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The Warsaw Voice » Society » December 2, 2009
Mazovia Heritage
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Linen Town
December 2, 2009   
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Żyrardów is one of the newest towns in Mazovia province, but its history is one of the most unusual in the region. In terms of urban planning, Żyrardów is like nothing else in Europe. The name of the town derives from the surname of a French engineer called Philippe de Girard.

Girard, the inventor of the flax spinning frame, came to Poland in the first half of the 19th century, summoned by Henryk Łubieński, who represented the Polish government of the time. Officials hired de Girard to build a textile industry center from scratch, a task he succeeded with in Mazovia.

Production at textile factories in Żyrardów was launched in July 1833. By the early 20th century, Żyrardów had become the largest producer of linen in Europe. Along with factories, a new town was built from scratch to provide accommodation for workers, complete with apartment buildings, a laundry, hospital, schools and kindergartens. The next milestone in the history of Żyrardów was 1848, when the Warsaw-Vienna railway line was opened, passing through the town.

Factories in Żyrardów employed Polish workers as well as Germans, Czechs, Jews and people from England and Ireland. The town fostered diversity in terms of both the affluence of different worker groups and their differing ethnic backgrounds.

Worth visiting is the Museum of Żyrardów, housed in an Art Nouveau palace that used to belong to Karol Dittrich, a factory co-owner. The museum exhibition gives a vivid picture of the grand scale on which the local factories used to work and it also shows the hardship of the workers' lives.

The present-day authorities of Żyrardów are faced with the task of redeveloping the town center. This has to be carried out to enable Żyrardów to take full advantage of the tourist assets of its historic industry and urban design. For several seasons now, Żyrardów has boosted its tourist appeal with cultural events such as the European Music Integrations festival, held in late April and early May. With jazz as the leading theme, this annual event comprises concerts, workshops and photo exhibitions. In September, Żyrardów hosts the European Heritage Days, a "cultural picnic" that introduces both visitors and locals to the town's multicultural traditions.
M.M.
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