The history of Poznań and the history of Poland were much the same thing in the nation’s earliest days. The city was founded as a 9th-century settlement on the easily defensible island of Ostrów Tumski, during the reign of Poland’s first ruler, Duke Mieszko I. Some historians even claim that it was here, not in Gniezno, that the duke’s baptism took place in 966.
Mieszko’s son, the first Polish king, Bolesław Chrobry, further strengthened the island, and the troops of the Holy Roman Empire that conquered the region in 1005 didn’t even bother to lay siege to it. The Bohemian Prince Bratislav (Brzetysław), however, liked a challenge and damaged the town considerably in 1038. This marked the end for Poznań as the royal seat (though kings were buried here until 1296), as subsequent rulers chose Kraków as their home.
Poznań continued to develop as a commercial centre – in 1253 a new town centre was laid out on the left bank of the Warta River. Soon afterwards a castle was built and the town was encircled with defensive walls. Poznań’s trade flourished during the Renaissance period, and by the end of the 16th century the population had passed the 20, 000 mark.
But into every city’s life a little rain must fall. From the mid-17th century on, Swedish, Prussian and Russian invasions, together with a series of natural disasters, battered the city. In the Second Partition of 1793, Poznań fell under Prussian occupation and was renamed Posen, later becoming part of Germany and experiencing steady industrial growth up to the outbreak of WWI.
The Wielkopolska Insurrection, which broke out in Poznań in December 1918, led to the city’s addition to the newly reformed Polish state. Poznań’s long trading traditions were then revived with the establishment of regular trade fairs in 1921.
The city fell into German hands once more during WWII, and was incorporated into Hitler’s Third Reich. In 1945, the battle for its liberation took a month and did a huge amount of damage.
In the postwar era, Poznań was one of the first cities to feel the forceful hand of the communist regime, during a massive workers strike in June 1956. The spontaneous demonstration, cruelly crushed by tanks, turned out to be the first of a wave of popular protests on the long and painful road to overcoming communist rule.
Since the return of democracy, Poznań has taken advantage of its business traditions and favourable location near Germany to develop its role as an important educational and industrial centre.