Located in Lower Silesia, Zlotoryja is one of Poland’s oldest towns and one of the most unusual to boot, with a nearly 800-year-old tradition of gold mining. It is still possible today to pan for this precious metal in the rivers around the town. Sometime the gold can also occur in the form of nuggets, and everyone has a chance to find some. Visitors who want to gain insight into the gold-mining history of the town should head first to the Museum of Gold.
When it comes to tourist attractions, no town in Lower Silesia has as much to offer as Zlotoryja, other than perhaps Jelenia Gora with the nearby ranges of the Sudety Mountains.
Among this wealth of attractions in Zlotoryja there are as many as 300 historical monuments, some of which you simply have to see during your visit. These include the Smith’s Tower, the Church of St. Hedwig, the Church of the Birth of St. Mary, the Holy Cross Church with its post-Franciscan monastery, a pillar chapel, the 14th century fortification walls, the collection of historic houses in the Old Town Square, the Town Hall and last but not least the Dolphin Fountain from the 17th century.
In the Museum of Gold you will find the traditional mining tools and panning equipment, plus an outstanding collection of minerals from the area of Lower Silesia. The traditions of gold mining can be traced in the Aurelia gold mine and can still be experienced during the panning championships.
Separate mention should be made of Wilcza Gora overlooking the town, once a volcano and today a geological reserve. Here, in the deserted quarry, you can stroll into the heart of the volcano to investigate specimens of solidified basaltic lava and volcanic ash.
Zlotoryja, a town of 11.5 km2 and a population of 17,000 people, lies in the Lower Silesian Voivodship and is the capital of Zlotoryja County. It has a convenient location close to the A4 motorway and No 3 state road. Wrocław International Airport is only 85 km away.
The town sits on the southern bank of the Kaczawa River, a tributary of the Odra River, where the presence of trout is the guarantee of clean waters. Zlotoryja is located at the meeting point of two geographical regions: the Silesian Valley and the Sudety Mountains. The scenic Kaczawa Plateau, which is the northernmost part of the Sudety, stretches to the south of the town.
The area’s first gold miners established a little village on the slopes of Mount St. Nicholas at the turn of the 12th and 13th century. It quickly expanded and, under the name of Aurum (“gold” in Latin), was granted city rights based on the Magdeburg law in 1211 by Henry I the Bearded, at the time town being part of the Duchy of Legnica.
As the gold ore deposits in Zlotoryja were quite massive, miners and gold panners alike flocked here from all the neighbouring countryside. In the 13th century, with the foundation of an Ioannites and a Franciscan monastery, the town achieved importance as a centre of religion and culture. In 1290, Zlotoryja obtained the right to trade salt, at that time a very expensive and precious mineral.
The entire Duchy of Legnica became a fief of imperial Bohemia in 1328, but was allowed to retain its local government. In the course of the Hussite Wars Zlotoryja was repeatedly seized and severely plundered by the Hussite forces in 1427, 1428 and 1431. Though the town’s recovery was quite rapid, the local city council nevertheless agreed upon building city walls to resist future invasions.
By the dawn of the 15th century, the majority of the gold deposits were depleted, but the town began to derive vital income from the road connecting Wroclaw (Breslau) with Leipzig, which ran close by.
In 1526, the whole Silesia was annexed by the Habsburgs. Zlotoryja enjoyed prosperity until a great flood all but destroyed it in 1608. Only five years later, in 1613, a major fire swept through the town.
Over the course of the Thirty Years’ War Zlotoryja changed hands several times and afterwards never managed to recapture its former prestige. It was annexed by Prussia in 1742 and in 1871 became part of the newly established German Empire. During the Napoleonic Wars, on 26 August 1813, the Prussian army vanquished the French forces in a battle close to the town.
At the end of the 19th century, Zlotoryja finally began to recover after nearly two centuries of decline. In 1862 it was linked by a telegraph line to Berlin, in 1884 a rail connection with Liegnitz (Legnica) was completed, while the first telephone service was established in 1900.
Luckily, the town escaped damage during the Second World War, and afterwards it was incorporated into Poland. Since then it has been known as Zlotoryja.