In antiquity, a trade route[1.1]] led through the area of Baytsh. Between the 9th and 10th centuries there was a grad (Slavic settlement) there, which was later replaced in the 13th century with a masonry castellan’s castle. The first records of Baytsh date back to the 12th century. In 1184, St. Forian’s Church was granted a tithe from the Baytsh region. Most probably, Bolesław Wstydliwy located the town on Magdeburg law in 1257. Baytsh’s town rights were confirmed by Kazimierz Wielki in 1363, and later by Queen Jadwiga.
Already in the first half of the 14th century, Baytsh achieved a strong economic position among the towns of the Lesser Poland province, owing to its location on trade routes. Numerous privileges accorded by the rulers prompted dynamic development of trade and crafts, especially linen and drapery industries. This brought about a systematic increase in the number of inhabitants. At the end of the 14th century the population of Baytsh amounted to ca. 3,000.
At that time, Baytsh was a castellany performing important judiciary, economic and defensive functions. Surrounded by a mighty fortification wall, it served as a frontier fortress. Three castles and the royal court (the king’s country residences) accounted for the prestige of the town. Kings from the Piast and Jagiellon dynasty often resided there. Baytsh was in its golden age at the turn of the 16th century, when the town developed together with the material and intellectual culture of its inhabitants. The most eminent person at that time was Bishop Marcin Kromer (1512–1589), a great humanist, historian, geographer, diplomat, and writer, who crowned his career with the dignity of the Warmian Bishop. Associated with the region of Baytsh is also Poland’s first comedist and a poet, Wacław Potocki.
In the 17th century, a gradual decline of craftsmanship started and the population dropped as a result of wars and epidemics. The first partition of Poland and the resultant administrative changes put a definite end to the town’s prosperity. In 1772, Baytsh fell under Austrian occupation and in 1783 the District of Baytsh was annihilated. The royal possessions were taken over by the emperor’s treasure and sold in 1776 to the last starost of Baytsh, Wilhelm Siemieński. During the occupation, slow economic decline of the town, which gradually slipped into ruin and decay, took place as a result of changes of trade routes. Mid 19th century didn’t change its condition in a considerable way. In 1870 there were about 3,000 people living there, the majority of them engaging in small craft and agriculture.
Only at the turn of the 20th century did the town experience a certain revival due to the growth of the oil industry. Unfortunately, a 1903 fire inhibited further development for yet another period of time. Still, there were successful attempts at rebuilding the burnt buildings and, in a couple of years, the traces of the fire were extinguished. Many eminent artists and writers resided in the town, like Jan Matejko or Stanisław Wyspiański, who produced there numerous drawings, designs of polychromes (not realised) and stained glass windows for the Collegiate Church of Corpus Christi.
Baytsh suffered relatively small material losses during the First World War, in spite of its location on the front line. After gaining independence in 1918, the town started restoring its shattered economy, but – except for a brickyard, a sawmill, and a candle plant – no new large factory was erected.
With the entrance of German forces on the 7th of September 1939, the time of terror, repression and material destruction began. In 1940, the first conspiratorial organisations began operating. On the 16th of January 1945, Russian troops entered the town. After the war, a few cooperative working places were set up in Baytsh and in its vicinity. In 1945, a junior high school and a high school were opened, and in 1946 – a vocational school. Also the foundations of Baytsh’s industry were created. In the second half of the 20th century, the remaining defensive walls, middle-age towers, the town hall, renaissance masonry houses and the bell-tower at the collegiate church underwent conservation work. Contemporary Baytsh holds numerous trading and service spots and a modest tourist accommodation base. Due to its remarkable history, it is often called the pearl of Podkarpacie or little Cracow. It has also been given the name of Polish Carcassonne, thanks to the remaining fragments of middle-age town walls and buildings[1.2] .
- Biecz. Studia historyczne, red. R. Kaleta, Wrocław – Warszawa – Kraków 1962.
- Ślawski T., Biecz – przewodnik, Biecz 1999.