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History of Upper Silesia

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The earliest traces of human activity in the historical region of Silesia date back as far as 200,000 years B.C. The first written record of Silesia can be found in the ancient works of Ptolomaeus and Tacitus. According to the latter, the first inhabitants of Silesia were the Lugii, an East Germanic tribe, who appeared there in the late 1st century and stayed in the region for the next 400 years. They are regarded as the Pre-Slavs.
 

The Middle Ages – the first Slavic tribes appear


After 500 A.D. the great migration of peoples along the Amber Road, which crossed the territories of present-day Silesia, started and the first Slavic tribes began to settle in Silesia. According to the ''Bavarian Geographer'', issued ca. 9th century, the following Slavic peoples lived in the lands of Silesia: the Dzhadoshanie (near today's Glogow), the Opolanie (near today's Opole), the Slenzanie (near today's Wroclaw) and Golenshitse (near today's Raciborz).
 

Silesia – part of Great Moravia and early Polish Kingdom


Before the Polish state was established under the Piast dynasty, Silesia became part of Great Moravia, the Central European empire, founded by Prince Mojmir I. Around 890 – 900 the Great Moravian ruler conquered the present-day southern Poland, including Silesia. Under the reign of Prince Ratislav, the christenising mission, launched by Cyril and Methodius, the later patron saints of Europe, started around 863. The early 10th century (906) was marked by Magyar invasion on the Great Moravia which fell in the hands of the Premyslid rulers of Bohemia.

It was in ca. 990 that Silesia became part of the Polish state which was established by the first historically known Piast duke of the Polans, Mieszko I. Its strong ties with Poland were reinforced thanks to the establishment of the first diocese in Wroclaw in 1000, which on the other hand led to breaking off the relations with the Church of Bohemia.

However, Silesia did not enjoy its being a part of the Polish Kingdom for a long time. Upon the death of Boleslaus III the Wrymouth, the power of the country became split among his sons. Consequently, the early Polish Kingdom was divided into 5 principalities. One of them was Silesia, the hereditary province of Wladyslaw II the Exile. However, after his acknowledgement of the overlordship of the Holy Roman Empire over Poland, he had to seek exile, whereas the reign of Silesia was granted to his sons. One became duke of Lower Silesia and the other – duke of Upper Silesia. Under their successors the further fragmentation of the lands of Silesia continued. By the 1390s there were as many as 16 principalities within the lands of Silesia.
 

In the hands of the Bohemian Kings


Politically strong Bohemia stood in contrast to the fragmented Polish state. Thus, a lot of the Silesian dukes pledged allegiance to the Bohemian ruler. Hence, though the Polish Kingdom became united under the two last Piast rulers, Wladyslaw I the Elbow-high and Casimir III the Great, Silesia could not be incorporated into it. Over the centuries upon the death of the dukes of Silesian Piast dynasty, Silesian duchies became incorporated into Bohemia. At the same time Silesia came under the influence of the Holy Roman Empire. What followed what an influx of German settlers and a strong Germanization process.

Being part of Bohemia was not advantageous to the Silesians. They became involved in the Hussite wars during which a lot of Silesian towns were plundered and burnt. After the death of George Podiebrad, King of Bohemia, the Hungarian King, Matthias Corvinus, ruled over Silesia. His 16-year-long reign was followed by another rule of Bohemian kings. Upon the death of Louis VI, King of Bohemia and Hungary, in 1526 Hungary and Bohemia, including Silesia, came under the rule of the Habsburg dynasty.
 

Under the Habsburgs (1526 - 1740)


The Habsburgs' governance of Silesia was a period of religious conflicts. The early 16th century Protestant Reformation made a lot of Silesia inhabitants become Lutherans. However, the Catholic King Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia and Hungary suppressed Protestants, which sparked the Thirty Years' War. After the Bohemians' defeat at the Battle of the White Mountain (1620), tough time for the Silesians started. The Protestant Silesians were either persecuted or sent into exile. Thus, a lot of inhabitants of Silesia sought refuge in the then-tolerant Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The war brought a lot of destruction to Silesian towns. More than a thousand villages, 30 towns and a hundred castles turned into ruins. In the meantime the Swedes invaded the area (1639 and 1645) continuing the plundering and looting of the Silesian towns and villages. The Westphalian Treaty of 1648 ended the Thirty Years' War with 60 % of the Silesians converted into Catholicism.
 

Silesia in the Prussian Kingdom and Germany (1740 – 1922)


In the early 18th century Silesia, except for the Duchy of Cieszyn and the Duchy of Opava, was annexed by King Frederick II into the Kingdom of Prussia. By 1763 almost the whole area of Silesia was in the hands of the Prussians. At that time German became the language spoken in the majority of the Silesian cities, especially in Upper Silesia.

In 1871, being a province of Prussia, Silesia became incorporated into the German Empire as a consequence of the unification of Germany. The industrialization process was initiated, which encouraged lots of people come to settle in Upper Silesia.

The early 20th century brought about a change in the lot of Silesians. After the defeat of Germany in World War I, under the Treaty of Versailles a plebiscite on the future of this area was to be held in Upper Silesia. The voting whether Silesia was to remain within Germany or be incorporated into Poland was to be held in March 1921.

Silesians' Fight for Polish governance


When in 1918 Poland had regained independence, the ethnically Polish Silesians from the eastern part of Upper Silesia wanted to be incorporated into Poland. On the other hand, Germans wanted the region to remain in Germany as it was heavily industrialized with rich coal deposits. The propaganda started on both sides, leading to a social unrest. As a result, the First (1919) and Second (1920) Silesian Uprisings broke out. In 1921 the plebiscite was held, however, the Allied Supreme Council could not work out an agreement on the partition of the Upper Silesian territory. The reason was that the plebiscite results were differently interpreted by the governments of Great Britain and France. As the acts of violence against the population of the Upper Silesia from the German paramilitary troops began to appear, the Silesians led by Wojciech Korfanty sparked off the Third Silesian Uprising. Eventually, the insurgents managed to take over most of the territory of Upper Silesia, including the local industrial district, the former bone of contention between Germany and Poland. In 1922, as the aftermath, the special commission set up by the League of Nations decided that the eastern-most Upper Silesian areas where majority voted for Poland should become an autonomous area within Poland. The area obtained the status of the Autonomous Silesian Voivodship.
 

World War II and afterwards


The Silesians of the autonomous area could not enjoy their freedom for long. Between 1939 – 1945 the area was occupied by the Germans. During the five-year long occupation the Germans took control of the whole area of Silesia. Equally dramatic was the 1945 ''liberation'' of Silesia by the Soviet Red Army. The situation changed after the 1945 German capitulation when under the treaties signed in Yalta and Potsdam the formerly German areas of Silesia, east of the Oder and Neisse Rivers, including the pre-war Silesian voivodship, were incorporated into Poland. As the population of Lower Silesia was predominantly German, they either fled from the area or were forcibly deported by the new authorities. In return, the Poles from eastern areas of Poland, which were annexed by the Soviet Union, came to live here.

After World War II, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, lots of people from all over Poland came to work in the local mines. Over the years the industry developed contributing to the wealth of both the region and the whole country. Nowadays, Katowice is one of the most dynamic business centres in Poland.
 
 

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