Pilchowice Hydroelectic Dam – Pilchowice, Poland - Atlas Obscura

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Pilchowice Hydroelectic Dam

Pilchowice, Poland

The tallest stone dam in Poland was opened by Kaiser Wilhelm II himself. 

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Despite lying less than 15 kilometers (10 miles) north of Jelenia Góra, Poland’s tallest stone and arch dam at Pilchowice gives the impression of being located in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps it’s the narrow, winding forest roads that occasionally abandon pavement for cobblestones, or the abandoned train tracks that crisscross the road and the river with rusty bridges and stone tunnels. Although the reservoir is a popular recreation spot for locals, it’s never truly busy.

The massive stone dam and the hydroelectric power plant operating at its base took more than a decade to build, with two years of planning and 10 of construction between 1900 and 1912. At the time, it was one of the largest and most modern dams in Central Europe, and is the second-oldest hydroelectric dam still operating in Poland today. Its construction was considered such an achievement that the dam was opened by Kaiser Wilhelm II himself on November 16, 1912 (as the territory belonged to the German Empire at the time). 

The decision to build a dam in the Bóbr valley was made after the catastrophic floods of July 1897, which caused significant damage throughout the region. Once work started on the dam, construction also began simultaneously on a railway that would run alongside the new reservoir and link Jelenia Góra (then called Hirschberg) with the towns of Wleń (Lähn) and Lwówek Śląski (Löwenberg). The railway remained a popular tourist attraction well into the 21st century, until it was shut down in 2016 due to the deteriorating condition of the tracks.

The dam is traversable by a single-lane bridge that offers beautiful views of the Bóbr valley and the historic power plant. It’s also possible to explore parts of the abandoned railway in the immediate area, including the still-standing Pilchowice Dam train station located about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) down the road from the north end of the dam.

Know Before You Go

The Pilchowice Dam is best reached by car or bicycle. Popular cycling routes run to the dam from Jelenia Góra, Wleń and other towns in the valley. No trains run to the area, but the abandoned Pilchowice Dam train station (about a 15 minute walk along the reservoir) is worth a visit for the architecture and scenic views.

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June 18, 2024

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