A city in the mountains. Bielsko-Biała is located on the River Biała in the south of Poland at the foot of the Beskid mountains. For centuries the river was a border between the historical provinces of Silesia and Lesser Poland. With a population of 170,000 the city has been the capital of the region known for several decades as Podbeskidzie. Associated mainly with the automotive and electrotechnical industries, it was until recently the second major textile hub after Łódź. In terms of development potential, it now ranks as one of the top ten Polish cities. Bielsko-Biała, being near the borders of two other countries, is surrounded by a welldeveloped transport hub on land (motorways), rail and in the air (three airports located nearby).
The history of the town of Bielsko begins in 1312. The first mention of the town is in a document pertaining to the transfer of forests by Mieszko, Duke of Cieszyn, to the inhabitants of Bielsko. By the 16th century, the city had become a prominent centre for the production of woollen fabrics. The requisite raw materials, such as wool and water, were readily available owing to the numerous sheep grazing in the Beskid mountains and the location of Bielsko which was sited on a river. Across the river - for centuries a border between countries - lay the hamlet of Biała, which received town rights in 1723.
As a consequence of the industrial revolution, both towns developed rapidly, and after the second half of the 19th century they were viewed as being one single industrial centre. Forming a deutsche sprachinsel (German language island), German Lutherans lived side by side with Catholic Poles and Jews, creating a distinctive melting pot of nationalities and faiths. The intertwining history of Bielsko and Biała includes events from the past that were to determine the formation as well as the destruction of cultural continuity and had an impact on the shaping of local identity. The trigger for the first major social change was the Second World War and the Holocaust. As a consequence of these tragic events, the German and Jewish communities disappeared from the map of the city. The abandoned districts were then populated by inhabitants of the surrounding villages and newcomers from various parts of Poland. Many valuable elements of the region's multicultural heritage were lost in this process.
In 1951 the two towns merged into one to become Bielsko-Biała. It was a formal sanctioning of something that had existed for years. One of the most important stimuli for the development of the city in the 1970s was the construction of the Compact Car Factory, where an icon of the Polish automotive industry – the Fiat 126p – began to be produced. The expansion of the automotive industry resulted in further changes - the number of inhabitants increased, and the city grew rapidly. Subsequent years brought more important economic change. The smoking chimneys of the textile factories disappeared from the city’s landscape, and the automotive industry became the main branch of manufacturing.
Despite all the social changes and historical turmoil, some things have remained the same. Just as it was centuries ago, so today the lives of our inhabitants carry on in a close bond with nature. This interweaving of culture and nature defines the distinctiveness of Bielsko-Biała, with 30% of the city being covered by forests. Together with the surrounding mountains, they shape Bielsko-Biała’s unique character and are some of its greatest touristic and natural assets. We have eighteen peaks within our administrative borders, a ski slope, and a peak towering 600 m above the city (Mount Szyndzielnia - 1028 m above sea level), plus a network of mountain bike trails.