Kłodzko is one of the oldest towns in Poland’s Silesia region: it’s estimated to be about 1,000 years old. In that long time, it – like most towns and cities in this most south-western part of the country – has seen much. It changed ownership every 100 years or so, getting grabbed by Bohemia, Austria and Prussia; it was largely due to Kłodzko’s strategic geographical position that its neighbours were constantly tustling amongst themselves for control of it. Additionally, its river location made it an ideal town for trade, commerce and the importation of wealth via water. The town’s fortuned waxed and waned and finally, ownership of it came down firmly on the Polish side of the border, after the Second World War.
The majestic Kłodzko Fortress is not beautiful, but it is impressive: it sits at the top of a hill, overlooking the entire town. Squat, solid, and witness to a siege by Napolean in 1807, it is the dominant feature of this lovely town, and its most recognisable landmark. Well worth a visit, it is open daily in the summer months between 9:00 and 18:00. Set aside an entire morning if you decide to go: the fortress is truly massive. How massive is it? Well, the Austrian rulers started to build it in 1662 - and the Prussians finally completed it 200 years later. It is sprawled over 17 hectares, the lower walls are 11 meters thick, the ‘thin’ upper walls are a mere four meters. In one of its courtyards, you can take abseiling lessons. It is, in fact, the largest fortress of its kind in the entire country – and in a country that had to fortify and protect itself against invaders every few deacdes, this is really saying something.
As impressive as the fortress itself is, what most visitors come for are the defensive tunnels, an extensive network deep below the fortress itself. Dating back to the Prussian era –which started in the early 18th century – the tunnels were excavated by prisoners of war. Today, there are guided 40-minute tours of the labyrinthine depths which take visitors on a 1 kilometer circuit. Claustrophobics take note: there are some places so low that you need to bend double or even crawl; note also that although there are torches and lights, much of the tour is conducted in semi-darkness. Despite the slight discomfort, the tunnel tours are a big hit with kids – and with most everyone else, really.
A Bit of Beauty
If your soul earns for a bit of beauty after all that ponderous stonework and crawling around in the dirt, then a stop at the Church of Our Lady is a must. Long-loved and -revered by church tourists, its external Gothic decor hides an ornate – some might even say glamorous – Baroque interior. Dazzling, overwhelming and a bit dizzying, visitors often need to sit down in order to truly appreciate all the ornamentation. Bursting with bright paint, marble and real gold, it is a sight to behold. Try to visit on a sunny day, when the light plays on the vivid colours and sets the gold on fire.
Half-way between the fortress and the church lies the Old Town Square (known formally as Plac Bolesława Chrobego Rynek). The Rynek is the bustling, beating heart of the town – at least as far as tourists are concerned – and is where a wide variety of restaurants and beer gardens can be found. There is no better place to sit sipping a beer: the fortress hangs overhead, and the Rynek offers an ideal vantage point.
The Regional Museum in Kłodzko highlights the history of the town, which is quite fascinating. But even those not remotely interested in matters historical may find a visit to the museum a worthwhile way to spend an hour. It has some lovely exhibitions, with two especially worth mentioning. The first is the large display of contemporary glass by local artists: Silesia is renowned for its beautiful and original glasswares and production. The second is an absolutely amazing collection of over 400 clocks, ranging from grandfather clocks to cuckoo clocks; from dainty porcelain clocks to ancient astronomical devices. All are handdesigned, -crafted and -painted. Perhaps the most stunning room of all has its entire ceiling made of glass: the upside down reflection it offers visitors is absolutely priceless.
For a sneak peek at the town, turn to the next page, where we are very proud to show you a photo spread of a few of Kłodzko’s most beautiful spots and unmissable attractions.