Opole Voivodeship (Polish: Opolskie)  is a province of Poland, located in the southwest of the republic. A part of the historic Silesia region known previously as Upper Silesia, Opole's history is steeped in the power struggles between the dynastic and imperial powers of Central Europe, including the Polish, Austrian, Bohemian, Prussian and German monarchies. Since its annexation from Germany in 1945, the modern-day province is a constituent part of Poland. Today, Opole is known for its green pastures, Lakes Turawskie, Nyskie, and Otmuchowskie, the scenic Opawskie Mountains, and its various medieval and Baroque castles and monasteries. The province's strong connections to its German past continue today, with a small yet visible German ethnic and language minority. The province is also known as the discovery site of a number of ancient prehistoric animal bones, including Silesaurus opolensis, one of the earliest known dinosaurs yet discovered. A deeply historical region, Opole Voivodeship remains off the radar for many travelers.
As of 2011, the population of Opole Voivodeship stood at 1,013,950, making the province one of the least populated out of all of Poland's voivodeships. Most of the province's population is concentrated around a belt running from the northwest to the southeast, running roughly parallel to the A4 motorway. Most of Opole's southern regions remain largely rural, clustered with small villages.
According to the 9th century Bavarian Geographer, the West Slavic Opolanie lived on the upper Oder River since the Great Migration, centered around the gord of Opole. At the time of Moravian Prince Svatopluk I (871–894), all of Silesia was a part of Great Moravian. 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 name giver of the Lower Silesian capital Wrocław (Czech: Vratislav). By 990 the newly-installed Piast duke Mieszko I of the Polans had 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 home territory with the aid of the Holy Roman Emperor.
The failure of the Agnatic seniority principle of inheritance also led to the split-up of Silesia itself: 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 on adjacent Moravian territory, 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.
Upper Silesia was hit by the Hussite Wars, and in 1469 was conquered by King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, while the Duchies of Oświęcim and Zator fell back under 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 converted to Protestantism, promoted by reformers like Caspar Schwenckfeld. After the 1620 Battle of White Mountain during the Thirty Years' War, the Catholic Emperors of the Habsburg dynasty forcibly re-introduced Catholicism to the region, with the Jesuits tasked to the conversion. 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 into an industrial area, taking advantage of its plentiful coal and iron ore reserves. Prussian Upper Silesia became a part of the German Empire in 1871.
Between 1919 to 1920, two failed bloody uprisings occurred in the Polish-speaking east of Upper Silesia against German rule, which had weakened considerably following Germany's defeat in the First World War. In the Upper Silesian plebiscite of March 1921, a 60 percent majority voted for the province to remain within the Weimar Republic, while 40 percent of voters favored an annexation by Poland. A successful third uprising in 1921 by popular-supported Polish insurgents seized much of the east of the province, forcing the intervention of the League of Nations. After diplomatic negotiations, the German-Polish Accord on East Silesia was signed in May 1922. Under the accord's terms, the Weimar Republic ceded the eastern parts of Upper Silesia to Poland, where it became the autonomous Silesian Voivodeship. Western Upper Silesia (including modern day Opole Voivodeship) remained a constituent part of Germany for the next 23 years.
After 1945, all of Upper Silesia that was not previously ceded to Poland in 1922 was transferred to Polish control. A large majority of the German-speaking population fled or were forcefully expelled in accordance with the 1945 Potsdam Agreement. Many German-speaking Upper Silesians were relocated to Bavaria, who were replaced by Poles arriving from eastern Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union. 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, with their Polish linguistic skills solid enough for many to be exempt from the expulsion.
Following the return of democracy in 1989, the German minority was increasingly granted minority rights. As part of a reorganization of provincial authority based on the boundaries of historic voivodeships in the late 1990s, the government, advised by prominent historians, originally sought to disestablish Opole Voivodeship and partition its territory between the more historical provinces of Lower Silesia and Silesia. The plan called for Brzeg and Namysłów, as well as Opole's western boundaries, to be transferred to Lower Silesia, whilst the rest was to become, along with a part of the Częstochowa Voivodeship, an integral part of Silesia. However, the plans resulted in massive protests from Opole's German minority, fearing that the province's disestablishment would entail their loss of regional representation. In the proposed Silesian Voivodeship, the German minority would have formed a tiny proportion among a vast majority of ethnic Polish. However, to the surprise of many ethnic Germans, local Poles also opposed the planned reform due to overwhelming public attachment to the previous province that was scheduled to be redrawn.
Due to these protests, by 1998, the government decided to retain most of the original borders of Opole Voivodeship, as founded by the Communist authorites and reconstituted the region as a province. In 2006, the town of Radłów changed its local ordinances to make German, alongside Polish, as the district’s second official language, thus becoming the first town in the province to achieve official bilingual status. Since then, additional Upper Silesian locales have also been officially deemed bi-lingual.
Opole is 9,412.5 km 2 (3,634.2 sq mi) large, making the province geographically the smallest out of Poland's sixteen voivodeships. Much of the center and north of Opole is flat, dotted with several medium-sized cities and towns, farmland and forests. Opole's southern region near the Czech border has more rolling hills, forests and mountains, and is generally considered as rural.
Some of the geographic regions and areas of importance for Opole include:
Like in all other voivodeships in Poland, all native residents of Opole speak Polish, which will be readily heard and seen everywhere. However, in the province’s central and eastern counties stands a small yet visible German minority, a surviving vestige of Silesia's once-thriving German community. Making up roughly nine percent of the province's population, many German communities are granted bilingual status where both Polish and German are official languages. In many of these communities, German is used as an auxiliary language for business and administration. However, ethnic Germans in Opole 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 hotly-debated language (or dialect, depending on who you ask) strongly related to both Polish and Czech, with many elements of German thrown in. In the province's larger cities and towns, German and English language signs and services should be available. Many younger Poles of the post-1989 generation carry some working knowledge of English, and for travelers in counties or municipalities with German minorities, many will likely have a limited knowledge of German. Older individuals quite often understand basic German or Russian. Czech, a related Slavic language, can be partially understood by many Poles, albeit with several significant word differences. A basic knowledge of a few words or key Polish phrases is encouraged and will greatly impress the locals, and German can be helpful too in many eastern communities.
Due to Opole Voivodeship’s lack of a major airport, travelers arriving by air can enter either Katowice International Airport (KTW) 100 km east of the capital Opole, or Wrocław–Copernicus Airport (WRO) 115 km northwest. Katowice serves as one of the main hubs of Hungarian low cost airline Wizzair, as well as a major port for Ryanair, and limited service by Germanwings. Major airlines, including Polish national carrier LOT and Lufthansa also serve routes to Katowice. A slew of seasonal charter flights also operate out of Katowice, mainly to southern Europe, Asia and northern Africa.
From Wrocław, major carriers providing routes include SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Lufthansa, Etihad Regional and Poland's national carrier LOT. Additional low cost airlines also include Germanwings, Ryanair and Wizz Air.
Running from the province's northwest to its southeast, the A4 motorway, Poland's main southern motorway, unites the east and west of the region. The future S11 expressway (currently in its planning stage) will connect the north of the province to Silesian Voivodeship to the east and Greater Poland to the northwest. Smaller national roads (marked with red and white-numbered signs) and lower-grade voivodeship roads (marked with yellow and black signs) crisscross the province.
As in other voivodeships in Poland, Opole is linked together through a complex bus network, with a variety of companies offering transportation links to and from many of the province's cities and smaller communities, as well as to other municipalities across the republic. Eurolines, one of Europe's major bus companies, offers international and domestic service to Opole, as well as to a number of other domestic destinations. A number of other smaller companies offer additional services to other communities, which can be researched through e-podroznik.pl
Opole Główne station serves as the main hub for all rail transport throughout the province, and is a basic starting point for tourists traveling Opole by train. National rail operator PKP provides service from the capital Opole to most of Poland's other major cities. Przewozy Regionalne, the national regional rail company, provides provincial rail transport to a number of surrounding communities throughout the region.
Silesian cuisine (kuchnia śląska) has been profoundly influenced by Polish, German, Czech and Hungarian culinary habits. This hearty cuisine is generally known for being heavy and rich. Silesian dumplings (kluski śląskie) are popular throughout the region. Polish cuisine, consisting of pierogi, bigos, golonka, gołąbki, kiełbasa, gulasz, and fish meals are readily found in many of the province's restaurants. Within the capital city of Opole, more international cuisines can be readily found, including Japanese, Italian and Chinese.
As Opole shares a long history of cultural exchange between Germanic and Slavic cultures, the province contains a mishmash of drinking specialties. A strong beer brewing tradition in the province is readily apparent with the number of breweries (Polish: browary) found. Wodka, a standard Polish drinking staple, is also widely found and drunk throughout the province. In the rural areas of Opole, many families continue to make śliwowica, a strong plum brandy. It is often drunk as an aperitif both before or after a meal, and is also used often during family or community celebrations.
Travelers in Opole should be aware of pickpockets, part, though this advice is standard in most large to medium-sized European cities. Violent crime is extremely rare in Opole and elsewhere throughout Poland, but individuals should nonetheless take precautions of their surroundings. Visitors traveling in the countryside should display caution along rivers, as rivers can quickly surge after heavy rains.
In case of an emergency, people can 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 dial 999 for an ambulance, 998 for a fire emergency, and 997 for the police.
Opole Voivodeship shares borders with four other provinces, which includes Lower Silesia to the west, Greater Poland to the northwest, Łódz to the northeast, and Silesia to the west. An international border with the Czech Republic lies directly to the south.