Raciborz defended a trade route passing through the Moravian Gate to Poland as early as in the 9 th century. It was situated at the intersection of main routes running from Czech and Moravia to Krakow, Rus and Silesia. According to Old Polish records, Raciborz was the capital of Kvads. Moreover, as mentioned in the chronicle written by Gall Anonym, it was captured by the king Boleslaus III’s (the Wrymouthed) knights. Later documents describe Raciborz as a castellany, and since 1172, as the capital of the Duchy of Raciborz established by Duke Mieszko I called Platonogi. Raciborz became a real stronghold that managed to withstand the Tatar onslaught twice in 1241 while Krakow did not. Since 1299, in accordance with Duke Przemslaw’s wish, Raciborz was ruled by its own council. The 13 th century was the time of thriving growth and the town’s cultural influence upon other Polish lands.
The first coin with Polish inscription ’Milost’ was issued in the duke’s mint as well as the first sentence in Polish was written down by Wincenty Kielczy, the author of the anthem ‘Gaude Mater Polonia’. The sentence was the following: ‘Gorze szą nam stało’. The name of the town comes from a Slav name, Racibor (German form, ‘Ratibor’). Raciborz was well placed, and that convenient location had a significant influence upon a rapid development of the town. Large salt warehouses emerged. The largest Silesian cereal fairs took place here. Raciborz was known for well developed craftsmanship, weaving and clothing manufacture.
In the first half of the 14 th century Raciborz had the largest population of all south-Silesian towns. It was ruled by the Piast Dynasty until 1336, and from that time by the Przemyslids, the Czech dynasty of Dukes. In those days, according to Norbert Mika, a historian, Raciborz managed to repurchase a hereditary voytship. The transaction took place before the year 1413, and the town paid in its own tender; Raciborz Heller – a two-sided minted silver coin. That was also a time when the council’s authority was extended; a right to choose a mayor.
In 1521, after the death of Walenty Przemyslid, who did not leave an heir, Raciborz was ruled by John II Dobry, Duke of Opole. The new ruler issued Hanuszowy privilege, and made Raciborz a place of proceedings of the country council and paying homage to the king of Czech.
In 1551 the Habsburgs gained control over Raciborz and Bohemia. During the Thirty Years’ War the town was destroyed several times. In 1683 townspeople gave a warm welcome to John III Sobieski marching to Vienna to save it from besieging Turks.
After the two Silesian Wars, Raciborz was joined to Prussia. In those days, the town experienced a rapid economic growth, that accelerated in 1846 due to the new railway line, that two years later joined Berlin via Raciborz to Vienna. Steelworks smelted ores. There was a faience factory in the town. Later, metallurgical industry developed. In the first ten years of the 20 th century the population of Raciborz was 39,000.
In the second half of the 19 th and 20 th century Raciborz was a centre of the Polish activity. There was a Polish-Upper-Silesian Association (1886 – 1939), a Polish bookshop, the Polish House ‘Strzecha’. Moreover, some Polish newspapers were published, for example, ‘Nowiny Raciborskie’ (1889 – 1921). The inhabitants took part in three Silesian Uprisings. After the plebiscite of 1921 Raciborz remained in Germany. Although, the Polish-German border ran nearby, Polish cultural, social and economic organizations were active, as well as the members of the Association of Poles in Germany, cooperatives ‘Rolnik’ and ‘Ogrodnik’ and Bank Ludowy. The cultural life thrived in the community centre, ‘Strzecha’.
The Polish people lived mainly in the nearby villages, while the town was dominated by Germans. By the time of Kulturkampf (1880s) the relationship between these two nations was quiet harmonious. The authorities even published all regulations in Polish and clerks had to have a good command of it.
Political and economic changes after WWI, as well as the rebirth of Poland and a new country, Czechoslovakia, decreased the town’s significance as an industrial centre. Newly established borders broke the economic relationships binding the region. Inhabitants were not in favour of fascism, which was shown in the documents gathered by Hitler’s political police. Both Polish and German citizens were victims of repression. According to American scientists, as stated by Ryszard Kincel, anti-fascists operating in Raciborz, prevented the Germans from constructing an atomic bomb in 1942 by fabricating the chemical composition of blocks made of graphite in Plania Werke (today’s SGL Carbon Group).
During the Hitler’s occupation, there were eight labour units consisting of the British, French, Russian and Italian prisoners. Moreover, Raciborz had a maximum security prison, a camp for the displaced Poles and three labour camps. At the beginning of 1945 hundreds of prisoners marched through the town. They had been evacuated from concentration camps due to the approaching front line.
It is estimated that approximately 80% of houses, public works, factories were destroyed. Only 3000 inhabitants returned to Raciborz during the first two months. Later, more of them appeared. Repatriates from different parts of Poland settled in Raciborz.
In the 1950s ‘Rafako’, a boiler engineering company was built. Housing estates mushroomed. In the first ten years after the war Raciborz was rebuilt, then it started to extend. In 1975 nearby villages were joined (Markowice, Sudół, Miedonia, Brzezie). The flood of 8 July, 1997 was the worst natural disaster to hit Raciborz for centuries. Water covered 60 per cent of the town. The water height reached 10.46 metres, and exceeded 4.5 metres the water level alert. A lot of citizens and entrepreneurs incurred enormous losses. On 21 st June, 2001 Raciborz received the ISO 14001 Certificate as the first town both in Poland and Europe. In this way the Environmental Management System was introduced. Raciborz with a population of 58 800 covers an area of 75 square kilometres.
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