Bolesławiec (Bunzlau in German), is located on the Bóbr River in southwestern Poland in Lower Silesia, about an hour’s train ride from Görlitz. Given the title “Miasto Ceramiki” (or Town of Ceramics), the city of Bolesławiec has about 40,000 inhabitants and is world-famous for its long-standing pottery-making tradition. Although many people come to Bolesławiec for pottery, visitors will be delighted by the beautifully restored town square and historic sights around the city.
Named after a Silesian Duke, Bolesław I the Tall who lived in the 12th century, the city was sacked by the Hussite army in 1429 and pillaged by Swedish forces during the 30 Years War in spite of having a city wall to protect it. Remnants of this city wall can still be seen in Bolesławiec today, though most of it was demolished to make way for the expansion of the city beyond its medieval center.
The city center of Bolesławiec is very walkable – the only reason you might need a car is to visit some of the ceramic factories, such as Manufaktura w Bolesławcu. The market square is surrounded by cheerful, pastel-colored buildings with the town hall in the center. At the town hall there is a plaque that serves as the first stop on a guided historic walking tour that will take you all around the city with 36 different locations, however when I visited, two of the signs had been vandalized to the point that they could unfortunately no longer be read. The plaques have information in Polish and English and are very helpful for someone who would like to explore the city center, which has a very nice green belt and park with a pond.
Bolesławiec benefited from its location along the Via Regia, a trade route that connected Breslau with Leipzig, making it possible for the pottery to spread in popularity. In 1523 Bolesławiec became an important center of the Protestant Reformation, with most of its inhabitants converting. The city continued to flourish during this time and in 1525 the town hall was rebuilt by Wendel Roskopf, who built the Schönhof in Görlitz, in the new Renaissance style. In the 18th century the town hall underwent another face-lift in the Baroque style.
The area around Bolesławiec is rich in clays that are well-suited for the potter’s wheel and there is evidence that pottery was being turned here as early as the 7th century. Out of this tradition grew one of the most important folk pottery traditions in Europe. Early pottery was intended for farm and kitchen use and looked unremarkable. These pieces are extremely rare to find today. The first examples of the distinctive Bunzlau style followed as lifestyles changed with urbanization. People wanted pottery that they could show off in their parlors and dining rooms. People also wanted something to serve a new and fashionable beverage – coffee! Bunzlau pottery became popular not just in Germany, but all around Europe and pottery shops began cropping up all over. When Silesia, and therefore Bolesławiec, came under the control of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1742, the government took an interest in promoting the pottery industry. A Ceramic Technical Training school was established in the city in 1898. During the beginning of the 20th century, pottery designs were influenced by Jugendstil and the popularity of the peacock. Bunzlau pottery became known for their trademark pattern known as Pfauenauge, or peacock’s eye. Visitors who are interested in learning more about the history of ceramics in Bolesławiec can visit the ceramic museum located in the old town.
After all of this walking and pottery shopping you are bound to get hungry! Food-wise if you are visiting Bolesławiec by car and are looking for a pleasant restaurant that caters to tourists with menus in multiple languages, you will enjoy Restauracje Opałka Chata, a restaurant that offers traditional charm and dishes on the menu. The restaurant is also conveniently located near several ceramic factories.
If you’re on foot and looking for amazing, cheap pierogi – I highly recommend Dobra Pierogarnia, they don’t have a menu in English but you can view their menu online, which includes pierogi with many different kinds of filling and the people working there are young and friendly. It’s the best pierogi I’ve ever had!
One thing that really amazed me while we were in Bolesławiec was the amount of Americans we encountered, specifically American women. When I was researching for this trip I found a lot of resources online written for “military wives”, giving them tips for buying ceramics in this city. The restaurants, staff and signage all seemed to really cater to this market with everything available in English, which is not usually a given for this part of Poland. – these visitors are drawn to Bolesławiec by the world-famous ceramics!
If you are visiting Bolesławiec for the pottery, you will want to shop around at various factories to find your favorite pattern. Pay attention to the labels on the bottom of the pottery – some things are marked down because they have a lower “grade” and some patterns are on sale for various reasons. You can find some very good deals if you look carefully. Here is a great guide (written by a military wife) to shopping for pottery in Bolesławiec.
If you are looking for an awesome experience while in Bolesławiec, you should definitely book a tour of the ceramic factory Manufaktura w Bolesławcu along with a workshop. The tours can be requested through the website in English or in German and in my opinion, seeing how the pottery is made makes you appreciate the pieces you buy that much more! It was incredible watching all of the painters as they stamped the designs on by hand. During the shorter workshop, which we took part in, you get to paint your own small plate or bowl using foam stamps. This was a really fun experience, and makes you realize how much skill it takes to do well! We definitely wouldn’t be able to sell our pottery in the stores, but it was a really good time. If you’d like, for a small fee they let you paint more than one piece. In order to collect your hand-made pieces you either have to return to the factory in about a week’s time or have it mailed, but be aware that they only mail pieces to Polish addresses!
Bolesławiec has quickly become one of my favorite places to take guests who visit me in Görlitz for a day trip – the city center is adorable and great for a walking tour and many of my guests can’t resist buying some of the famous Bunzlau pottery or bringing some back for friends & family as souvenirs. A combination of world-famous pottery at affordable prices, accessibility by train & on foot, beautiful sights with green areas that are well-signed and delicious & affordable Polish food make the city of Bolesławiec a must for anyone visiting Lower Silesia!