Earliest accounts of settlement in the region refer to a wooden cloister along the Vistula in 1181. The town was formally founded in the 14th century by King Kazimierz III Wielki who built a castle and gave the town its municipal charter. The town was called Dolny (lower), to distinguish it from the town of Kazimierz upriver, which is today part of Kraków.
Kazimierz Dolny became a thriving trade centre, with grain, salt, wood and oxen being shipped to Gdańsk and further on for export. The 16th and 17th centuries were particularly prosperous, and a number of splendid mansions and granaries were constructed. By 1630, Kazimierz Dolny’s population had risen above 2500.
High times came to an end with the Swedish Deluge, the Northern War and; later, the cholera epidemic of 1708. The displacement of the Vistula bed towards the west accelerated the town’s economic decline, allowing Puławy to overshadow it in the 19th century as the trade and cultural centre of the region.
At the end of the 19th century attempts were made to revive Kazimierz Dolny as a tourist centre, but the two world wars caused serious damage to the town. Since the end of WWII (which all but annihilated the town’s Jewish population), preservation efforts have gone a long way to restore the historical character of Kazimierz Dolny, which is believed to attract more than one million visitors each year.