The first known mention of Częstochowa (believed to be named for the town’s Slavic founder Czętoch) dates to 1220. Częstochowa’s emergence as Poland’s spiritual capital began with the arrival of the Paulite order from Hungary in 1382, who named the 293m hill in the western part of the city ‘Jasna Góra’ (Bright Hill) and erected a monastery on top. Believers were drawn to the site for the miracles credited to the Black Madonna painting. The fact that Jasna Góra was one of the few places in the country to survive Swedish aggression (1655–66) was attributed to the miraculous Virgin (despite her having being safely stowed in Silesia at the time).
The town’s foundational charter was granted in the 14th century under German law by King Kazimierz III Wielki, placing Częstochowa on an important trade route from Russia. Agricultural and industrial development, aided by the Warsaw–Vienna railway line, saw Częstochowa evolve into an established industrial centre by the end of the 19th century. By the outbreak of WWII, the city had some 140, 000 inhabitants. Częstochowa became a municipal district in 1933, and in 1998 became the first Polish city to be awarded the coveted European Council Prize of Europe.
Despite communist attempts to destabilise the town’s religious spirit with a bout of intense industrialisation, Jasna Góra still proudly towers over the city, with the factory chimneys only slightly sullying the distant horizon.