Ostrow Tumski & St. John's Cathedral
Ostrow Tumski, also known as the Cathedral Island, is the oldest part of Wroclaw and the spiritual heart of the city. In the old version of Polish language, “ostrow” means “island,” whereas “tum” denotes “church house” in German.
In the 9th century, the Slavic Slezan tribe came here to establish a stronghold, later to be surrounded by defensive walls built on the banks of the river. At that time, the island was sparsely populated reaching 1,500 inhabitants and one small wooden church of St. Martin. In 1000 AD, a cathedral was built one the island, following the decision of King Boleslaw the Brave to establish a bishopric in Wroclaw. Since that day onward, the Cathedral Island has played the role of the religious centre of Wroclaw.
In its “first version,” the cathedral was a small Romanesque stone structure. In the 12th century it was replaced by a similar building. The 13th century Mongol invasion, however, made it necessary to construct a new Gothic church. Several fires ravaged the new church in 1540, 1632-35, 1759 and 1945. The Siege of Breslau itself caused 70 per cent damage to the building. Cathedral's former beauty was revived after the war thanks to successful reconstruction initiatives.
St. John's Cathedral, the most important secular building in Wroclaw, is a must-see for all tourists. The first characteristic feature of the cathedral are 91-metre twin towers which offer a splendid view of Wroclaw. One can use an elevator to arrive at the panorama terrace. The exterior of the building is full of numerous motifs and gargoyles. The entrance to the cathedral is guarded by stone lions which, as the legend has it, can fulfill your wishes when you touch their heads gently.
Tourists who come behind the cathedral presbytery can admire beautiful and precious chapels which are the burial places of their founders: Our Lady's Chapel (by master Pieszko), St. Elizabeth's Chapel (by Italian artists) and the Corpus Christ Chapel (by an Austrian architect). Worth a closer look is also a Gothic altarpiece, painted in 1522, depicting the Virgin Mary falling asleep. One should also take a look at the Baroque stalls with carved scenes of St. Norbert's life. The cathedral boasts organ which, as far as its 151 pipes are concerned, are the largest in Poland. During the Second World War, the church suffered a massive damage and traces of bullet holes in the walls are still visible today.
On the small-sized island there are four other Gothic churches: St. Martin church (which in its long history served several religious orders including Dominicans and Benedictines, now easily recognized by a granite monument of Pope John Paul II in front of it with an inscription “Pacem in Terris” meaning “Peace on Earth”); small single-nave St Giles church (typical representative of the late Romanesque style, the only Wroclaw church to survive the Tatars); Gothic-style two-level Holy Cross church; the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul. In the Gothic interiors of the tiny St. Martin church, originally the chapel of the ducal castle, various concerts are held today such as Forum Musicum, Poland's largest international festival of the early music (classical music from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and also the Baroque). These four Gothic churches differ from each other in many ways and are also well worth a visit for any respectable church architecture enthusiast.
Behind the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, there is the Archdiocesan Museum which has been in existence since 1903. Its collection and exhibition includes, among others: Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age items found in Silesia, such as: axes, arrowheads, needles, pots, bowls; mummies from 4th century B.C; Roman figure depicting St. John the Baptist from 1160; wooden sculptures - reliefs with scenes from Christ and Virgin Mary life dating back to 1350; extensive collection of paintings from 15th-18th centuries; goldware, tapestry or ancient art exhibitions.
Ostrow Tumski is unlike any other part of Wroclaw. It is characterized by a scarcity of shops or restaurants and it is mainly a place of worship and reflection. It belongs almost entirely to the Wroclaw's Archdiocese, therefore, most buildings are taken by the Church-related institutions. But there are many reasons to come here. It is a tranquil place where people love to take a relaxing walk in the Botanical Garden or the Bishop's Gardens by the Odra. In other words, take a rest from the hustle and bustle of the Main Market Square. Ostrow Tumski is also incredibly beautiful at night because of gorgeous glow radiating from over 90 gas streetlamps lit up manually every evening day by the lamplighter.
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Tags: Tourist Route
Related locations by tags: The Main Market Square | The Town Hall | The Salt Square and Old Butchers' Stalls | St. Elisabeth's Church & Mary Magdalene's Church | The Dwarfs of Wroclaw