Breslau (Polish Wraclaw), a city of Germany, capital of the Prussian province of Silesia, and an episcopal see, situated in a wide and fertile plain on both banks of the navigable Oder, 350 m. from its mouth, at the influx of the Ohle, and 202 m. from Berlin on the railway to Vienna. Pop. (1867) 171,926; (1880) 272,912; (1885) 299,640; (1890) 335,186; (1905) 470,751, about 60% being Protestants, 35% Roman Catholics and nearly 5% Jews. The Oder, which here breaks into several arms, divides the city into two unequal halves, crossed by numerous bridges. The larger portion, on the left bank, includes the old or inner town, surrounded by beautiful promenades, on the site of the ramparts, dismantled after 1813, from an eminence within which, the Liebichs Höhe, a fine view is obtained of the surrounding country. Outside, as well as across the Oder, lies the new town with extensive suburbs, containing, especially in the Schweidnitz quarter in the south, and the Oder quarter in the north, many handsome streets and spacious squares. The inner town, in contrast to the suburbs, still retains with its narrow streets much of its ancient characters, and contains several medieval buildings, both religious and secular, of great beauty and interest.
The cathedral, dedicated to St John the Baptist, was begun in 1148 and completed at the close of the 15th century, enlarged in the 17th and 18th centuries, and restored between 1873 and 1875; it is rich in notable treasures, especially the high altar of beaten silver, and in beautiful paintings and sculptures. The Kreuzkirche (church of the Holy Cross), dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, is an interesting brick building, remarkable for its stained glass and its historical monuments, among which is the tomb of Henry IV., duke of Silesia. The Sandkirche, so called from its dedication to Our Lady on the Sand, dates from the 14th century, and was until 1810 the church of the Augustinian canons. The Dorotheenor Minoritenkirche, remarkable for its high-pitched roof, was founded by the emperor Charles IV. in 1351. These are the most notable of the Roman Catholic churches. Of the Evangelical churches the most important is that of St Elizabeth, founded about 1250, rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries, and restored in 1857. Its lofty tower contains the largest bell in Silesia, and the church possesses a celebrated organ, fine stained glass, a magnificent stone pyx (erected in 1455) over 52 ft. high, and portraits of Luther and Melanchthon by Lucas Cranach. The church of St Mary Magdalen, built in the 14th century on the model of the cathedral, has two lofty Gothic towers connected by a bridge, and is interesting as having been the church in which, in 1523, the reformation in Silesia was first proclaimed.
Other noteworthy ecclesiastical buildings are the graceful Gothic church of St Michael built in 1871, the bishop's palace and the Jewish synagogue, the finest in Germany after that in Berlin.
The business streets of the city converge upon the Ring, the market square, in which is the town-hall, a fine Gothic building, begun in the middle of the 14th and completed in the 16th century. Within is the Fürstensaal, in which the diets of Silesia were formerly held, while beneath is the famous Schweidnitzer Keller, used continuously since 1355 as a beer and wine house. The university, a spacious Gothic building facing the Oder, is a striking edifice. It was built (1728-1736) as a college by the Jesuits, on the site of the former imperial castle presented to them by the emperor Leopold I., and contains a magnificent hall (Aula Leopoldina), richly ornamented with frescoes and capable of holding 1200 persons. Breslau possesses a large number of other important public buildings: the Stadthaus (civic hall), the royal palace, the government offices (a handsome pile erected in 1887), the provincial House of Assembly, the municipal archives, the courts of law, the Silesian museum of arts and crafts and antiquities, stored in the former assembly hall of the estates (Ständehaus), which was rebuilt for the purpose, the museum of fine arts, the exchange, the Stadt and Lobe theatres, the post office and central railway station. There are also numerous hospitals and schools.
Breslau is exceedingly rich in fine monuments; the most noteworthy being the equestrian statues of Frederick the Great and Frederick William III., both by Kiss; the statue of Blücher by Rauch; a marble statue of General Tauentzien by Langhans and Schadow; a bronze statue of Karl Gottlieb Svarez (1746-1798), the Prussian jurist, a monument to Schleiermacher, born here in 1768, and statues of the emperor William I., Bismarck and Moltke. There are also several handsome fountains. Foremost among the educational establishments stands the university, founded in 1702 by the emperor Leopold I. as a Jesuit college, and greatly extended by the incorporation of the university of Frankfort-on-Oder in 1811. Its library contains 306,000 volumes and 4000 MSS., and has in the so-called Bibliotheca Habichtiana a valuable collection of oriental literature. Among its auxiliary establishments are botanical gardens, an observatory, and anatomical, physiological and kindred institutions. There are eight classical and four modern schools, two higher girls' schools, a Roman Catholic normal school, a Jewish theological seminary, a school of arts and crafts, and numerous literary and charitable foundations. It is, however, as a commercial and industrial city that Breslau is most widely known.
Its situation, close to the extensive coal and iron fields of Upper Silesia, in proximity to the Austrian and Russian frontiers, at the centre of a network of railways directly communicating both with these countries and with the chief towns of northern and central Germany, and on a deep waterway connecting with the Elbe and the Vistula, facilitates its very considerable transit and export trade in the products of the province and of the neighbouring countries. These embrace coal, sugar, cereals, spirits, petroleum and timber. The local industries comprise machinery and tools, railway and tramway carriages, furniture, cast-iron goods, gold and silver work, carpets, furs, cloth and cottons, paper, musical instruments, glass and china. Breslau is the headquarters of the VI. German army corps and contains a large garrison of troops of all arms.