A lovely square in which to start any visit, the shops around the rynek/market square at Pszczyna are picturesque, pastel-coloured reminders of past times.
According to a local guide book, this part of town dates back to the medieval era: local farmers brought their produce to sell here in the heart of the community. In its present form, the area was re-built after a fire destroyed Pless in August 1784.
The must-see building (after the archives, for genealogists) is Pless/Pszczyna castle, reconstructed between 1870 and 1876 by French architect Hippolyte Destailleur. The last private owner, Prince Henry of Pless, was interned on the Isle of Man through much of the Second World War, as an enemy alien.
In 1946, the Polish government turned the castle into a state museum. This might be what helped to save the contents from the ravages of the era – and the ensuing risks posed by Soviet withdrawal, which I believe lost Poland quite a lot of the remaining national treasures that the Nazis hadn’t already looted…
How difficult to imagine living in a country that must confront such large-scale theft – Britain has always exported its wars elsewhere. It’s probably fair (if flippant) to note that the English wore tunics and lived in wooden huts with thatched roofs the last time invaders tried to take their valuables…
The building now has more in common with a French palace than with what we might think of as a castle, but this was in fact a defensive structure in the 13th century – perhaps earlier.
A map on the wall of the archives in Gliwice/Gleiwitz dates from the 1730s, and showed Pless and Gleiwitz, and nothing much in between. Clearly, in the 1700s, this small, picturesque town would have been of considerable strategic significance.
(At the moment, there is a copy of the map here: http://www.swaen.com/zoomV2.php?id=18549&zif_first=true)
By the time we are interested in, at the turn of the twentieth century, Pless had been influenced and affected by the larger tides of industrialisation that had swept across this region.
Silesia was known for its mining industries, predominantly, as well as for its agriculture: one of my father’s fondest memories was of the white asparagus grown locally. When we travelled to Poland in May 2015, we made sure to try some, and it was indeed delicious.