The history of Poznań, as in the case of the majority of old towns, began with water. The place beneath the future Poznań was created by the River Warta and its tributaries: the Cybina, the Bogdanka and the Wierzbak, creating sandbanks. It was indeed upon these, near the end of the IX century, that the settelment was born – undoubtedly established by a Poznanian ruler, who on today's Ostrów Tumski (old Slavonic for Cathedral Islands) built a fortified settlement protecting the travelling traders as they crossed the river at the Warta ford.
The lengend tells the story in a different way. It talks of the three brothers, named Lech, Czech and Rus, who after many years of being apart decided to meet again. They started their journeys from 3 different directions and the place where they finally met each other was called Poznań by them to commemorate this happy meeting (“poznać” means to meet someone).
During the reign of Mieszko I a new imposing centre with a so-called 'palatium' or princely residence with a private chapel was built. The construction of the first Christian place of worship on the Polish lands and also the first Polish cathedral was started directly after the baptism of Mieszko, and certainly before the arrival of the first Polish bishop – Jordan. The entire complex was encircled by earth and timber defensive embankments.
Mieszko, and after him his son Bolesław, named by his successors 'the Brave', were buried in Poznań Cathedral. Unfortunately – the sanctity of the new city did not last long. Just 70 years after the inauguration of the capital diocese, Wielkopolska suffered great losses and damage during a Czech raid. The reconstruction of the region lasted until the end of the XI century, and the state capital was temporarily transferred to Kraków. Better times returned to Poznań in the XII and XIII centuries.
In the XII and XIII centuries during the reigns of successive local princes: Władysław Odonica, Przemysł I and Bolesław the Pious all of Wielkopolska was quickly modernised, with the parallel process of the introduction of Magdeburg Law for the establishment of local towns. One of these towns was the new Poznań, already no longer built on the terrain – flooded by the water of the River Warta – of Ostrów Tumski or Śródka, but on the high left bank – where Stary Rynek is today. From 1253 a new era began in the city history. Not long afterwards the most important characteristic buildings were built – the enormous Collegiate Parish Church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene, the City Hall and the Castle of Prince Przemysł I, which at the end of the XIII century became the Royal Castle. In 1295 the Prince of Wielkopolska, Przemysł II was crowned King of Poland.
Not quite a century later the marriage of Jadwiga to Jagiełło brought new prospects to Poznań – the ancient trade route from Western Europe became suddenly extended to Wilna and to Ruthenian and even Russian towns. Poznań for the next two centuries was an important stopping place on this trade route. New settlements were established around the town, the number of resdients grew quickly, so that in the XVI century, they exceeded 30,000. New brickworks and potteries were established and also a centre providing services for merchant caravans. On the island of Tumski the bishop funded the first academy in Wielkopolska, and the second in Poland. It was the Lubrański Academy – the first academy in Poland that taught in the spirit of the Renaissance. The city was able to afford to employ the most distinguished builders of those times, who transformed the wooden mediaeval Poznań into a modern Renaissance centre. The pride of the city was the Town Hall transformed by the Lombard builder, Jan Baptyst Quadro of Lugano. The result of this work so delighted the citizens of Poznan that they employed him in the city for many years, during which he designed many more buildings.
The Town Hall, a beautiful example of the spirit of renaissance, very quickly became a clock with a mechanism that displayed goats locking their horns to the rhythm of ringing bells and a trumpet playing in the background at noon (till 2014) or the top of every hour (since 2014).
The legend says that once upon a time a feast commemorating a very important guest was organised in Poznań. The main course of the feast was going to be roast venison. Unfortunately, when the cook left the kitchen, his clumsy assistant burned the meat. To recover from this situation the assistant ran to a grassy meadow where he saw two small goats. He took them to the kitchen, but before he managed to prepare them for to be cooked as a main dish, the animals ran away to the top of the town hall tower, where they started to fight using their horns. People standing on the main square were so amused watching the goats fight that the cook assistant was pardoned and to commemorate this event the mechanism with the two artificial goats locking horns was added to the clock.
The slow decline of Poznań, similar to that of many other Polish cities and towns, began together with the the Thirty Years War. During the course of successive wars a succession of Crown and Confederate military units were stationed in the city while fighting in the Northern War. Despite this, building work continued on the great and magnificent Jesuit church, which at the end of the XVIII century took on the role of the city Parish Church and for later generations is one of the most distinguished artistic achievements of the baroque era in Poland.
At the beginning of the XVIII century a major event was the settling in Poznań and adjacent villages of about 100 families from Bamberg. The new arrivals brought a new village model to Poznań – based on rents, due to which Poznań, as the first city in the Republic, became a city free of feudal obligations! After almost a century of stagnation, in part due to the settlers from Bamberg themselves, the indigenous population and its wealth – the city slowly began to grow.
Bambers assimilated with the local population very quickly. In the XIX century there was even a Bamber folklore outfit created. It had a colorful skirt with a white lacy apron on top, both of which were ankle-length so the shoe underneath them could be seen. Young maids intending to get married used to wear for the Sunday mass service and to other events a so called ”kornet” (a bonnet) decorated with flowers, ribbons and precious stones. The traditional belief about the Kornets was that the bigger the cornet the richer the husband found by the maid. That’s why some of the Kornets had the height of 25 cm and weighed more than 3 kg!
The prosperous times continued for Poznań for a while.
For the new authorities of the city, which they renamed Posen, the city was initially only a garrison and an administrative centre. After a certain time though the Prussian officials began to develop new residential and administrative areas, which later became the centre of the contemporary city. The standard of the new buildings was high and Prussian. The old mediaeval city walls were demolished, while a fortress was built simultaneously, the centre of which became Fort Winiary, today's Cytadel, and the entire city was surrounded by a network of smaller forts. Even worse – the development of the city was done with only a singular, military purpose in mind, even the railway station, built in the middle of the XIX century, was outside the defensive earthworks. Poznań became a fortress.
Despite the presence of the Germans in Poznań, interesting and predominantly Polish initiatives could be seen. On Wilhelm Platz, today's Plac Wolności, Count Raczyński built the first public library in Poland. On the opposite side the 'Bazar' was built – a bastion of Polish commerce, and the Golden Chapel, or the mausoleum of the first Piasts were built in the cathedral. However the real impulse for Poznań was the demolition of the encircling Prussian defence walls – at the beginning of the XX century, which suddenly made a great area of land accessible for development. This centre became the Palace Quarter, in which a new palace was built, the Imperial Palace, around which were built numerous facilities and buildings: the City Theatre, the Railway and Postal Directorates, the Sanitary Institute and various official buildings. Horse-drawn trams gave way to electric trams, a central railway station was built and new residential and administrative quarters were added
World War I and simultaneously the partitions, ended for Poznań together with the end of the Wielkopolska Uprising in the summer of 1919. The re-establishment of frontiers of the independent II Republic of Poland was a triumphal return – the Poznan citizens had triumphed in their uprising. Furthermore Poznań was the most developed and the wealthiest city in the country and it continued to prosper. On the site of the former East German Exhibition trade fairs began being organised just two years later, and in 1929 the largest Inter-war exhibition was held – the National General Exhibition – Powszechna Wystawa Krajowa (known as PeWuKa).
World War II began for Poznanians with the arrival of the Germans in the city on the 10th of September. The province of Wielkopolska became the so-called Wartheland. The Germans exiled virtually a third of the 270,000 city residents. They were replaced by Germans from the Baltic countries. At the end of January 1945 the offensive attack of Polish and Soviet units began, a time of struggle for Poznań, which lasted nearly a month and caused enormous loss and destruction. The greatest destruction was in the city centre, as many as a quarter of the residential buildings were uninhabitable. Even so, the exiled Poznanians quickly returned to the city, they were also joined by Poles who had been exiled from Poland's eastern provinces, mainly the province of Wilno, all of which were taken from Poland by the Soviet Union. Within a year after the end of the war the number of city residents had exceeded a quarter of a million!
Forced into the Soviet planning system, the city surrendered. In 1956 the Ceglorz workers (the name refers to the Hipolit Cegielski Works in Poznań – then under the patronage of Józef Stalin) came out to the streets, demanding freedom, law and bread. That was the first Polish strike, crushed with tanks, brought the whole of Poland the yearned for changes in October. However for the entire period of the Polish People's Republic, Poznań, because of its Trade Fairs, was for many Poles the only window allowing a view to the outside world.