With it long history dating back to the 9th century, Opole is considered to be one of the oldest towns in Poland. The origins of the first settlement are connected with the town being granted Magdeburg Rights in 1217 by Casimir I of Opole, the great-grandson of Polish Duke Bolesław III Wrymouth. During the Medieval Period and the Renaissance the city was known as a centre of commerce due to its position on the intersection of several main trade routes, which helped to generate steady profits from transit trade. The rapid development of the town was also caused by the establishment of a seat of regency in Opole in 1816. The first railway connection between Opole, Brzeg and Wrocław was opened in 1843 and the first proper manufacturing plants were constructed in 1859, which greatly contributed to the city's regional significance.
During its existence Opole belonged to Poland, Bohemia, Prussia and Germany. Prior to World War II it was located in eastern Germany and was one of the largest centres of Polish minority in the entire country. In 1945, according to Yalta and Potsdam Agreements, the region was assigned to Poland. Many German Upper Silesians and Poles of German ancestry still live in the Opole region; in the city itself, however, ethnic Germans make up less than 3% of the population. It was also the capital of the historical region of Upper Silesia.
Today there are four higher education establishments in the city: The Opole University, Opole University of Technology, a Medical College and the private Higher College of Management and Administration. The National Festival of Polish Song has been held here annually since 1963 and each year new regular events, fairs, shows and competitions take place.
Opole is sometimes referred to as "Polish Venice", because of its picturesque Old Town and several canals and bridges connecting parts of the city.
The name "Opole" likely originated from the medieval Slavic term for a group of settlements.
Opole's history begins in the 8th century. At this time, according to the archeological excavations, the first Slavic settlement was founded on the Ostrówek - the northern part of the Pasieka Island in the middle of the Oder river. In the early 10th century it developed into one of the main gróds of the Slavic Opolanie. At the end of the century Silesia became part of Poland and was ruled by the Piast dynasty; the land of the pagan Opolanie was conquered by Duke Mieszko I in 992. From the 11th-12th centuries it was also a castellany. After the death of Duke Władysław II the Exile, Silesia was divided in 1163 between two Piast lines- the Wrocławska line in Lower Silesia and the Opolsko-Raciborska of Upper Silesia. Opole would become a duchy in 1172 and would share much in common with the Duchy of Racibórz, with which it was often combined. In 1281 Upper Silesia was divided further between the heirs of the dukes. The Duchy of Opole was temporarily reestablished in 1290.
In the early 13th century, Duke Casimir I of Opole decided to move the settlement from the Pasieka Island into the right shore of the Oder river (since the 17th century it is the old stream bed of Oder known as Młynówka). All of the inhabitants had to be moved in order to make place for the castle that was eventually built in the place of the old city. Former inhabitants of Ostrówek together with German merchants that immigrated here from the West, received first town rights probably as early as around, 1217 though this date is disputed. Opole received German town law in 1254, which was expanded with Neumarkt law in 1327. Opole developed during the rule of duke Bolko I of Opole. In this time the castle was finally completed and new buildings, including the city walls and the Holy Cross Church, were constructed. Along with most of Silesia, in 1327 the Duchy of Opole came under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Bohemia, itself part of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1521 the Duchy of Racibórz (Ratibor) was inherited by the Duchy of Opole, by then also known by its German equivalent - Oppeln. The second castle of Opole was probably founded in the 14th century by duke Vladislaus II, though some sources claim that it was originally a wooden stronghold of Opole's castellan dating into 12th century.
With the death of King Ludvík II of Bohemia at the Battle of Mohács, Silesia was inherited by Ferdinand I, placing Opole under the sovereignty of the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria. The Habsburgs took control of the region in 1532 after the last Piast duke of Opole - Jan II the Good died. In those days the city was still mainly Polish-speaking (around 63%), with other nationalities represented mainly by Germans, Czechs and Jews. The last two dukes of Opole, Nicholas II and Janusz II the Good, did not master the German language.
Beginning in 1532 the Habsburgs pawned the duchy to different rulers including several monarchs of Poland (see Dukes of Opole). With the abdication of King John II Casimir of Poland as the last Duke of Opole in 1668, the region passed to the direct control of the Habsburgs. At the beginning of the 18th century the German population of Opole was estimated at around 20%.
King Frederick II of Prussia conquered most of Silesia from Austria in 1740 during the Silesian Wars; Prussian control was confirmed in the Peace of Breslau in 1742. During the Prussian rule the ethnic structure of the city began to change. In the early 20th century the number of Polish and bilingual citizens of Opole, according to the official German statistics, varied from only 25% to 31%. From 1816–1945 Opole was the capital of Regierungsbezirk Oppeln within Prussia. The city became part of the German Empire during the unification of Germany in 1871.
After the defeat of Imperial Germany in World War I, a plebiscite was held on 20 March 1921 in Oppeln to determine if the city would be in the Weimar Republic or become part of the Second Polish Republic. 20,816 (94.7%) votes were cast for Germany, 1,098 (5.0%) for Poland, and 70 (0.3%) votes were declared invalid. Voter participation was 95.9%. Results of the plebiscite in the Oppeln-Land county were different, with 30% of population voting for Poland.
Oppeln was the administrative seat of the Province of Upper Silesia from 1919–1939. With the defeat of Poland in the Invasion of Poland at the beginning of World War II in 1939, formerly Polish Eastern Upper Silesia was re-added to the Province of Upper Silesia and Oppeln lost its status as provincial capital to Katowice (renamed Kattowitz).
On 15 February 1941 and 26 February 1941, two deportation transports with 2,003 Jewish men, women and children on board left Vienna Aspang Station for the ghetto which had been set up in Oppeln. By March 1941, 8,000 Jews were deported to Oppeln. From May 1941, 800 men capable of work were deployed as forced labourers in Deblin. The "Liquidation" of the Oppeln ghetto began in the spring 1942. A transport to Belzec extermination camp left on 31 March 1942 and deportations to Sobibor followed in May and October 1942. Of the 2,003 Viennese Jews, only twenty-eight are known to have survived.
After the end of the Second World War in 1945, Oppeln was transferred from Germany to Poland according to the Potsdam Conference, and given its original Slavic name of Opole. Opole became part of the Katowice Voivodeship from 1946–1950, after which it became part of the Opole Voivodeship. Unlike other parts of the so-called Recovered Territories, Opole and the surrounding region's indigenous population remained and was not forcibly expelled as elsewhere. Over 1 million Silesians who considered themselves Poles or were treated as such by the authorities due to their language and customs were allowed to stay after they were verified as Poles in a special verification process. It involved declaring Polish nationality and an oath of allegiance to the Polish nation.
In the later years however many of them left to West Germany to flee the communist Eastern Bloc (see Emigration from Poland to Germany after World War II). Today Opole, along with the surrounding region, is known as a centre of the German minority in Poland that recruits mainly from the descendants of the positively verified autochthons. In the city itself however only 2.46% of the inhabitants declared German nationality according to the last national census of 2002.
On January 1, 2017, Borki, Chmielowice, Czarnowąsy, Krzanowice, Sławice, Świerkle, Winów, Wrzoski, Żerkowice as well as parts of Brzezie, Dobrzeń Mały and Karczów became a part of Opole, enlargening its population by about 9,500, and its area by over 5,300 ha.
In the early 20th century the amount of Polish and bilingual citizens of Opole, according to the official German statistics, varied from 25 to 31%.
¹ First census of the city
² 8,320 German nationality (93.7%) and 557 Polish nationality (6.3%)
³ 80% German-speaking, 16% Polish-speaking, and 4% bilingual Polish-German-speaking
Alongside German and Polish, many citizens of Opole-Oppeln before 1945 used a strongly German-influenced Silesian dialect (sometimes called wasserpolnisch or wasserpolak). Because of this, the post-war Polish state administration after the annexation of Silesia in 1945 did not initiate a general expulsion of all former inhabitants of Opole, as was done in Lower Silesia, for instance, where the population almost exclusively spoke the German language. Because they were considered "autochthonous" (Polish), the Wasserpolak-speakers instead received the right to remain in their homeland after declaring themselves as Poles. Some German speakers took advantage of this decision, allowing them to remain in their Oppeln, even when they considered themselves to be of German nationality. The city surroundings currently contain the largest German and Upper Silesian minorities in Poland. However, Opole itself is only 2.46% German. (See also Germans of Poland.)
Opole hosts the annual National Festival of Polish Song. The city is also known for its 10th-century Church of St. Adalbert and the 14th-century Church of the Holy Cross. There is a zoo, the Ogród Zoologiczny w Opolu.
Structures and buildingsPiast tower on the island (only part that remained of Piast castle)
a 14th-century Franciscan church, a Piast mausoleum
a 19th-century Town Hall
the Church of our Lady of Sorrows and St. Adalbert (Kościół Matki Boskiej Bolesnej i św. Wojciecha)
the 14th-century Holy Cross Cathedral (Bazylika katedralna Podwyższenia Krzyża Świętego)
The art nouveau Penny Bridge (Most Groszowy), currently named Green Bridge (Zielony Mostek)
Opole Main Station, an eclectic building from early 20th century.
MuseumsDiocesan Museum (Muzeum Diecezjalne)
Opole Regional Museum (Muzeum Śląska Opolskiego)
Opole Village Museum (Muzeum Wsi Opolskiej)
CemeteriesThe Jewish Cemetery in Opole was established in 1822, and it is a peculiar pantheon of the Jews of Opole.
Opole is one of the warmest cities in Poland. The national all time heat record was measured in Prószków, near Opole.state-run universities and colleges:
Opole University of Technology (Politechnika Opolska)
University of Opole (Uniwersytet Opolski)
Public Higher Medical Professional School in Opole (Państwowa Medyczna Wyższa Szkoła Zawodowa w Opolu)
privately run colleges:
Management and Administration College in Opole (Wyższa Szkoła Zarządzania i Administracji w Opolu)
Bogdan Jański Academy (Szkoła Wyższa im. Bogdana Jańskiego)
WSB Universities - WSB University in Wrocław, departments of Economics
Members of Parliament (Sejm) elected from Opole constituencyDanuta Jazłowiecka, PO
Tadeusz Jarmuziewicz, PO
Ryszard Knosala, PO
Leszek Korzeniowski, PO
Sławomir Kłosowski, PiS
Teresa Ceglecka-Zielonka, PiS
Mieczysław Walkiewicz, PiS
Henryk Kroll, German minority
Ryszard Galla, German minority
Józef Stępkowski, Samoobrona
Sandra Lewandowska, Samoobrona
Tomasz Garbowski, SLD
Marek Kawa, LPR
Opole is the Opole Voivodeship's centre for commerce, banking, industrial complexes and other major service sector industries.
Prior to World War II, due to major limestone deposits in Opole's vicinity, the city developed as a centre for cement production in Germany, with the Cementownia "Odra" being active till this day. The French building materials company Lafarge is also active in the area, having its roofing division, Lafarge Roofing, together with its German subsidiary Schiedel (chimney manufacturing) based in Opole.
Other companies in the city include: the German valve manufacturer Kludi; the German men's fashion manufacturer Ahlers and the American automotive manufacturer Tower Automative. As is the case with the entire Opole Voivodeship, there is a strong presence of food industry services in the city. The largest companies in the food sector include: Zott, the Dutch baby food and nutrition company Nutricia, part of the Danone food-products corporation.
Opole has branches of all major banks, including: PKO, Pekao, Deutsche Bank and Raiffeisen Zentralbank.
The retail sector in Opole includes major Metro AG brand stores: Metro Cash and Carry and Media-Saturn-Holding, as well as Real. The city has a plethora of other major supermarket chains, namely: the Polish supermarket chains Biedronka, Lidl, Aldi and Netto. Other major brand stores include the shoe retailer Deichmann and Rossmann drugstores.
Furthermore, the city has three major shopping centres. The Solaris Center, with a total of 86 shops, opened in May 2009 and is located in the centre of Mikołaj Kopernik Square. In the city's suburbs, by Wrocławska Street (ul. Wrocławska) is the location of Karolinka Shopping Centre (Centrum Handlowe Karolinka). The shopping centre, which opened in September 2008, has a total area of 38,000 m², with a total of 99 stores, including fashion, hardware and electronics stores. To the east of the city, by the National Road 46, is the smallest of the three shopping centres, Turawa Park, with a total of 50 stores. Other shopping centres include Galeria Opolanin, built between 1974 and 1981 and upon its completion, was the largest shopping centre in Poland.Władysław Opolczyk, count palatine of Poland 1378
Edwin von Drenkmann (1826–1904), famous German lawyer
Paul Kleinert (1837–1920), German theologian
Emin Pasha (born Eduard Schnitzer) (1840–1892), explorer and governor of Africa
Jan Kasprowicz (1860–1926), poet
Ferdinand von Prondzynski, 19th-century Prussian general, whose direct descendant Ferdinand von Prondzynski is Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland
Bronisław Koraszewski (1863–1924), Polish activist, founder of Gazeta Opolska
Oscar Slater (1872–1948), German/Scottish victim of miscarriage of justice
Jakub Kania (1872–1957), Polish poet and writer, soldier in the Silesian Uprisings
Leo Baeck (1873–1956), rabbi
Szymon Koszyk (1891–1972), reporter, teacher and Polish activist from Opole
Karol Musioł (1902–1983), president of Opole, founder of the National Festival of Polish Song in Opole
Joachim Prinz (1902, Bierdzan – 1988), rabbi, born here
Edmund Osmańczyk (1913–1989), reporter, politician (6 times elected to the sejm and once to the senat)
Rochus Misch (1917-2013), communications' chief of the Reichskanzlei and member of the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler
Jerzy Grotowski (1933–1999), theater director
Jerzy Buzek (born 1940), academic and politician, President of the European Parliament, former Prime Minister of Poland
Chester Marcol (born 1949), American football placekicker for the Green Bay Packers
Bolesław Polnar (born 1952), graphic artist and painter
Andrzej Jerzy Lech (born 1955), artist and photographer
Anna Brzezińska (born 1971), fantasy writer
Miroslav Klose (born 1978), football player (playing in the German national football team)
Krzysztof Szramiak (born 1984), Polish weightlifter
Marcin Pontus (born 1985), football player
Karolina Wydra (born 1981), actress
Opole is twinned with: