Mines, Factories, Shipyards: Tourism Goes Industrial in Poland
#travel in poland
small, Mines, Factories, Shipyards: Tourism Goes Industrial in Poland, The Salt Mine in Wieliczka. A 'Miners' Track' for the most demanding tourists. It leads through authentic excavation sites, and visitors are equipped , full_turystyka_factory_forum_770.jpg
Holiday? To the factory! Industrial tourism is a growingly popular form of sightseeing that involves guided tours to deserted or operational industrial sites across the country. Instead of destroying these once-prosperous businesses of the bygone industrial era, the Polish government has invested in the protection and revitalization of these fascinating sites rich with history and culture.
Surrounding the southern city of Wrocław, Silesia is an obvious place for this type of tourism. Once the industrial Mecca of Eastern Europe, Silesia was a hub of development for mining, metallurgy, and transportation, as well as industries related to food and water. These days, many of the businesses have either stopped production or minimized their output, but one thing's for sure – the uniqueness of these sites attracts visitors from every corner of the globe.
7 Wonders of Wrocław and Lower Silesia
For a lively start, kick off the tour with a couple of breweries on the Industrial Monuments Route. Known for their famous and successful beers, the Żywiec and Tychy breweries both have a long and impressive history. Both house many of the original brewery buildings which have been preserved to this day, and their museums present some of the best experiences of their kind, where guests get to actively learn the history of beer production.
These museum visits are nothing like the typical guided tours with guards keeping an eye on the exhibition rooms. Instead, they are a dynamic experience, involving constant visitor interaction, with passionate stories which resonate within operational contraptions. Here you not only listen and watch, but you are also allowed to touch and taste everything.
Silesian Folk to Conquer the World
If you are still standing after the brewery, then pop into the still-operational Częstochowa Match Factory (CMF). Established in the 1880s by Karol von Gehlig and Julian Huch, the CMF is the only place in Europe where one can observe the entire match-making process. From a wooden block to a ready box with the characteristic black cat, its main attraction is the still-operating historic production line for matches, dating from the 1930s.
The exhibition is supplemented with a collection of match boxes and sculptures made out of matchsticks (of course), as well as a showing of the 1913 film A Fire in the Match Factory by Antoni and Władysław Krzemiński – interestingly enough, also one of the oldest films in Polish cinematography.
Polish Cinema of the Silent Film Era
A visit to Silesia would not be complete without a trip down memory lane – and deep underground. The region is most famous for its mines, and one exceptional example is the Guido coal mine. Established in 1855, after its commercial exploitation finished it served as a drainage point and an experimental mine. Now opened to the daring public, it lets visitors go down through its shafts to levels 170 and 320 metres deep. The latter level is the deepest tourist route in a coal mine in all of Europe.
The mine also houses a concert hall and a theatre where artistic events are regularly held. The place is noted for its exceptional atmosphere and the acoustic qualities of the underground chambers. 320m below ground, there is also the world's deepest post office – just in case you still haven't sent that postcard.
The Black Madonna of Częstochowa
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Lech Wałęsa, the Polish workers' union activist and leader, as well as Poland's future first democratic President, during a speech to the strikers of Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. August 31st, 1980
, photo: © Rue des Archives / AGIP / Forum
Silesia is not the only place worth visiting for industrial experiences. One such experience takes visitors to the shipping routes of the historic seaside town of Gdańsk. Although the commercial ports of Gdynia and Gdańsk are still operational, one can still have a maritime experience that only a few could imagine.
Visitors get taken between real container vessels amongst the hustle and bustle of the port. Reminiscent of the Polish Communist era, visitors rub shoulders with maritime workers, and walk along the same paths as those who gave birth to the Solidarity movement, including Lech Wałęsa himself.
And speaking of Solidarity, why not visit Nowa Huta, on the other end of the spectrum? It is an industrial town just outside of Kraków which was intended to become the ideal city of the Communist propaganda, and was populated mostly by workers.
Nowa Huta: The Story of the Ideal Socialist-Realist City
It was built in 1949 as a deliberate contrast to the cultural Kraków of the intelligentsia. The architecture of Nowa Huta was once a bastion of Stalinist aesthetics, and its special setting became a setting of the award-winning film by Andrzej Wajda, Man of Marble.
Based on the true story of the rise and fall of Mateusz Birkut, the film shows a young woman who wants to make a film about this legendary over-achieving worker. Birkut was a bricklayer at Nowa Hut who worked madly to beat a record when he led a team of 5 men to lay 30 thousand bricks in just 8 hours. Through her research, she gradually discovers a dramatic truth about the hero and about the times in which she lives.
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Visiting Nowa Huta takes you back in time, and it is even possible to take the tour in a Trabant, a vintage car of the era which is no longer produced.
Also located within the Kraków metropolitan area is the legendary Wieliczka Salt Mine. It is an industrial venue, but one which dates back further than even the Industrial Revolution…
Built in the 13th century, Wieliczka continuously produced table salt until 2007 as one of the world's oldest salt mines still in operation. From its beginning and throughout its existence, the royal mine was run by Żupy Krakowskie Salt Mines. Commercial mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and mine flooding.
Historic Salt Mine in Wieliczka and the Kraków Saltworks Museum – Image Gallery
The mine's attractions include dozens of statues, three chapels and an entire cathedral that was carved out of the rock salt by the miners. The oldest sculptures are augmented by new carvings by contemporary artists.
The capital, Warsaw, has its own industrial offerings, mostly within its northern neighbourhoods. Known as the Kamionek region within the growingly hip Praga district, it is one of the oldest parts of the eastern bank of the capital. Few know that Kamionek once played a key role for the city because of its metal and tanning industry. Today, it is a place that’s known to any of Warsaw's hipsters for the renewed artistic space called the Soho Factory.
Photos of Brzeska Street in Praga – Image Gallery
The former factory site houses a neon museum, architectural and artistic studios, as well as one of the most progressive musical festivals in the country.
So whether you want to ride a narrow-gauge railway, discover how coal was mined, learn about brewing beer, or simply walk in the footsteps of a revolutionary – there are plenty of options. And one thing is for sure, each experience will bring forth a sense of adventure, an sense of exploration, and a tale or two to tell about an era that once was.
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Written by Paulina Schlosser, Oct 2014