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The written documents confirming such presumption have been found in Rabi Rashi’s commentary to the Bible from the 11th-century. The Jewish scholar of Troyes, France, wrote: “HALEQOSI, a town in Polonia, which belongs to the land of Israel, although it is located beyond its borders. And so you should know that there are gold and silver ores and so is salt in its purlieus as the Dead Sea reaches the place.” It has been confirmed that as early as in 1184 a local presbytery existed in the Old Settlement of Olkusz. The first historic record of the town go back to the liability made in 1257 by Boleslaus the Shy, the Duke of Sandomierz and Kraków, to render about 400 grammes of gold annually off the income from the town’s lead for the Clarist convent.
However, the fact that Olkusz had had a municipal charter was officially evidenced forty years later. In 1299 “Henricus, civis de Ilkusz” [Henry, a citizen of Ilkusz] was allowed to set up a village of Zimnodól. The record has been claimed the first ever since and so in 1999 the town grandly celebrated the 700th Anniversary of Olkusz. Under the rule of Casimir the Great (1333-1370), the town with its square layout was surrounded by the walls of stone with fifteen flanking towers and six gates leading to Slawków, Kraków and Wolbrom (or Miechów). At the end of the 14th century, a city hall was erected, being the seat of the town’s authorities. The ruling class of the town was dominated by citizens of German descent.
An intensive growth of Olkusz, generated through the exploitation of lead ores and its commercially attractive location on the Kraków-Wroclaw route, provided the town with resources for redevelopment of St. Andrew’s Church to its present size and the erection of the monastery of St. Augustian’s order together with Our Lady Church.
Wealth of Olkusz’s citizens, shown by the amount of brick houses at
the time, significantly surpassed that of their Kraków’s counterparts.
The importance of the town, located on the Baba river, was confirmed in
1356 when it was chosen to the Court of Six Towns, the Polish general appeal
instance to German law. Also here, in 1363, Emperor Charles IV was officially
welcomed by King’s representatives as he proceeded to Kraków for his wedding
with Elisabeth, a granddaughter of Casimir the Great. The construction
of draining tunnels in the 15th and 16th centuries gave the local miners
the access to even more beds of lead ores containing silver. The progress
of that engineer undertaking was carefully supervised in 1547 by King Sigismund
August. The total length of those underground corridors went beyond 30
km. The building cost of one kilometre equaled the erection costs of fifteen
municipal houses in the town centre. At the time of its greatness, in Olkusz
there were 300 mines of lead ores. In 1579 a royal mint was opened here
to produce silver coins, famous for its quality long after the mint shut
The citizens of Olkusz of that time occupied high-ranked positions in the royal administration and court. The town gave also the Cracow Academy a number of scholars: theologists, physicians and authors of medical handbooks. Marcin Bylica, the author of astronomical tables, lectured at universities of Padua, Bologne and Buda. His relative, Stanislaw Bylica was also an astronomer. Marcin Biem worked on the calendar reform. Only Copernicus was more famous.
At the end the 17th century, excessive mining exploitation, the conflagarations, the famine, the out-pours of the Baba river and the Swedish invasion in the mid-17th century destroyed the economic well-being of the Silver Town.
The mining traditions revived during the period of partitions (1771-1918). In 1814, on the initiative of Stanislaw Staszic, the “Józef” mine was opened. And so the condition of the town improved. The Poviat authorities found its seat here: new edifices were built to house th Starosty and a hospital. At the same time Olkusz lost irreparably many of its historic monuments. The town walls, St. Augustine’s monastery together with Our Lady’s Church and the town hall were dismantled.
The citizens of Olkusz bravely participated in the November Uprising of 1831 and the January Uprising of 1863. In 1863 over 30 battles against Russian troops were fought in the area. Apolinary Kurowski, Marian Langiewicz, Francois Rochebrun, Józef Miniewski and Lt. Francesco Nullo, who died in the battle of Krzykawa and was buried on the Olkusz cemetery, were some of the most famous freedom fighters. The rebellions and Tsar’s repressions did not halt the industry development in the town. It was intensified between 1883 and 1885 when the Iwanogród-Dabrowa railway line was laid here. Several years later, in 1907 Peter Westen set up a factory of metal pots. Many town’s citizens participated in the Great War, many enlisted with Marshal Józef Pilsudski’s legions. There was even a unit of Olkusz’s riflemen. General Stefan Buchowiecki, chief doctor of the legions, came from Olkusz. The citizens of Olkusz knew how to prepare themselvs for freedom. They established the Rescue Committee for Poland, which in 1916 opened a male secondary school, organised various competitions, fought with illiteracy, spread the rules of hygiene in the countryside, etc.
After liberation in 1918, the number of cizitens of Olkusz nearly doubled in the next 20 years. A new school was built and so were a new power station and a sewage system. The establishment of a health resort in Bukowno was another important initiative.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, the Germans annexed the town into the so-called ‘das General-Government’. The border with the Third Reich run in the nearby Rabsztyn. On July, 31, 1940, on the day, which later would be called Bloody Wednesday, Germans shot 20 citizens and tortured hundreds of others. The Second World War also brought the death to those Olkusz’s citizens who had Jewish origins. In June and July of 1942 nearly the entire local Jewish community was transported to Auschwitz and exterminated there.
After the Second World War, Olkusz has been witnessing a significant development generated by industrial investment in the town itself and in the nearby Industrial District of Upper Silesia. A modernised, state-owned “Emalia” topped among national producers of enamelled pots, bath tubes and sinks. The railway was electrified. A new mine of independent metal ores was built and named “Olkusz”. A wide-track railway line was built, connecting Slawków, Olkusz, Hrubieszów, Moscow, and Magnitogorsk. It was constructed to supply the Steelworks of Katowice with iron ore. The town’s development was accompanied by a fast growth in its population, from 12 thousand before World War II to over 40 thousands several years later. The building industry flourished. Block estates surrounded the town. A Municipal Cultural Centre, a hospital, a municipal hotel and sports hall were raised. The town was connected with Silesia by a dual carriageway.
Since 1990, when the local authorities regained the control over the
town’s issues, Olkusz has been particularly changing: its streets have
been refurbished and better lit, its sewage system has been developing.
After an administrative reform in 1999, the Silver Town once again became
the seat of Poviat authorities, however this time within the borders of
the Voivodeship of Little Poland.
Source: city website.
Jens Pattke, 7 Oct 2004