The earliest mention of Brzeg, which used to be a trading and fishing settlement, can be found in historical sources dating back to 1234. It quickly developed thanks to its favourable location on the intersection of various important trade routes. In 1248, Duke of Wrocław Henryk III granted the settlement town rights. Towards the end of the 13th century, city walls with five gates and a defensive castle were built in Brzeg.
According to medieval chronicles, Duke of Świdnica Bolko I was the temporary ruler of Brzeg in the years 1296–1301; he served as the guardian of the adolescent dukes of Wrocław and decided to fortify the town to protect it from raids. He also put forward the initiative to expand the brick ducal mansion.
Duke Ludwik I (ruling in the years 1359 –1398) had particular merit in the development of the medieval Brzeg; under his wise reign, the townsmen prospered and a number of grand–scale construction works was performed, among them the reconstruction of the castle. Duke Ludwik I founded and supported the foundation ran by the Saint Hedwig Collegiate Church (which now serves as the castle chapel). With such generous support, the foundation quickly became a respectable educational and cultural centre. Other construction works carried out at the time encompassed the town’s first brick houses, cloth stalls on the market square, as well as public buildings such as the St. Nicholas Parish Church and the Town Hall.
At the turn of the 13th and the 14th century, the Franciscan Order, the Dominican Order and the Order of Saint John settled in the town. The churches and monasteries erected by those orders influenced the further development of the town, which in the years 1311–1675 served as the capital of the independent Duchy of Brzeg, created under the hospices of Bohemian kings. The town’s prosperity started to fade in the 15th century. In the years 1428–1432, the town suffered from several raids and plunders carried out by the Hussites. In 1526, seeing that Louis II of Hungary had failed to produce offspring, Emperor Ferdinand I assumed the Bohemian throne.
In the 16th century, a new system of municipal fortifications was built in Brzeg. During the Thirty Years' War (1618–1638), the Swedish troops laid siege to Brzeg but never took control over the town. Nonetheless, the economic life of the town suffered major losses due to continuous marches of troops, raids, fires, and epidemics. An important moment in the history of Brzeg was the battle of Małujowice, a village located ca. 7 km south of the town, which took place in 1741. The battle resulted in the town being seized by the Prussian army, and annexed by Prussia in 1742. In 1748, the first river lock on the Oder River was built in Brzeg, which became a centre of cloth industry.
Under the Prussian rule, the town was converted into a powerful fortress. Nonetheless, it did not manage to defend itself from the French army. During the Napoleonic wars, in 1807, the town was captured by the Bavarian troops, allied with Napoleon Bonaparte. The Bavarians ordered for the town’s fortifications to be demolished; the area was later converted into a park. After the end of the Napoleonic wars, Brzeg had the opportunity to develop its local industry and transport grid. The industrial plants established in the town directed their services towards the agricultural sector and focused mostly on processing agricultural raw materials. In 1843, the first section of the rail route connecting Brzeg with Oława was opened in the town and two years later, in 1845, the line was extended to Wrocław and Katowice; it was the first such line within the then borders of Poland. The very same year, the construction of the Brzeg–Nysa rail line commenced; it was completed three years later and greatly benefited the economic development of the town.
During the interwar period, Brzeg, often referred to as “the garden town,” was considered one of the most beautiful towns located by the Oder River. Its size expanded following the construction of dwelling houses at its outskirts.
Towards the end of WWII, in February 1945, the Soviet army entered Brzeg, which resulted in 54% of the town’s infrastructure being destroyed. In accordance with the Yalta and Potsdam agreements, Brzeg District was annexed to Poland; the town’s German population was deported and replaced with Polish settlers. Since 1950, the reconstructed Brzeg has been a part of Opolskie Province.
Dziewulski W., Brzeg. Dzieje, gospodarka, kultura, Opole 1975.