The first tightly-knit settlements date back to the 8th century, when rulers of the Polan tribe erected a fortified stronghold on Ostrów Tumski (nowadays the oldest part of Poznań). This was the very beginning of the present day city’s existence. In the 10th century Poznań became one of the main strongholds of the Piast dynasty, the most important one within the borders of a newly-established Polish state. In all likelihood Mieszko I, the first historical ruler of Poland, may have been baptised in Poznań in 966. Two years later Jordan, the first Polish bishop, made Poznań his main seat.
In 1039 Poznań lost its political significance as a capital town, sacked and destroyed by Bretislaus I of Bohemia. Even though the capital of Poland was moved to Cracow, Poznań remained one of the most important administrative and economic centres. Its importance grew at the time of fragmentation of Poland in the 12th-14th centuries, when Poznań became a capital of the Greater Poland line of the Piast dynasty. The dukes Przemysł I and Bolesław the Pious issued a town charter under the Magdeburg Law in 1253. Their successor, Przemysł II, the King of Poland, resided in the castle built by his father on the so-called Przemysł Hill.
Political stability and settling the border issue in the 14th and 15th centuries encouraged development of Poznań, the capital of Greater Poland, the most important Voivodeship, which became vital also due to its position on trading routes from Lithuania to Germany and from Silesia to Pomerania. The cultural life of the city was also thriving; an institution of higher education, called the Lubrański Academy, was established in 1519. In the 16th century Poznań became a stronghold of the Reformation, until the Jesuits arrived in the city during the Counter-Reformation period and founded a famed Jesuit College there in 1571.
The further development of Poznań was hampered by a series of wars in the second half of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. The city was severely affected by the wars and repeatedly rampaged. The number of inhabitants decreased from 20 thousand at the beginning of the 16th century to 4 thousand at the beginning of the 18th century. Poznań was gradually being rebuilt in the subsequent decades. The reconstruction process continued at a time when Poland lost its independence towards the end of the 18th century – in 1793, after the Second Partition of Poland, the Prussian Army entered Poznań. After a short episode of the Duchy of Warsaw (1807-15), Greater Poland was returned to Prussia as the Great Duchy of Posen, and subsequently as the Posen Province.
The city began to develop dynamically under the Prussian rule. In the 1820s construction of the Poznań Fortress (Festung Posen) was launched. The construction work lasted until the mid-19th century. At the same time first food industry enterprises appeared (distillery, brewery, millery), as well as first tobacco manufactures. In the 1820s printing industry as well as mineral (brickworks), machine and metal industries gained in significance. The city was connected by roads with numerous towns across the Greater Poland. In 1848 the first railroad to Berlin and Szczecin was opened. Despite increasing efforts to Germanize the region, Poznań remained a vital centre of Polish science and culture (especially at the court of Antoni Henryk Radziwiłł, the Duke-Governor of the Grand Duchy of Posen). There were numerous Polish institutions and organizations, e.g. Hotel Bazar or the Scientific Help Society. Residents of Poznań took part in the following national uprisings: 1830-31, 1846, 1848, 1918-19.
After the First World War, the Greater Poland Uprising of December 1918 brought Poznań and most of the region under control of the reborn independent Polish state, confirmed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. This led to significant changes in the national structure of the city populace: 40% of Germans declined to mere 6 thousand in 1939 (3%). The city became the capital of Poznań Voivodeship. The University of Poznań was founded; the Poznań International Fairs, still organized today, were launched.
During the Second World War Poznań became a capital of the Reichsgau Wartheland province and was incorporated into the Third Reich. Polish residents were brutally persecuted and in most part expelled to the General Government. Despite the terror, conspiratorial network was active in the city.
The offensive of the Soviet Army in February 1945 left most of Poznań in ruins. After the end of the war it was quickly rebuilt and became an important centre of science, culture and economy of western Poland. Poznań and its residents became known for the Poznań 1956 protests, an important chapter in the history of Polish resistance to the communist rule after 1945. It was the first instance of a mass rebellion of the Polish society against the totalitarian system imposed by Moscow.
From 1999 Poznań is a capital of the Greater Poland Voivodeship; it is also a city county and a centre of the Poznań County.
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