The first record of Dębica dates back to 1293. At the time the settlement was conveniently located at the intersection of a tract leading from Opatów and Sandomierz, through Koprzywnica and Pilzno, in the direction of Jasło and towns in Slovakia, and a road from Jarosław and Przemyśl, via Rzeszów and Tarnów, to Kraków.
Dębica was granted a charter under the German law by Casimir III the Great in 1358 through the efforts of Świętosław (Świąszek) from the Gryfita family. The town was the seat of a provincial court, composed of administrators from nearby villages, which tried contentious cases in the second instance. Dębica developed as an important centre of craft and trade. Since most of its buildings were wooden, it was plagued by frequent fires and easily destroyed during invasions, e.g. the invasion of the Tatars in 1502. Following that event, residents of Dębica were exempted from all kinds of taxes and services and allowed to fell timber for free. Dębica had to compete against two thriving towns in the neighbourhood: Pilzno and Ropczyce.
Following the Swedish Deluge, the towns and cities of the region were almost completely destroyed and the population of Dębica declined sevenfold compared to the late 16th century. Once Nowa Dębica was established in the area surrounding the St. Barbara Church in the second half of the 17th century, the town experienced an economic recovery. It was at that time that Jews started to settle there. The town, however, was once again heavily destroyed during the Great Northern War (1700-1709), one of the most tragic periods in its history.
In 1772, Dębica, owned by the Radziwiłł family, was incorporated into Galicia and deprived of city rights by the Austrian authorities; it only reclaimed them in 1914. In 1816, the town, located within the area of Pilzno District and, later, Tarnów District, became the property of the Raczyński family. In 1846, the region of Dębica saw a bloody peasants' revolt during the Galician Slaughter. Dębica’s inhabitants also took an active part in the January Uprising.
In the second half of the 19th century, the town started to serve as the quarters of an Austrian cavalry unit. It experienced significant growth after the launch of a railway line from Kraków in 1856. Two years later, the existing railroad was extended to reach Rzeszów. In 1887, a railway line was built that connected the town with Rozwadów (currently a district of Stalowa Wola) via Mielec. Consequently, Dębica became a railway junction.
In the 19th century, the town was the seat of the District Court, tax office, municipal authorities and such offices as the Department of the Diet of Galicia and Lodomeria, supervising land improvement and protection of river banks. It also housed a hospital for the poor. In 1907, a gymnasium and a boarding house were established. Autonomous Galicia was an area conducive to social initiatives, which started to proliferate at the time: the “Sokół” House, Townspeople’s Association, Casino Society or Club of the Folk School Association. The building of the “Sokół” House became the centre of cultural life in the town as a place where numerous lectures, reunions of students and film screenings were held.
Various activities taken in the sphere of education, culture and economy were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. In September 1914, numerous inhabitants left the town to flee the Russian troops, which occupied Dębica for several months, leaving it in ruins.
The first years in independent Poland were devoted to the reconstruction of the destroyed town. Its future situation was correlated with its economic growth. In the late 1930s, Dębica became part of the Central Industrial District and saw an influx of investors from the whole country. Thanks to its convenient location, communication system, railway junction and easy access to water supply from the Wisłoka River, Dębica attracted numerous prospective entrepreneurs. As a result, four big industrial plants, including a tyre factory, were set up in the town. Its further development in the Central Industrial District came to a halt with the outbreak of World War II. In 1937, the capital of the district (in Krakowskie Province) was relocated from Ropczyce to Dębica.
Upon the outbreak of World War II, Dębica was an important strategic point. Bombardments started as early as the second day of the war. Units of the German ground forces reached the banks of the Wisłoka River on 7 September. The occupier incorporated Dębice District into the Kraków District of the General Government. During the occupation period, thousands of Dębica’s inhabitants, including 4,000 Jews from the local ghetto existing until 1943, where killed. The district was a scene of underground activity of such organisations as the Union of Armed Struggle, Home Army, Peasants’ Battalions and National Armed Forces. On 23 August 1945, the Red Army entered the town together with the forces of NKVD, which deported members of the independence organisations to the USSR.
In the period of the Polish People’s Republic, inhabitants of Dębica once again had to rebuild their town, which became the centre of a district in Rzeszowskie Province, as well as a centre of chemical, machine engineering, food and some other industries. From 1975 to 1998, Dębica lay within the borders of Tarnowskie Province. Today it is part of Podkarpackie Province together with the reinstated district.
- Bata A., Dębica i Ziemia Dębicka, Krosno 1997.
- Dębica na archiwalnych fotografiach, Dębica 2000.
- Dębica, zarys dziejów miasta i regionu, eds. J. Buszko, F. Kiryk, Kraków 1995.