Those who have visited the cities of Silesia would find it hard to deny that Zory is one of the prettiest and best-maintained, with its lovely town square, smart streets and a number of historic monuments testifying to the city’s long past. An extraordinary aspect of this place is the way the old blends with the new. Residents are proud to call Zory their home and to show it off to visitors.
The medieval layout of the Old Town in Zory has been preserved, including fragments of the former defensive walls, the 14th century parish church and historic tenement houses. Today a total of 1300 metres of the original city walls still remain, some of which are up to 9 meters high and were built in the last quarter of the 13th century. Dating from the late Baroque, the church of St. Philip and St. Jacob constitutes a unique example of hall construction. There is yet another shrine in Zory that deserves a look – a tiny 19th century chapel dubbed ‘kosciolek’ (‘little church’) by the locals. A visit to the Town Museum is also worthwhile, especially since it boasts an exhibition showcasing the cultures of Western Africa peoples, something that few other museums in Poland can offer.
Zory hosts numerous cultural events on a regular basis, including the International Guitar Festival, Sari-Zory Meetings with Shanties and Folk Music, the International Festival of Folk Bands and Majorettes, and the National Open Air Painting event. Every year for over 300 years, on 11 May, the locals have observed the Torch-Light Day, a special celebration that only takes place in Zory.
Zory is a medium-sized city, situated in the southern part of Upper Silesia, with a population totalling 63,000 inhabitants. It has a favourable location at the crossing of significant transport routes, giving convenient access to most cities of the Katowice metropolitan area, as well as holiday and ski resorts such as Bielsko-Biala, Wisla and Szczyrk. The two important roads running through the city are state road no 81 from Wisla and Cieszyn to Katowice and province east-west road no 935.
Since Zory is located in the ecologically cleanest part of Upper Silesia, far from heavy industry, the air pollution here is much lower than anywhere else in the region.
Among the oldest cities in Silesia, Zory received its civic rights in 1272 from Wladyslaw the Prince of Opole and Raciborz. The settlement is first mentioned in a document from 1258, concerning the foundation of the Cistercian monastery in Rudy Raciborskie. In the document Prince Wladyslaw stated his intention to establish a defensive town.
The name of the town is thought to derive from a Slavonic settlement called ‘Zar’ (‘heat’ in English), and is connected with a widely used method of preparing land for agricultural purposes by burning grass and forest. Another explanation is that the origin of the name should be sought in Zory’s history, in the course of which the town frequently suffered from siege and fire. Since 1702, when a great fire destroyed a large part of the town and caused the death of many inhabitants, the residents of Zory have celebrated a very special festival. On the evening of 11 May they gather in front of the church of St. Philip and St. Jacob and, equipped with torches, march along the streets of the old town to the town square. This unique procession is supposed to protect the city from the threat of fire.
In 1291, after Prince Wladyslaw’s son, Przemyslaw, had sworn an oath of fealty to the Czech king, Waclaw, Zory – together with the entire Raciborz duchy – became a fief of the Czech Crown. In 1345 the king of Poland, Kazimierz the Great, set out with the aim of bringing Silesia under his control. However, the siege of Zory by the Polish army proved unsuccessful.
The first half of the 15th century was the time of the Hussite wars. In 1526 the town, like the whole of Silesia, became under the control of the Habsburg monarchy. During the Thirty Years’ War Zory was repeatedly ravaged by plagues and passing troops. After 1740 it fell to the Prussian rule.
Until the 19th century, the town’s economy was based on crafts, small trade and even agriculture to some extent, but from then on it began to depend more and more on industry. Zory officially came under Polish administration on 4 July 1922.
The German occupation of the town started as early as 1 September 1939. Just like the rest of Upper Silesia, Zory was directly annexed by the Third Reich. Towards the end of the Second World War 80% of the buildings were utterly destroyed as a result of fighting.