The history of Przemyśl - part I.


Przemyśl -  the oldest borough on the eastern fringe of the Republic of Poland. An ancient civic centre located in a gap between two geographical regions: the Dynów Uplands and the Sandomierska Lowlands, in the valley of the San river. A nearby village of Pikulice reveals the oldest traces of human habitation in the south-eastern Poland, dating from 40,000-30,000 years ago. In the 4th century B.C. Przemyśl was a significant administrative and military centre for the Roman Empire. This can be confirmed by a gold medal representing Emperor Valens (364-378 AD), which was found in Przemyśl on a riverbank in 1935. Such medals— written Roman sources tell us— were minted only for emperors, who used them as rewards distributed twice a year among the outstanding members of their retinues, victorious army commanders and the leaders of the countries co-operating with the Roman Empire. The hypothetical centre was located in the quarter of Zasanie , its location being betokened by the discoveries made at the Bielskiego street, showing the remnants of the oldest defence system, i.e. the burnt out crown of an earth rampart with a palisade, as well as by the traces of a settlement— these including everyday-life utensils dating from the time of the Roman expansion— which was situated in the area of what is now the Rycerska street. Such circumstances accompany Poland’s oldest traces of the Christian tradition. The findings include two clay amphorae, which have been excavated near Przemyśl and which could have been used for the transportation of wine from Nikomedia (now Izmit, Turkey), wine being indispensable for the Eucharist liturgy. It is presumed that Christianity was spread here by Roman merchants, who stayed on the spot in a fixed trading-post (commercea). Chronologically, the Przemyśl diocese is the region of the earliest Christianisation of what is Poland nowadays. In all likelihood, this area holds the roots of the worship of Mother Mary and Jesus Christ, both venerated by the neighbour nations. This can be confirmed by a gemma (cameo) found in Władycze street and representing the images of the Holy Virgin Mary and of Christ (6th century), embedded in heliotrope (a variety of chalcedony, a translucent mineral of greenish hue). Its reverse shows the figure of a woman with her arms raised and with a halo over her head; above her hands is the inscription in Greek: “Mother of God”. The face on the obverse, with eight snakes diverging from it, is interpreted as an image hinged on pre-Christian patterns. It presents Christ the Sun as a young man without a beard, which emphasises his divine nature. During the period of migrations, i.e. 5th-7th centuries, Przemyśl and its environs were inhabited by the Croats, and from the 8th century by the Lechici, also known in Latinised form as the Lechitae, in Greek as Lechoi and Lędzanie, in Russ referred to as Lachy (Lyakhs), in Lithuania as Lenkas and in Hungary as Lengyel. All these names, used since the 8th century, now denote Poles. Przemyśl belonged to the leading strongholds of that tribe. One of the Greek sources (a work by Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenet, mid 10th century) mentions a local duke, Wysz, who moved to the Balkans in mid 9th century and settled down among the Zachlumians under the protection of the Byzantine emperors. On the other hand, Russ sources mention a Lechite duke, Włodzisław, whose envoy took part in the talks between Russ and Byzantium in 944. Polish chronicles unanimously have it that a Lechite duke, Przemysł-Lestek (both names suggesting the same quality: cleverness or shrewdness), having achieved independence for his country in the 8th century, “... founded a town on the San river at the foot of a hill, and called it Przemyśl after his name”. Archaeological excavations backed by written sources show that the remains of a town covering 43 hectares of land on the hills of Wysokie Góry and Zniesienie date from that time. The remains that have been preserved include huge longitudinal earth banks running below Tatarska street and a gate leading out to the grounds of the Roman Catholic Seminary at Zamkowa street. A further double system of ramparts  has been preserved between the districts of Zielonka and Pikulice. Other remains dating from that time that have survived until now are the ramparts and moats of a multi-segmented stronghold, the seat of Lechite rulers and later dukes, which occupied an area of 10 hectares on the Old Castle  hill (now called “Wzgórze Trzech Krzyży”) and Przemysław’s Mound, now referred to as Tartar Mound (Kopiec Tatarski). The mound was shaped as an acute-angled triangle, with its point oriented eastwards and the base westwards. In those days it functioned as a place of worship of the Slavonic god, Swarożyc.

mapa.JPG (52366 bytes)

Name stems : Poland and Lęchia (Lechia) - Lędzanie and their expansion over the whole of the coutry under the Piast dynasty in the 11th century - map: G. Labuda: “The first Polish state".

The evidence for the existence of ecclesiastic structures in Przemyśl in the early Middle Ages are the remains of church architecture discovered on the Castle Hill: a pre-Romanesque rotunda and a monasterium (9th century) as well as a three-naved Romanesque basilica (10th century), mistakenly referred to as a Russian church. The hypothesis that both of the buildings on the Castle Hill are of Byzantine origin finds little corroboration, as their wall structure is pre-Romanesque or Romanesque, not Byzantine. The measurements of the rotunda and monasterium have shown that the dimensions of the buildings are a multiple of the Benedictine Roman foot. The space between the two buildings contained traces of a necropolis and numerous tools. A glass plate, which has been found there, bears a 13th century inscription in Latin, which shows that the buildings were used from the 9th to the 13th century first by Benedictines and then by Cistercians. The fact that no weapons or luxury items have been found there contradicts the assumption that the place functioned as a duke’s residence (palatium); most probably, it was a monastic complex (monasterium) . Arguably, the place could have been the residence of the missionary bishop, appointed in the 9th century. The excavations on the lower terrace have revealed the foundations of a three-naved Romanesque basilica with three apses, the remains of four pillars and fragments of a mosaic floor made of flat stones and surrounded by the pieces of the cemetery wall. This space was used as a cemetery, half of the graves containing characteristic oakwood coffins with no fittings inside. Archaeological research in the precincts of the Benedictine monastery at Tyniec has given similar results. No traces have been found of any precious objects, decorative architecture or weapons, except for arrow-heads; on the other hand, what prevailed were tools, mostly metallurgic ones. One of the graves in Przemyśl contained a coin showing Emperor Otto III: this suggests that the findings date from the 10th or 11th century. Since it is assumed that the Lubusz see was originally located in Russ, a possibility arises that Duke Mieszko I could have established its seat in Przemyśl and could have had a cathedral built here, one in the basilica shape, which was a common fashion in those days. After this land had been incorporated into Russ (981-985), the bishop’s seat was moved to Włodzimierz Wołyński, and then, in the 12th century, to Lubusz. In the years 981-985 Vladimir the Great besieged and captured the Przemyśl stronghold. This is confirmed by Nestor’s chronicle: ”In 981 Vladimir marched against the Lyakhs [the Russ name for the Poles]   and seized their strongholds: Przemyśl, Czerwień  and others.” Some historians trace the beginnings of the Przemyśl Roman Catholic metropolis to the person of St Bruno of Querfurt, who, having arranged a missionary expedition to Poland in 1002, was given by Pope Sylvester II a pallium, which symbolised his metropolitan dignity. In 1004 St Bruno was consecrated as missionary archbishop and later engaged in missionary work in Hungary, Russ, Sweden, Poland and among the Pieczyngowie (Pechenegs). In the light of St Bruno’s letters to the German king, Henry II (1008), his meeting with Vladimir the Great before his missionary expedition to the country of the Pieczyngowie could have taken place in Przemyśl. The remains of the stronghold gate and of the longitudinal earth banks, which have been preserved (now in front of the Roman Catholic Seminary’s reading-room), date from that time. During his last missionary expedition to Prussia, St Bruno and his eighteen companions were killed. Having reincorporated Przemyśl into Poland, in 1018 King Boleslaus the Great had a Romanesque rotunda-martyrion built ( now under the chancel of the Roman Catholic cathedral ) and most probably had the bodies of St Bruno of Querfurt and his companions buried there . This could be confirmed by a tomb cover discovered in the 19th century which bears the image of a human figure wearing a calpac as well as by the 17th century correspondence between a bishop of Przemyśl and the Jesuit General, in which the former mentions that the cathedral’s vaults have housed the remains of martyrs for 700 years. The documentary of the Przemyśl cathedral does not comprise any other records of any other martyrs that could have been buried here. In 1961 in the vaults of the cathedral, within the walls of the former Romanesque rotunda, 19 graves were discovered from which 17 skulls were taken out and sent for anthropological examination, while the remaining two graves, one of which was located in a catacomb niche of the rotunda, were left intact. The examination confirmed the possibility that the excavated bones might come from the 11th century. This led to the presumption that the graves might contain the mortal remains of St Bruno Boniface, whose burial place had not been known, and his 18 companions. After St Bruno’s death, missionary activity was continued by other Roman Catholic missionary archbishops, Ingelbert and Grzegorz, archbishop Stefan (†1028), Aron (who consecrated Osmund, bishop of Sweden, in 1050) and Bogumił (†1092).  In 1031 Przemyśl was again incorporated into Russ; the oldest records connected with the Jewish settlement here also date from that year. In 1069 the stronghold was regained by the Polish king Boleslaus the Generous and functioned as his place of residence for several years. From 1086 to ca 1270, the Przemyśl stronghold was the seat of an independent duchy ruled by Polish princes (Kazimierz Sprawiedliwy, Leszek Biały) as well as by Russ and Hungarian rulers. Piotr Włast, a voivode of Przemyśl and Mateusz, Cracow’s bishop, in their letter of 1143 to St Bernard notify him that there has been a change in the local religious practices: from the Roman Catholic to the Eastern rite. The first archbishop of the Eastern rite known by the name was Antoni, (arrived in Przemyśl from Nowogród Wielki (Novgorod) in 1218), while the last was Piotr  (1245). In 1344 Przemyśl was re-annexed to Poland, which resulted in the local Roman Catholic bishops being appointed in 1352; Iwan and Mikołaj were directly subordinated to the Apostolic See and were named bishops of Ruthenia. Pope Gregory XI’s Bull restored the metropolis, which had existed here before, and designated Halicz as its new seat, with the sees of Przemyśl, Włodzimierz and Chełm being subordinated to it. In 1412 the metropolitan seat was transferred to Lwów (Lvov) ; from then on, Przemyśl functioned as the place of simultaneous residence of two or three bishops of different rites. 

rycina.JPG (58725 bytes)

 Przemyśl in the 16th century  - reproduction from: A.Kunysz "Przemyśl w pradziejach i wczesnym średniowieczu."

In 1389 the town received a new Magdeburg-law foundation charter. A stone castle was raised, the town received a tall defence wall with towers; new churches, monasteries and the town hall were built. The old monuments of architecture dating from that time include: fragments of the stone castle and of the defence walls (in Basztowa street), the15th century  cathedral, the market square surrounded by the 16th century tenement houses, fortified monasteries of the Reformati and Carmelite brothers (17th century), Benedictine Sisters’ Convent (18th century), the Franciscan monastery (18th century) and the Jesuit College from the 17th century. At that time the Przemyśl castle functioned as a residence of the local district officers: voivodes, castellans and starosts. The starosts included one woman (Nawojka Koniecpolska, 15th century) and two elective kings to-be: Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki and Stanisłąw August Poniatowski.  

Przemyśl in the 17th century.

In 1772 the town was incorporated into the Austrian Empire. This was followed by the dismantling of the defence walls, of the town hall and of part of the castle; some of the monasteries were dissolved. In 1880 the Austrians built their fortress here: they surrounded the town with two rings of forts and in 1889 they located here the headquarters of Army Corps no.10 . At that time first industrial plants, such as steam mills and oil refineries, were built; in 1860 the town became accessible from the railway line. At that time new prominent buildings were erected in Przemyśl, which bears witness to the development of cultural life here. The late 19th century buildings still to be seen here include: the House of the “Sokół” Gymnastic Society (currently, Regional Cultural Centre), the House of the “Gwiazda” Craftsmen’s Society (now, Railwaymen’s Cultural Centre), while the early 20th century buildings are: Workers’ House, Peasants’ House (Ukrainian) and Catholic House. After the partitioning of Poland, Przemyśl engaged in the struggle for independence. In 1832 the Przemyśl Scientific Society, “Senat”, initiated Polish independence movements under the Austrian rule. In 1906 Józef Piłsudski moved the armed resistance units from the Russian-ruled to the Austrian-administered part of Poland. This resulted in the development of such organisations as Oddziały Ćwiczebne (Exercise Units), Polskie Drużyny Strzeleckie (Polish Rifle Squads), Drużyny Bartoszowe (Bartoszowe Squads) and Drużyny Skautowe (Scout Squads). In 1912 Piłsudski arrived in Przemyśl again, his visit culminating in the consolidation of resistance organisations and in the formation of Zjednoczone Obozy Niepodległościowe (United Independence Parties), Zgromadzenie Polskiej Młodzieży Niepodległościowe (Polish Independence Youth Assembly) and Skautowy Komitet Jedności (Scouting United Committee). Immediately before World War I, Przemyśl covered the area of 16,5 km² and its population totalled 54 078, these including:

25 306  Roman Catholics (46,8%)

16 062  Jews (29,7%)

12 018  Greek Catholics (22,2%)




Designed by:  © P.Jaroszczak - Przemyśl 2000