The area of of the present-day Białystok was already populated in the Iron Age. The trade route leading from the Baltic Sea in the direction of the Black Sea fostered the development of this region, which remained a matter of competition between the Teutonic Order, Lithuania, as well as the Mazovian and Prussian princes. At last, in the 14th century, the area of the present-day Białystok came under the authority of Lithuania. The oldest preserved mention of the town can be found in a document from 1426, by virtue of which the Great Lithuanian Prince Vytautas gave the village by the name of Bielszczany Stok to a Maciej from Tykocin. In the middle of the 15th century the village became the property of Jakub Raczek Tabutowicz, a Samogitian Boyar, who constructed the first manor house in that region. In 1547 the Białystok estate was passed over to the Wiesiołowski family. A brick church and a palace were constructed there in that period. In 1569, by virtue of the provisions of the Union of Lublin, Białystok was, together with the whole of Podlachia, incorporated into the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland. During the following years, the Bialystok estate (together with the Tykocin district) came under ownership of the Crown Field hetman, Stefan Czarniecki to find their way into the Branicki family's fortune later on.
Some researchers hold the view that Białystok had been granted city rights in 1691 by King John III Sobieski, thanks to the efforts of the then city owner - Stefan Mikołaj Branicki. It is also assumed that a later document (which has survived to our times) dated 1st February 1749, which stated the granting of Magdeburgian city rights by King August III, was merely a confirmation of the privileges granted beforehand. Although Białystok had served the functions of a city center since at least the mid-17th century, it did not gain its truly urban characteristics until the arrival of the property’s new owner, Jan Klemens II Branicki, the Crown Great Hetman, Castellan of Kraków and a counter-candidate for the Crown of the Republic of Poland against Stanisław August Poniatowski. The new owner, who wanted his residence to become the “Versailles of Podlachia”, supported the development of trade and municipal institutions, reconstructed the palace and enclosed it with gardens. Between 1750 and 1771, there was a theatre operating in the Branicki mansion, staging the acts of the greatest opera stars of that time. Among visitors of the Branicki Palace were kings from the Saxon Dynasty: August II and August III, and later King of Poland Stanisław August Poniatowski, the future Tsar of Russia – Paul, and also Tsar of Austria Josef II and the future King of France Louis XVIII.
After the fire in Białystok (1753), Branicki reconstructed the city in accordance with a new architectural idea which drew from French and German designs. The buildings constructed back then include: the Town Hall, Saint Martin’s House, an armory, a corner tenement house, a house for poor people, a vicarage, and many inns. During the “reign” of Jan Klemens II Branicki, Białystok also witnessed the opening of: the Military School of Engineering and Construction, the Midwifery School and a small parish school. At the end of the 18th century, the so-called sub-department school was founded in the city, subordinated directly to the Vilnius University and transformed into a Prussian high school in 1802. In that period, the city welcomed an increasing number of Jewish migrants, who supported the center’s economic development.
At the beginning of the 19th century, after the period of Napoleonic wars, the textile industry began to gain importance in Białystok. A large group of soldiers coming from Saxony settled there at that time; these specialists in weaving and spinning set up numerous workshops, many a time founding joint venture businesses with the local Jewish capital. At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, Białystok became the third biggest center, after Moscow and Łódź, of textile production in this part of Europe.
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