The history of the Cracow district is almost inextricably linked with the history of the city of Cracow. For centuries, since the city came into existence, the district areas remained in Cracow’s shadow, functioning as the city’s granary Yet, the proximity of a huge urban centre also had its advantages for the rural areas of the district, fostering economic and cultural development.
The Cracow area has been a pla¬ce of human settlement since prehistoric times. It was during the Ice age, when the area’s climate was very nearly a polar climate, that Neanderthal man set up camp in the Dark Cave (Jaskinia Ciemna). The traces of his stay discovered by archaeologists are among the earliest remains found in the territory of Poland. Prehistoric people hunted large mammals, mainly mam¬moths. Other remnants of mammoth-hunter settlements were found in the caves of the Kluczwoda Valley (Dolina Kluczwody) – it is no coincidence that one of them is called the Mammoth Cave (Jaskinia Mamutowa).
In the first millennium BC, Celts began settling upon the Vistula River. They brought along the skill of producing grey pottery, which was afterward acquired by indigenous people. The remnants of pottery production centres have been discovered in numerous places near Cracow. However, the most important one was found in Zofipole in the Igołomia-Wawrzeńczyce commune. Iron was also produced here in primi¬tive charcoal smelting furnaces called dymarki in times when Roman emperors held sway over a large part of Western and Southern Europe. Bog iron, easy to obtain and mined locally was used in iron production. Archaeological excavations in the area of Igołomia and Wawrzeńczyce confirm that even then, almost two thousand years ago, this area was agriculturally developed and densely populated.
IN THE COUNTRY OF THE PIAST DYNASTY
During the Early Middle Ages the Cracow area was inhabited by a Slavic tribe of the Vistulans. Over time, they created a strong tribal country in this area, with centres in Wiślica and Cracow The area may have already been under the influence of the powerful Great Moravia by the end of the 9th century After the fall of that Slavic monarchy – crushed by the Magyar invasion at the beginning of the 10th century – Czech princes tried to take hold of the Lesser Poland area (Małopolska). The supposed attempts to Christianise the Cracow region in the Slavic rite are presumed to have taken place then but this has not been fully confirmed yet.
In the middle of the 10th century a new player, also interested in Lesser Poland, entered the game. This was the tribal state of Polans, origi¬nating in the territory of today’s Greater Poland (Wielkopolska) and growing in strength. Mieszko I, the first prince confirmed historically who decided to receive baptism and renounce pagan¬ism in 966, incorporated the Cracow region into his fast-growing country. Then the area of today’s Cracow district became part of one of the most important provinces in the nascent Poland, and Cracow was soon regarded as one of the most important cities of the princedom, and later on – of the Polish kingdom. The city became a religious capital in the year 1000 and the country’s capital in the times of Casimir the Restorer in the 11th century
While the city of Cracow was expanding, the Cracow area was gradually developing. This development was facilitated by trade routes running through the city and local areas, es¬pecially the route coming from Russia towards Silesia and the Moravian Gate (Brama Moraw¬ska). The needs of Cracow and the residing princes and kings facilitated the development of the local lands. The fertile area of the Miechów Upland was the first to be intensively settled. Members of various well-known nobles of knightly stock, often the progenitors of future great lordly families of the Nobles’ Republic, funded churches and fortified castles in the originating villages. Economic development and the establishment of new towns and villages was in progress even after the Piast monarchy was divided into independent provinces – also because by this time, the Duchy of Cracow was the most important of all Polish provinces.
During the period of struggle for the unifica¬tion of the country, various parties fought for control of Cracow. The pretenders strove to consolidate their influence in the Cracow region, but they often had to flee from a stronger enemy – and so at the beginning of the 14th century Ladislaus I of Poland (Władysław Łokietek) was forced into hiding, taking refuge in the caves near Ojców. His main hideout was named Łokietek’s Cave in commemoration of the king’s exile. Yet, it was the unfortunate “caveman” who eventually succeeded and sat on the throne in Cracow as the king of the united country
However, his successor, the last Polish king of the Piast dynasty, Casimir the Great, was the one who did the most for the development of the region. That ruler, who “found Poland wooden and left it made of stone”, ensured the development of the country’s economy.
He also made sure to secure the borders – it was then that the castles which make up the network of border strongholds placed on rocky hills and cliffs of the Cracow-Częstochowa Jurassic Highland Chain, known as eagles’ nests because of their spectacular location, were built or extended. The castles in the district in Ojców and Pieskowa Skała were also built at that time.
THE JAGIELLONIAN MONARCHY
When the Lithuanian prince Jogaila – after his coronation called Władysław Jagiełło (or Ladislaus Jagiełło) -ascended the Polish throne, Cracow became the capital of the vast Polish-Lithuanian state, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea and from the Carpathians to the area of Moscow. The Cracow region gained new opportunities for development, being the area located closest to the capital of the new empire.
Jogaila’s successors -the kings of the Jagiel¬lon dynasty – maintained the status of their capital and the surrounding land. The Cracow area was not disturbed by raids or marches of troops, although the border with Silesia, which at that time was a part of the Czech kingdom, was nearby The line of fortifications erected by King Casimir the Great fortunately turned out to be necessary in only a very few skirmishes.
The second half of the 15th century, the period of greatest power of the Jagiellon dy¬nasty, when its members ruled the whole of Central Europe, welding power over Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Kingdom and Hungary, set its stamp on the Cracow region with nu¬merous churches built in the Gothic style. It was then that the chronicler and canon of the Cracow cathedral, and at the same time the teacher of Casimir Jagiellon’s sons – Jan Długosz – founded a beautiful brick church in Raciborowice. Wood was still the main material used for construction work in the country, and several architectural masterpieces were made of wood. Local carpenters erected a church in Wola Radziszowska and a little later – at the beginning of the 16th century – churches in Racławice and Paczółtowice were built.
The reign of the last two kings of the Jagiel¬lon dynasty – Sigismund I the Old and Sigis-mund II Augustus – was the golden age of the entire monarchy, both in the terms of culture and economy. The aristocratic families from Lesser Poland who were quickly becoming wealthy producing grain, invested their funds in their own castles instead of Gothic churches, built in the fashionable Renaissance style in imitation of the royal Wawel Castle.
It was then that the Tęczyn Castle gained its Renaissance look, but the most splendid monument of that period is Pieskowa Rock (Pieskowa Skała).
The reign of the Jagiellon dynasty in Poland ended with Sigismund Au¬gustus’s death in 1572. From then on Cracow was the seat of elective monarchs.
The Sejm (Parliament) gained the most power in the country, as the nobility elected the king in free election and aristocratic families became particularly influential. After the elec¬tion of Sigismund III Vasa in 1587, the centre of power started to move north. Soon, the king decided to move his seat to Warsaw. The political and economic domination of the nobility soon came to have a negative impact on the urban population. Outside the cities, the peasantry lived in poverty and eco¬nomic backwardness; peasants were regularly used as a free labour force at nobles’ farms.
Former knightly families – which became noble families – mostly profiting from agri¬culture, invested their income in their own residences. However, rather than erecting fortresses in inaccessible places, which by then was no longer a practical approach in view of the development of firearms, the nobility began building manor houses on their own estates.
The turbulent second half of the 17th century, when the Republic in general was devastated by one raid after another, had a negative influence on the Cracow area as well. First and foremost, the Swedish army wreaked havoc in 1655. Fortunately, most invaders later attacking the country did not reach Lesser Poland. Nevertheless, the collapse of the entire country also affected the province.
THE PERIOD OF PARTITIONS
The state, weakened by the wars of the 17th century and aristocratic anarchy, was no match for its neighbours, which by then were growing extremely powerful. Eventually, the Republic was partitioned by Austria, Prussia and Russia. Since then, the history of different parts of the Cracow region, separated by borders, would independently run its course.
Already in 1772, the Austrian Habsburgs seized Galicia – this area, along with the southern part of the present Cracow District, with Skawina and Świątniki Górne, was separated from Poland. In 1795 during the third partition period, when the invaders completely abolished the Polish state, the rest of the Cracow area found itself in the territory of the Austrian monarchy This did not last long, however. With Napoleon’s successes, the sate was temporarily restored in 1807 – this time as the Duchy of Warsaw. Two years later, Cracow and the area north of the Vistula were incorporated into its territory
After Napoleon’s downfall, other changes took place. Cracow, along with the area sur-rounding it, i.e. the western part of the present district including Czernichów, Zabierzów and Krzeszowice – became the independent Repu¬blic of Cracow The border of the Russian Empire (or, to be more precise, the so-called Congress Poland, an semi-independent Kingdom) ran across the Cracow Valleys and along the south borders of the Miechów Upland. Thus, the present communes of Igołomia-Wawrzeńczyce, Michałowice, Kocmyrzów-Luborzyca, Iwanowi¬ce, Skała, Słomniki, Sułoszowa, Jerzmanowice and a large part of Zielonki and Wielka Wieś communes were separated from Cracow. This artificial division severed the old economic and cultural ties. Poles’ aspirations to freedom pushed them to repeated uprisings against the occupying powers.
The battles of the November Uprising in 1830–1831 essentially did not involve the Cracow re-gion but in 1846, as a consequence of the uprising undertaken in Cracow and Galicia, the Republic of Cracow was dissolved and incorporated into the Austrian Empire. The Habsburgs did not maintain the development of the border province called Galicia and Lodomeria; that is why, after some time, people started to refer to it ironically as Golicja and Gtodomeria (a pun referring to the province’s poverty). Difficult times came for Poles in the Russian state, especially after another failed attempt to regain independence: the January Uprising of 1863. Partisans fought against the czar’s troops in various locations, including the Cracow area. One of the biggest battles of the uprising took place near the Pieskowa Rock castle. The Poles of Galicia, who wanted to participate in the uprising, sneaked through the border near Cracow Supplies, mainly arms, for the insurgents were also smuggled through the border.
The previous century brought other impor¬tant changes for The Cracow region. Though the devastation of World War I was extensive, since the front line was located here in 1914 and 1915, all the drawbacks were overshadowed by one positive outcome of the war – in 1918 Poland regained its independence. Poland owes its independence mostly to Cracow but also to other meritorious cities). The route of the legendary Marshall Józef Pilsudski’s First Cadre Company ran through the district.
The country enjoyed its independence for only 20 years, however. In the first week after Hitler’s attack on Poland on September 1,1939, the entire district was occupied, including Cra-cow. A resistance movement against the fascist occupants soon started to emerge. Yet, it was extremely difficult for the movement to deve¬lop due to Cracow becoming a strictly guarded province capital of a part of Nazi-occupied Poland, known as the General Government. The occupation years were marked by the executions of not only the members of the resistance, but also ordinary people. The Jewish community suffered a terrible fate – almost all Jews, including those in the Cracow district, were murdered by the Germans.Whole sections of towns like Skawina or Słomniki disappeared.
The German occupants were forced to retreat from the Cracow region by the Red Army – this happened as late as in January 1945. By a fortunate twist of fate, the front moved quickly, and the fleeing Germans ma¬naged to destroy only some of the bridges on the Vistula and not much more. But for most Poles the “liberation” was not real, as the Soviets subordinated Poland and then imposed a communist government. The members of the resistance against Germans were accused of collaboration with the occupant, persecuted, deported to Siberia or even murdered. The post-war years are also the years of the “planned economy” and attempts to carry out the collectivisation of agriculture. In the Cracow region, almost all aristocratic families were expelled from their properties and homes. The abandoned, historic manor houses fell into ruin. Farmers, who as a result of the post-war agricultural reform had gained some land on former farms owned by the nobility, had to defend their property from attempts of obligatory collectivisation. At the same time, the communist authorities imposed strenuous industrialization on the country – often making utterly absurd decisions, such as the one to build Nowa Huta, a purpose-built city containing a huge steel mill. Fumes from the mill heavily polluted crops at the eastern frontiers of the Cracow district which belong to Poland’s most fertile lands (!).
The post-war period also brought admini¬strative changes: for example, in 1975 districts were no longer administrative units. The district division was brought back in 1999.
This was possible due to the peaceful revolu¬tion of 1989, when the communists had to share some of their power. At that time the Cracow region became a part of the democratic Republic of Poland instead of the Polish People’s Republic.
THE DISTRICT’S LOCATION IN RELATION TO THE REGION AND THE COUNTRY
The current borders of the district were establi¬shed 10 years ago. The district came into exi¬stence after the administrative reform of 1999. Since then it constitutes one of the 22 districts of the Lesser Poland province (województwo małopolskie). The district authorities are loca¬ted in Cracow in a modernist building erected in 1938 at the corner of Słowackiego Avenue and Łobzowska Street. The Cracow district is one of the best economically developed districts in Poland, being located near one of the most important cities in Poland. The area of the district constitutes a natural expansion zone for the Cracow conurbation. For many Cracow residents who want to live outside the city centre, the fast-developing housing estates and single-family housing zones situated here are an ideal solution. Numerous investment projects of the industry and services sectors are also carried out here. Moreover, the area of the district is a base on which transport infrastructure is developed, considering its connections with Cracow, its international airport and the A4 motorway with city ring road. At the same time, it is the rural area producing basic farm supplies for Cracow, despite the decrease in importance of agriculture for the district’s economy. Most importantly, vegetables like pepper and tobacco are cultivated in the Igołomia-Wawrzeńczyce commune.
Many industrial plants operate in the district. The Skawina Power Plant is one of the biggest power suppliers in the entire province. A large foundry, located on the grounds of an old aluminum mill, and Lajkonik, a food processing plant, operate in Skawina. Other well-known companies from the food industry include Gellwe in Zabierzów and Felix near Słomniki.
There are also mining companies in the district. These primarily obtain rock resource in quarries in the area of the Cracow-Częstochowa Jurassic Highland Chain. The Czatkowice limestone mine, Niedźwiedzia Góra diabase quarry near Tenczynek and porphyry quarry in Zalas are worth mentioning. There is an opencast sand mine near Cholerzyn. Gravel is also extracted in many places of Vistula valley.
The Cracow District signed partnership cooperation agreements with the Munich district in Germany (starting in 2003) and with the Italian province of Bergamo (also in 2003). The pacts with both entities have resulted in numerous joint ventures in many fields. Cooperation under the partnership agreement with the Munich district involves the following actions: student exchange, including for secondary school students, sports association and art group exchange, and also shared experience in the operation of local government, education, welfare services, and social and trade organisations. In turn, the cooperation with the province of Bergamo particularly concerns such areas as tourism, trade, craft, agriculture, industry, construction work, renewable energy and environment protection technologies, as well as education, sport and culture. Annual participation of Cracow district representatives in international trade fairs in Bergamo, the biggest event in Italy, is also significant.