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The Opole Land - an outline of history

1. The oldest traces of a human being

Because of attractive geographical position and fertile soils some regions of the contemporary Opole Province belong to the earliest and most intensely settled Polish areas. To such ones we should undoubtedly include The Morawska Gate through which the subsequent peoples where going to the north. The oldest traces of hormonids’ presence in this area date back to two hundred years ago. Neanderthal men’s settlements can be found near Racibórz (Owsiszcze, Kornice, Bieńkowice), the newer ones (about forty thousand years B.C.) – in Dzierżysław (the Głubczyce Province), in the vicinity of Saint Ann’s Mountain, in the Nysa Province. Huntsmen of  the glacier epoch hunted here for reindeer and mammoths, defended themselves against hairy rhino’s or cave lions’ attacks.

2. Nomadic peoples and the oldest settled cultures

Representatives of the subsequent Neolithic cultures were going through the Morawska Gate. This way from the Danube (six thousand years B.C.) came to our territory a culture of engraved ribbon ceramics, so the first farmers growing wheat, pea, flax. These were the breeders of not only goats and sheep but also of cattle and pigs. The developed culture of the Bronze period is represented by, among other things, the Łużycka culture, the oldest settlements of which can be found in Kietrz. In the Opole area there came a part of the Łużycka culture – the Silesian group which, with the time passing by, kept closer relationships with the Halsztacka culture using things made of iron. In the area of today’s Opole Province there can be found relatively numerous Celts’ settlements. We can find then near Głubczyce, Prudnik, Koźle. At the turn of our era Silesia was settled by representatives of the Przeworska culture created by, among other things, Luigis or perhaps Bastarns. Their origin (Celtic or Germanic) is a controversial topic among historians. From the north there came Germans. Upper Silesia was more weakly populated by German tribes – the seats of Silings, Vandals, Burgunds were concentrated in the area of Lower Silesia.

3. The tribal period

In the seventh century A.D. there came Slavonic tribes to the Opole area. From this period excavations in Izbicko, Racibórz – Oborze, Rozumice can be dated. Very vague information about the tribes living in the area of the upper Odra river were given by the so called Bawarski Geographer. From his description it can be concluded that between the springs of the Odra river and the Vistula river there lived Golęszyce who possessed five castles to the north of them – Opolanie having twenty castles. The territories of Golęszyce and Opolanie at the end of the ninth century were probably together with Wiślanie under the reign of Świętopełk – the ruler of the Great Morawy, and after the collapse of this state at the beginning of the tenth century – Silesia became a part of the Czech country.

4. The Piast period

Written and signed by the prince Mieszko the first a document “ Dagome iudex” ( before 992) confirmed including Silesia in the Polan country. As a result of Bolesław Chrobry’s efforts in the year 1000 there was established bishopric in Wrocław, covering all Silesia, and submitted to the Gniezno metropoly ( such a situation lasted to the times of  bull “De salute animarium” from 1821). After the first successes of the early Piast monarchy there came a period of its decline. Poland was invaded by the Czech prince Brzetysław the first who looted the country and Silesia was included in the Czech country. Supported by the emperor Henry the third, Kazimierz called the Odnowiciel managed to rebuild the state, but within the Czech borders part of the Gołęszyce’s districts. In spite of consecutive battles at the times of Bolesław Krzywousty this territory, later called the Opawski Silesia, remained within the Czech country. In the early Piast period, Silesia was the region of frequent wars and Polish – Czech – German rivalry.

5. The period of regional division

As a result of consecutive regional divisions initiated by the decision of prince Bolesław Krzywousty the third from 1138, in 1163 there was separated a district for Mieszko called Plątonogi ( brother of Bolesław Wysoki the first ) – it covered only the raciborska and the cieszyńska castellanies. At the end of stormy and eventful life Bolesław Wysoki separated the eastern part of his estate together with Opole for his son – Jarosław. After this man’s death the squire of Opole became the next Bolesław’s son – Henry the first called Brodaty. After Bolesław’s death (1201) Opole was taken by his brother – Mieszko Plątonogi. Apart from Opole and Racibórz since 1177 Mieszko also ruled hitherto territories of Little Poland together with Bytom, Oświęcim, Siewierz and Chrzanów. Mieszko as an heir of the eldest son of Bolesław Krzywousty the third laid claim to Kraków which was taken by him in 1210. Unfortunately, one year later he died, was buried probably in Wawel. The successor of Mieszko – Kazimierz the first is considered to be the father of the Opole city where he moved from Racibórz which was the centre of his power. The prince conducted a location of Opole (as one of the first cities on Polish land). He provided it with a collegiate and defending walls. The prince – crusader built the first stone castle in Opole. Contrary to the territories of today’s Lower Silesia, the land to the east of so called Silesian glade avoided fragmentation after the defeat caused by the Tatars’ invasion in 1241. This process influenced Opole – Racibórz lands forty years later – when after the death of prince Władysław the first, the country was divided into duchies: opolskie ( prince Bolko the first ), raciborskie (prince Przemysław), cieszyńskie ( prince Mieszko), bytomskie (prince Kazimierz). From these, with the time passing by, were separated the next duchies, among other things: kozielskie, strzeleckie, niemodlińskie. The most significant role among them was performed by the Opole Duchy  ruled consecutively by Bolko the first (1280/81 – 1313), his son Bolko the second (1313 – 1356), the sons of this one: Władysław Opolczyk the second (1356 – 1401) and Henry (1356 – 1365), next the sons of Bolko Strzelecki the third: prince bishop Jan Kropidło (1396 – 1421) and Bolko the fourth (1393 – 1437), his sons: Jan the first (1437 – 1439) and Mikołaj the first (1437 – 1476) and the sons of this one: Mikołaj the second (1476 – 1496) and Jan the second (1476 – 1532). The majority of these mentioned were good hosts, Bolko the first and Władysław Opolczyk the second were distinguished by their diplomatic talents. Prince Władysław performed the function of deputy of the king of Hungary Ludwik Angevine in Rutheria, from where he brought the icon of the Virgin Mother to Opole, in 1382 he gave it to the monastery in the basilica of Our Lady of Częstochowa founded by himself. The last from amongst the Piast Opole princes deserved as the only one to receive a nickname Good.

6. The Czech period

The Opole princes, remembering about the senior laws of their ancestors – prince Władysław the Exile the second actively joined the rivalry about the Kraków throne. One of the competitors to this honour was the Kujawski prince Władysław Łokietek. The princes of Upper Silesia acknowledged admittedly in 1320 his claims to the Polish crown, but a few years later in 1327 during the expedition of the Czech king Jan of Luxemburg, they paid homage to the heir of Saint Wacław’s crown. Regulation of status of Silesian lands took place during the next peace treaty that was negotiated in Namysłów (1348) between the rulers of Poland and Czech. The objective of the Czech sovereigns was taking over his lands into his direct reign after childless death of Silesian ruler. To prevent that from happening, for example the prince Ludwik Brzeski the first (1313/1321 – 1398) led to the union of the Brzeg and Legnica Duchies’ lands. After the death of the successor of Czech Luxemburgs – king Albrecht Habsburg the first (1439) the Silesian princes were in fact independent, although formally they acknowledged the supremacy of the Czech king. The times of splendor based upon peace and housekeeping fell on the years of reigns of prince Jan Dobry the second  (1476 – 1532) who succeeded in connecting within his country the lands of Upper Silesia.

7. The Austrian period

The death of Ludwik Jagiellonian – king of Czech and Hungary near Mochacz (1526) meant passing Silesia under the supremacy of Habsburgs. The Opole – Racibórz Duchy after the death of Jan Dobry the second in the form of lien was passed into the hands of consecutive administrators. The first of them was prince George Hohenzollern (1532 – 1543). After a dozen or so years of direct ruling of Ferdinand Habsburg ( as a king of Czech), the administrator was a daughter of Zygmunt Old the first – princess Izabela Zapolya (1552 – 1556) who took over these lands in return for relinquishment of claims to the Hungarian crown. Also in the subsequent years this area was treated as an auction element in the rivalry for a Hungarian throne or as an equivalent for the unpaid obligations ( for example, to the Wazas who ruled it in the years 1645 – 1666, in 1655 Jan Kazimierz stayed here). Owing to the tolerance of the rulers, the Opole land was not touched by the bloody consequences of religious wars. It became, though, one of the arenas of devastating Thirty Years War. In 1632 and ten years later there entered Swedish troops and among other things Opole was looted and completely destroyed.

8. The Prussian and German period

The next two hundred year long period of history of Silesia came to its end in 1740 when a young Prussian king Frederic the second impaired inheritance laws of Marry Theresa Habsburg. There were three so called Silesian wars as a result of which Silesia became a part of Hohenzollern’s monarchy (within the borders of Habsburgs’ state there remained Silesia called Austrian with five thousand square kilometers. Prussian rules were connected with deep reforms. The emphasis was laid upon the development of heavy industry, Ozimek became the significant centre of metallurgy, where for the first time in Europe coke was used to steel melting. The nineteenth century also meant a change of standards in everyday life and, at the same time, the period of struggling with natural calamities (among other things cholera in the years of 1831 – 1832, 1849, 1853, typhoid in the years of 1847 – 1848, 1879 – 1880). The consequence of state collapse in the Napoleon epoch were the changes in social politics and administration. In 1816 Opole became the capital of one of the four Silesian regencies. Modernization was created by the authorities as a dissemination of German culture, customs and way of life, mainly by offices as well as school and army. Similarly, as in other regions of Europe, in the nineteenth century national attitudes took shape. Their most rapid manifestation were three Silesian Uprisings, with the bloodiest episode – fights for Saint Ann’s Mountain located in the area of strzelecki administrative district (Polish side gained here majority during the plebiscite, in the areas of remaining administrative districts of the Opole land Germans had the majority of votes). After the division of Upper Silesia in 1922 the status of Upper Silesia regency was changed – it was raised to the dignity of province (the status was maintained to 1938). During the Nazi period there were crucial economic investments, among other things building water reservoirs in Otmuchów and Turawa, shoe plants in Otmęt or chemical plants in Kędzierzyn. After 1933 there were more and more attacks on Polish people. The change of onomatology of localities became an element of national struggle. On the first of September 1939 from the area of the Opole Province there was conducted an attack on Poland by the forces grouped in the “South” Army. The people expressing their distance towards Nazism were exposed to various repressions, with expulsion and imprisonment in concentration camps. The Opole Jews were exposed to an absolute extermination.

9. After the year of 1945

Encroachment of the Soviet Army into the Opole province ( January 1945) for many of its inhabitants meant the most dramatic period of war. As a result of escape and evacuation – conducted in the conditions of front struggles and severe frost – three thousand and two hundred million people left Silesia. The people who remained were affected by red army soldiers’ brutality. Every day reality were killings, rapes, robberies. All localities were exterminated – children, old people, ecclesiastical people ( for example, Boguszyce, Kup, Groszowice). Industrial plants’ assets were looted, men were taken away to work in the Soviet Union in great quantities. From the hands of headquarters of the Soviet Union power was given to the organs submitted to PPR. In the period to 1951 verification of population was carried out. Simultaneously, displaced people were coming here from the areas of central Poland and so called eastern borderland. In 1950 from the established in 1945 Silesian – dąbrowskie province the Opole province was separated. The Opole province participated in the solidarity breakthrough. The unionists from the plants in Opole, Nysa, Kluczbork, Brzeg or Zdzieszowice belonged to the most active in the region. The important event was pilgrimage of John Paul the second to Saint Ann’s Mountain (the twenty – first of June 1983).

The symbol of Opole and region became a National Festival of Polish Song organized since 1963. In the economic dimension – to such dignity aspire The Cement Plant Górażdże and The Power Plant Opole. The hotbed of new staff are the Opole higher schools. One of the greatest challenges which the Opole province faced was the struggle with the flood consequences, in 1997 as well as in 2010. This kind of mishaps was an occasion  to express solidarity with the victims of a disaster. The inhabitants of this land – regardless of their roots – in a vast majority showed compassion and help to their neighbou 

 Dr Antoni Maziarz

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