Silesian Voivodeship (Polish: Śląskie)  is one of the sixteen constituent provinces of Poland. Located in the south of the republic, Silesia, known historically as Upper Silesia, contains a history steeped in the push and pull struggles of Europe's Germanic and Slavic powers for well over a thousand years. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Silesia rapidly industrialized due to its abundant coal reserves, sparking economic and political tensions between its mixed German and Polish populations that ultimately led to violent territorial disputes. Today, Silesia is politically peaceful yet remains an important backbone to Poland’s economy, as its original extraction-based market shifts to manufacturing, education, and a burgeoning tourist industry. The province offers an abundance of natural and human history for visitors, whether it is the serene Beskid Mountains, sprawling medieval castle ruins, or the recent industrial past. The Silesian people are also known for an independent streak, explaining the relatively strong autonomist movement within the province.
Silesian Voivodeship is not to be confused with the general historical region of Silesia, of which the province is a part of and is its namesake. The Silesian historical region contains most of southwestern Poland, while the voivodeship of Silesia is only the southeastern portion of the region.
As of 2012, the population of Silesia was 4,620,624. Due to the province’s relatively small size and its large population, Silesia ranks as the most densely populated voivodeship in Poland. Nearly half of Silesia's population is concentrated in the province's center within a region called the Silesian Metropolis (Polish: Metropolia Górnośląska), an urban conglomeration of well over two and a half million people and one the European Union's largest urban areas. This region includes Katowice, Sosnowiec, Gliwice, and a number of other large cities. Both the north and south of the province are considered generally rural, with only several large cities and towns to speak of.
During the early Middle Ages, most of modern-day Silesian Voivodeship is theorized to have been part of Great Moravia, an early Slavic kingdom centered in Moravia. Upon its dissolution after 906, the region fell under the influence of the Přemyslid rulers of Bohemia, Duke Spytihněv I (894–915) and his son Vratislaus I (915–921), possibly the founder and namesake of the Lower Silesian capital Wrocław (Czech: Vratislav). By 990, however, the newly-installed duke Mieszko I of the Piast dynasty conquered large parts of Silesia. From the Middle Silesia fortress of Niemcza, his son and successor Bolesław I Chrobry (992–1025), having established the Diocese of Wrocław, subdued the Upper Silesian lands of the pagan Opolanie tribe, which for several hundred years were part of Poland, though contested by Bohemian dukes like Bretislaus I, who from 1025 invaded Silesia several times. Finally in 1137, the Polish prince Bolesław III Wrymouth (1107–1138) came to terms with Duke Soběslav I of Bohemia, when a peace was made confirming the border along the Sudetes.
However, this arrangement fell apart when, upon the death of Bolesław III and his testament, the fragmentation of Poland began, decisively enfeebling its central authority. The newly established Duchy of Silesia became the ancestral homeland of the Silesian Piasts, descendants of Bolesław's eldest son Władysław II the Exile, who nevertheless saw themselves barred from the succession to the Polish throne and only were able to regain their Silesian territory with the aid of the Holy Roman Emperor.
The failure of the Agnatic seniority principle of inheritance also led to the fragmentation of [[Silesia]. In 1172, Władysław's second son, Mieszko IV Tanglefoot, claimed his rights and received the Upper Silesian Duchy of Racibórz as an allodium from the hands of his elder brother Duke Bolesław I the Tall of Silesia. In the struggle for the Polish throne, Mieszko additionally received the former Lesser Polish lands of Bytom, Oświęcim, Zator, Siewierz and Pszczyna from the new Polish High Duke Casimir II the Just in 1177. When in 1202 Mieszko Tanglefoot had annexed the Duchy of Opole of his deceased nephew Jarosław, he ruled over all of Upper Silesia as Duke of Opole and Racibórz.
In the early 13th century, the ties of the Silesian Piasts with the neighbouring Holy Roman Empire grew stronger as several dukes married scions of German nobility. Promoted by the Lower Silesian Duke Henry I the Bearded, from 1230 also regent over Upper Silesia for the minor sons of his late cousin Duke Casimir I of Opole, large parts of the Silesian lands were settled with German immigrants in the course of the Ostsiedlung, establishing numerous cities according to German town law. Plans to reunify Silesia were shattered upon the Mongol invasion of Poland and the death of Duke Henry II the Pious at the 1241 Battle of Legnica. Upper Silesia further fragmented upon the death of Duke Władysław Opolski in 1281 into the duchies of Bytom, Opole, Racibórz and Cieszyn. About 1269 the Duchy of Opava was established in the adjacent Moravian region, ruled by the Přemyslid duke Nicholas I, whose descendants inherited the Duchy of Racibórz in 1336.
In 1327 the Upper Silesian dukes, like many of their Lower Silesian counterparts, had sworn allegiance to King John of Bohemia, thereby becoming vassals of the Bohemian kingdom. During the re-establishment of Poland under King Casimir III the Great, all of Silesia was specifically excluded as non-Polish land by the 1335 Treaty of Trentschin, becoming a land of the Bohemian Crown and indirectly a constituent of the Holy Roman Empire. By the mid-14th century, the influx of German settlers into Upper Silesia was stopped by the Black Death. Unlike in Lower Silesia, the Germanization process was halted; still a majority of the population spoke Polish and Silesian as their native language, often together with German (or Silesian German) as a second language. In the southernmost areas, Lach dialects were also spoken. While Latin, Czech and German were used as official languages in towns and cities, only in the 1550s (during the Protestant Reformation) did records with Polish names start to appear.
The Hussite Wars greatly affected Upper Silesia, and in 1469, the region was conquered by King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, while the Duchies of Oświęcim and Zator fell back to the Polish Crown. Upon the death of the Jagiellonian king Louis II in 1526, the Bohemian crown lands were inherited by the Austrian House of Habsburg. In the 16th century, large parts of Silesia had turned Protestant. The resulting Thirty Years’ War left much of Upper Silesia devastated by ransacking invading Swedish troops. In the war’s aftermath, the Catholic emperors of the Habsburg dynasty forcibly re-introduced Catholicism, led on by the Jesuits. Most of Upper Silesia was occupied by the Kingdom of Prussia in 1742 during the First Silesian War and annexed under the terms of the Treaty of Breslau. A small part south of the Opava River remained within the Habsburg-ruled Bohemian Crown as the Duchy of Upper and Lower Silesia, colloquially called Austrian Silesia. Incorporated into the Prussian Silesia Province from 1815, Upper Silesia evolved rapidly into an industrial area during the 19th century, taking advantage of its plentiful coal and iron ore reserves. The Prussian province of Upper Silesia became a part of the German Empire in 1871.
The aftermath of the First World War proved to be a particularly turbulent time for Silesia. In the Zaolzie region outside Cieszyn, a short border war between the newly independent Czechoslovak and Polish states broke out in January 1919. The brief war, stopped by the Allied powers, ended with the Zaolzie region being annexed by Czechoslovakia, leaving 100,000 Polish outside of the republic's borders. Elsewhere in Upper Silesia, tensions between German and Polish communities had reached a boiling point. On 15 August 1919, members of the German border guard massacred ten ethnic Polish civilians in Mysłowice, sparking protests and a general strike led on by Silesian Polish miners. The result was the First Silesian Uprising, contesting Weimar German control over Upper Silesia. Nearly 21,000 German troops, backed up by 40,000 reservists, were quickly mobilized throughout Upper Silesia to combat the armed Polish insurgency, who were actively encouraged and supported by the neighboring Second Polish Republic. British and French Allied forces were quickly brought into the region to restore order, ending the uprising within several weeks. Exactly a year later in August 1920, tensions again boiled over as local ethnic Germans looted Polish-owned businesses upon hearing a false report describing Warsaw's fall to the Soviet Red Army. Local Poles responded again with an armed insurrection that quickly spread over the eastern regions of Upper Silesia, with Polish insurgents seizing a number of government offices. The second uprising petered out by the end of September, though Allied authorities realized that a diplomatic solution was necessary to calm violent tensions between Germans and Polish. Under the Treaty of Versailles, a plebiscite was mandated to determine if Upper Silesia would join Poland or would remain in Weimar Germany. The plebiscite, held in March 1921, yielded mixed results, with 40 percent of voters opting for the province to join Poland, while 60 percent chose to remain within Germany. Before the Allied authorities could deliberate on the plebiscite's outcome, Polish nationalists launched the Third Silesian Uprising in April 1921, The popular insurrection was met with German troops and paramilitary units, who complained that French forces in the region actively encouraged the Polish insurgency, while Poles complained that British and Italian units cooperated with German forces.
The Third Silesian Uprising proved to be the most successful of all of the rebellions, with Polish insurgents seizing most of Upper Silesia’s east, an economically important heavy industrial and mining region. Following a ceasefire and the arrival of more Allied troops to patrol the demarcation line between German forces and Polish insurgents, the League of Nations agreed to split the province into two. The German-Polish Accord on East Silesia, signed on 15 May 1922, awarded the east of Upper Silesia to Poland, where it became Silesian Voivodeship, while the largely German-speaking west remained inside Weimar Germany. Due to Silesia’s advanced economy, the Polish government granted Silesian Voivodeship a high degree of autonomy, complete with its own parliament and a separate financial system. Silesian Voivodeship's quasi-federal arrangement lasted until the May 1926 Polish military coup, which gradually curtailed the province's independence from Warsaw. The voivodeship expanded briefly in 1938 with the annexation of the Zaolzie region, during which Polish forces took advantage of Czechoslovakia’s dismemberment following the Munich Agreement.
After 1945, all of Upper Silesia that was not previously ceded by Germany in 1922 was fully annexed by Poland. A vast majority of the German-speaking population fled or were forcefully expelled in accordance to the 1945 Potsdam Agreement. Many of the refugees relocated to Bavaria, replaced by Poles arriving from areas of eastern Poland annexed by the Soviet Union. A small part of Upper Silesia remained as part of Czechoslovakia as Czech Silesia. The expulsion of German-speakers did not totally eliminate the presence of a population that considered itself German. Upper Silesia, in 1945, had a considerable number of Roman Catholic mixed bilingual inhabitants that spoke both German and Polish dialects, and their Polish linguistic skills were solid enough for them to be allowed to remain in the area. To this day, Germans make up a small but distinct minority in the province’s western counties.
During the communist era from 1945 to 1989, Silesia continued to industrially flourish and expand. Unfortunately for the environment, prolonged mining and carbon emissions turned the area into one of the most polluted in Poland and all of Europe. With the collapse of communism in 1989 and the reintroduction of democracy, Silesia’s dependence on heavy industry gradually began to decline. The modern borders of Silesian Voivodeship were established in 1999, as part of the Polish government’s reform program to create provincial governments based on historic boundaries. Today, the province remains heavily industrialized, although there has been a clear shift to promoting renewable industries and tourism.
Silesian Voivodeship is 12,333.09 km 2 (4,761.83 sq mi) large. The province's uneven to flat northern region and mountainous south are both considered as the province's greenbelts and are generally rural, while Silesia's hilly center is heavily industrialized, home to the vast majority of the population
Some of the geographic regions of Silesia include:
All native residents of Silesia speak Polish, which will be readily heard and seen everywhere throughout the province. However, in Silesia’s western counties is a small yet visible German minority, a surviving vestige of the region's once-thriving German community that was largely expelled following the end of World War II. Visitors to these western counties will notice that some of the signage is bilingual and may hear German, yet Silesia's ethnic Germans will also universally understand Polish and are fully integrated within Polish society. As for the province's ethnic Slavic population, many local residents can also be heard speaking Silesian, a dialect strongly related to both Polish and Czech. In the province's larger cities and towns, language services generally exist in English and German, and sometimes in French, Russian, Czech or Slovak. Many younger Poles of the post-communist generation have generally learned some English in school. Within the western counties and municipalities, locals may understand some German. Older individuals who grew up during the communist era will also often have some basic knowledge of German or Russian. Neighboring Slavic languages, such as Czech and Slovak, are also partially understood by many Poles, though there are significant word differences that could potentially cause amusement. A basic knowledge of a few words or key Polish phrases is encouraged and will greatly impress the locals.
Silesian Voivodeship's major gateway for air travelers is Katowice International Airport (KTW). Known also by the locals as Pyrzowice (after the adjoining village), the airport is located 30 km north of Katowice. The airport is one of the main hubs of Hungarian low cost airline Wizzair, as well as a major destination for Ryanair, as well as limited service by Germanwings. Major airlines, including Polish national carrier LOT and German carrier Lufthansa also operate routes to Katowice. A slew of seasonal charter flights additionally operate out of the airport during the spring and summer months, though mainly to southern Europe, Asia and northern Africa.
Another choice for travelers arriving to Silesian Voivodeship is Kraków's John Paul II International Airport (KRK), one of Poland's largest and busiest international gateways. Better known as Balice airport, the location is centered 68 km from Katowice's city center, or roughly a 40 minute drive east on the A4 motorway. Balice is home to a greater number of European and international airlines, including Aeroflot, Air Berlin, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, Eurolot, Finnair, LOT, Lufthansa, and Norwegian. A number of low cost airlines also operate out of Balice, such as EasyJet, Germanwings, Jet2, and Ryanair.
A high number of motorways and expressways crisscross the province, particularly in the Silesian Metropolis region. Running south from the Czech border, through the Silesian Metropolis and north of Katowice is the A1 motorway. The current route terminates northwest of Bytom, though it is expected to fully connect southern Silesia with Częstochowa, Łódź and distant Gdańsk in the next several years. The S86 expressway, one of the republic's busiest routes, connects Katowice to Sosnowiec. The Silesian Metropolis is also connected together by the Drogowa Trasa Średnicowa, better known as the DTŚ, a massive inner city highway cutting through the core of the Silesian conurbation. Running west from Lower Silesia to Lesser Poland in the east is the A4 motorway, traversing through the province's central region. The S1 expressway connects Cieszyn on the Czech-Polish border to Bielsko-Biała in the interior, as well as provides an eastern bypass around the Silesian Metropolis. Bielsko-Biała is serviced also by the S69 expressway, whose southern portion connecting to Zywiec is currently under construction; the rest of the route connects with Slovakia.
Silesian Voivodeship, as in many other regions across Poland, is connected together by complex bus network, with a variety of companies offering transportation links to and from many of the province's communities, as well as to other cities across the country. PolskiBus, one of Poland's largest national bus carriers, offers connections from Katowice and Częstochowa (and also between both cities) to many other larger cities throughout the country. A number of smaller companies offer additional services to other communities, which can be researched by e-podroznik.pl. The comfort, speed and price of bus transportation varies from company to company.
Due to its dense population, Silesian Voivodeship is crisscrossed by a number of rail lines. Katowice rail station, completely renovated and expanded to include a shopping mall between 2010 to 2013, is the central hub for all passenger rail activity throughout the province and for much of southern Poland's railroad network, and is a good starting point for tourists to explore Silesian Voivodeship by train. Poland's national rail operator PKP provides service from Katowice to the country's other major cities. Przewozy Regionalne, the national regional operator, provides links to Silesia's other regions and smaller communities. Koleje Śląskie, the provincial rail company, operates lines to a number of Silesian Voivodeship's other cities, towns and smaller municipalities, with Katowice serving as its principal hub.
Silesian Voivodeship's tourist activities are a collection between the natural and the industrial.
Foreign visitors to the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa are advised to show maximum respect to the religious icons present in the building. Visitors are advised to be as quiet as possible upon entering, and to wait for their turn to see the famous icons with the crowds of devoted pilgrims who also journey far and wide to the monastery. Pilgrims are expected to drop to their knees at the foot of the Black Madonna icon, and then cross the anterior on their knees.
Silesian cuisine (kuchnia śląska), one of the province's gastronomic staples, has been profoundly influenced by Polish, German, Czech and Hungarian cuisines. The cuisine is generally known for not being the friendliest to both dieters nor vegetarians. However, standard fare Polish staples, including pierogi, bigos, golonka, gołąbki, kiełbasa, gulasz, and fish meals are readily found in many of the province's restaurants. In Silesia's bigger cities, including those within the Metropolis, a wide variety of international cuisines, including Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Turkish, French, Spanish, German and Italian are readily available.
Due to historic Upper Silesia being a border zone between the Germanic and Slavic worlds, modern day Silesian Voivodeship is one of Poland's beer capitals. One of Poland's most domestically and internationally recognized beer brands, Żywiec, originates from the town of the same name in the province's south. Another popular beer found throughout Silesia and across Poland is Tyskie, originating from Tychy in the Silesian Metropolis. Elsewhere throughout the province are a number of other smaller breweries (Polish: browary). Along with beer being a popular dirnk, vodka, a standard Polish drinking staple, is also widely found and drunk throughout Silesia. In the rural areas of the province, many families continue to distill śliwowica, a strong plum brandy. It is often drunk as an aperitif both before or after a meal, and is also used often for family or community celebrations.
Travelers in Katowice and other major cities in the Silesian Metropolis should be aware of pickpockets, particularly around rail stations, though this advice is standard in most large European cities. Like elsewhere in Poland, violent crime is extremely rare in Silesia, but individuals should nevertheless take precautions of knowing what their surroundings are like. It is strongly advised that tourists should not enter abandoned mine shafts on their own without a tourist guide. Also, visitors in traveling in the mountainous south are advised to be cautious when climbing on rocks after recent rainstorms. As the Beskids are also prone to heavy snowfall in the winter months, tourists should stay on defined skiing and hiking routes in order not to get lost.
If an emergency does happen, visitors are advised to dial the all-purpose emergency number 112 on their phone. For a better specification of the kind of emergency service you are requesting, people can also dial 999 for an ambulance, 998 for a fire emergency, or 997 for the police.