Once mentioned by Ptolemy, the name of Setidava is identified with the present-day Żnin, being a town located on the amber route.
From the 6th to 8th century, a stronghold existed in this place. The first record of Żnin comes from 1118. Żnin was an important trading settlement and the castellany stronghold on the left bank of the Great Żnin Lake as well as a centre of property of the Archdiocese of Gniezno. From the 13th to 16th century, a mansion of the archbishop was located here. In the beginning of the 15th century, an archbishop’s mansion known as the castle or the palace was built here. In the next few centuries, Żnin became an unofficial capital of the Archbishops of Gniezno. In 1262, Archbishop Janusz was granted a charter from Bolesław Pobożny, which relieved the people living in the vicinity from the ducal jurisdiction and the burdens of Polish law. Using its regulations, the archbishop established Żnin on the basis of Magdeburg rights most probably between 1263 and 1272. The archbishops began to mint coins from 1284, on the strength of the next royal charter.
In 1331, the town was completely destroyed by the Teutonic Order. In 1339, a monumental Dominican monastery church was built, known as: John the Baptist. About the middle of the 14th century, a fortified wall was built around the town.
In the middle of the 15th century, it was also encircled by a water and earth artillery defence system. Because of that, Żnin, together with a nearby castle in Wenecja, created a defence system protecting the bishop’s property on the border with the Teutonic Order. In the second half of the 15th century, after the destruction of the castle in Wenecja, the seat of the administration of the primate’s property was again moved to Żnin. In 1374, Żnin became the favourite residence of Archbishop Janusz Suchywilk, the former Royal Chancellor. In his time, the town was experiencing a period of splendour. In 1414, 1418 and 1422 Władysław Jagiełło visited Żnin. Between 1496 - 1503 Cardinal Fryderyk Jagiellończyk, the king’s son, visited the town several times. The town was destroyed multiple times by conflagrations (i.e. 1447, 1494, 1495, 1601, 1688, 1692, 1700, 1751) and the people were decimated by pestilence.
Due to wars of the 17th and 18th century, the town deteriorated. Houses, streets, fortifications, a bath and a brickyard all became dilapidated. In the 18th century, there were over a dozen guilds, a few fraternities, for instance a kur’s fraternity. Merchants were organized in guilds as well. In the seventh decade of the 16th century there were 86 craftsmen of various occupations, 11 bakers, three butchers, five inn-keepers, four tradeswomen, two winemakers. The townspeople cultivated 24 fields. In the 19th century a railway was built (in 1889, the route was Żnin – Inowrocław, Damasławek and Rogoźno, in 1895, to Bydgoszcz through Szubin) and a narrow-gauge railway (in 1889 from Żnin – Szalejewo, in 1895, the Ośno branch, route to Gąsawa through Wenecja and Biskupin).
In the end of the 19th century, bigger companies emerged: two dairies, an oil-mill, a saw-mill, a brickyard, a tannery, a farm machinery factory, a steam-brewery, a steam-mill and a vinegar factory. The most important industrial building was the sugar refinery, built between 1893 - 1894. In season, it employed around 800 people. Since 1870 to the beginning of the 20th century, the town modernized its urban infrastructure. Several utilitarian buildings were built, i.e. a fire-station, a prison, a hospital and a slaughterhouse. Wells, city water mains and a gas-works were built. Streets were paved. Street lighting was installed – initially paraffin, later gas.
During the Greater Poland Uprising in January 1919, severe struggles with the Germans took place in Żnin and its vicinity. During the World War II, the Germans relocated several hundreds of Polish people living in Żnin. More than 200 of them were transported to Germany to places of forced labour. After the war, due to industrialization, the town began to develop rapidly. Currently there are a few large companies in the business of food, metal and machine production[1.1].
- [1.1] More: Czesław Sikorski, Zarys dziejów Żnina, Żnińskie Towarzystwo Kulturalne, Żnin 1990.