Wroclaw is one of my favourite cities in Poland, and with good reason (I actually listed 14 reasons to visit Wroclaw here if you’d like to know why!). Not only is it beautiful, but it has an amazing foodie scene and nightlife to boot.
However, perhaps the most unique thing about Wroclaw is something else entirely – you see, Wroclaw is home to over 350 little bronze dwarfs (krasnale in Polish) dotted around the city centre! This army of little people can be found lurking in alleyways, swinging from lampposts and swigging from bottles of vodka (yes, really), and nobody knows exactly how many Wroclaw dwarfs exist!
Way back in 2015, 350 Wroclaw dwarfs were counted, but official estimates put their number at over 400! Robert Rasała, who manages the ‘Official Dwarf Information Centre’ in the Market Square (I’m not joking) says ‘we lost count of their population several years ago,’ confirming that the Wroclaw dwarfs are indeed running rampant around the city!
Wroclaw’s dwarfs come in many different forms and each one has its own character. From butchers to bankers, drunks to doctors and professors to postmen, each dwarf really is unique, and some of them really are quite funny!
Why are there so many Wroclaw dwarfs?!
Lighthearted and gimmicky as they may seem, Wroclaw dwarfs actually have a very important history.
Back in the 1980’s, during the Soviet era, when the shops were empty and people weren’t allowed to go out at night, an anti-communist resistance movement named the Orange Alternative was born in Wroclaw. Using a dwarf as their symbol, the movement protested the government’s censorship of freedom of speech and public gatherings by defacing communist propaganda with paintings of mischievous little dwarfs, the idea being to show people that the situation was absurd and that they shouldn’t be afraid, as well as giving them the opportunity to protest in a peaceful way. At one stage, there were more than 1000 dwarf paintings all around Poland!
As popularity of the group grew, its leader Waldemar Fydrych began leading marches through the streets advocating for ‘dwarfs’ rights,’ and tiny dwarf drawings began popping up all over Poland! The Orange Alternative really succeeded in bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds to protest against an oppressive system that they had been suffering under for years.
Since the fall of communism in the 1990’s, the Orange Alternative became inactive, but in order to commemorate them, the city placed a large statue of a dwarf (named Papa Dwarf) on Świdnicka Street in 2001, which is where the Orange Alternative used to gather.
This inspired local artist Tomasz Moczek decided to create dozens more tiny bronze sculptures, each representing a different part of Wroclaw’s history or daily life. Today, he has created more than 100 Wroclaw dwarfs, prompting other local sculptors to design their own!
But what do the Wroclaw dwarfs have to do with tourism?
Well, quite a lot, actually.
Wroclaw’s dwarfs have become so popular that people from all over the world are coming to Wroclaw to go dwarf hunting, an activity that has prompted the city to launch its own website dedicated to the little people, where you can read about each dwarf’s name, back story and unique habits.
If that’s not enough then you can even go to the Official Dwarf Information Centre and pick up a map to help you find them (or download the app if you’d prefer). Of course, a huge benefit of this is that you end up discovering parts of Wroclaw that you never would have if you’d simply been ticking off the main Wroclaw attractions off your list! For those of you who don’t fancy hunting for the dwarfs yourselves, you can even attend Wroclaw dwarf walking tours, where the local guide will take you to the most famous Wroclaw dwarfs and explain their history to you.
For those of you that find yourselves in Wroclaw in September, make sure not to miss the International Dwarf Festival, a three-day event where stone carvers demonstrate just how the city’s dwarfs are made and jugglers, gymnasts and storytellers come together to entertain the entire city. There is even a ‘Great Wroclaw Parade of Dwarfs’ through the city! There is singing, theatre, face painting and more at this fantastically bizarre celebration, and it’s certainly worth paying a visit if you want to see just how much the city of Wroclaw cherishes its little people!
Have you been to Wroclaw and seen the dwarfs? Which is your favourite? Perhaps your city has its own little quirk like this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!