Wrocław’s pride and joy is this giant painting of the battle for Polish independence fought at Racławice on 4 April 1794, between the Polish army led by Tadeusz Kościuszko and Russian troops under General Alexander Tormasov. The Poles won but it was all for naught: months later the nationwide insurrection was crushed by the tsarist army. The canvas measures 15m by 114m, and is wrapped around the internal walls of a purpose-built rotunda.
Visits are by guided audio tours, departing every half hour. The small rotunda (free admission) behind the ticket office features a model of the battlefield and the uniforms of forces engaged in the battle.
The painting came into being when, a century after the battle, it was commissioned by a group of patriots in Lviv (then the Polish city of Lwów). The two main artists, Jan Styka and Wojciech Kossak, were helped by seven other painters who did the background scenes and details. They completed the monumental canvas in just over nine months, using 750kg of paint.
After WWII the painting was sent to Wrocław, but since it depicted a defeat of the Russians (then Poland’s official friend and liberator), the communist authorities were reluctant to put it on display. The pavilion built for the panorama in 1967 sat empty until 1985, when the canvas was shown for the first time in more than four decades.