Being a relatively large town, an important administrative and a cultural center, Bielsko-Biala (Bielsko-Biała) is exceptionally attractive as a base for your next vacation. The nearby mountains, some of them lying within the town’s suburban area, the many green areas and the well-developed skiing infrastructure all make it a great destination for anyone seeking a break that is both close to nature and to urban facilities. Interestingly, until as recently as 1951, Bielsko and Biala were two separate towns, each belonging to separate provinces: Silesia and Lesser Poland.
History of Bielsko-Biala
There are many legends that describe the history of the town's foundation. According to one there was once a castle built by a group of bandits who regularly attacked the merchants passing through the area. They were caught and sentenced to death for their crimes. Their fortress was destroyed. The location where they died had been long forgotten by everyone until Casimir, the Duke of Cieszyn rediscovered it, while out hunting. He decided to build another castle there, one that led to the eventual creation of Bielsko-Biala.
First traces of Bielsko-Biala
The first traces of any settlement dates from the 12th century. Originally there were two separate towns, each on opposite banks of the Biala River. The separation occurred when the river became a state boundary in 1457. Founding of Bielsko happened in the 13th century on the “salt route” leading from Kiev through Krakow to Vienna. Biala appeared in the second half of the 15th century, on the other side of the river from Bielsko. Both towns owed their development to cloth production.
Bielsko was once a part of the Czech state and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and then after the first partition of Poland, Biala was also incorporated to the latter empire. Influences of Viennese architecture can still be seen in the design of many buildings in Bielsko-Biala, giving the town a very specific atmosphere.
Traditionally this area has been home to many people of different nationalities, including Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, and Hungarians. This led to a religious differentiation within the town, especially due to the strong reformation movement.
In the 19th century, Bielsko and Biala grew to become an important industrial center for cloth and wool production. From the second half of the 19th century both towns enjoyed a significant degree of autonomy as part of Cieszyn Silesia and Galicia.
These lands returned to Poland following World War I. During the interwar period Bielsko and Biala remained separated by the provincial boundary between the Silesian and the Krakow Voivodships. However, in 1951 Bielsko and Biala became one town.
Tourism in Bielsko-Biala
Situated at the foot of the Beskid Slaski and the Beskid Maly Mountains, Bielsko-Biala has extremely rich natural resources. It belongs to a region often called the “Green Lungs of Poland”. One of the most beautiful places is the upper part of the Wapienica River valley, including the extraordinarily picturesque part known as Luiza’s Valley.
Among the most favored attractions are the many trails leading to the most enchanting nooks of the Beskidy Mountains. Take the chance to take a cable car trip to Szyndzielnia (1,026 meters) anytime throughout the year. During the winter there are a number of very popular ski lifts in Debowiec, Klimczok and Magurka. Whatever active leisure pursuit gets you going, you will find something here to interest you. In the Straconka area you can find many horse-riding schools. Bielsko-Biala offers swimming pools and tennis courts, a kart track, and a sports airfield offering parachuting and gliding-related sports. It's also possible to organize a flight over the town or the mountains.
If you need something less fast paced, then there are many interesting sights to see in the town itself. It is worth visiting Sulkowski Castle, built in the middle of the 14th century with a gallery inside where music concerts take place.
The castle overlooking the center of Bielsko-Biala is the oldest and the largest historic building located within the area of the historical city of Bielsko. Legend has it that in the place where it now stands, there was a settlement of bandits attacking merchants who were travelling nearby. It's said that Casimir, Duke of Opole, captured the fort, killing all the ruffians and building there a hunting lodge which later developed into a grand castle providing a foundation for the city of Bielsko.
The castle's oldest history
Its oldest parts come from the 14th century followed by years of its gradual expansion and further development. This is a city castle which from the beginning formed part of the fortifications of Bielsko, simultaneously constituting the strongest element of its stockade. For centuries it functioned as a Silesian border fort, protecting the boundary between the feudal states of Cieszyn and Oświęcim. After this it protected the national Polish and Bohemian border from the second half of the 15th century and finally the Polish and Austrian border from 1526.
Since the end of the 16th century the defensive function of the castle was gradually diminishing while the castle itself was changing more and more into a noble residence. The contemporary look of the building is a result of the last large reconstruction works from the second half of the 19th century. In the period between 1899 and 1973, in the place of a brick retaining wall, visible now on the eastern side, there used to a series of the so-called bazaars, forming a showy architectural basis for the structure of the castle. Unfortunately, the bazaars disappeared while extending the Zamkowa street.
The castle built by the Piast dynasty ruling the Duchy of Cieszyn for over two centuries was one of their seats. Since 1572 it was an administrative and commercial centre of the independent state country of Bielsko. In 1752 the state country rose in importance to become a duchy and the property of the Sulkowski family. The Duchy of Bielsko existed till 1849 when upon the introduction of a modern administration system in Austria eliminating the old feudal structures, its territory was included in the county government of Bielsko. The castle itself and its many properties near the city remained in the hands of the Sulkowski family until 1945.
After the II World War the State took the castle over. It was the seat of many cultural institutions, including the Museum. From 1983 it's used exclusively by the Museum which is the Cultural Institution of the Silesian Local Government. From 2001 it was the Museum in Bielsko-Biala and since the end of 2013 it's named the Historical Museum in Bielsko-Biala.
And then there's the Saint Nicolas Cathedral with its exquisite stained glass windows and of course the Weaver’s House dating from the 18th century.
With about 175,000 inhabitants, Bielsko-Biala is one of the most important centers of the Silesian Voivodship outside the Katowice conurbation. It was once known as the “town of a hundred industries”. Even today Bielsko-Biala manages to successfully continue its traditions in wool processing and cloth production.