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Olsztyn History, Poland

Olsztyn is the capital of the Warmian-Mazurian Voievodeship, a region in North-Eastern Poland (half way between Gdansk and Warsaw). Centuries ago, Warmia was under the influence of the Teutonic Knights, who built a series of fortifications all over the region. One of them was Allenstein, on Łyna River.

Olsztyn History – Olsztyn in the Middle Ages

The castle built by the Teutonic Knights was finished in the 1397, but by then, Allenstein (Olsztyn is the Polish name), had been already attested as a town. The castle of Olsztyn changed its owners a lot during the 15th century, when the Teutonic authority was challenged in several occasions. Finally, as a consequence of the Second Peace of Thorn, Olsztyn became part of the Kingdom of Poland. During this period, another important event took place: the famous mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus became the administrator of Olsztyn and Mehlsack (1516-1521). Today, the statue of Copernicus watches over the Castle and is a true symbol of the city.

Olsztyn History – Olsztyn under Prussian Rule

Under Polish suzerainty, Olsztyn developed as a community of farmers. The existence of Olsztyn was severely jeopardized at the beginning of the 18th century, when plague and cholera killed most of its inhabitants. But at the end of the century, in 1772, Olsztyn history took a major twist, as Prussia incorporated Olsztyn and the surrounding lands. The first decades of Prussian rule were critical for Olsztyn: its traditional institutions and population were almost down to nothing. But across the 19th century, the city began to grow again; it had its own newspaper, a hospital and a railway station. Even more, Olsztyn was animated by the Polish national movement.

Olsztyn History – Olsztyn in the 20th Century

The beginning of the 20th century found Olsztyn is a state of prosperity and renewal: new institutions and churches were being built, the population was rapidly growing. Although many Polish cities returned under Polish authority after World War I, this was not the case of Olsztyn. Following the will of its population, Olsztyn remained German. During World War II, Olsztyn suffered huge losses: the Soviet Army burned down 40% of the city, including many historical buildings. The evacuation of the German population had serious effects in the ethnic structure of Olsztyn (there are only few families of Germans left in Olsztyn, whose predominant population is now Polish).

Under Polish authority, Olsztyn became an important economic and academic centre in the region. The castle – living proof of Olsztyn’s history, the surviving old quarter and beautiful nature manage to attract thousands of tourists every season.

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