Czestochowa is a city in south Poland on the Warta River with 248,894 inhabitants (2004). It has been situated in the Silesian Voivodeship (administrative division) since 1999, and was previously the capital of Czestochowa Voivodeship (1975-1998). However, Czestochowa historically is part of Lesser Poland, not of Silesia and before 1795 (see: Partitions of Poland), it had belonged to the Krakow Voivodeship. The town is known for the famous Pauline monastery of Jasna Gora that is the home of the Black Madonna painting, a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Every year, millions of pilgrims from all over the world come to Czestochowa to see it. There is also a Lusatian culture excavation site and museum in the city and ruins of a medieval castle in Olsztyn, approximately 15 kilometres (ca. 10 mi) from the city centre.
The village of Czestochowa was founded in 11th century. It is first mentioned as a village in historical documents from 1220. In 1382 the Paulist monastery of Jasna Gora was founded by Władysław Opolczyk (Ladislav of Opole) - the Polish Piast prince of Upper Silesia. Two years later the monastery received its famous Black Madonna icon of the Virgin Mary and in subsequent years became a centre of pilgrimage, contributing to the growth of the adjacent town. Before 1377 Czestochowa received a town charter, which was later changed to the Magdeburg Law in 1502.
In the 17th century the local monastery was turned into a fortress, which was one of the pockets of Polish resistance against the Swedish armies during The Deluge in 1655. The Jewish community in Czestochowa came into existence by about 1700. After the second Partition of Poland it was annexed by Prussia. After 1760, Jacob Frank, the leader of a Jewish religion mixing Kabbalah, Catholicism and Islam, was imprisoned in the monastery by the church. His followers established near him, establishing a cult of his daughter Eve Frank. In August of 1772, Frank was released by the Russian general Bibikov, who had occupied the city.
During the Napoleonic Wars, in 1807 it became part of the Duchy of Warsaw and since 1815 the Kingdom of Poland. This started a period of fast growth of the city. In 1819 renowned military architect planned and started the construction of Aleja Najświętszej Panny Marii - the Holiest Virgin Mary Avenue, which currently is the main axis of the modern city. The two existing towns of Częstochowa and Częstochówka (the latter received the city rights in 1717 as Nowa Częstochowa ) were finally merged in 1826. In 1846 the Warsaw-Vienna Railway line was opened, linking the city with the rest of Europe. After 1870 iron ore started to be developed in the area, which gave a boost to the local industry. Among the most notable investments of the epoch was the steel mill built by , as well as several weaveries and paper factories.
During World War I the town came under German occupation, and in 1918 it became a part of the newly-reborn Republic of Poland. The new state acquired large deposits of good iron ore in Silesia and the mines in Częstochowa became inefficient and soon were closed. This brought the period of prosperity to an end. At the same time a bishopric was relocated to the city in 1925. After the Polish Defensive War of 1939, the town was occupied by Nazi Germany, renamed to Tschenstochau, and incorporated into the General Government. The Nazis marched into Częstochowa on Sunday, September 3, 1939, two days after they invaded Poland. The next day, which became known as Bloody Monday, approximately 150 Jews were shot dead by the Germans. On April 9, 1941, a ghetto for Jews was created. During World War II approximately 45,000 of Częstochowa's Jews were murdered by the Germans, almost the entire Jewish community living there. Life in Nazi-occupied Częstochowa is depicted in the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus , by Art Spiegelman, the son of a Jewish Częstochowa resident. The city was liberated from the Germans by the Red Army on January 16, 1945.
Due to the communist idea of fast industrialisation, the inefficient steel mill was significantly expanded and named after Bolesław Bierut. This, combined with the growing tourist movement, led to yet another period of fast city growth, concluded in 1975 with the creation of a separate Czestochowa Voivodeship. In modern times, Pope John Paul II, a native son of Poland, prayed before the Madonna during his historic visit in 1979, several months after his election to the Chair of Peter. The Pope made another visit to Our Lady of Czestochowa in 1983 and again in 1991.