In 1334 a Warmian Country Wójt erected a wooden watchtower by the Łyna River (Alna, Alle). Around 1347 in the same place Warmian Chapter ordered construction of a complex comprising a brick castle and town. In 1353 it was granted the Kulm law. The town was called Allenstein ("Stone on Łyna"), its Polish version was Olstyn, Olsztyn.

Until 1466 the authority over the town was exercised by the Teutonic Order, after that Olsztyn and Warmia, the catholic bishop duchy, was incorporated into the Commonwealth. For centuries Olsztyn was one of the local centres of trade, craft and administration on Warmia. Its development increased due to the Warsaw – Królewiec route but until 19th century it had been functioning in the shadow of Lidzbark Warmiński, Braniewo and Reszel. Its most famous inhabitant was Nicolaus Copernicus who, for example, conducted astronomical observations in the local castle (wall-mounted plate preserved until today). As the administrator of property belonging to Warmian Chapter the famous scholar undertook a great campaign of populating the area with settlers from Mazowsze. The majority of residents of Olsztyn were Roman Catholic.

After the 1st partition of Poland in 1772 Warmia was annexed by Prussia, becoming a part of newly set up Eastern Prussia. At the time Olsztyn entered a period of economic stagnation, devastated by the Northern Wars of 17th and 18th century as well as the bubonic plague (1709–1712) which depopulated the town almost completely. After the partitions the town ceased to be the property of the church; it now belonged to the king and Prussia.

In the 19th century Olsztyn changed its status completely, becoming the most prominent town of the southern part of Eastern Prussia. It was caused by construction of a major railway nod and industrialization. In 1818 Olsztyński district was established. At the same time the urban development expanded outside the town's walls. Great importance for development of the town was the period when two mayors: Robert Zakrzewski (1865–1875) and Oskar Belian (1877–1908) governed the town. New buildings were subsequently erected: hospital (1867), railway station on the Ostbahn trunk line (1872–1873), grammar school (1877), and new utilities set up: gas-works (1890), telephone line (1892), water supply and sewage (1898), electricity (1907). Obviously, there were also new housing and representative buildings constructed (for example, the railway station, the city hall, churches, building of economic district). At the beginning of the 20th century a tram line was set up. In 1875 there were 6 thousand residents and in 1895 as many as 25 thousand. In 1905 Olsztyn became the seat of the district encompassing the south part of Eastern Prussia. At the time Olsztyn was a major Polish centre (35% of residents) known especially for Polish "Gazeta Olsztyńska" issued without interruptions from 1886 to 1939. In 1914 the city was temporarily captured by the Russian troops.

After the referendum of 11th July 1920 it was decided that Olsztyn remains a part of Germany. It still played a major role in Eastern Prussia. In 1921–1932 the development of the city was put in order, in accordance with spatial principles of city architects. After 1933 many new buildings were erected in Olsztyn. Under the reigns of the Nazi Fritz Schiedat (1933–1945) many new streets and a group of housing estates connected with downtown by green areas were erected. In 1939 Olsztyn had almost 50 thousand residents.

On 22nd January 1945 Olsztyn was captured by the Red Army. The Soviet soldiers set fire to the city – approximately 40% of buildings were destroyed. On 21st March 1945 the city was taken over by the Polish authorities. The Germans, who stayed in the city, were dislocated and Polish people gradually settled in Olsztyn. It took a few years to reach the pre-war census. Still in 1950 Olsztyn had 45 thousand inhabitants.

After 1945 Olsztyn became the capital of the province encompassing former lands of Eastern Prussia which now belonged to Poland. Many investments were located there: for example, Olsztyńskie Zakłady Opon Samochodowych ("Stomil”, 1967), as well as food, wood, machine, construction material and other enterprises. By the late 1960s, Olsztyn reached the level of 70 thousand residents and at the beginning of next ten years' period the number of residents exceeded 100 thousand. Despite such rapid development in 1965 tram lines were closed down, which was not a well-thought decision.

The city also thrived after 1989, maintaining net inward migration. In 1990 the number of residents exceeded 163 thousand and in the 21st century Olsztyn has around 175 thousand inhabitants. In 1999 Olsztyn became the capital city of Warmińsko-Mazurskie Province. At the same time, as a result of connecting local higher education schools University of Warmia and Masuria was established. In 2011 the city started rebuilding tram lines.


Bibliographic note

  • Bonk H., Alphabetisches Verzeichnis der Orts- und Personennamen zur Geschichte der Stadt Allenstein, Allenstein 1931.
  • Funk A., Geschichte der Stadt Allenstein von 1348 bis 1943, Aalen 1979.
  • Olsztyn 1353–2003, Olsztyn 2003.
  • Sikorski J., Galopem przez stulecia: Olsztyn 1353–2003, Olsztyn 2003.
  • Wakar A., Olsztyn: dzieje miasta, [Olsztyn 1997].