Brzeg is one of the oldest and most beautiful towns in Silesia and simultaneously a significant Polish culture centre. Because of a great number of monuments, Brzeg is especially appreciated by history enthusiasts. Moreover, a close proximity to Wroclaw and Opole makes the town a great starting point.
Brzeg is a listed town with many worthy a visit places. The most interesting are: a Renaissance castle of the Silesian Piasts from the 13th century, the St Nicholas’ Gothic church from the 14th century, the Raising of the Holy Cross Baroque church with illusionistic polychromes of Jan Kuben, Baroque figures of John of Nepomuk and Jude from 1722 as well as a Baroque monument of the Holy Trinity at Plac Zamkowy.
Worth visiting is also a former Franciscans’ church. It is the oldest temple in Brzeg, first recorded as early as in 1285. It was extended in between 1338 and 1494 and in 1582 was transformed into a royal arsenal. Until 1980s it served as a warehouse but was brought to ruin. In 1997 its tower and a part of presbytery collapsed.
Interesting are also the town hall (1569-72), the water tower (1877), the synagogue (1799) and the Jewish cemetery.
Brzeg is also a significant culture centre. Music, literature, art and theatre have always been inseparable from the inhabitants’ lives. Currently the Silesian Piasts Museum and the Brzeg Culture Centre operate in the town. Brzeg also organises a lot of cultural events. The most significant are: Theatron Festival, Bariery Kariery (English: Career Barriers), Brzeskie kolędowanie (English: Brzeg Carol Singing), Corda Cordi and Face the Music Festivals. Moreover, in the castle, churches, Culture Centre, Gallery of Contemporary Art and the town hall are held different concerts, exhibitions, Renaissance fairs and performances.
Brzeg is situated halfway between Wroclaw and Opole. The town has well-developed rail and bus transport. It is directly connected with Opole, Wroclaw, Krakow, Warsaw, Katowice, Poznan, Szczecin, Zielona Gora, Lublin, Kielce, Przemysl, Zamosc and Nysa.
The first records about Brzeg come from 1234. The town came into existence mostly because of its location at the junction of overland and water routes which connected the largest Silesian centres with the neighbouring countries. The establishment of Brzeg was confirmed in 1250.
In the turn of the 13th century the congregations and monasteries settled in the town and erected their churches and monasteries. After the division of the Wroclaw Duchy in 1311, Brzeg became the capital of the smallest among the three newly created duchies – the duchy of Brzeg.
The period of the Brzeg’s prosperity was connected with the reigns of the Piasts (the first Polish royal dynasty). Duke Boleslaw III was the first one to join the duchy of Brzeg to the duchy of Legnica and use “The Ruler of Legnica and Brzeg” title. In the second half of the 14th century duke Ludwik I extended the castle and established Saint Jadwiga’s collegiate church. Moreover, he financially supported the reconstruction of St. Nicholas’ church.
In between 1428 and 1432, Brzeg was destroyed by the Hussites. Numerous natural disasters many times descended upon the town and in the second half of the 15th century Brzeg went through an economic decline.
In the 16th century, during the reigns of Frederick II and George II, Brzeg had its heyday of architectural and cultural growth. Duke Frederick introduced Lutheranism to the town and the duchy and began the Renaissance conversion of the castle. Because of the threat of the Turkish invasion, he decided to reconstruct the municipal fortifications. Duke George II, on the other hand, reconstructed the castle based on the Renaissance architecture. He strongly supported culture and science, and due to the fact he founded the Illustre Bregenese High School, later called the Piast Gymnasium.
During the Thirty Years’ War, the fortifications protected Brzeg from being conquered by Swedes. The war, however, had a negative impact on the duchy and the town. In 1675 the last male representative of the Piast dynasty died, as a result of which the town and the duchy came into the rulings of the House of Habsburg who tried to convert Brzeg inhabitants to Catholicism. In place of the removed monasteries, Jesuits and Capuchins erected their monasteries and churches.
In 1741, during a siege of the Old Town by the Prussian army, Brzeg was severely destroyed. A year later the town, together with the whole region of Silesia, again fell into the Prussian hands. In 1748 the first river lock on the River Odra was constructed. The fortifications were extended as well, but after the town’s occupation by Napoleon’s army they were destroyed and replaced by promenades and parks. The railway reached the town in 1842. The turn of the 19th century was the time of Brzeg’s development. In 1907 the town was separated from the county and received the higher rank of an independent town.
The Second World War brought the most severe destruction in the whole history of Brzeg and the change of its national status. The reconstruction works after the war were accompanied by food and electric machinery industries. In the southern part of the town new estates were built. Until 1950, Brzeg belonged to Wroclaw Voivodeship and after the administrative reform, it was joined to Opole Voivodeship. During the millennium celebrations of the Baptism of Poland, in May 1966, the Civic Militia removed clergymen from the parish house at Plac Zamkowy. The citizens’ objections triggered the repressive measures of the SB (Polish Security Service).