The Olza in myth and history
The lost world
The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was a period of rapid industrial growth for Cieszyn Silesia. The Ostrava-Karviná coal basin was one of the biggest hubs of heavy industry in Austria-Hungary, Bielsko was one of the strongest centres of the textile industry, and Cieszyn was famous for its numerous printing companies. The company run by the Prochaska family was one of the biggest printing houses in the whole empire and served the markets of the whole of German-speaking Europe. Old trade routes kept abreast of the times and were strengthened by new railway lines. In 1855, a fragment of the strategic Northern Railway connected Bogumin and Dziedzice (it ran through Zebrzydowice and had a branch line to Bielsko). In 1871, the railway line from Bogumin reached Cieszyn and was later extended to Jablunkov Pass and Žilina. It later became known as the Košice–Bohumín Railway. In 1888, a railway line from Moravia through Frýdek to Cieszyn and then to Bielsko was built. It was called the Railway of Silesian Towns. Cieszyn was now located on a route from Vienna to Germany and Russia, as well as from Bohemian lands to Galicia and Slovakia. This region was no longer a peripheral area. It was now becoming an important industrial centre.
However, Cieszyn itself, even though it was definitely the town’s heyday, only had smaller industrial plants and it was mostly crafts that were cultivated here. Cieszyn was also an important administrative unit and an excellent educational centre. This rather small town could boast of seven secondary schools (in 1914, there were two gymnasia, a female high school, a Realschule and three educational establishments which trained teachers). Numerous representative public utility buildings were built in the town (school buildings, the hospital of the Protestant community which was then taken over by the authorities of Austrian Silesia and called the Silesian National Hospital, the monastery and hospital run by Sisters of Saint Elizabeth, the theatre, the courthouse and prison, and the barracks). The town had taken the opportunity offered by the steam age, which was already drawing to a close, but Cieszyn authorities did not want to miss the opportunity brought by the upcoming electricity age either.
In the last decades of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, Cieszyn authorities were clearly trying to implement modern technologies. There were also improvements in municipal infrastructure, such as the construction of the urban gasworks which was finished in 1882, and the opening of the urban power plant, which was supposed to provide enough electricity to propel industrial machinery and street lighting. This investment was entrusted to A.E.G. Union Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft, a company from Vienna. The foundation act was signed on 20 April 1909. On 24 August 1909, national authorities in Opava issued a permit for the production of electricity. Since steam boilers were used in this process, the power plant was located on Mała Łąka. The vicinity of the Młynówka Canal, an artificial arm of the Olza, enabled easy access to water which could be filtered and then used as boiler water.
The spatial development of the town called for an improvement in its internal communication. It was in the interest of both middle class residents and guests arriving in Cieszyn on business. In the first place, it was necessary to provide an efficient transport system between the main train station, the town centre, the barracks and the hospital, which were a long way apart. The perfect means of transport turned out to be the electric tram. Ever since the urban power station was built, it was ready to launch devices which could propel a tram line. It had a DC generator with a power of 50 kW and a voltage of 800 V. The construction of tracks and overhead lines started in August 1910 and was finished at the end of the same year. The tram line was almost 1800 metres long (1793 m, to be precise). In addition, there was a 630-metre road leading to the tram depot located by the power plant. Tram cars were manufactured by a company from Prague, run by F. Ringhoffer. They were 8.1 m long and 3.25 m wide. They weighed almost 11 t and could carry 30 passengers (there were 18 seats and 12 standing places). The bottom part of the tram cars was painted red, whereas from the windows up they were white. The Cieszyn authorities bought four cars. Three were needed to serve passengers on a daily basis, the fourth one was a spare car. The cost of building the tram line was about 398 thousand Austro-Hungarian krones.
The opening of the Cieszyn tram line was very festive and took place on Sunday 12 February 1911 at 10:30 a.m. A huge crowd of town dwellers and residents of nearby areas gathered to see this technological and civilizational novelty, which was a synonym of modernity. It was mayor Rudolf Bukowski who had the honour of opening the new line. The tram ran from the train station to the intersection of Wyższa Brama and Bielska Street in about 11 minutes. There were 11 stops. Since it was a single tram line, there were two passing loops on the way: on the Market Square and past the bridge on the Olza (on today’s Czech side of the town). These loops made it possible for trams going in opposite directions to pass each other.
The ceremony of opening the tram line for use ( Cieszyn Silesia Museum Collection )
The tram line run from the stop by the train station (Bahnhof) through the following streets: Bahnhofstraße (today’s Nádražní), Hoheneggerstraße (Pražská), through the bridge on the Olza built in 1891 by the Castle Hill (this stop was called Olsabrücke) and along Schloßgasse (Zamkowa). Then the tram turned into Erzherzogin-Stefanie-Straße (today’s Głęboka Street), where it had stops on the intersection with Mennicza Street (Münzgasse), by Austria Hotel (today’s Głęboka 25) and on Stary Targ Square (Alter Markt). The next stop was located on the Market Square (the former Demelplatz). The line ran diagonally to Szersznik Street. Then, the tram stopped on the Upper Market Square (Oberring) and ran along Wyższa Brama Street. The last stop was located at the end of Bielska Street (Bielitzer Straße). From this place, it was close to the Protestant Jesus Church, the Silesian National Hospital and the barracks. The first trams appeared in the streets after 6 a.m. and returned to the depot before 11 p.m. At the time of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a single ticket cost 14 hallers for adults and 6 hallers for children.
Market Square, a postcard from ca 1915 (from Cieszyn Czeski Cieszyn na starych widokówkach i fotografiach, H. Wawreczka, J. Spyra, M. Makowski, Nebory 1999)
Upper Market Square, a postcard from ca 1916 (from Cieszyn Czeski Cieszyn na starych widokówkach i fotografiach, H. Wawreczka, J. Spyra, M. Makowski, Nebory 1999)
So the town finally had its tram line, but the town authorities did not want to stop there. They planned to launch another line that would run in the direction of Svibice (at that time, this village was located on the south of Cieszyn, outside its borders) through the Jubilee Bridge (today’s Liberty Bridge) and along today’s 3 Maja Street. This investment was prevented by the outbreak of the First World War. On the regional level, it was planned to build a tram line that would run through all the towns located on the way from Trzyniec to Frysztat. A similar system was implemented in Ostrava (where trams had functioned since 1901) and nearby towns. This solution made it possible for workers to commute to the biggest industrial centres. However, these plans were also thwarted by the outbreak of the war, and then by a complete change in the political situation.
The fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the division of the region and of the town between two countries resulted in a slow decline of the tram line in Cieszyn. The division of the town, which used to function as a uniform urban organism, backed by national antagonisms which were strong at that time, paralyzed tram communication. The number of people interested in this type of transport decreased significantly. The prices of tickets rose due to post-war inflation, and the time of the journey and inconvenience caused by customs searches on the Olza, which became a border river, made travelling by tram time-consuming, uneconomical and uncomfortable. The final decision on dividing the town was made on 28 July 1920 and heralded the end of the tram line. It was indeed closed very soon. On 2 April 1921, the last tram appeared in the streets of Cieszyn. In the next few years, tracks and overhead lines were dismantled and the tram cars were sold. One car was transported to Bielsko in 1921, the three remaining were sent to Łódź. They were finally joined by the car which had served in Bielsko for a short period of time. They were not decommissioned until 1959. People in Cieszyn still have a sentimental attachment to the tram line which used to function in their town. It allowed the town on the Olza to see itself as a modern and significant urban centre. It was also a clear confirmation of the economic and administrative development of the town and the whole region, as well as a manifestation of the boldness of its authorities, who wanted to implement modern scientific and industrial solutions.
Boulevards in Cieszyn
The development of riverside lands, which stretched from Błogocice (it was a separate village until 1922, then it became a district of Cieszyn) to today’s Liberty Bridge started in the second half of the 19th century and was quite intensive. This area was separated from the urban sprawl by a steep scarp, so it was difficult to build anything here. Some of the land was forested and prone to flooding when the water level in the river rose. Most plots of land were undeveloped. They were used to store wood from the mountains which was rafted on the Olza. At that time, industry needed a lot of water for technological production processes (for example in the textile industry), as a source of energy (in mills and sawmills) and to propel steam-powered devices (after all, the 19th century was the age of steam). This is why it was decided that existing rivers and streams should be used to enable the development of crafts and industry and that some artificial canals should be built to foster this process. At that time, the so-called third weir was built on the Olza (38 kilometres from its source). It was a wooden barrier, but in 1925 it was replaced by a concrete structure designed by engineer Jerzy Grycz. The weir helped direct some water from the Olza to the Młynówka Canal, which ran almost parallel to the river through the whole town. It also made it possible to launch several small industrial plants. The following enterprises used to function in this area: a textile rolling factory, a small water-power plant (operating in the years 1862-1920), a sawmill (called “the saw”), a vodka and liqueur factory and the abovementioned timber yard (Holzplatz), which was used by a few successful furniture making businesses from Cieszyn. This area became more important when new barracks were built on the slope of the hill behind the Protestant Church. They were located near the Olza and Błogocice. The barracks were finished in 1895 and originally included 22 buildings, which could accommodate a whole infantry regiment. The main unit staying in the garrison in Cieszyn was the 100th Austro-Hungarian Infantry Regiment (Schlesisch-mährisches Infanterieregiment Nr. 100). The regiment was formed in 1883. Its staff and some of its four battalions were stationed in the barracks. Some other battalions from different regiments also stayed in Cieszyn (in the Austro-Hungarian army, individual units alternated between different garrisons and stationed in each one for some time). In 1901, due to the expansion of the territorial army, a few new buildings were added to the barracks. They became the headquarters of the 31st Landwehr Regiment (Landwehrinfanterieregiment Nr. 31). Due to their location, the barracks dominated the part of the town located on the right bank of the Olza, especially as seen from Castle Hill and the left bank of the river. It took many years to hide the barracks behind densely growing trees. In the beginning of the 20th century, in 1903, a new bridge was built on the Olza. It was called the Jubilee Bridge because it marked the 55th anniversary of the succession of Franz Josef I to the throne. The street leading to the bridge was given the emperor’s name, Franz-Josef-Straße (today, it is called 3 Maja Street). On the other side of the river, its name changed into Schießhausstraße, which led to the new train station built in 1889. A monument of the emperor was built on the slope of the hill, on the verge of the Municipal Woods (today, a monument of Mieszko I of Cieszyn stands there. It was made by an outstanding sculptor Jan Raszka (1871-1945) who was born in Ropica near Cieszyn). Franz Joseph I himself could see all the places devoted to him when he visited Cieszyn in 1906 due to the grand manoeuvres of the Austro-Hungarian army. It was his fourth visit in Cieszyn during his long reign. The road running along the Olza, from the bridge by the Castle Hill up to the border of Błogocice, was called Neue Gasse (today’s Jana Łyska Street). The route running along the opposite bank of the Olza was called Kaistraße, that is the boulevard.
In 1886, the Town Swimming Pool was built near the border between the town and Błogocice. It used water from the Olza. Its dimensions were of Olympic standards (50x42 m) and its equipment was made from wood. Its construction foretold a gradual transformation of this part of town from an industrial area into sports and leisure grounds.
City bath in Cieszyn – plans from the second half of the 19th century. (State Archives in Cieszyn. Files of the Town of Cieszyn, reference number 13/2431)
City bath in Cieszyn, a postcard from ca 1905 (from Cieszyn Czeski Cieszyn na starych widokówkach i fotografiach, H. Wawreczka, J. Spyra, M. Makowski, Nebory 1999)
At the beginning of the century, Cieszyn authorities picked up a trend from European capital cities and established the Municipal Woods. Some of the existing trees were used but new ones were planted as well. At that time, Adam Sikora (1846-1910), a Polish activist and an official working at the Savings and Advance Association, donated his life savings to establish a park bearing his name. It was opened on the other side of the Olza. Its founder wanted it to be a place for people to exercise. He was inspired by a dynamically developing movement which promoted physical culture. Sokół Gymnastics Society was one of the organizations active in this field. In 1914, it was here that a group of 400 volunteers exercised and formed the so-called Silesian Legion. In September of the same year, it joined the Polish Legions and took part in the fight for Polish independence.
In the next decades, numerous sports and leisure facilities were built here. These were for example the stadium of Stal Sports Club (it was a sports club formed in Celma Factory, today the building is called the Town Stadium), the Sports Arena of Piast Sports Club, a new town swimming pool (built in 1952), tennis courts, outdoor obstacle courses, gyms and playgrounds for kids. A little bit further, there is a pitch called Pod Wałką and a kayak pond. It was created on one of the arms of the Młynówka Canal after the third weir was rebuilt in 1925 (its total area is about 0.4 ha and it measures about 190x20 m). In later years, a campsite was created near the pond (today, the campsite is called Olza). Most of these sports and leisure facilities were modernized in recent years or are currently undergoing modernization (which was described elsewhere).
Another interesting fact about the abovementioned lands is that there are several nature reserves in the area. Two of them were established in 1961: the Municipal Woods on the Puńcówka (with total area of about 7 ha) and the Municipal Woods on the Olza (with total area of a little over 3 ha). They are flora reserves whose aim is to protect herbaceous plants, including Hacquetia epipactis. In the woods by the Puńcówka, there are 184 species of plants, and by the Olza, there are 170 species. The reserves also protect the relics of a mixed, mostly hornbeam deciduous forest growing on the riverside. The third nature reserve in Cieszyn is Kopce, a forest reserve located in the northern part of the town, in its district called Marklowice. Its total area is almost 15 ha and it is also located near the Olza. Its aim is to protect a mixed forest with precious undergrowth and about 160 species of plants, as well as rare species of fauna, including 5 species of beetles entered into the list of threatened species.
Discovering new interesting facts about the town on the Olza, related to both its past and present, can be truly fascinating. Its past, culture, habits, location, monuments and nature give this town a multi-cultural, varied and characteristic atmosphere which invites us to visit and get to know it.