The oldest stronghold located on the present site of Castle Hill was built ca. the 7th – 6th century BC, during the domination of the Lusatian culture. At the end of the 9th century AD, a settlement started to grow around the stronghold, reaching the bank of the Oder River. First mentions of Szczecin in historical sources appeared relatively late – the town was described for the first time in the 12th century in the biography of Saint Otto of Bamberg, who was given the task of christianising the settlement, taken over at the turn of 1121 by Polish Prince Bolesław III Krzywousty. According to the author of the biography, Herbord, there were 900 patriarchs living in Szczecin in 1124, which would amount to ca. 5,000–6,000 of inhabitants in total, a very large number compared to other towns of Central Europe at the time. Even though Pomeranian authorities did homage to Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1181, only four years later they were forced to surrender to Denmark. The Danish rule lasted until 1227, when the town became a part of the Holy Roman Empire.
The first German settlers appeared in Szczecin around mid-12th century. In 1187, the St. Jacob Church was consecrated and a few years later it became known as "the church of the Germans." An even greater wave of settlers came to the town in the first half of the13th century with the support of Prince Barmin I. The process of locating the city into German law, described, among others, in a document dating back to 1237 which confirmed the cession of the jurisdiction of Szczecin to German hands, was officially concluded by Barmin I on 3 April 1243 through a document granting Szczecin Magdeburg rights. Jews first came to Szczecin in small numbers along with German settlers; the first mention of their appearance in the town comes from 1261.
Between the 13th and the 15th century, the townsmen of Szczecin strove for more independence, but their attempts were successfully resisted by the dukes of the House of Griffins. Conflicts also appeared between the dominant merchant patriciate and the more numerous, but less influential craftsmen. In 1278, Szczecin joined the Hanseatic League. In the years 1478 – 1532 it became the most important town in the Duchy of Pomerania, united under the rule of Bogusław X. Pomeranian dukes and, consequently, all townsmen of Szczecin, converted to Lutheranism at the end of 1534.
In 1570, the peace treaty ending the First Northern War between Sweden, Denmark and Poland was signed in Szczecin. The war was fought over Livonia and was one of the phases of the war over the Dominium Maris Baltici. In 1630, during the Thirty Years’ War and seven years before the death of Duke Bogusław XIV (the last of the Griffin dynasty) the town came under the Swedish occupation. The new rule was confirmed by the Peace of Westfalia in 1648. During another conflict, the town was taken for a short period (1677 – 1679) by the army of Elector of Brandenburg Frederick William. A quarter of a century later, during the Third Northern War, the Prussian army entered the town as Sweden was heading towards imminent defeat. King Frederick William introduced his own administration and demanded for the townsmen of Szczecin to pledge their eternal loyalty to the monarch. In accordance with the 1720 Treaty of Stockholm, Sweden agreed to cede Szczecin and other lands to Prussia “for eternity” in return for reparations amounting to 2 mln thalers, payable to the Queen of Sweden. In 1729, Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst became the commander of the Prussian garrison and the very same year, his daughter Sophia Augusta Fredericka was born in Szczecin; she later became known as Russian Empress Catherine the Great.
At the time, a group of Huguenots, religious migrants from France, came to Szczecin. In 1724, their colony had over 660 members. The French introduced new organisation of production to the town in the form of manufactories, which were happily adopted by the Prussian authorities. The biggest “factory” of that kind was the manufactory run by Izaak Salingre. Shipbuilding was another branch of industry thriving in the town.
In 1806, following the defeat of the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstedt, Szczecin came under the French rule. A tribute was imposed on the city and the harbour had to conform to the continental blockade against England. All attempts of smuggling English goods ended in failure. The French reign ended in December 1813.
In the 19th century, the town experienced a period of swift demographic growth – while in 1813 it had 18,000 inhabitants, the number grew to 72,000 in 1871. In 1843, a railway line to Berlin was opened in the town; another one, leading to Poznań, was built in 1848. In 1849, a gas plant was opened. In 1860, a company was established to build a water supply system for the town. In 1851, the Früchtenicht and Brock ("Vulcan") shipyard was built in Szczecin. The construction of tram communication system commenced in 1879; the trams were put onto electrical tracks 17 years later. In 1873, the fortification of Szczecin was liquidated, which allowed for quicker urban development of the town.
In 1871, Evangelicals constituted the majority of the town’s population – over 90%. It was not until 1890 that the first Roman Catholic parish was established in the town. The estimated number of Poles living in Szczecin just before WWI was ca. 300.
Under the Third Reich, Szczecin became an industrial town of strategic importance and its population grew to 380,000. In 1937, the construction of a coal liquefaction plant near Police was initiated with great pomp. A year later, Hitler himself ordered for the “Vulcan” shipyard to restart operation (it had been shut down a decade earlier). Even though Allied air strikes had been carried out since 1940, they intensified over 1943; most damages were done to industrial districts, the harbor and the coal liquefaction plant. 1944 was the hardest period in the town’s war-time history, since it was targeted by air strikes almost every month. CA. 60% of the town’s buildings were destroyed, including the historic quarters located by the Odra River.
On 26 April 1945, the Red Army took control over Szczecin, which had already been deserted by most of the population. Following several unsuccessful Polish attempts to take over the town, it finally came under the Polish rule on 5 July 1945. Definite delimitation of the borders was decided at the Potsdam Conference, where it was determined that the Polish frontier would lie west of Szczecin. The harbour, however, was controlled by the Soviets until 1947. Within two years after the war, 58,000 Germans were displaced from the town, which at the same time experienced a large influx of Poles. In 1950 Szczecin became the capital of a newly established province and was inhabited by almost 180,000 people.
The town, having been rebuilt after the war, became one of Poland’s most important academic, cultural, and economic centres (second most important seaport after the Gdańsk–Gdynia complex). The University of Szczecin was founded in 1984. In 1972, the Diocese of Szczecin–Kamień (converted into an archdiocese in 1992) was established. In December 1970 and August of 1980, Szczecin was the site of large-scale workers’ strikes. On 17 December 1970 the protesters set fire to the seat of the Province Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party; 16 of them were killed by the police and security forces. On 30 August 1980, the first agreement bringing the August protests to an end was signed in Szczecin.
In 1999, Szczecin became the capital of the newly created Zachodniopomorskie Province.
Białecki T., Historia Szczecina, Wrocław–Warszawa–Kraków 1992.
Piskorski J. M., Wachowiak B., Włodarczyk E., Szczecin: zarys historii, Poznań 2002.