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La Dolce Vita di Bielsko-Biała

2024-06-27
La Dolce Vita di Bielsko-Biała
To capture the essence of high summer, we look for the La Dolce Vita in Bielsko-Biała, exploring Silesia’s Little Italy and the city’s fascinating history.

There comes a short time each year when the Central European climate feels almost like that of Italy. Temperatures surge above 30*, the sun shines mercilessly and the scorching hot streets drive everyone into air-conditioned interiors. Closer to the sunset, pleasantly warm evenings lure everyone back outside, for a stroll or to the bar; preferably in good company. Life is enjoyed more in the summer.

Photo: Camilla Lubecka

 


That’s where the term La Dolce Vita comes into play - today, more than with the title of Federico Fellini's famous 1960 film depicting the glamorous and sometimes decadent life in Rome, it is associated with images of a carefree existence filled with indulgence, whether that be in good food, fine wine, beautiful surroundings or leisurely activities; a relaxed and pleasurable way of life, the idyllic fantasy of Italian culture.

So, why did we go to Bielsko-Biała of all cities to look for it?!

We’ll explain that in a while.

 

Bielsko-Biała, of all Silesian cities, has a very interesting history. For most of its history (until 1951), it was not one but two separate jurisdictions - and, moreover, often separated by a border; sometimes between two vastly different regions, sometimes even countries.

You have to know that the little river, Biała, which splits the city in half, used to be a significant historical frontier; in the past, it separated two duchies, two countries, two provinces, and two voivodeships. The now-connected parts, Bielsko and Biała, over time were ruled by the Piast dynasty, Silesian dukes, Bohemian kings, Austrian kaisers, Austro-Hungarian emperors and Polish governments; all of these shaped the architecture and appearance of the city today. Due to the fact that many of the landmarks were constructed under Austrian rule, the city was even sometimes called Little Vienna.

Moreover, the region in which the city is located was known as Bielitz-Bialaer Sprachinsel for a few centuries, the German language enclave surrounded by Polish-speaking territories; a relic of colonization under German law in the early Middle Ages. A true cultural melting pot, with a lot of not-so-boring history, right?

Although what I have just recounted may not immediately explain the La Dolce Vita title and the Italian connection, believe me, it’s there; just not in this part of history.

 

Ethnographic map of austrian monarchy czoernig 1855

When we look into what was happening in the 19th and 20th centuries, the references suddenly become clearer.

First, there was an interesting period in history during which Bielsko, Biała, Milano, and Venezia were part of the same state for a few decades (you didn’t know that, did you?). For some other cities of modern-day Italy, such as Trento or Trieste, this was even true for over a hundred years. To put that into perspective: that’s longer than Bielsko and Biała have been Bielsko-Biała together!

Second, the more modern history, history of the industrialization. The city became a very important center for two industries: textile and automotive. While usually it is the first one that appeals to us, this time it is all about cars. Italian cars.

 


In 1973, FSM (this abbreviation literally stands for Small Car Factory in Polish) began producing Fiat 126 under license - as Polski Fiat 126p. This required not only parts, schemes, and technology but also the know-how of the Italian engineers. Many of them started coming to Bielsko-Biała to help set up the new factory, staying in Poland for a few weeks, months, or years.

The trend become even more prominent when in the early 1990s FSM was privatized and acquired by FIAT and the plant shifted to Cinquecento production. This brought even more Italian companies to the city, setting up the businesses and factories to cater to manufacturer’s needs.

 

The food and culture followed - even today, Italians are the second biggest foreign group in the city and the trattoria per capita index might be just about the highest in Poland; if only someone measured that.

Fair enough, we feel that Bielsko-Biała truly deserves to claim the title of the Little Italy of Poland.

 


And if you still have any doubts, just look at the pictures. Aren’t Gabrysia, Paweł, and Radek enjoying their La Dolce Vita?

 



 


 

 

 

 

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