Unknown Wrocław: two hundred steps up

When buying a ticket for the viewpoint tower of the Garrison Church, we find that the majority of the enthusiasts of panoramic views from above come from outside of Wrocław. However, now and then come Wrocławians, who want to take a look from over a hundred meters to a city, in which they have spent dozens of years of their lives.

The trip up starts with a clockwise staircase, pass the walls, on which tourists from all over the world have left their unfortunate traces. Judging by the inscriptions, vandals were here from almost all over the world. The first signs of fatigue are compensated by the views, at which we can peek through small windows. Somewhere in the middle of the climb you can see the church bells through a half-open door.

The viewpoint tower is the part of the St. Elisabeth Minor Basilica, The Garrison Church. Its construction began in the early fourteenth century, in the times of Prince Bolesław III, the founder of the temple. First, the church was taken care of by the Brothers Hospitallers, who ran the hospice of St. Elizabeth, and with time it became one of the two parish churches of the city (together with St. Magdalene's). The tower, adjacent to the temple from the south west, is over 90 meters high these days. At a time when it was erected - in the mid-15th century, to honour St. Lawrence (the patron saint of the church until 1387), it measured 130 meters. According to the contemporary records, it was the highest and most beautiful in Silesia.

When we arrive higher than the highest point of the church's roof, the winding stairs end, and we start climbing a more modern staircase. After another few dozen steps we arrive at the observation deck. The beautiful, cloudless weather turned out to be not so favourable after all. Rędziński bridge is barely visible because of fog, though it is said that with better visibility you can see the Sudetes from here. However, this is the closest vantage point to the Market Square, and it is the view of the city - the Old Town and Ostrów Tumski - that compensates for what can't be seen.

The windstorm and fire

The church tower - as well as the church itself - was spared neither by the elements, nor human hand. First, in 1529, a windstorm tore the cupola off, which then collapsed to the churchyard. The plate at the base of the tower commemorates this event. Reconstruction began two years later, and the tower was given a Renaissance style touch. During a French siege of Wrocław at the turn of 1806/1807, the cannon fire damaged the cupola and the roof of the church and chapel, and caused considerable damage to the library. It took more than a dozen years to repair the damage. On 4. June, 1960, a lightning set fire to the flechè. A part of the tower and roof were burned on that occasion, too. After the renovation, the tower observation deck was made available to visitors and tourists. A fire that started on 20. September, 1975 engulfed the upper part of the church's tower. The Renaissance cupola burned entirely, and the stone balustrade of the terrace and the canopies were also destroyed. The fire also consumed the scaffold around the tower, damaging the wooden suspension of the bells. They fell down, as a result, and one of them broke. When the renovation works were resumed, a second fire broke out, on 9. June, 1976 . It engulfed the entire church, and the losses were huge.

In November 1996 established was "Tower", the Association for the Reconstruction of the Garrison Church (Stowarzyszenie Odbudowy Kościoła Garnizonowego "Wieża"). It is the initiative of its members that allowed the observation deck of the church tower to be made available to tourists yet again. This is where you can enjoy the beautiful panorama of Wrocław and the area.

After a few minutes of admiring the view of Wrocław from above, we take the return trip down, exactly the same way as we got here. The panting tourists who pass us going up ask if they were there yet. Well, they almost are. For us, it is still two hundred steps down.

Janusz Krzeszowski