In the past when people asked me what was worth visiting in my hometown of Katowice my usual reply was “Nothing. Just go to Krakow”. I did not think that there was anything worth seeing in this dirty industrial town. It took me over 30 years and the influence of a few books and films to actually start appreciating Katowice. In fairness, much has been done in the last few years to promote the area and make it more attractive for tourists.
Although Katowice developed as a city quite recently, it only gained city status in 1865, documents concerning the mining and iron industries in Silesia date back to 1136. Silesia was first ruled by the Silesian Piasts. In 1335 it became part of the Crown of Bohemia. After the death of Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia in 1526 it was passed to the Austrian Habsburgs. In the 18th century it was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia under Fredrick II. The aftermath of World War I and the Silesian Uprisings saw the attachment of Upper Silesia to Poland.
This complex history has ensured that the Silesian language is a mixture of German, Polish and Czech. It has also ensured that many inhabitants, whose ancestors have lived in the area for centuries, consider themselves to be Silesians rather than Poles, Germans or Czechs. The reshaping of Poland after World War II ensured that many people from the eastern territories annexed by the USSR were relocated to Silesia. Other people moved to the region to find work in this industrial area. All these factors ensure that Silesia represents one of the most diverse communities in contemporary Poland. This is reflected in my own ancestry, which is one quarter Silesian.
Katowice and 14 other cities comprise the Upper Silesian conurbation. This is the biggest conurbation in Poland and one of the biggest in the European Union. Although one cannot find any medieval buildings in Upper Silesia, there are many interesting alternatives for tourists, especially for people interested in the history of industry and technology. There are historic silver mines in Tarnowskie Gory as well as Mine Guido in Zabrze available for visitors who are interested in seeing a mine without too many touristic ‘extras’ (in contrast to the Wieliczka salt mine). I think it is really nice to walk around Nikiszowiec, the oldest existing residential area in Katowice. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century to accommodate the employees of the nearby mine and their families. The Upper Silesian Ethnographic Park in Chorzow shows a number of beautiful mid-19th century cottages moved there from different villages in southern Poland. The Silesian Museum cannot be expected to compete with museums in such cities as Krakow or Warsaw. However, it still shows a decent collection of Polish 19th century paintings, examples of 19th century photoplastikons and many temporary exhibitions.
Until recently I never thought of Katowice as an interesting place for photography. Unfortunately, the last time I was in Katowice the weather was not extremely cooperative and the light was quite disappointing. The only one of my personal projects that actually worked out was a photographic visit to Nikiszowiec. I finally managed to take some pictures of the coal mine there. The industrial landscape and the profusion of red brick buildings look quite surrealistic, hence the style of the pictures.