The colonization of today’s Rzeszów dates back to the Neolithic period. In the Middle Ages, a stronghold existed in the region of today’s Old Town (associated with the Sandomierz Land). In the 11th - 13th century, a large trade and craft settlement developed between the Wisłok River and the Przywra River. In the 13th century, the Ruthenians took over the settlement, ousting its previous inhabitants further to the west in the direction of Kraków. Rzeszów, together with the whole Kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia, was re-incorporated into the Polish state after 1340.
The oldest known record of the city comes from 1354. On 19 January, King Kazimierz III Wielki granted the Rzeszów volost to a knight named Jan Pakosławicow from Strożyska, Półkozic coat of arms, for his services to the country in the wars with the Tatars. By the power of a royal privilege, the new owner, who assumed the name of Rzeszowski, founded the town under the Magdeburg Law on a loessial hill, in the area of today’s Old Market Square, near the two or three strongholds that existed there at that time. Once the borders of the settlement were marked, a church, market, and cemetery were built. Thanks to Jan Rzeszowski, a parish church was erected in the town as early as 1363, and in 1406 – a parish school. The seat of the new owners was located in the former stronghold in the Old Town. Rzeszów remained in private hands until the end of the 18th century. After the Rzeszowski family, the subsequent owners were: the Ligęza, the Ostrogski-Zasławski, and the Lubomirski families.
In 1427, a fire ravaged the town, yet it was rebuilt. It was then that Rzeszów was again granted the right of charter under the Polish law and the right to store some commodities. Rzeszów townsmen were also allowed to sell beer, wine, and salt, as well as to hold crafts stalls and collect duties and tolls.
Thanks to the aforementioned privileges and the establishment of transport routes running through the town from Kraków to Ruthenia and from Lublin to today’s Slovakia and Hungary, Rzeszów strengthened its position as a trade centre in the second half of the 15th century. Craftsmanship developed, e.g. weaving, drapery, tailoring, metalwork, shoemaking, furriery, brewing, smithery and jewellery making.
In 1458, Rzeszów was destroyed by the Vlachs and Tatars, and later – in 1502 – once again by the Tatars. Despite recurring fires and invasions, the town kept developing. It is possible that already from the end of the 15th century, and definitely from the mid-16th century, Jews settled outside the town, to the east of the centre. They made their living from lease of mills, craftsmanship, as well as from trade in wine, cloth, and linen. The town experienced its heyday from the end of the 16th century until the mid-17th century, mainly during the times when Mikołaj Spytek Ligęza, married to Zofia Rzeszowska, owned the area. Ligęza funded new municipal buildings, e.g. the town hall, and launched the construction of a new defensive castle. Furthermore, he funded a hospital and an orphanage as well as had the town surrounded with defensive ramparts. In 1624 - 1629, he sponsored the construction of a monastery of Bernadine monks.
In 1638, Rzeszów became the property of the Lubomirski family. In 1658, Jerzy Sebastian Lubomirski founded the famous Piarists College (today I High School). As a result of the wars in the mid-17th century and at beginning of the 18th century, as well as in the wake of fires, pandemics, and restriction of the liberties of Rzeszów citizens, craftsmen and merchants imposed by the Lubomirski family, the city started to fall into decline.
After the First Partition, the town came under Austrian rule and became the seat of an administrative district of Galicia and then the seat of a county. Another revival took place after 1844, when Rzeszów bought sovereignty from its contemporary owner, Jerzy Lubomirski, and a year later obtained the status of a free city. The revival of economy contributed in 1858 to the construction of the railway line from Dębica, which in 1863 was extended to Lviv. That was also the time when several industrial plants were set up in Rzeszów, e.g. a farming equipment factory. In 1888, the first telephones were put into operation in Rzeszów, and in 1900 gas street lamps were installed. In 1911, the first power plant was launched and the installation of the water-pipe network began. Some time later, the streets were cobbled.
Having regained independence in 1918, Rzeszów was incorporated into the Lviv Province. Before World War II, the town revived economically due to the establishment of the so-called Central Industrial District in 1937 - 1939, among other factors. At that time, the State Aviation Works, as well as a branch of the Cegielski Manufacturing Plant from Poznań, which produced anti-aircraft guns, were built. The town competed with Sandomierz to become the capital of a planned new province.
On 9 September 1939, after heavy fighting, Rzeszów was taken over by the German troops. It was soon named Reichshof, and the bodies of civil, military and police administration were established by the occupier. In November 1939, the Germans executed a group of Rzeszów intellectuals in the garden of the monastery of Bernadine monks, and another group was transported to concentration camps. From July to September 1942, the Germans deported ca. 20,000 people from the Rzeszów ghetto to the extermination camp in Bełżec. Several thousand people were executed in the forest near the village of Rudna. Rzeszów was taken over by the Red Army on 2 August 1944.
In 1945, Rzeszów became the capital of a province that covered mainly the territories of the pre-war Lviv Province. As a result, it developed in demographic, economic and cultural terms. Since 1999, the city has been the seat of the authorities of the Subcarpathian Province. In 1992, the Roman Catholic Diocese was established in the city, and 9 years later the University of Rzeszów was founded.
- T. Chrzanowski, Rzeszów, (1967).
- F. Kiryk (ed.), Dzieje Rzeszowa, 1–3, (1994–2001).