City walk - Old Town
The Old Town of Bielsko is the oldest part of the city. It is situated on a small hill, 328m high, chosen for its natural defence benefits.
The Old Town has the shape of an irregular oval with the rectangular Market Square in the middle. Two narrow streets run from each corner of the square. Originally, the Old Town was surrounded by walls but now only a small part of this structure remains. Nowadays, the borders of the Old Town are set by Orkana and Waryńskiego Streets, Chrobrego Square and two churches.
Wzgórze Street, with the Castle of Bielsko-Biała, is the most natural place to start your visit to the Old Town. The Old Town is not a large area, thus it should take no more than an hour or two to see it all, and slightly more if you plan on visiting the museum or extending your walk* **.
1. Sułkowski's Castle
The Sułkowski’s Castle stands high above the area and seems to guard the entrance to the Old Town. It’s beginning dates back to the 14th century, but its present look is a result of numerous renovations and rebuilds. The last owners of the castle, the Family Sułkowski, lived here until 1945. Now, the building is used as the Museum of Bielsko-Biala. The exhibition focuses mainly on the history of the castle and the city. The castle also plays a role of an art gallery and hosts numerous cultural events. The cellar of the castle is turned into a pleasant pub (Piwnica Zamkowa) with a wide choice of beers.
2. Old Town Market Square (Rynek)
The cobbled narrow roads (Podcienie and Wzgórze Streets) going up from the castle will take you to the Old Town Market Square (Rynek).
At the entrance to Podcienie Street, you will see a recently renovated hotel building, which in the 18th century was used as an inn. The street is quite charming (although not yet renovated) and its 17th century houses with arcades are one of the oldest. In the past, they were occupied by traders and craftsmen. A small off-street called Zaułek was, in the far past, frequented by men looking for ‘fleshy adventures’.
From Wzgórze Street there is a wonderful view onto the Polish Theatre and the street itself is lined with rows of the 18th century tenements.
The rectangular Market Square is surrounded on all sides by rows of historic buildings. Majority of them were built in the 17th and 18th century, and replaced previous wooden structures. The two and three story tenements were built later on, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Most of the buildings were renovated in the recent years by the city authorities or their owners, but some still wait for their turn to shine.
Up to the early 20th century, the Market Square was the economic and administrative centre of Bielsko. It hosted weekly fairs that attracted residents and visitors. Nowadays, the square is a district full of pubs, coffee shops and restaurants. It’s buzzling with life, especially in the summer months when many events are organized.
Objects on the Market Square
– a statue of Neptune and a 15 meters long modern water channel
– archaeological exhibitions – the 17th century town’s weighing house and the 17th century stone dwell
– a copy of the 19th century statue of St. John of Nepomuk, the original is placed in the Cathedral of St. Nicholas
The historic build-up
No. 1 – a former home of the guild of drapers that existed up to 1808
No. 2 and 3 – 18th century buildings with modest Baroque façades
No. 4 and 5 – late 19th century buildings
No. 7 – a 17th century building, used as the Town Hall and Customs Office
No. 8 – a neo-Classical building from 1810
No. 9 – built in 1819, used as the Town Hall, Tax Office and District Court
No. 10 – an 18th century house, from 1850 housed the District Office and Municipal Police Station, in years 1912-1941 used as the City’s Museum
No. 11 and 12 – a four story building from 1912, housed a restaurant called Pilsner-Hof
No. 13 – a Baroque house, in the 19th century housed the Pharmacy ‘Under the Black Eagle’
No. 15 – an 18th century inn and pharmacy that run from 1775 till 2015
No. 17 – a house built in 1912, with an interesting neo-Baroque façade
No. 22 and 24 – headquarters of the 19th century Post Office
No. 25 – 31 – Baroque and neo-Classical buildings from the 17th to 19th century, accommodated the Town School and Hospital
NO. 32 – an early 19th century inn and the Hotel ‘Under the Golden Lion’
3. The Saint Nicholas' Cathedral (Katedra Sw. Mikołaja)
A distinctive tower of the Cathedral of St. Nicolas is visible from the Old Market Square if you look south. To reach there enter Kościelna or Schodowa Streets. This church is the main Catholic church in the city. It was originally built in the 15th century, but destroyed by fires numerous times and thus rebuilt. Its final appearance was given in the beginning of the 20th century by an Austrian architect Leopold Bauer, which resulted in the neo-Romanesque style with influences of Art Nouveau. Visit the church to see the amazing Art Nouveau stained glass windows.
4. Church of the Holy Trinity and Sobieskiego Street
A small road heading west, Celna Street and then Sobieskiego Street will take you to the first protestant church in Bielsko from 1608. Although, the church was eventually taken over by the Catholics, the cemetery (no longer existing) was used by the Protestants up to the early 19th century. The church was rebuilt several times and both the exterior and interior represent various styles. Its biggest treasures – paintings and crucifix – date back to the 18th century.
Address: ul. Sobieskiego 10a
A distinctive neo-Romanesque red building from 1884, just before the church, was the first official Fire-Fight Station in the city, now is used by the Polish Red Cross.
Sobieskiego Street itself is also one of the oldest street that was set in the Middle Ages as a part of the Salt Trade Route. The street is build up by rows of single or two story houses previously owned by the local craftsmen. If you decide to explore some off-streets, you might see old tenements and villas of Bielsko industrialists.
a) Extend your walk: WEAVER’S HOUSE (Dom Tkacza)
If you have more time and would like to see the Weaver’s House (Dom Tkacza), which is a branch of the Museum of Bielsko-Biala, follow Sobieskiego Street for about 5 minutes. The building, apart from holding an exhibition of the weaver lifestyle and craftsmanship, is an example of the wooden house typical for the city in the past.
5. Old City Walls
Orkana Street surrounds the Old Town from the north. The street holds the remains of the Old City Walls that used to enclose the whole Old Town. You can reach there via charming Kręta Street or Słowackiego Street from the Old Town Market Square. The first walls were erected already in the 14th century and in the 16th they were expanded. They were protecting (with various effects) the town up to the 18th century. Then, the walls were used as side-walls of the newly erected houses and the remaining parts were disposed.
At the end of Słowackiego Street, under a small arcade, which is the entrance to Pankiewicza Street, a small private Museum of Literature is located. It is a rather unusual place run by a passionate graphic artist and admirer of Władysław Reymont, a Polish Nobel Prize winner.
b) Extend your walk: ZION OF BIELSKO
The large area north of Orkana Street is occupied by the quarter of Protestant Parish in Bielsko. The area is known as theZion of Bielsko, which refers to the Zion in Jerusalem, a symbol of community centered around faith and religious freedom. For more than hundred years, until the 1781 Patent of Toleration, the Protestants were not allowed to practice their faith. After 1781, once they received the grounds, they quickly built their church and the Zion of Bielsko became the center of the evangelical community in the town.
Martin Luther Square is the center of the congregation. The Church of the Savour and the Statue of Martin Luther (the only one in Poland) are its focal points. In the close vicinity there is also the Old Protestant Cemetery, and numerous buildings that in the past served as schools, boarding-houses or orphanages.