Ostrów Tumski (the Cathedral Island)
Short history of Poznań
Poznań is a city located in the mid-west of Poland on the Warta river, 180 km from the German border, halfway between Berlin and Warsaw. It is one of the oldest and largest Polish cities, the capital of Wielkopolska Province. Poznań is the fifth most populated city in Poland (with its 600.000 residents) and seventh in terms of area.

Poznań residents are said to be frugal, hard-working and well-organized. These attributes must have manifested themselves equally strong in their ancestors as they were the ones to establish the Polish state here a millennium ago. Poznań is known as the birthplace of Poland and Wielkopolska (the Greater Poland, Polonia Major) is the area where the Polish state first emerged.

At the turn of the 8th century a fortified settlement was established in Ostrów Tumski (the Cathedral Island). By the 10th century the settlement grew to become one of the main centers of the Piast dynasty state. This is where Poland was formed by being incorporated into the Christian Europe in 966 when Bishop Jordan baptised duke Mieszko, Poland’s first ruler from the Piasts. Mieszko built a mighty stronghold on the island, the largest and most modern of the time with the first Polish cathedral within its ramparts, and founded the first bishopric in 968. Through time, the settlement has grown to be legally established as a town in 1253 when it became the residence of the king Przemysł II, granting Poznań town privileges.

Duke Mieszko I
The age of the first Piasts is inseparably associated with Wielkopolska – here was the state of Polans. After the baptism of Mieszko I the Christianity spread throughout the territory that the duke brought under his sway. What Polish children learn at school is that Gniezno (a town 50 km to the east of Poznań) was the first capital of Poland. However, historians agree that in those times the concept of a modern capital did not exist. The capital was whichever seat the monarch happened to be staying in at the time, and besides Poznań and Gniezno there were few more strongholds in Wielkopolska that deserved this status. All of them form today the historic Piast Route with traces of ancient history such as the Lednica Lake Island with remnants of a 9th to 10th century settlement which, as legend has it, was the birthplace of Boleslav the Brave, Poland's first crowned king.

Archeological work carried out on Poznań Ostrów Tumski by professor Hanna Kočka-Krenz and her team may discover where the wife of Mieszko I, Dobrawa of Bohemia, is buried. They have already found a chapel adjoining the palace of Mieszko I, which Dobrawa founded as the first pre-Roman temple in the land of the Piasts. According to the chronicles, first rulers of this land were all buried in Poznań, including Boleslav the Brave, Mieszko’s son and the first king of Poland. 

The town started losing its high position in the early Piast state when in the year 1000 an archbishopric was established in Gniezno, by the grave of St. Adalbert. Some years later in 1038 both Poznań and Gniezno were raided and destroyed by the Bohemian ruler Brzetysław. Due to the devastation of the old political centres and pagan reactions Kraków bagan to establish itself as Poland’s capital.

Because of political turmoil the town of Poznań was not chartered until 1253. Planned on the left bank of the Warta river it adhered to the principle of an “ideal town” with its substantial part assigned to trading purposes. By the end of the 13th century Poznań, as a modern town established under Magdeburg law, has already become the example to be followed by numerous towns of Wielkopolska.

Development of the city

In the 15th century Poznań was the terminal for two Eastern trade routes from Germany. High standards of craftsmanship helped to consolidate its position as a trading centre. Half of the craft workshops in the town made specialized products that were virtually unavailable outside the town limits. The wealth of the townspeople simulated their aspirations – bishop Jan Lubrański founded an academy in 1520, one of the first humanities colleges in Europe. What is more, the local culture in the 16th century was under heavy Italian influence because several of the town’s mayors studied in Italy. This explains why the town hall in Poznań remains one of the most magnificent Italian-style town halls north of the Alps. There were also Jesuits brought to Poznań at this time – their Collage had its own modern scientific library, printing house and theatre.

The Lubrański Academy
founded in 1518
The development of the city was impeded in the early 17th century due to the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War in 1618, which caused the devastation of cities and the disruption of trade routes; Poland and Poznań lost his major trade partner – Germany. The destruction process did not end with the peace of Westphalia in 1648, as shortly after the Swedes captured most of Poland and Poznań in one quick attack in 1655. The townspeople had to bear the cost of maintaining Swedish troops as well as they were levied with high contributions.

Due to wars and diseases it took a long time before the city and its villages recovered. A new period of prosperity in this part of Europe started in the mid-eighteen century, when Prussia conquered Western Pomerania and Silesia. Poznań developed quickly – in 1793 when Prussia seized Wielkopolska in the second partition of Poland, Poznań was already a modern European city.

The Poles had to learn how to live side by side with the Germans and how to apply the privileges German cities enjoyed in the Prussian state for the common good. The comprehensive system of education in Germany, at that time one of the best education systems in Europe, benefited Polish citizens of Poznań and Wielkopolska who ranked among the most educated and qualified in the Polish lands. Much was done to cater for the needs of the Polish population despite the fact that Wielkopolska was formally incorporated into the Prussian state and subsequently into the German Empire.

Modern times

General National Exhibition in 1929
At the end of World War I Poland faced the chance to regaining independence. Polish soldiers, many of them who served in the German army, sparked off an uprising and brought freedom to Wielkopolska. Already in 1919 Poznań was the most modern city in Poland. German official buildings were adapted for the needs of the newly established Poznań University and only Poznań was capable of organizing the famous General National Exhibition in 1929 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of independence.

German occupation during World War II did not resemble at all the times of Prussian state and German Empire. Polish workshops, factories and tenement houses were confiscated and intelligentsia and rich middle class were expelled. In 1945 the city centre suffered great devastation during the fights between Russian troops and German garrison on the Poznań Citadel. 

Poznan International Fair today
The political turnabout after the war led to the nationalization of factories and trading companies. Small business owners were deprived of their property. In 1956 the workers from local factories hit the streets in protests that caused several economical changes made by subsequent government but still there was no economical justification for new factories and local business.

A major breakthrough came in 1989 when the enterprise culture of Poznanians faced the challenge of the free market economy. Eventually, 2004 sees Poznań among the cities of the European Union…
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Events organized under the auspices of the Polish EU Presidency