Discovering the Timeless Beauty of Poland’s Oldest Cities

At present, there are as many as 964 cities in Poland. Nevertheless, this number is still increasing. Although a great many people think that Kalisz is the oldest city, the truth is quite the contrary. The officially oldest city in Poland is Zlotoryja, situated in the southwest region of the country. This town was given the status of a city as early as 1211 by Henry I the Bearded. Zlotoryja achieved renown for mining real gold, which is why it was first named „Aurum”. In Latin, it translates to „gold”.

Lwówek Slaski is another city that bears the same name as the oldest city in Poland. It is just about 25 kilometers away from Zlotorya and is situated in Lower Silesia. It was officially granted city rights in 1217, and its name has been altered a few times, with the most frequent being „Lion Mountain”.

The third oldest city in Poland is Chelmo, which is located in the Kujawsko-Pomorskie Province. This spot was given a charter in 1233 by Herman von Salza. The city is mainly situated on a hill, which is why it was named Chelmo, which can be translated to hill.

Do not forget to read the article I wrote about the cities: Top 15 Poland’s Largest Cities by Population [2023]

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Kalisz – The Oldest City in Poland

As I said earlier, some believe that Kalisz is the most ancient city in Poland. This city has an impressive past that goes back to the days of Ptolemy’s Outline of Geography. In addition, Kalisz was situated on the Amber Route, which was a path from the Baltic Sea to Rome. All these points may lead to the conclusion that „Kalisz” has been around for at least 1,800 years.

Archaeological digs in Kalisz and many nearby towns are considered to have been present since the first century BC, which supports this belief. However, our southern neighbours – Slovakia – also lay claim to Ptolemaic Calisia. Ptolemy mentions the presence of Dacians north of Calisia and its latitude is supposedly similar to the one in Trenčín of Slovakia, so we can make both for and against arguments for Calisii as the ancestor of Greater Kalisz.. The status of Kalisz as a city was not granted until 1268.

Researchers are still scratching their heads about the history of Kalisz, as there is no unanimous opinion on the origin of the city’s name. The geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria noted a place called Calisia on a map of Europe in the second century CE, but its exact location has been widely debated. Although there is not enough evidence from Kalisz to prove that there was a large settlement there, the numerous Roman artifacts near Kalisz suggest that the amber route passed through this area. Unfortunately, the original Piast fortress, which eventually evolved into modern-day Kalisz, has no connection to Calisia as described by Ptolemy.


The next oldest location in Poland is Złotoryja. This Lower Silesian town, sited on the Kaczawa River, was officially designated as a city prior to 1211. It obtained its name (Zlotoryja means „digging gold”) due to the fact that gold was extracted from the area in the Middle Ages, which led to it being known as Gold Mountain (Złota Góra). Basalt has also been mined there for centuries and is still mined today.

Click Play and watch the short video about Zlotoryja City

When you are in Zlotoryja, don’t forget to check out all the restored old town and other attractions like the Aurelia gold mine, the observation tower, the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Blacksmith’s Tower, and the gold museum. And not too far away from the city sits one of the extinct volcanoes of Poland.

Lwówek Śląski

Located relatively close to Zlotorya, Lwówek Śląski is one of the oldest cities in Poland, and it is among the ten Polish cities that have experienced name changes over the years. Various titles have been used, with the Polish and German languages mainly employing forms related to „Lion Mountain” / „Lwia Góra”. Nonetheless, it was not until the late 1800s that the designation „Lwów” was utilized (Lions), which eventually morphed into the current „Lwówek Śląski”.

People have been living in the Lwówek region since the Bronze Age. During the rule of the Silesian Piasts, Lwówek was definitely one of the 10 most picturesque cities of the Middle Ages. Its advantageous position on the trade path uniting Ruthenia and Saxony helped the city grow quickly. Henry the Bearded granted Lwówek municipal rights based on the Magdeburg rights in 1217.


The city of Chelmno is situated in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian region and derives its name from its topographical position, which is perched on a hill. It is believed that the first Piasts settled on the land centuries ago.

In 1226, the Teutonic Order arrived in Polish territory, and four years later, Chelmno became the center of their operations. The grand master of the order, Herman von Salza, gave the city a location law in 1233. This was the first law of its kind in northern Poland, and its principles were derived from the Magdeburg law with additional components taken from other sources. The law was so renowned that it was coined the Chelmno law, and many documents from the state archives still carry the name.


Opole used to be the capital of Upper Silesia and remains the capital of the Opole province today. It was granted city rights as far back as 1217. A major sight of the city is the ancient Piast Tower, one of the oldest defensive structures in the country. Other points of interest include the 15th century Gothic Cathedral Church of the Holy Cross with its two 73-meter-high towers, the Church of the Holy Trinity, the Neo-Renaissance Ratusz, and the Młynówka, the old bed of the Oder River in the middle of the city – people often refer to it as the „Silesian Venice”.


Way back in 1217, Racibórz was bestowed with the honor of a city charter, making it one of the historical capitals of Upper Silesia right alongside Opole. The princes of Opole and Racibórz had their respective residencies in both the cities. A number of monuments from that epoch still exist, the most stunning example being the Castle Chapel of the St. Thomas Cantuary Convocation, also known as the „jewel of Silesian Gothic”. Other impressive structures include the Raciborz Castle, the 15th century Gothic St. James Church, the 16th century prison tower and the medieval town square.


Torun is located in a great spot, so it’s no surprise that it has some of the earliest known settlements in the world – dating back to around 9,000 BC. As time went on, a Piast stronghold formed there. But really, the Teutonic Order deserves much of the credit for the city’s development. Herman von Salza gave Torun and Chelmno their municipal rights on the same day – December 28, 1232. It’s worth noting that at the time, the year was counted from Christmas Day.


Szczecin is the biggest city in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship and was once the capital of the Duchy of Pomerania. It’s been inhabited since around the year 700, although it’s thought that settlements were established here much earlier. The name is of Slavic origin, although no one can agree on its exact meaning.

The city was granted the rights of Lübeck law in 1243 by the Pomeranian prince Barnim I Dobry of the Gryfit dynasty. This law had already been in practice for six years before it was officially granted, and it meant that Szczecin didn’t have the typical market square. Instead, the city’s main street acted as the market and representative spot.


Kolobrzeg is another city which was given city rights on the model of Lübeck. It was founded at the estuary of the Parsęta River by the Baltic Sea. People have been living in this area since around the 8th century. Until 1138, the current city belonged to Piast Poland; after the death of Boleslaw III, the Wrymouth, it was included in the Duchy of Pomerania. Warcislaw III, one of the princes of Griffiths and a cousin of Barnim I the Good, was the one who settled Kolobrzeg in 1255.

Kołobrzeg – Pictures and Google Maps Location:łobrzeg


As you can see, it’s not easy to answer the question of which city in Poland is the oldest. Legally and socially, cities in Poland started to be established in the 13th century, when cities began to be established using German law as a model. This made it easier for Poland to adopt the same foundations and city laws as the rest of Europe, so the term 'city’ became a universal name for all major settlements.

It is assumed that one of the oldest cities in Poland was founded in Silesia, with Zlotoryja coming into being before 1211. Unfortunately, there is no exact date as Henry the Bearded didn’t provide a document of incorporation.