Bochnia is one of the oldest towns in Poland and was first mentioned in historical documents as early as 1198 when a patriarch from Jerusalem called Machus confirmed the delivery of evaporated salt from Bochnia to the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem monastery in Miechów.

In 1248 rock salt deposits had been discovered there, and three years later, Cistercians coming from Wąchock built the first shaft and made it possible to excavate the mineral on a larger scale. Considering Bochnia’s economic importance, Duke Bolesław Wstydliwy granted it town rights in 1253 (under Magdeburg Law). During the reign of King Kazimierz Wielki the town developed significantly (the Bochnia salt-mine was established, the salt castle was extended, town walls and the town hall were constructed). Then, in the second half of the 14th century, the first Jews began settling in the town. One of the most noted representatives of the Jewish circles was Lewko, a Jewish banker and personal agent of the Polish kings who managed the salt-mine in Bochnia and Wieliczka.

The 15th and the first half of the 16th centuries marked the town’s golden age characterized by a large number of trade transactions concluded (Bochnia was located on the important trade routes to Hungary and Ruthenia) both with Polish and foreign towns (e.g. Spis and Ruthenian towns). A parish school, associated with the Kraków Academy, existed in town since the end of the 14th century. The main mineral that contributed to the growth of the town was salt and therefore a saying <i>Poland is worth nothing without Bochnia and Wieliczka </i>caught on.

Since the second half of the 16th century, when the Bochnia salt-mine began to have trouble, the town was slowly losing its significance. Not only it ran into “mining” difficulties, but also it was haunted by fires, famine, epidemics, and invasions from abroad (e.g. by Swedish army in 1655).

Consequently, through the 17th and 18th centuries, Bochnia had to face an acute crisis that worsened as a result of the hostilities of the Northern War (1702) and the Bar Confederation (1768-1772).

Following the first partition of Poland in 1772, Bochnia found itself under the rule of Austro-Hungarian Empire and regained independence after 146 years, in 1918. One of the most tragic and bloody events that occurred in town and its surroundings was the so-called Galician Slaughter from February 1846.

Despite the Austrian yoke, new signs of economic growth began to be noticeable in the first half of the 19th century and it was mainly due to the fact that a railway line was opened between Kraków and Lwów which ran through Bochnia. The town developed rapidly at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries which influenced the population growth, as well as its spatial development and revival in cultural and scientific life. It was then that the Bochnia junior secondary school was active, a public library was established, the,”Falcon”(Sokol) sports society was set up, musical and theater groups were called into existence and the first permanent cinema ”Dawn” (Zorza) was opened.

Eventually, Bochnia regained independence in November 1918, after fierce battles of, among others, the Polish Legions which included more than 200 volunteers from the Bochnia Region.

During the Nazi occupation (1939-1945), Bochnia, just like other towns in Poland, suffered a particularly difficult time. Shortly after seizing the town (December 1939), the Nazis executed 51 inhabitants. Numerous roundups, forced deportations for forced labor to Germany and imprisonments in death camps were carried on throughout the entire war period. In 1943 the Nazis dissolved the Jewish ghetto in Bochnia, which was the last ghetto in Poland, and murdered many of its residents[1.1]. Just as in the case of the battle with Austrians, the Bochnia inhabitants concentrated their efforts against the new occupant by fighting and supporting the Home Army, Peasant Battalions and other underground formations.

On 20 January 1945, the Soviet army entered the town and introduced the Communist political system that lasted more than 40 years.

The post-war years were marked by a rapid economic growth in town, possible mainly thanks to the industrial works located within its limits, among the biggest of we should mention the Stoneware Factory (taken over by the state after the war), a branch of the Lenin Foundry in Kraków, renamed Stalprodukt S.A., or the Coolers Factory (now Bolarus S.A.). The economic progress led to the town’s extension, the surrounding villages and towns (Chodenice, Kurów, Kolanów, Dołuszyce) were incorporated into Bochnia and new housing estates were built. Among the biggest estates we can mention: Independence (Niepodległości, former XXX-lecia), St. John “metallurgic”, Railway (Kolejowe), Salt Hill (Solna Gora), Sunny (Sloneczne), Windakiewicz housing estates. Many public establishments (schools, cultural institutions), churches and parishes (of St. Paul and St. John) were created in Bochnia in those days. The biggest attraction is the salt mine - a tourist destination and health resort.[1.2]

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Kollender R.,2003, Życie społeczne i kulturalne bocheńskiej społeczności żydowskiej [in:] Wiadomości Bocheńskie no. 4, p.20
  • [1.2] http://bochenskie.republika.pl/