Konin is a city in central Poland, on the Warta River. It is the capital of Konin County and is located within the Greater Poland Voivodeship. Prior to 1999, it was the capital of the Konin Voivodeship (1975–1998). In 2006, the population was 81,233.
The earliest evidence of human habitation in Konin has been dated to the Paleolithic Era. On the dunes near the Warta, various ancient flint tools and implements have been found, among them being knives, burins, and tanged points. These earliest artifacts are of the Swiderian culture (Kultura Świderska) of 9000 - 8000 BC.
A permanent settlement arose along the Amber Road, which led from the Roman Empire to the Baltic Sea, traversing the area of present-day Konin. A map drawn by Ptolemy identified the settlement as Setidava (or Getidava), a probable spot to wade across the Warta and containing an emporium of some importance to merchants travelling along the route. The settlement's primary burial ground, situated on the dunes west of the centre of today's Konin, dates back to the Przeworsk culture (Kultura Przeworska) of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.
Toward the end of the early Middle Ages, Gród Kaszuba was the most significant of the fortified settlements near present-day Konin. Inhabited from the 10th through 12th centuries, Gród Kaszuba was situated on the meadows near the Warta. Its abandonment was likely a consequence of floods which damaged its fortifications. The remains of Gród Kaszuba are visible on the south bank of the river.
During the 12th and 13th centuries, in the high to late Middle Ages, a complex of settlements was centred on the location of today's Stare Miasto, where there existed a large settlement named Konin and a market place and a church built of sandstone. (The name Stare Miasto first appeared in use later, after Konin had been reestablished elsewhere.) What remains from that time is SS Peter and Paul's Parish Church, with its magnificent carved portal and a solar clock on the south wall, perhaps the oldest solar clock in Greater Poland. In 1331, the settlement was plundered and burnt by the Teutonic Knights. What remained was soon abandoned and the town of Konin was reestablished, six kilometres to the northeast, in the more defensible spot where the Old Town of Konin is situated today.
Since the 13th century, Konin has been situated on the marshy grounds of an island within a ford of the Warta River. The oldest available written work confirming the location of the town is associated with Gosław, the chief officer of a group of settlers, and was recorded in 1293. The town may have been chartered by the Duke of Greater Poland, Przemysł II, who visited Konin in 1284 and 1292. At that time, the town's north-south axis equalled 430 meters, while its east-west axis equalled 210 meters. Also, the town's area was eight hectares, and its circumference was 1100 meters. By the standards of the time, Konin was a town of medium size.
Konin's significance grew during the 14th century. Records from that era indicate that Konin possessed a Castellan, an office of significance in feudal Poland, and one which only the oldest towns in the country were granted. At approximately the midpoint of the century, Konin became the judicial seat of the Kalisz Voivodeship and functioned under the authority of a Starost. There may have also been a school in Konin at the time, as a student from Konin is listed in a 14th-century record of the Charles University in Prague.
The second half of the 14th century and the entire 15th are believed to have been a period of rapid development for Konin. During the reign of the Polish King Casimir III the Great (1310–1370), a king's castle was erected in Konin and the town was encircled with walls and a moat, marking the beginning of Konin as a king's town Later, King Władysław II Jagiełło (1351/52 - 1434) was a guest of Konin, visiting in the years of 1403, 1425, and 1433. (Władysław engineered an historic debilitation of the political and military power of the Teutonic Knights by means of his Polish-Lithuanian victory at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410.) His last stay at Konin, in 1433, was his longest. Throughout that year's summer, he resided in the town's castle, obtaining reports on a Polish retaliatory strike against the Knights.
In 1458, during the Thirteen Years' War (Wojna Trzynastoletnia, 1454–1466) against the Teutonic Order, there was a call for military recruitment throughout Poland. Every Polish town was bound to put up a quantity of soldiers, the number of which was a sign of the size and power of a given town. With regard to Konin, it was 15 infantrymen; by comparison, Poznań, the capital of Greater Poland, was bound to put up 60, while Kalisz, nearby Słupca and Kłodawa, and Koło were to provide 30, 20, 20, and 15 men, respectively. These quantities suggest that Konin was still a town of medium size. Notwithstanding, the town continued its development of handicraft trades and enlarged the area of its Starosty District. In 1425, Konin was granted a charter to conduct two fairs each year.
The 16th century, the period of Poland's golden age, was a time of significant economic, political, military, cultural, and territorial growth. In 1504, the village of Kurów, located on the river bank opposite the main body of Konin, was incorporated into the town. Furthermore, a description of the town, written in 1557, lists a brickyard and a mill as well as eight butchers, 14 bakers, 21 shoemakers, and four fishermen. However, Konin may have been one of the smaller towns of the time in eastern Greater Poland, based on its "Szos," the tax assessed on its earnings and the possessions of its townspeople. Konin was obliged to pay 32 zlotych, while Poznań (the capital of Greater Poland) was assessed 1400 zlotych; Kalisz, 230; nearby Słupca, 96; and both Koło and Pyzdry, 64.
Concerning religious matters and the Reformation, the starost of Konin, Jakub Ostroróg, was a notable supporter of the apostacy, and a local parish-priest, Stanisław Lutomirski, played a role in the Reformation in the region surrounding Konin.
During the 17th century, epidemics and war greatly afflicted Konin. A plague of three years' length (1628-1631) decimated the town's population. Subsequent efforts to revitalize Konin included King Władysław IV's 1646 proclamation, confirming the town's right to conduct two fairs annually and promoting participation in those events by offering military protection to merchants who attended them, and a 1652 edict of the Starost, licensing the Scottish community of Konin to erect breweries. Thereafter, the town was invaded and occupied by the Swedish Army in 1656 during the Second Northern War (The Deluge), suffering extensive damage (see Castles and Ancient town walls) and a reduction in the number of its houses, from 127 prior to the war to 25 in 1659 . By war's end, the town's population had been reduced to not more than 200 persons. Another plague occurred shortly afterward, in 1662.
The 18th century began with the turmoil of the Great Northern War (III Wojna Północna), during which Konin was so severely devastated, in 1707, that its restoration required the remainder of the century to complete. The second half of the century was a time of advanced crisis for the nation, as an irreversible decline of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodów) culminated in the Partitions of Poland and the loss of national independence. Poland's territory was occupied and divided among three bordering countries - Russia, Prussia, and Austria - in three stages, occurring in the years of 1772, 1793 and 1795.
As a consequence of the second partition, Konin was incorporated into Prussia, ending Konin's status as a king's town. At the time, the town's population was 780, with 165 houses, of which only one was made of brick. Inhabitants earned their living in agriculture and handicrafts. Among craftsmen, there were 22 shoemakers, 13 potters, and eight furriers. Eight fairs took place each year, together with a round-up of cattle. Poles, Jews, Germans and Scots were the town's four main ethnic groups. In 1794, Konin joined the first Polish insurrection, the Kościuszko Uprising (Insurekcja Kościuszkowska); the act of joining is recorded in the town's books of that period. Polish insurgents also took control of the town multiple times - e.g., in September 1794, when the town was entered by the soldiers of the corps of Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, the namesake of the Polish national anthem - the so-called "Dąbrowski's Mazurka." In 1796, the town was damaged by fire.
The 19th century began with the general, European disorder of the Napoleonic Wars, which neither eastern Greater Poland nor Konin escaped. At the start of the century, the Duchy of Warsaw (Księstwo Warszawskie) was created as a Polish autonomous region, dependent upon Napoleon I Bonaparte. The Napoleonic Wars gave Poles hope of regaining national independence, and they strongly supported Napoleon. On November 9, 1806, Poles took control of Konin and quickly organized a new, town government. The following year, the town was formally incorporated into the Duchy of Warsaw.
The November Uprising (Powstanie Listopadowe) erupted in 1830. Although Konin was not directly involved in this Polish uprising, as with other Polish cities and towns it suffered the political and cultural consequences of its failure. Those consequences included the denial of higher offices to Poles, the elimination of Polish as the official language, and the systematic russification of the primary and secondary schools.
The January Uprising (Powstanie Styczniowe) of 1863 had a greater affect on Konin than had the 1830 rebellion. As many as several dozen battles and skirmishes took place in and near Konin, to which many present day monuments attest.
From 1815 onwards, trade and handicraft activities increased substantially in Konin. A description of the town, from 1820, states that among the 2,456 inhabitants, there were 161 craftsmen, ten merchants, and 42 peasants. During the course of the century the population of Konin increased steadily, rising from 4,195 people in 1850 to 7,391 in 1896. In comparison, nearby Koło had an 1896 population of 8,800 inhabitants, while Turek's population that same year was 9,900. However, while nearby Łódź was becoming one of the most significant textile industrial centres in the world, only 12 cloth workshops and small factories existed in Konin in 1820.
During the 1830s, a general renewal of the town led to the construction of new streets and squares. Also, building lots were developed for industrial expansion, and dilapidated buildings were demolished.
By the end of the century, there were two factories that produced machines and special tools for agriculture - the larger of them belonged to L. Reymond, a citizen of Switzerland, who settled permanently in Konin. His factory was equipped with a 12 horse-power steam engine and a cast iron foundry. Apart from these enterprises, the town held 18 windmills, four tanneries, four workshops producing soap, three vinegar factories, two small factories producing boilers, two breweries, two oil-mills, a sparkling water factory, and a distillery.
For Konin, the early 20th century was a period of rapid development in the fields of culture, education, and social life. The Musical Society of Kalisz (Towarzystwo Muzyczne w Kaliszu) had as many as 72 members in Konin, and Konin's Jewish Library was one of the finest within the Gubernya of Kalisz, with a quantity of books and a general readership that significantly exceeded similar libraries in Kalisz, a much larger urban area. Also, a branch of the Rowing Club of Kalisz (Kaliskie Towarzystwo Wioślarskie) was founded in Konin in 1908 and, by 1914, had 95 members. Its building, displaying the club's coat of arms, still stands in Old Konin, in Zofii Urbanowskiej Street.
Workers' associations were also established in Konin. In 1905, when significant strikes occurred in Polish industrial centres such as Warsaw and Łódź, there were some minor strikes and turmoil in Konin as well.
A branch of the Polish gymnastic society, Sokół, was founded in Konin. A quasi-military association, its objective was to maintain the fitness of teenagers, to improve their health, and to provide for readily trainable military recruits in the event of a possible national uprising or a defense need. Similar Jewish and German associations also existed.
After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, battles between Russian and Prussian troops occurred near Konin. Ultimately, the city came under Prussian control and deteriorated. The economic situation of the town did not improve when, in 1918, Poland regained its independence (see: Second Polish Republic) in the war's aftermath. Living conditions of residents were still miserable, exacerbated by the lack of functioning water distribution and sewer systems. The subsequent inter-war econonomic crisis was harsh, and conditions did not begin to improve until the désenclavement of the town, attributable to the opening of a major railway, between Poznań and Warsaw, and the construction of a canal to Gopło Lake.
Jews had represented 30% of Konin's population prior to the Second World War. During the war, Konin was part of the land annexed by Nazi Germany (Reichsgau Wartheland). In the town's surrounding forests, the Nazis carried out mass executions of Jews which 95% got killed or send to concentration camps. In August 1943, the Jews at the labour camp at Konin, led by Rabbi Joshua Moshe Aaronson, burned down the huts in the camp and tried to escape. Almost all of them were killed. The town survivors published, in 1968, an extensive "Yizkor Book" (803 pages) in memory in the flourishing Jewish community: Mendel Gelbart, ed., Kehilat Konin: Bi-Feriḥatah uve-hurbanah (Tel Aviv). The book was written in Yiddish, Hebrew and English. A descendant of Konin Jews, Theo Richmond, wrote Konin: A Quest, the most extensive history of Jewish life in the town ever to appear in English. The majority of Jews in Konin were Mitnagdim, though two small communities of Hasidim lived within the Konin Jewish community, mostly adherents to Gerer Hasidism, with a small group of Aleksander Hasidim.