It is believed that the first Slavic gord (fortress) in the area around Wrocław was established in the 10th century by Vratislaw, a Bohemian duke. Hence, it is assumed that the name Wrocław comes from a short form of the founder's name. In 985, the first wooden fortified settlement was founded on Ostrów Tumski by Duke Mieszko I.[1.1] In the same period, Lower Silesia fell under the rule of the Polish Piast dynasty.

The first mention of the city comes from 1000, when it appeared in a papal bull founding a bishopric in the city. Soon after, a Roman Catholic Cathedral was constructed in Wrocław. The city shared the political fate of the entirety of Silesia and was repeatedly taken over by the neighboring states. From 1038 to 1051 it was ruled by the Bohemians from the Přemyslid dynasty. In 1109 a battle was fought in the vicinity of the city in the area of the present-day Psie Pole district. The forces of the German king Henry V were defeated by Duke Bolesław III the Wry-mouth, and thus Wrocław was defended.

After the fragmentation of the Polish realm in 1138, Wrocław became the seat of Duke Władysław II the Exile. As his title suggests, he was exiled by his brothers in 1146. With the help of the Imperial army, his sons Bolesław I the Tall and Mieszko IV Tanglefoot returned to Silesia. The latter took over Wrocław and inherited the tile of Silesian duke from his father. The city was located before 1214. The ducal castle on Ostrów Tumski was constructed at around the same time. In April 1241, in the face of a Mongol invasion, Wrocław was abandoned by its inhabitants and burned down for strategic reasons. The defense of the city was focused on the castle on Ostrów Tumski. In 1242, the reconstruction of the city under Magdeburg Law was begun. In 1261, Wrocław was granted city rights. Its city walls were erected from 1299 to 1351. Its location at the intersection of the east-west and north-south trade routes was key to the development of the city.

From 1327 onwards, Wrocław shared the political fate of Silesia and found itself under the rule of the Kingdom of Bohemia. In 1335 the Duchy of Wrocław was incorporated into the Czech Kingdom. These circumstances had a positive effect on the growth of local trade. In 1474, the Polish army made an unsuccessful attempt at capturing the city. From 1490 to 1515, Wrocław was engaged in a trade war with Poland. In 1523, the city adopted  Protestantism in response to the Reformation. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) brought an end to Wrocław's golden age. The city itself was not destroyed, but its entire surrounding area was devastated. More importantly, there was a collapse in trade. In 1702, the Emperor Leopold I established a Jesuit college with all the major privileges of European universities. It gave rise to the present day University of Wrocław.

After the First Silesian War (1740-1742), Wrocław and nearly all of Silesia came under Prussian rule. This meant that the city lost all its titles. Nonetheless, Wrocław was granted the title of a royal city and thus became the monarch's third seat, next to Berlin and Königsberg. The city was besieged at the turn of 1806 and 1807 during the Napoleonic Wars. Since the Prussians had no chance of defending the city, they surrendered on January 7, 1807. The French ordered the destruction of all fortifications, abolished the Jesuit monastery, and partly secularized the Church estates. It had a major impact on the further development of the city. In 1808, substantial portions of the suburbs were incorporated into the city. In 1811, the Jesuit college was joined together with the Protestant Viadrina European University of Frankfurt an der Oder. Thus, the new Silesian Frederick-William University (Ger. Schlesische Friedrich-Wilhelm-Universität zu Breslau) was established. In 1813, the Prussian king Frederick William III founded the most famous German military decoration - the Iron Cross. In the same year, the black-red-gold color pattern of the German flag was developed in Wrocław.

The 19th century brought industrial and cultural growth to the city. An omnibus line was launched in 1840. A railway line from Wrocław to Oława, and then to Upper Silesia, was opened in 1842. Wrocław was connected by a railway line to Berlin in 1846 and to Vienna and Dresden in 1847. In the early 20th century, major construction operations were undertaken around the Oder river.

After the National Socialists came to power in Germany in 1933, all traces connecting Silesia to Slavs were removed from the city. Subsequently, during the "Kristallnacht" (9-10 November 1938), the city’s synagogues were burned down and numerous Jewish shops and houses were plundered. Throughout most of the Second World War, the city was far away from the frontlines, which allowed for peaceful growth. However, in August 1944, it was declared a fortress (German: Festung Breslau). In January 1945, most of its inhabitants were forcibly evacuated. About 90,000 people died of cold and hunger. The remaining inhabitants arrived at Dresden. To make it more difficult for Germans to defend Wrocław, Stalin forced the Allies to carry out a bombing attack on Dresden. In the night of 13-14 February, Dresden was destroyed by a massive air raid. The siege of Wrocław lasted from 13 February to 6 May 1945. The capitulation of the fortress took place four days after the fall of Berlin and was signed by General Hermann Niehoff. Almost the entire city was destroyed in the course of the military actions.

After the war, Wrocław was resettled mainly by people from the Eastern Borderlands of Poland.[1.2]

  • [1.1] Edmund Małachowicz, Najnowszy zarys dziejów najstarszego Wrocławia, Wrocław 2000, pp. 49.
  • [1.2] [accessed on 21.02.2012].