Gnomes live ten times faster than humans. They’re harder to see than a high-speed mouse. That’s one reason why most humans hardly ever see them. The other is that humans are very good at not seeing things they know aren’t there. And, since sensible humans know that there are no such things as people four inches high, a gnome who doesn’t want to be seen probably won’t be seen. — Terry Pratchett, ‘Wings’
Wrocław, Poland’s fourth largest city is a magical place. And really, when a city looks like this, how can it be described any differently? But Wrocław’s beautiful, colourful architecture isn’t the only reason the city holds some magic. You see, humans aren’t the only inhabitants of the city. In fact, Wrocław is home to a booming gnome population! Over 300 gnomes statues are scattered across the city, making this legion of little people one of the defining attractions of Wrocław.
The birth of Wrocław’s gnomes
There’s an interesting history behind the gnome settlement here. In the 1980s, when Poland was still controlled by the USSR, gnomes began to slowly and mysteriously appear all over the city; a calling card of the underground Orange Alternative movement who began using silliness and absurdity as a subversive protest against oppression. Led by artist and art history student, Waldemar Fydrych, the movement began when its members began dressing up as gnomes and using spray paint to graffiti images of gnomes on meticulously controlled public spaces. The communist government, in its ultimately futile effort to censor public spaces, appeared ridiculous as they furiously scrubbed the gnomes down. Freshly painted walls egged the protesters on who immediately scrawled new gnomes as replacements.
Can you treat a police officer seriously, when he is asking you the question – Why did you participate in an illegal meeting of dwarfs? — Waldemar Frydrych
Wrocław’s gnomes today
As time wore on, gnomes became inextricably linked to Wrocław and in 2001 the city decided to honour the gnome as a symbol of freedom by commissioning a gnome statue in the original place where the Orange Alternative used to demonstrate. From this point onwards, gnomes quickly began appearing all over Wrocław, as many businesses started commissioning their own and placing them outside their businesses. Today, hundreds of them are hiding all across the city.
Gnome hunting makes for a fun, unique activity in Wrocław — that is, if you can find them! Most of them are tiny, only reaching eight inches tall. Keep your eyes peeled as you wander around town or you’ll miss them!
Gnomes are so well loved in Wrocław that they even have their own official website. Check it out here for all the information you need on their whereabouts, their names and their individual little stories.
Have you encountered any quirky attractions on your travels? Share your experiences below!