Long time since important trade routes ran through Silesia connecting Easter and Western Europe. Many settlements were established along the trade routes, where merchants travelling from place to place apart from barter could rest after the hardships of journeys. Over the course of the time the settlements became the centers of economic, political and cultural life. By one of such routes sometime in the 12th century a market settlement called Środa Śląska was founded. It’s got its name from the markets which were held here every Wednesday (Środa means Wednesday in Polish).
The transformation of Środa Śląska from a market settlement into an urban environment had started in the reign of Henry the Bearded (1202-1238) and was connected with his aiming at gaining greater economic and political significance of Silesia as a program of unification of Poland. He wanted to achieve these aims by planned foundation of new towns and villages in the underpopulated area of Silesia. It seems as though, the prince conferring Środa first Flemish Law and later Magdeburg Law was seeking a town rights model which could be used for founding other towns and villages. The town charter of Środa has not preserved and all we know is that at the beginning of 13th century Środa was granted Flemish Law, which in 1235 were replaced with Magdeburg Law. This town law was then modified to fit local conditions and as a result a new variant of Magdeburg Law called Środa Śląska Law was created. It differed from the Magdeburg one because it subordinated the town to greater extent to its ruler, limiting the power of the self-government. Środa Śląska Law was a model of town rights for 115 towns founded at that time in the area of Silesia, Wielkopolska (Greater Poland) and Małopolska (Little Poland) for instance Opole, Kalisz, Łęczyca, Wieliczka and Radom.
The social and legal status changes connected with the foundation of the town were followed by the changes in the layout. The town was not built from the scratch on new terrain but based on the pre-existing settlement, modified to urban needs. The old spindle-shaped marketplace was retained becoming the market square. Three perpendicular streets that led out from the market in a northward and southward directions divided the town into building plots. A little bit later they marked out two streets parallel to the market square, currently Kościuszki and Daszyński Streets. The town with its shape looking like a square occupied about 16 hectares (one Flemish fief). The occurring changes were reflected in the change of its name (in Latin Novum Forum, in German Neumarkt). Środa, or Nowy Targ as it began to be known as, for the first time was referred to as a town in 1238. At that time in the immediate proximity of the town there were three villages: Flamischdorf – Bielany, Probstei – Probostwo (Parish)(the vicinity of the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary) and Pfaffendorf – Popwice(present Sikorski street incorporated into the town in 1922). Many buildings erected then have been used by the citizens for centuries and having been repeatedly rebuilt survived till these days. At the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries a Romanesque style church dedicated to St. Andrew was built. The leper hospital and the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary also date back to the 13th century. In 1266 in the north-west corner of the city there had been castellan’s castle that was a seat of the deputy of the prince. After falling to the Czech rule, the office of the castellan was taken over by the burgrave. In 1283 the Merchant House was built, which together with the neighboring stalls became the center of the town,
The 14th century was a period of particular fast economic growth. It could have been due to the fact that it was the only century in the history of Sroda when there was no atrocities of war. The most important event for Sroda in that century was its annexation into Czech territory. In 1327 the Duchy of Wrocław became a fiefdom of the Bohemia and after the death of the Duke Henry IV the Righteous, the duchy was incorporated into it. It was six hundred years until Sroda was returned to Polish hands.
The craftsmanship and guilds flourished. The guilds not only regulated trade but also carried out religious, cultural, militia and mutual aid functions. The first known guild charters were approved in 1348 for tailors’, 1382 - furriers’, 1386 – shoemakers’ (cordwainers’)’, bakers’, clothiers’. Often the artisans of the same skill or craft would live in one street, affecting the name of the street. For instance, the present Kościuszki Street was called Tkacka (Weavers’ Street) till the 17th centaury, Kolejowa Street was called Rzeźnicza (Butchers’ Street), Kilińskiego Street – Piekarska (Bakers’ Street) and later Ślusarska (Locksmiths’ Street).
Surely from the very beginning Środa had been a wine growing and making centre, which was thought to have been one of the best in Silesia. This fact was reflected in the coat of arms consisting of a golden field with a black Silesian eagle on the right and a silver field with a bunch of grapes on the left. All the seals of the town authorities were patterned on the coat of arms.
The years of peace and economic development favoured the growth of the town. They carried on with the building of the defensive walls, which replaced the previous wooden palisade and ramparts. It was the king of the Bohemia, John of Luxemburg, who gave some of the funds for building town walls. In 1341 he donated the ten-year rent paid to him by the Jews living in Środa. The town walls were 4.5 m high and 1.2 m wide. There were 45 bastions and 8 towers and four out of which were used as gates. However, the access to the town was made even harder by building the dozen or so metre wide and 5-6 metre deep moat. The maintenance of the town walls was assigned to different guilds: The Wrocław Gate and the Tower to clockmakers, The Legnica Gate to innkeepers, locksmiths, and potters, The Świdnica Gate to tailors and the Rzeźnicka Gate to butchers.
In the years from 1378 to 1388 the parish Romanesque church dedicated to St. Andrew was rebuilt. To cover the expenses the parishioner sold a village Popowice that belonged to the parish. However it was not enough for the complete conversion and that is why only the chancel was rebuilt in Gothic style. The chancel was covered with a steep roof which towers above the town till the present days.
14 years later, the building of the bell tower was finished. It was 33 m high with an 11-meter pyramid- shaped roof crowned with a gilded ball. Unfortunately it was destroyed in a storm in 1598.
The town hall tower, which was used as a prison, dates back probably to the end of 16th century.
In the first half of the 15th century Bohemia and what follows Silesia was a scene of the Hussite Wars. In the years from 1428 to 1431 Środa was on the way of Hussites’ military expeditions. The worst Hussite raid was the one in 1428 when they plundered the town and burnt both the Franciscan church and the monastery.
The period of interregnum and fighting for the Bohemian crown that followed Hussite Wars lasted till the mid-15th century. It was full of rapes and ravaging done by Bohemian, Hungarian and Polish armies.
The fact that the state was very weak then made it easier to abuse the power even for the representatives of the state. Leonard Azenheimer, for example, the burgrave of Środa Śląska performed some immoral deeds for which he was executed on the market square on the 13th June 1446. A folk song based on his experience was made in the second half of 15th century. The song is said to be one of the oldest folk songs in Silesia.
The 15th century was a period of rapid development of craftsmanship in Środa. Its growing significance was shown by the fact that in 1444 for the first time a craftsman was elected to be a mayor.
The development of craftsmanship and trade caused that the townsmen got richer and created antagonism between the rich and the poor. As a result there were some acts against the patriciate gathered round the city council. For the first time the townsmen acted against the city council in 1376, the next act took place in 1418 and was against the mayor who looked more after his own interests than after the towns.
Both the economic growth and the increasing importance of the town council led to building a new town hall. It must have been erected on the site of the previous town hall. The building is on a letter L plan and the shorter north wing was connected with a prison tower. The mass of the town hall isn’t nowadays clear due to many buildings added later and it’s somehow lost in the vast market square. Beside the most impressive town councilor’s, standing out with its Gothic vaults, there were rooms housing town’s scales, a court and a dive. From the modest exterior decorations there are only left the decorations of the south gable with the alcoves decorated with some fine painting, the battlements seen best in the north wing and a stone portal above the north passage.
In the middle of 15th century they finished the rebuilding of the Franciscan church of St. Cross with the adjacent from the north St. Anthony’s Chapel. After its numerous alterations two Gothic portals, north and west, have survived.
In the 16th century some significant social and political changes occurred which were a landmark for the inhabitants of Środa Śląska. In 1526 Silesia became a part of a multinational Habsburg Monarchy for over two centuries. That influenced the daily lives of the townsmen.
The beginning of the 16th century was also the time of far-reaching changes in the Catholic Church. They were begun by the address of Martin Luther in 1517. The believes of his new Evangelical faith found many fervent adherents in Środa Śląska. Thus the townsmen divided into Catholics and Lutherans. It some positive and negative consequences in the following centuries. The church dedicated to St. Andrew and the Church of St. Cross, which had been both Catholic so far, were seized by Lutherans. The Lutherans gained also the majority in the town council, which must have intensified the ongoing religious conflict.
The next important event in that century was the purchase of chief office by the town council in 1570. From that time on, all the affairs connected with governing the town passed into town council’s hands. It should be pointed out here that it was very late for other Silesian town councils bought the office many years earlier. It might have been caused by the fact that Środa Śląska Law was conservative or by the fact that local patriciate was weak.
The development of craftsmanship at that time favoured new guilds like potters’ set up in 1514, combined guild for toolmakers gunsmiths clockmakers in 1550, linen weavers’ in 1528, carpenters’ in 1586 and wheelwrights’ in 1596.
The crossbowmen’s brotherhood that was established in 1428, was transformed into Shooters’ Association which was active till the 40-ies of 20th centaury. In the first period of its existence the association mattered greatly for strengthening town’s defenses but this role diminished with time, till it became merely a leisure and social club.
In the 16th century there were many building renovation works and which have been of use for the townsmen for many years. In 1536 in addition to the four existing town gates they built a new one so called “New” or “Bakers’’’. It was situated in today’s Kilińskiego Street. The purpose of the gate was to make the access to numerous gardens, meadows behind the town walls easier.
In 1541 they started to build a new water supply system because the existing one was not enough for the proper functioning of the town.
In 1552 the town hall’s basement had to be rebuilt as it was in danger of collapsing. During the works a new floor was added and connected with the councillors’ hall, enlarging it by this.
In 1567 the road through the Wroclaw Gate was recobbled and a few years later also the road through the Legnica Gate.
The early 17th saw a marked downturn in fortunes for Środa. It was the most unfavourable period in the so far history of Środa. In the years from 1618 to 1648 there was one of the most devastating war in the modern times. It was a time of the biggest damage and a lot of suffering for Środa and the inhabitants. Almost every year for shorter or longer periods of time the two fighting armies were stationing in the town, robbing and raping the townsmen. The war left the town destroyed a lot. There were only ca. 40 families left. The leper hospital and the church dedicated to St. Nicolas, both dating back to 14th century were damaged. The hospital was rebuilt but the ruins of the church were cleared in 1765. The fire of 1634 damaged the church dedicated to St. Andrew. The church of St. Cross was destroyed even earlier in 1620 and the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary was turned into a stable.
The second half of the 17th century was characterized by repairing war damage. It was started when the war was going on. The bells in the newly rebuilt tower rang for the first time at Christmas Eve in 1645. One of the bells has survived till present days. In the restored church dedicated to St. Andrew organs were installed in 1699 and a Baroque altar in 1716. The parish house and school that were burnt in the same fire as the church were rebuilt in 1679. The Church of Cross was taken over by Franciscans in 1675 and it underwent a complete refurbishment that was finished in 1727. In the same year the building of a Baroque Franciscan monastery was finished, which was built on the site of a former wooden one. Rebuilt many times over the years it preserved a lavabo built in the north wall of the school in the 30-ies of 20th century. The renovation of the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary was finished in 1699.
In the second half of the 17th century there was a transfer of power between the Lutherans and Catholics. After the thirty years war all countries dependent upon the Habsburg Monarchy met with the Catholic Reaction according to the rule "Whose the region is, his religion." (Latin Cuius regio, eius religio). The state supported the Catholics and wanted to eliminate the Lutherans. In result of the turnover, the churches belonging to the Lutherans, the Church of St. Cross and the one dedicated to St. Andrew, came back into Catholic hands. The Lutherans deprived of their church prayed in a church in Rusko for some time as Rusko belonged to the Lutheran duchy of Legnica and Brzeg. The town councillors who had been primarily Lutheran were replaced by Catholic ones. The fact caused many conflicts because according to the census in 1704 there were only 396 Catholics but 1800 Lutherans in Środa Śląska.
The most important political event of 18th century was falling into the rule of Prussia in 1741. By 30th December 1740 Środa had been seized by Prussian army led by Frederick II. Silesian Wars, which were a series of wars between Prussia and Austria (and their changing allies) going on from 1740 to 1763 for control of Silesia, left Środa and its vicinity enfeebled. The worst was the end of the year 1757 and the beginning of the year 1758. In the first days of December Środa was one of the points of concentration of the troops fighting in the battle of Lutynia on 5th December 1757 and there were 20 thousand soldiers stationed in Środa Śląska at that time. After the battle the town was changed into a field hospital for several thousands of soldiers and Środa faced with an outbreak of epidemic which decimated both the soldiers and the townsmen.
Coming under the rule of Prussia was followed by extensive changes caused by the character of the state. The changes in the administration limited the power of local authorities at the municipal council expenses, subordinated to centralized apparatus of state administration. It is important to point out the fact of setting up the first factories in Środa, which resulted from transformations in economic field. They were the outcome of gradual capitalist transformations. Circa 1711 a Swiss Jan Jakbub Marschand opened a first tobacco factory giving rise to production of tobacco and cigarettes. In 1742 a china factory was opened and in 1750 a silk one. The dominant way of production in 18th century was still craft manufacturing. According to a list from 1732 there were 220 workshops in 38 different trades. Apart from 30 butchers and bakers, who were plentiful in every town or city then, there were 30 shoemakers, 28 clothiers, 17 furriers, 19 carpenters, coopers and wheelwrights. Merely one or few craftsmen represented other crafts.
The religious relations changed again radically. The Lutherans had been deprived of the freedom of worship since 1654 but as a result of falling into the rule of Protestant Prussia they not only obtained equal rights but also won the support of new authorities. It was noticeable when two Lutherans were co-opted to the town council in as soon as in 1741. The authorities granted permission to build an Evangelical Holy Trinity Church which was built on the corner of Daszyński and Kolejowa Streets on 30th May 1745. An Evangelical school was opened next to the church five years later.
There were many improvements in the way the town looked. In 1774 the high street, stretching from the Wrocław Gate to the Legnica Gate, was cobbled and in 1746 Świdnicka Street and the market square. They stopped shingling the roofs in favour of roof tailing which was much more fire resistant. In 1765 the town walls were lowered by 1 meter and subsequently the towers and bastions lowered to the height of town walls. In 1770 the castellan’s castle was pulled down but the remains of the tower and the keep have survived until the beginning of 19th centaury. In 1797 the prison tower was made higher and a cupola was added. The bell which was used by the Lutheran community as there was no bell in the Holy Trinity Church was hung in the tower. In 1796 an extramural cemetery was founded on the north-east side. At the end of the century the streets were lit by installing 80 oil street lamps.
The beginning of the 19th century in Europe witnessed Napoleonic Wars. The wars brought hardship to Środa; many armies marched through the town and its surroundings. In 1806 the town was robbed twice, first time by the French army and then by the German army. In 1813 the French army plundered Środa again. Napoleon Bonaparte with his 30 thousand corps had stationed in Środa form 31st May to 5th June that year awaiting the ceasefire of 4th June 1813 in Pielaszkowice. The building in Daszynski Street housing at present a creche was used as a billet for Napoleon Bonaparte. It was rebuilt to suit the purpose of a creche in 1926. The stay of the enemy army was usually characterized by requisitions, rapes and robberies That is why the French defeat at Waterloo, which finally ended the long-lasting Napoleonic wars, was rightly celebrated in the town on 16th January 1816. There were some Poles in Środa together with the French army, and that is confirmed in the Memoirs of a Polish Lancer by Dezydery Chłapowski - Lieutenant Colonel in the Polish Lancers of the Imperial Guard.
A new chapter in the town’s history began with opening a railway line in 1814. Its distance from the town was a major cause of economic stagnation later on. They tried to solve the problem by building a narrow-gauge railway connecting the town with the railway station which is three km away from Środa.
A significant event in economic field was passing an act in 1810 that abolished guild privileges and introducing free market competition in trade and production. In the first half of 19th century tobacco production and spinning industry were thriving and in the second half of the 19th century shoemaking and grave digging.
In the 19th century some buildings changed their functions, and some new were built. Many of them have survived until today. As a result of dissolution of the Franciscan Order in 1810 the Church of Cross was turned into a storehouse and the east wing was converted into an Evangelical school whereas the south wing was assigned to the Lutheran ministers for lodgings. The church dedicated to the Virgin Mary was used as an arsenal for the military unit stationed in Środa from 1816 to 1871. Środa had been a garrison town since 1682. In 1847 on the site of former castle garden they started to erect a prison, at present a court. In 1869 the St. Nicolas leper hospital for the poor on Legnicka Street was closed down and in place of the hospital a new one was opened on Kościuszki Street. At the end of 19th century thanks to nuns’ initiative some more new hospitals were opened: an Evangelical one on Kiliński Street and a Catholic one on Constitution of May 3rd Street. In 1862 in the neighbourhood of the fire station a synagogue was erected, as there were about 90 Jews in Środa with a population of about four thousand in 1840. In 1896 a sports hall was built on the initiative of Men’s Gymnastics Team. In 1895 one could buy first postcards with views of Środa Śląska.
From the many changes in the city’s appearance in the first years of 20th century only the ones which survived until today should be mentioned. On 27th January 1900 electric street lamps were lit for the first time. In 1902 a new building of the fire brigade was put in use (The Volunteer Fire Brigade had been existing since 1864.). In 1905 the present Post Office building was built but the Post Office was founded in 1885 and at first it was located on Legnicka Street. In 1920 a gymnasium was founded. The building where it was located was built in the years 1920 – 1929 on Wrocławska Street and now Upper-Secondary School Complex is situated therein. In 1923 an Agriculture School was founded. It had had its seat in present nursery school on Strzelecka Street from 1929. The town museum was set up in 1920 in some rooms designated for the purpose in the building of the present Vocational Agriculture School but later it was moved to the Evangelical Holy Trinity Church in 1935. Unfortunately the valuable museum collection was destroyed and dispersed in 1945. The Church of St. Cross, which had been a storehouse since 19th century, underwent general repair work and then was reopened in 1933.