Greater Poland, or Wielkopolska, is one of Poland’s largest regions, covered by lakes and hills in the north and a flat plain in the south. It encompasses the Wielkopolska National Park, part of Drawno National Park, and 12 designated Landscape Parks. Its capital is Poznań. There are several other urban areas, and more than half of the province’s population lives in cities and towns.
As the capital city of the Poland’s second largest province, Wielkopolska, or Greater Poland, Poznań is second only to Warsaw in terms of financial importance. It is first, however, in establishing Polish identity, being the birthplace of its first crowned ruler, Bolesław the Brave. His tomb, along with those of other Polish rulers, is in the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, on an island in Warta River. The first Roman Catholic diocese in Poland was built in Poznań, when Boleslaw’s father Prince Mieszko I converted to Christianity in 966 AD.
Steeped in culture and history, this city by the Warta River in western Poland was founded in 1253. It suffered damages during World War II, but many of its important historical buildings were restored, such as the Renaissance-era town houses surrounding the Town Hall in the Old Market Square, and several old churches and castles, museums and universities. Some notable royal homes in the outskirts of Poznań are the neo-classical palace in Rogalin, which has a museum, an art gallery and a lovely park, and the neo-Gothic castle in Kornik, with its preserved furniture collection, library and an arboretum containing Poland’s largest collection of trees and plant species. Rogalin also has the oldest oak trees in Europe, numbering about a thousand.
Poznań is currently a thriving commercial, industrial and academic centre, with one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the country. The Poznań International Fair in June is one of the oldest in the world, and its largest attraction is the St. John’s Market, a huge art and crafts trade fair. Its international trade fair complex is Poland’s largest, where 20 to 30 global and regional exhibits and conferences are held annually.
Poznań is one of those rare urban centres where dynamic trade and business activities are matched by a strong arts, culture and academic scene. The city has almost 20 museums, around 60 art galleries, several theatres, many choirs and orchestras, a permanent opera house and concert hall.
Every five years the city holds the prestigious H. Wieniawski Violin Competition, and it serves as the base of the internationally acclaimed boys’ choir, Poznań Nightingales, and that of the Poznań Ballet. Education has also long been part of Poznańian life, with its first college, the Lubranski Academy, having been established in 1518. The city now has about a dozen colleges and universities, with around 10 percent of its 600,000 residents all being students.
Almost 20 percent of its entire land area is devoted to public parks, forests and nature reserves, including a botanical garden and Poland’s oldest and biggest palm house. Poznań is the only Polish city with two zoos, one of which is the country’s oldest, founded in 1874. Hiking trails on the city’s outskirts include one that passes through the meteorite reserve at Morasko. The city also has four lakes, with its largest one, Lake Malta, the most popular for recreational activities.
Stary Rynek, or the Old Market Square, is the centre of city life, with its Renaissance Town Hall, elegant old Renaissance and Baroque merchant houses, cafés, restaurants, craft stores, art galleries, antique shops, and Art Deco apartment buildings.
At eastern Poznań lies the splendid man-made Lake Malta, created from the dammed waters of the Cybina River. The lake was named after the Mediterranean country, home of the Knights of Malta, who put up the St. John’s Convent in Poznań in the late 12th century. They owned the property from which the lake was formed. It covers an area of 64 hectares and its coastal length reaches 2.2 kilometres.
The lake has become a major leisure spot and favourite destination for water sports, especially for local and international rowing and canoeing contests. A family-friendly destination, the lake area has several hotels, resorts, restaurants, bars and cafés. Swimming, hiking and biking are just as popular as roller skating, and there’s also an artificial ski slope, that operates year-round. The outdoor shows of the Malta International Theatre Festival are held here during the summer season. In winter, an ice-skating rink is set up on the lake’s western section.