The Opole Voivodeship (Polish: Województwo Opolskie) is located in
south-western Poland and borders on the Lower Silesian Voivodeship to
the west, the Greater Poland and Łódź Voivodeships to the north, the
Silesian Voivodeship to the east and the Czech Republic to the south.
Opole is characterized by the Silesian lowlands on the Oder and by the
mountains and hills of the Sudetes in the south and the
Kraków-Częstochowa Jura and the Silesian plateau in the north and east.
The capital and largest city is Opole in the center of the voivodeship.
Except for the capital, there are no other major cities.
In this region you will find numerous brick Gothic churches, fortified towers and castles and beautiful lake districts. There are good water sports opportunities (kayaks, swimming, sailing, diving) at the four large reservoirs and the rivers. The kayak route along the Glatzer Neisse is very varied. Hikers and winter sports enthusiasts get their money's worth in the Reichenstein Mountains, which reach a height of up to approx. 900 meters in the voivodeship area with the Bischofskoppe. The Jura and the Silesian plateau, which reaches a height of over 400 meters above sea level on the Sankt Annaberg, are also interesting hiking areas. The hilly foothills of the Sudeten, for example the Leobschützer Loess Hügelland, has its own charm. In particular, the provincial capital of Opole offers an interesting cultural program.
The area came under Mieszko I together with all of Silesia before 990 to the emerging Polish state. After the fragmentation of Poland in 1138, Opole belonged to the Principality of Silesia with its capital in Wrocław, but soon after the partition of Silesia it became a principality with its capital in Opole. It belonged to Upper Silesia, which split into other principalities, some of which came to Bohemia and some remained with Poland in the 14th century. The Bohemian part came to the Habsburgs in 1526 and to Prussia in 1742. After the First World War, Upper Silesia was divided after a referendum and Oppeln remained with the German Reich, while the eastern part around Katowice went to Poland. In 1939 the eastern part of Upper Silesia was occupied by the Wehrmacht and in 1945 by the Red Army. In the course of Poland's westward shift after the Potsdam Agreement, the eastern part of Upper Silesia, which had previously been divided, also came to Poland. Since 1945, Opole has been a separate voivodeship in Poland, and in 1999 it received its current form.
Today, the Opole Voivodeship is the center of the German-speaking minority in Poland. In the 2011 census, more than 78,000 people stated that they were (also) German, which corresponds to approx. e.g. identify as both German and Pole). In around 20 communities, Germans make up more than 20% of the population, where German is the second official language and bilingual place-name signs have been put up. The German cultural traditions are maintained by the Social-Cultural Society of Germans in Opole Silesia. Another 100,000 citizens indicated their ethnicity as (also) "Silesian" (either only Silesian or Silesian and Polish).
The official language of the Opole Voivodeship is Polish, in the
communities with a larger German minority also German.
The colloquial language of some residents is Silesian, a Polish dialect of Upper Silesia. Many Poles also speak good or very good English or German. Some also speak other foreign languages such as Russian, Spanish, French or Italian, which are mainly spoken and understood in the large and tourist-relevant cities.
The name comes from the capital Opole. The Opole region historically
belongs to Upper Silesia, of which Opole originally was the capital. In
the west, small parts of Lower Silesia also belong to the Opole
Voivodeship, which make up about 20% of its area, which in the Middle
Ages belonged to the Principality of Neisse. Parts of the north are in
historical Wielkopolska (Weluner Land), parts of the south are in
In the north-east, the voivodeship has a share in the Kraków-Częstochowa Jura with its chalk cliffs:
A small part of the Woischnik-Welun Plateau is located in the Voivodeship.
In the east, the voivodeship has a share of the Silesian plateau with its highest elevation, the Sankt Annaberg.
The Oder Valley runs through the Silesian Plain in the Voivodeship from the south-east to the north-west. Here, with the Falkenberg Heath, is also the largest forest area in the voivodeship.
Southwest of the Oder Valley is the hilly foothills of the Sudeten, which extends to Lower Silesia.
The voivodeship has a share in the East Sudetes in the south-west.
The Reichenstein Mountains are located in the border triangle of Lower Silesia and Moravia south of the Glatzer Neisse.
The Zuckmanteler Bergland has the highest mountains in the region. On the territory of the voivodeship they reach up to about 900 meters in altitude. On the Moravian side they are over 1,100 meters above sea level.
Until 1945 this region was part of the Prussian province of Upper
Silesia. After World War II in 1946, the area became part of the
Silesian Voivodeship (1945–1950). An Opole Voivodeship was created for
the first time in 1950 by division of the Silesian Voivodeship
(1945–1950), in which the districts of Brzeg and Namysłów were annexed
to the new voivodeship.
Administrative reforms in 1975 and 1998 led to border corrections and the exchange of territories, see Opole Voivodeship (1975–1998)
In the third territorial reform of 1975, the Racibórz District was included in the Katowice Voivodeship and a part of the Olesno District in the Częstochowa Voivodeship, thus including a part of the historically non-Silesian Weluner Land landscape on the right bank of the Prosna.
In a fourth territorial reform in 1999, which initially had the aim of forming 12 large voivodeships based on the model of the German states, the Opole voivodeship was to be dissolved according to plans by the Polish government. The western part with the districts of Brzeg and Namysłów was to be ceded to the Lower Silesian Voivodeship and most of the voivodeship was to form the Silesian Voivodeship together with the Katowice Voivodeship and parts of the Częstochowa and Bielsko-Biała Voivodeships. However, the population of the Opole Voivodeship put up enormous resistance to these government plans, since the formation of the Silesian Voivodeship would eliminate the influence of the German minority in the regional government. The resistance was supported not only by the German minority from the region, but also by the Polish Silesians and Poles, who feel connected to their province.
With the dissolution of the Częstochowa Voivodeship in 1999, the Olesno County was finally re-affiliated to the Opole Voivodeship after 24 years. In 2006, Radlau became the first officially bilingual municipality in the voivodeship and introduced German as the second official language.
Today's Opole Voivodeship arose from the Opole Voivodeship that existed from 1975 to 1998.