out to be the most fascinating and appealing and that’s how I saw Bytom. In nearest future, if the funds allow, I expect Bytom to bloom and I will make sure to return there in couple of years to see how the city changed. I bet I will enjoy it even more than now!
And if you want to read more about Bytom and the whole region make sure to visit Silesia travel website – your best source of information about Silesia!
Do you often travel around your own country? Which place have surprised you recently? Is Poland on your bucket list?
If you think of visiting Poland or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:
- Żyrardów – a perfect day trip from Warsaw
- Visit Cieszyn – reasons to fall in love with this beautiful city
- Lublin, Poland in pictures
- and more!
My trip to Bytom was in partnership with Śląskie travel but all opinions remain my own, like always
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