Olsztyn (ger. Allenstein) was founded by Jan (John) from Lajsy
around the middle of XIV century (received city's rights on October 31st, 1353), around
the castle of Warmian clergy council, of which construction was started in 1334.The word
Lajsy came from Prussian language and was describing the field around the Wewa
settlement, later known as Melzak, and in XX century as Pieniezno. The city in the beginning
of its existence bears the name of Allenstein, which came from Prussian name of river
Lyna - Alna (or Alle).
Olsztyn's population grows, it's filled with buildings and surrounded by walls. In
the second part of XIV century the gothic church of St. Jacob Apostle was built, soon
considered as one of most interesting examples of the gothic times in Poland. Quick growth
of the city soon required expanding the boundaries of the city, and the Warmian clergy
council allows it, supporting it with privileges on May 4th, 1378. Then the New City is formed
which is located at the St. Jacob's church. The Old City and the New City was strengthened
with joint walls.
The city was many times destroyed by wars in XV century. In 1440 Olsztyn joins Prussian
Union. As a result of rebellion organized by the union, Teutonic Order looses the keys to
the city. At the same time the city recognizes Polish king Casimir Jagielon as the
ruler. During the Thirteen Years' War the city is conquered by the order. In 1466 as a
result of peace treaty in Torun, Olsztyn with the Warmia becomes a part of Poland.
The city becomes the office of administration of properties of Warmian clergy council,
which work was supervised by Nicolas Copernicus. At that time another war with the order
outbreaks, bringing devastation to entire southern Warmia. Copernicus tries
to attract the Polish-speaking settlers from Masovia to settle those lands. Famous
astronomer leaves many interesting drawing, which survived to this day. Among others
there is an astronomical table worth seeing inside the castle. Copernicus marks with
paint lines spring and autumn's equal nights. The results of this research allow not
only measure the length of a year, but also help to write his life's work "About
rotations of heavenly bodies" (De revolutionibus orbium coelestium), in which
Copernicus "stops the Sun and moves the Earth".
The next century is a fast growth of the city located on route Warsaw - Konigsberg.
Until the middle of XVII century it evolves as an important trade center. Times of peace
are end with the beginning of northern wars in XVII and XVIII century, and a great
pestilence in 1709-1712 kills almost all the citizens. Thanks to help of the clergy council
Olsztyn improves its condition through to the end of XVIII century. The year of 1772 is
a transition to the Prussia rule. It causes the city to fall. The castle starts functioning
as a storage. Polish school has only 30 students. In 1807 the city is visited by the
emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte, to receive a parade of gratitude on Olsztyn's
The second half of XIX century means economic animation, when the successive mayors are
Robert Zakrzewski and Oskar Beliana. The main railroad line is built from
Berlin to Konigsberg, as well as lines to Morag, Szczytno, Orneta and Dzialdowo.
In 1867 the hospital is built, one year later also a school. The population within the
second half of XIX century grows from 4 to 25 thousand. In this period Olsztyn becomes
a center of national Polish movement in Warmia. In 1886-1939 a newspaper "Gazeta Olsztynska"
(Olsztyn Newspaper) is being published.
The end of XIX century and the beginning of XX is a time of construction of many
public buildings, among others: renaissance style city hall, neogothic churches of the
Holiest Heart of Jesus and of St. Joseph, and the office of public notary in 1908-1911.
Here also in 1920 its office has an allied committee, which controls the course of
plebiscite in Warmia and Masuria. During the war it becomes a Gestapo office, and after
the war it's an office of National Railroad regional management. At the break of centuries
Olsztyn gains water supply system, electricity and telephone lines. Trams appear on the
streets, and soon after the airport is open.
After World War I as a result of plebiscite Olsztyn stays in German rule. Polish
inhabitants are under pressure of strong germanization politic. Since 1920 the city
is an office of Union of Poles in East Prussia.
After World War II badly damaged Olsztyn returns to Poland.
Olsztyn is a very interesting tourist attraction. Thanks to both its location
within lakes and many saved relic buildings. Here we can admire late gothic cathedral
from XV-XVI century, bishops' palace from XVIII century and the remains of city wall from
XIV-XV century, especially one of two gates formerly guarding entrance to the city -
the Wysoka (High) gate. In the middle of XIX century the gate had a function of a prison.
Here was held Wojciech Ketrzynski - historician, publicist, ethic researcher and
a fighter for Polishness of the Warmia and Masuria lands. Also worth seeing is the
city hall from XVII century and the apartment houses from XVII-XIX century. However
the biggest attraction is a castle of Warmian clergy council. Built in 1346-1353 consists
of one wing on northeastern side of the rectangular courtyard. To the castle, surrounded
by a moat, a person can get only from the Lyna river side using drawbridge. In XV century
the southwestern wing was added, and in XVI century the tower had changed its shape to
round with rectangular base. The tower is 40 meters high. The 12-meter high defensive walls
are supported with a line of shorter walls with towers. Castle's walls remain partially
connected with city walls making a powerful bastion. At that time the castle is managed by
Warmian clergy council, with bishop of Warmian, and since 1454 was subordinated to the order.
This made the castle play a major role in Polish - Teutonic Order ward. In 1410 the castle
surrenders without a fight. During Thirteen Years' War it changes the side of conflict
frequently, and in 1466 stays in Polish rule. The Teutonic Knights are threatening the castle
once more in 1521, but after failed attempt they cease attacks. In 1516-1521 Nicolas Copernicus
is becomes an administrator of the castle and in 1524, 1531, 135 and 1538 he comes here as an
inspector. In XVI century the castle becomes a home of two Warmian bishops and a great writers:
Jan Dantyszek (1538, 1541) and Marcin Kromer (1580). In 1758 a new drive to the
castle is built. Also a new wing is built, and simultaneously some part of walls and front
of the complex is being demolished. In 1772 the castle changes its owner to the management
of land properties. In 1779 its honorable guest is Ignacy Krasicki. Consecutive
reconstructions take place in 1845 when the drawbridge is replaced by a dam connecting the
castle with the city, soon after the moat was dried. In 1901-1911 the castle is entirely
restored. Since 1921 the castle is a host of museum, and in 1945 entire castle becomes
Masurian Museum, today the Museum of Warmia and Masuria.
See also: Old postcards