Main page > Prussia > Cities
 What's new
 Books and Videos

Polska wersja
Polska wersja
Deutsche Version
Deutsche Version

Go: Up Back Forward


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 marketplace.

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

Go: Up Back Forward

Copyright © 2001-2009 Marek Januszewski. All rights reserved.

Valid HTML 4.01! Valid CSS! Cheap and
reliable web hosting