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History

The history of the town dates back to the 12th century, when the village of “Wietrzna Góra” (Windy Hill) was situated in the area of today’s Kazimierz Dolny. Together with the neighbouring villages, it was granted to the nuns of the Norbertine Order from Zwierzyniec (district of Cracow) by Casimir II the Just, High Duke of Poland, at end of the 12th century (sources give the year of this event as 1181). It is believed that it was the Norbertine Sisters who renamed the village “Kazimierz” after their benefactor, Casimir II the Just (Polish: Kazimierz II Sprawiedliwy). The oldest document which contains the name “Kazimierz” dates from 1249.

The 13th-century crossing and custom house on the Vistula River, located at the intersection of the river and the land trade route, which connected the Ruthenia with the western lands, were the foundations on which a village with a marketplace was established here.

According to a document dated 1325, in the first half of the 14th century the local parish was founded – first with a wooden church, which was later replaced with a stone structure.

The stone watchtower, also simply called “the Tower,” was erected in the 13th century during the reign of King Władysław I the Elbow-high (Polish: Władysław I Łokietek). The stone castle, which served as the seat of the head of the commune, was erected by King Casimir III the Great (Polish: Kazimierz III Wielki), who transformed the medieval settlement into a royal city by granting it a municipal charter based on the Polish town law.

The centre of the former settlement shifted from the south to the northern bank of the Grodarz stream on the axis of the Lublin road.

At the beginning of the 14th century, both the entire area of the town and the market square were expanded. The market square was then surrounded by three frontages of one-storey houses (most probably wooden ones), which were later replaced by two-storey stone houses after the fires of 1561 and 1585.

The people of Kazimierz Dolny were mainly engaged in farming, brewing, boat building and ferrying across the Vistula.

Kazimierz Dolny owes its development primarily to the growing importance of inland water transport of goods for trade. As early as in the 15th century, the town was already an inland transshipment port for cereals, and as Kazimierz Dolny obtained new royal privileges, its population grew wealthier.

At the apex of the town’s development, i.e. in the 1500-1650s, Kazimierz Dolny was one of the major commercial centres trading cereals in Poland. It had a large river port (or a berth) situated in Przedmieście Gdańskie district and two enormous silo complexes in Przedmieście Gdańskie and Krakowskie districts.

During the economic heyday of the town, there were about sixty grain silos in Kazimierz Dolny, many of them were beautifully ornamented. The most impressive of all was “The Passion” silo, decorated with the scene depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ.

The goods traded in the port included cereals, flour, wood, leather, salt, cattle, etc. The cargo loaded in the Kazimierz Dolny port constituted 43% of all export goods in Poland in the first half of the 17th century. The goods delivered to the port included herrings, cod liver oil, wine, vinegar, sugar and spices. Some of the most precious buildings of Kazimierz Dolny, which today are historical monuments, were built during the golden age of the town.

Between 1585 and 1613 St. John the Baptist and St. Bartholomew the Apostle Parish Church was extended, reconstructed in Lublin Renaissance style, and three side chapels were added to the building. In 1615 it was furnished with a pulpit, and in 1620 pipe organ was installed in the church. The 17th century also saw the construction of two other temples: St. Anne’s Hospital Church (in 1671) and Franciscan monastic church (the construction of the church commenced in 1610, and the construction of the monastery started in 1628).

In 1536 the first synagogue was built in Kazimierz Dolny, as the Jewish community, which existed in the town from the 14th century, started to thrive and more and more Jews settled here.

The richly decorated mannerist-style tenement houses of rich merchant families: Przybyło, Celej and Górski, erected between 1615 and 1635, also witnessed the age of progress and prosperity of the town.

In the second half of the 17th century, Kazimierz Dolny was one of the most spectacular towns in Poland; however, the last years of the 17th century saw fires, floods and diseases, which hampered the development of the town. The age of glory and splendour of the town came to an end during the period of the Swedish invasion of Poland (commonly known as the Swedish Deluge, 1655-1656) and the Northern War (at the beginning of the 18th century). The castle was destroyed, and the churches and the monastery were plundered by the Swedish troops. The number of stone houses dropped by 90% (from 315 to 30), and the population decreased from 2500 to 917.

Having gone through all those hardships and war experiences, the town was never to regain its former greatness.

The 18th century brought a period of economic revival in the cereal trade; however, the promising situation did not last long. As a result of the Partitions of Poland and the separation of Gdańsk from Poland, the town of Kazimierz Dolny lost its status of a prosperous trading centre.

As the Vistula River gradually shifted away from the town, Kazimierz Dolny also lost the monopoly on ferry service on the Vistula to the rapidly developing town of Puławy.

Even the development of small trade run by the local Jews who resided in the town from the end of the 18th century and who formed the ethnic majority of its population could not save the town from its downfall.

After the Second Partition of Poland of 1793, Kazimierz Dolny fell under Russian rule. In 1809 a part of the castle was blown up by the Austrian troops. Between 1819 and 1832, Kazimierz Dolny was a private town, first held by the Sapieha family, and then by the Czartoryski family of Puławy.

Following the November Uprising, the property of the Czartoryski family was confiscated by the state, and since 1832 Kazimierz Dolny has been the property of the State.

The town was involved in both the November and January Uprisings against the occupation authorities, which was followed by severe repercussions, including the dissolution of the monastery and persecution of the local population. After the fall of the January Uprising, in 1869 Kazimierz Dolny was deprived of its municipal rights, which were not to be restored until 1927.

The great fire of 1866 destroyed the entire north-west frontage of the market square, together with the City Hall building.

At the end of the 19th century, the majority of buildings, mainly the silos, tenement houses and the castle fell into ruin. At the turn of the 20th century, as the town population increased, mainly due to the increasing number of Jewish citizens, the town had to meet the demand for residential housing. The traditional urban layout of Kazimierz Dolny with its stone tenement houses was gradually replaced with areas inhabited by the small-town poor living in wooden houses scattered around the town.

In 1877 the Vistula River Railroad (Polish: Kolej Nadwiślańska) system was opened, and a railway station in Puławy was built. Since then, Kazimierz Dolny has been a major tourist spot and a summer resort, especially popular among the people from Warsaw and Lublin.

Significant tourist traffic was observed as early as before World War I. At the end of the 19th century, the first hotel and restaurant (owned by Aleksander Berens) were opened (in 1880).

During Poland’s twenty years of independence after World War I, new types of architectural structures emerged in Kazimierz Dolny: villas and pensions.

In 1909, Władysław Ślewiński, a painter, student of Gauguin's working in Pont-Aven, organized a programme of outdoor painting sessions here and the town served as a site for painting en plein air. Roughly at the same time, the appropriate authorities recognized the need for cataloguing and saving the architectural monuments of Kazimierz Dolny from ruin and oblivion.

In 1913, the Warsaw Society for the Protection of Historical Monuments created a special team for the rescue of Kazimierz Dolny, and a local branch of the Society was established in the town in 1916. As a result of long-standing neglect and the effects of World War I, the town was in a very bad state.

However, Kazimierz Dolny revived during the twenty years after World War I, owing to the increased tourist traffic and the establishment of an art colony.

During that time, the town served as a meeting place for painters, as Tadeusz Pruszkowski, the president of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, organized outdoor painting sessions here.

In 1925, the Kazimierz Dolny Friends Association was created, and in 1933, the Association organized a celebration marking the 600th anniversary of Casimir’s III the Great crowning as the King of Poland.

World War II ended the age of Kazimierz Dolny as the town of the Christian and Jewish community that had existed there from medieval times. In March 1942, the German army liquidated the local Jewish ghetto and moved its residents out of the town. Most of them died in the Nazi death camps.

The Franciscan monastery was taken over by the occupant authorities as a Gestapo headquarters, where the persons arrested had been kept for detention and interrogation.

Since 1944 the Russian army had been stationed here. A considerable part of the town, already damaged during World War I, was completely ruined.

The town was rebuilt after the war ended, and the new modern layout of Kazimierz Dolny and its renovated infrastructure radically changed the pre-war urban landscape.

The town was walled off from the Vistula River by a levee with a new access road and a promenade; the banks of the Grodarz stream were secured as well. In 1946, the Celej family tenement house was adapted as a historical monuments conservation workshop run by Archbishop Karol Siciński.

After World War II, the town gradually revived to become a thriving art and tourist centre. Once again, it started to attract landscape painters and writers, such as Maria Kuncewiczowa and her husband Jerzy. The town also became host to nationwide festivals, such as Folk Bands and Singers Festival, Film Festival, as well as the recent event – the Festival of Klezmer Music and Tradition.

The Vistula Museum in Kazimierz Dolny, one of the largest museums in the Lublin Region, has several branches, and there are more than forty private art galleries in the town nowadays.

One should know that apart from Kazimierz Dolny, which is the administrative and cultural centre of the commune, there are several towns and villages nearby, each of them with their own history and uniqueness.

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