Wroclaw History Facts and Timeline
(Wroclaw, Silesia, Poland)
Western Poland's largest city of Wroclaw is the historic capital of Silesia, a centre of occupation by various regional powers for centuries. Since its earliest days, the history of Wroclaw has been shaped by Bohemia, Poland
and also Prussia, as well as Germany
Following the border demarcation after WWII, the city officially became part of Poland and today serves as its fourth-largest city. It has also recently been chosen as one of the European Capitals of Culture.
The history of Wroclaw began around the year of 1000 AD, when Duke Mieszko I of Poland decreed that this town and the rest of Silesia would belong to the burgeoning Polish state. Its location at the crossroads of two major Bohemian trade routes gave it a lot of power in the area. It was chosen as one of the first three bishoprics of Piast Poland, alongside Kolobrzeg and Krakow
. Wroclaw remained an important city in Silesia, until the Mongols burned it down in 1241.
When Wroclaw rebuilt, its population was dominated by Germans. A spacious main market square became the core of the town and ambitious construction projects, such as the Church of St. Giles (1242), created the new urbanscape of the city. By the end of the 1200s, it had joined the Hanseatic League of trading cities.
Most of Silesia, along with Wroclaw, was taken over by the Kingdom of Bohemia in 1335, at the time a part of the Holy Roman Empire. The history of Wroclaw enjoyed a solid period of growth under Bohemian rule for almost two centuries. Good commercial and cultural ties with the Polish kingdom boosted the city's fortunes, evident in major constructions such as the City Moat (Fosa Miejska), whose remains can still be seen today.
Reformation and Counter-Reformation
Wroclaw turned Protestant in 1518, although from 1526 onwards the region of Silesia was controlled by the Catholic Habsburgs. The city was on of the side of the Bohemian Revolt in 1618, but the Thirty Years' War saw occupations by Swedish and Saxon armies. The Habsburgs' rule marked 200 years of intolerance for the local Czech and Polish locals. They changed the city's name to Breslau and introduced a noticeable German character.
The Counter-Reformation was ushered in by the emperor of Austria, moving Catholics of all stripes into Wroclaw. They constructed buildings for their religious orders that remained prominent parts of the city's scenery right through to 1945. The Counter-Reformation was a period of intellectual and artistic expression in Wroclaw, with this period of history being strongly influenced by resident German Baroque writers and poets.
Breslau, as it was still known in the 20th century, was one of Nazi Germany's main eastern bases. The entire city was converted into a defensive compound in the last desperate days of WWII, but lost out to the Red Army of Russia in February 1945. During this final battle, roughly three-quarters of Wroclaw was destroyed and around a third of the population killed.
The ruined city was repopulated with Polish people from Poland's eastern regions, such as Lviv. These areas had been ceded to the Soviet Union, who then shipped people back to Wroclaw. Reconstruction was painfully slow, continuing right through to the 1980s. Today, the city has comfortably regained its footing and is making progress towards a brighter future.