A common story heard in Wroclaw is “why is this street named like that?”. Visitors, citizens and even those born and brought up in Wroclaw often do not know the real origin of the names, especially when the modern name.
Today, the most curious example is in Plac Muzealny (Museum Square), located just 800 meters away from the Market Square and close to Plac Legionów (Legion Square). If you walk that way today, there is only a typical 1960’s school building within the square, so how did it get the name?
To begin the investigation, we should first look at the ground. There are still some tram lines lying on the eastern part of the square, which hint at the previous importance of this area. These lines connect into the existing line along Podwale Street, but more intriguingly, evidence on the ground suggests that the line ran along Plac Muzealy before connecting into the lines on Piłsudskiego Street. Further evidence on the ground on Zielinskiego Street shows that trams also ran there, meaning that Plac Muzealny would have been an integral part of an important tram corridor. This is confirmed by historical research, which shows that the line actually was one of the most important tram corridors, stretching from Borek in the south, through the heart of the Old Town and terminating at the modern day Kromera tram stop.
With this in mind, we can now look at the name itself. In fact, Plac Muzealny was home to one of Lower Silesia’s finest museums before World War 2, the Schlesisches Museum für bildende Künste in Breslau. This translates as the Silesian Museum of Fine Arts in Wroclaw, and the building itself was built on a truly monumental scale. The building itself occupied most of the square, and was designed to look like an ancient Greek temple. Construction finished in 1880, and it rapidly became one of the most important centres of cultural life in Silesia.
The museum hosted exhibits by many important artists, holding even a Picasso and a Van Gogh among its notable collection, while also providing a home for many notable German artists. Inside, 14 separate exhibition halls provided space for both temporary and permanent exhibitions, and the collection included a wide range of Silesian art ranging from the 12th to the 19th centuries.
Unfortunately, war broke out, and the collection was moved to hiding places all over Lower Silesia. This wasn’t enough to save the collection, and most of it was either destroyed due to the war or stolen in the chaos, and only a small amount of the pre-war collection was saved. Some of this is now in the National Museum of Poland in Warsaw, with 7 pieces remaining in the post-war National Museum in Wroclaw.
The building itself was heavily damaged during the war, and stayed in a destroyed state until 1964. At that time, it was decided to completely demolish the building and replace it with the current School #13, which was built on the site in 1969 as part of the Millenial Education programme. Today, the site no longer holds any importance, with even the main road connection to Pilsudski Street now being severed. Time changes everything, and this part of Wroclaw has seen dramatic changes over the previous 100 years.