Nikiszowiec: Katowice’s old mining district4 min read
Katowice is a city of more than 300,000 inhabitants, at the centre of one of Europe’s principal coal-mining and iron-making regions.
In the nineteenth century it was part of the Prussian province of Silesia, but from 1922 was incorporated into Poland.
Nikiszowiec is a part of an administrative district Janów-Nikiszowiec of the city.
Initially it was coal miners’ settlement of Giesche mine built on the land of Giszowiec manor between 1908–1918 on the mining metallurgical concern initiative Georg von Giesches Erben, a Silesian mining corporation that originated in the early eighteenth century at the Nickisch (now Poniatowski) mine, one of 14 in the Giesche (now Wieczorek) colliery complex.
Nikiszowiec is not the only Silesian workers’ housing estate to be preserved in its original form, but it is definitely the most popular.
In the 1880s, the booming mining company Georg von Giesche’s Erben, which already owned several industrial plants in Silesia, started to purchase land south-east of Katowice.
The corporation was one of the largest mining concerns operating in Upper Silesia during interwar, and It had the largest Polish zinc output (40% of Poland’s zinc production) out of the largest zinc mines in Europe. It was also one of the largest bituminous coal producers (3,500,000 tons yearly), and It had smelters and rolling mills, factories and agricultural and forests properties.
Soon afterwards, mines started to be built around the pitheads, and more workers were needed.
Already in the first years of the 20th century, it was quite common practice for the owners of large factories to build housing estates for workers close-by: workers living next to the workplace did not have to waste time commuting, and It was also easier to control them.
Moreover, a company flat was an incentive to take up work far from ones’ place of birth, but it was also a method of disciplining employees because a dismissed worker would lose also the roof over his head.
This estate was the first established for the workers employed in the mines of Georg von Giesche’s Erben.
Built between 1907 and 1910, it was designed according to the idea of a garden town which was very fashionable at that time, with two, three and four-family houses surrounded by greenery in the form of rural cottages. The familoks (family dwellings) were arranged in nine blocks each with its own courtyard.
Its centre was a square with stylistically similar retail and service buildings.
Georg and Emil Zillmann, from Charlottenburg, Germany, were responsible for the project.
The estate was named “Nickisch”, the same as the mine shaft next to which it was built, and which in turn owed its name to Baron Nickisch von Rosenegk, a member of the board of directors of the Giesche company.
It was built entirely of brick and, despite it seems that the houses in it are identical, they many differing details, as individual quarters differ in size and plan, and the houses have different shapes of window bays, gates and window frames. And there were no two identical entrances to the staircases, out of a total of 126.
However, the building’s most characteristic elements, appearing also in many other similar worker colonies in Silesia, are the window niches painted red, because red paint was the cheapest and most easily accessible. The church was put into service in 1927 because, after the outbreak of World War I, its construction was interrupted for several years.
The community was intended to be self-sufficient, and had shops, bakeries, a hospital, a pharmacy, public baths, a public laundry, playgrounds and a hostel for unmarried workers.
Until 1977 a narrow gauge railway called Balkan ran parallel to one of the main streets and took miners to their work.
But Nikiszowiec is not only a characteristic example of architecture.
The housing estate played also an important role in history, as an important place for participants in numerous worker strikes and subsequent Silesian uprisings. In a poll concerning the national affiliation of the region after World War I, 72% of Nikiszowiec residents voted in favour of Silesia joining Poland. Events that became the basis for the screenplays of Kazimierz Kutz’s films Salt of the Black Earth and Pearl in the Crown, both shot in Nikiszowiec.
However, after many mines were liquidated as a result of the political transformation, and employment was significantly reduced, Nikiszowiec started to struggle with serious social problems.
Luckily, it was discovered by tourists and still today it is one of the most visited places in all of Silesia, and like other historical districts it started to attract new residents and became fashionable.
The estate has preserved its original appearance to this day, except for its courtyards, which have been arranged according to modern needs.
In 1978 it was entered in its entirety into the register of Poland’s official national Historic Monuments (Pomnik historii), and tracked by the National Heritage Board of Poland.