Kłodzko is a delight for the eyes: its Old Town is perched on a rambling hillside, surrounded by winding, steep streets. Overhanging houses and Gothic architecture give this small town a wild, romantic feeling.
Kłodzko is one of the oldest towns in Poland’s Silesia region: it’s estimated to be about 1,000 years old. In that long time, it – like most towns and cities in this most south-western part of the country – has seen much. It changed ownership every 100 years or so, getting grabbed by Bohemia, Austria and Prussia; it was largely due to Kłodzko’s strategic geographical position that its neighbours were constantly tustling amongst themselves for control of it. Additionally, its river location made it an ideal town for trade, commerce and the importation of wealth via water. The town’s fortuned waxed and waned and finally, ownership of it came down firmly on the Polish side of the border, after the Second World War.
The majestic Kłodzko Fortress is not beautiful, but it is impressive: it sits at the top of a hill, overlooking the entire town. Squat, solid, and witness to a siege by Napolean in 1807, it is the dominant feature of this lovely town, and its most recognisable landmark. Well worth a visit, it is open daily in the summer months between 9:00 and 18:00. Set aside an entire morning if you decide to go: the fortress is truly massive. How massive is it? Well, the Austrian rulers started to build it in 1662 - and the Prussians finally completed it 200 years later. It is sprawled over 17 hectares, the lower walls are 11 meters thick, the ‘thin’ upper walls are a mere four meters. In one of its courtyards, you can take abseiling lessons. It is, in fact, the largest fortress of its kind in the entire country – and in a country that had to fortify and protect itself against invaders every few deacdes, this is really saying something.
As impressive as the fortress itself is, what most visitors come for are the defensive tunnels, an extensive network deep below the fortress itself. Dating back to the Prussian era –which started in the early 18th century – the tunnels were excavated by prisoners of war. Today, there are guided 40-minute tours of the labyrinthine depths which take visitors on a 1 kilometer circuit. Claustrophobics take note: there are some places so low that you need to bend double or even crawl; note also that although there are torches and lights, much of the tour is conducted in semi-darkness. Despite the slight discomfort, the tunnel tours are a big hit with kids – and with most everyone else, really.