City walk - Bielsko
Bielsko-Biała belongs to the group of the cities described as ‘Little Vienna’. The name refers to the architecture and atmosphere of Austrian culture that dominated the numerous cities in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including that one of Bielsko.
The economic growth and wealth experienced at the turn of the 19th and 20th century shaped the image of the city. Numerous buildings, factories, edifices and tenements were constructed and the city was designed almost from scratch. Most of the changes faithfully mimicked the architecture of Vienna.
The proposed walk leads through the major and significant landmarks in Bielsko, and gives a chance to admire the beauty and efforts of the city’s visionaries.
1. Railway Central Station (Dworzec PKP – Bielsko-Biała Główna)
The railway station in Bielsko-Biała was built in 1890 and replaced a smaller building from 1855 that could not provide sufficient service to the growing number of passengers.
The station was recently renovated, and during this restauration beautiful frescos were uncovered and preserved in the main hall. There is also a text reminding that the railway station belonged to the ‘Austrian-Hungarian privileged Northern Railway of Emperor Ferdinand’ – quite a nice reminder of the past. You will find it written on the marble plaques in the façade, on the right and left sides of the entrance.
2. 3 Maja Street (ul. 3 Maja)
From the Railway Station take a walk along 3 Maja Street towards the city centre. On the way, you will see three-storey buildings that represent the Neo-Baroque, Neo-Renaissance and Art Nouveau styles. All these buildings were constructed at the turn of the 19th and 20th century for the wealthy factory owners and merchants. Although most of the houses are not yet renovated, their beauty and architectural charm is undeniable. Most of them were designed by Karl Korn, a prominent architect of the city. You can admire the facades of the building, entrances and staircases.
Shortly after, you shall pass the modern buildings of the Bielsko Art Gallery and and the Puppet Theatre ‘Banialuka’. This was previously the location of the Bielsko Synagogue, which was destroyed in 1939 by Nazis after invading Poland. A memorial plaque contains information and displays an old photography of the synagogue.
3. Hotel President
Hotel President, which stands on the other side of the street of the Bielsko Art Gallery, is one of the symbols of the city. Designed and build in 1893 by no one else than Karl Korn himself. This neo-Renaissance in style hotel is the oldest still running hotel in the city. It has an impressive façade and stands high on the street scene.
Interestingly, the hotel has a 12 meters deep foundation and this is due to the fact that next to the hotel runs a railway tunnel that many people have no idea about.
4. Chrobry Square (Plac Chrobrego)
Built in the 19th century, the square became a focal point of the city, replacing the importance of the Old Town Square. In the past, it served as a bus station and a market place, to finally become one of the city meeting places. Various architectural styles can be observed around the square. The most dominating building is the Sułkowski’s Castle that is an indicator of the Old Town’s further uphill.
Apart from the caste, the oldest building is the baroque one-storey tenement from the 18th century called Kamienica Kałuży(ul. Wzgórze 15). It’s special because there are not many buildings from that period left in Bielsko-Biała, and it’s the only house left from the time before the square was constructed.
Next, stands a modernist building from 1938, with a large stained glass window showing the panorama of the city and allegorical figure of abundance. It’s best to see it from inside.
Other buildings were constructed at the end of the 19th and early 20th century.
The central element of the square is a fountain with the statue of Three Naked Boys Playing with a Bird from the 1980s.
The corner house, on the opposite side of 3 Maja Street, with a clock and the city coat of arms, was built in 1889 and originally served as the Municipal Savings Bank (ul. Wzgórze 19). One of the most popular and elegant restaurants at that time was also located inside. If you enter the antique shop that is currently occupying the space, you will still see the past splendour of the Secession style.
Before you head towards the Polish Theatre, take a photo with one of the landmarks of the city. Just under the castle, there is a niche in the wall where you will find a unique fountain depicting a naked boyish looking devil urinating into a fountain’s basin. The Peeing Little Devil (Sikajacy Diabełek, as it is called in Polish) is believed to bring a happy and prosperous life, so don’t forget to visit him.
5. Polish Theatre (Teatr Polski)
Built in 1890, sponsored by the citizens and designed by a Viennese architect is a remainder of the cultural aspiration that Bielsko always has had. The building was modelled on theatres in Vienna and Budapest. In the recent years, the theater was renovated, both internally and externally, and brought back to its original stage. The elegant interior with its 1890 curtain showing the dancing nymphs, painted murals, stylish chandeliers and lamps will take you on a journey to the past.
The square in front of the theatre is decorated with a replica of the historic fountain from 1895.
The large building on the right side with a characteristic dome and statues of Jupiter and Mercury is the Main Post Office (ul. 1 Maja 2). Build and designed by Bielsko’s famous architect Karl Korn in 1898.
6. Old Factory Museum (Stara Fabryka)
A two-minute walk away from the Polish Theatre stands an old textile factory that is now turned into an interesting museum. This technical museum commemorates the rich history of the Bielsko-Biała’s industries and trades. The building is also one of the examples of many factories that once stood around the city and now are used as shopping malls, business centres or adopted by other industries.
7. Mickiewicz Street (ul. Mickiewicza)
Go back to Chrobrego Square and from there enter Mickiewicz Street to further explore the architecture of Bielsko. Here you will see rows of the late 19th and early 20th century tenements. You will pass the Puppet Theatre Banialuka and a rear side of the Bielsko Art Gallery. Both buildings stand in the place previously occupied by the Bielsko’s Jewish Synagogue and Jewish folk house. These were destroyed in 1939 by Nazis during the World War II.
As you continue, you will see the old Jewish Community Building (ul. Mickiewicza 22), which housed various Jewish associations, schools and provided accommodation for local rabbis. Now, the building is used as the District Court, but it’s still one of the only few buildings left that proves that Jews were active citizens of the city.
A large beautiful villa next door, the villa of Theodore Sixt (ul. Mickiewicza 24) from 1883 is one of the best-known buildings on the street. The building was designed in the Neo-Renaissance style and was owned by a mysterious industrialist. It’s not really clear where Mr. Sixt got his fortune from, there are no photos of him and no information about his persona left. However, what’s clear is that he was wealthy, and in his testament he left the villa to the city, and his money to the poor.
The opposite tenement house was a home to the most famous architect of Bielsko-Biała, Karl Korn (ul. Mickiewicza 21).
The Schneider Villa stands proudly in a large garden along Mickiewicza Street, at no. 27. It’s a great example of the Secession style from 1905. The building was owned by a rich industrialist (his factory was where Galeria Sfera stands now). The beauty and glamour of the building is undeniable.
8. Słowacki Street (ul. Słowackiego)
Take a left turn into Theodore Sixt Street, you will see a few more neo-style tenement houses before reaching Słowacki Park. The park is a nice place to take a break, there is also a playground for children. The Bielsko Cultural Centre (BCK) and a sport field adjoin the park.
From the park walk up Słowacki Street, soon you will come across two large buildings that dominate the entire area. They served as schools and now are perfect testimonies, among many other grand buildings built for educational purposes, of ambitions and visions that the leaders of Bielsko-Biała had. The Secondary School Building (ul. Słowackiego 24), a large edifice on the left, was built in 1883 to host various schools. The building on the right (ul. Słowackiego 15) was designed as theCentral Office Building and Court, but also hosted a secondary school.
If you go further down the street, and then turn left into Nad Niprem Street, you will reach Chrobrego Square again.