From the very beginnings of the Polish statehood, the land in the catchment area of the River San, incorporated within a larger territorial unit of Halych Ruthenia, was a contentious area. Ruthenian dukes, Hungarians and Poles fought for their influence there. Also, Tartar hordes frequently ventured there. Foe years the land was mostly wooded, with few towns. Most important of them were Przemyśl and Sanok, along with their colonisation base, as well as a dozen or so fortified settlements scattered on numerous hills and situated mainly along the most important transportation route, which ran alongside the valley of the San. It was already the first rulers of Poland: Bolesław the Brave and Bolesław the Bold, who showed their will to reign over the area in question. Their efforts were of both military and diplomatic nature and were strengthened by the marriages between the descendants of Polish and Ruthenian rulers.
On 20 January 1339, in Włodzimierz Wołyński, shortly before his death Jerzy II Trojdenowicz issed a privilege to Bartek, a burgher from Sandomierz, to establish a municipality in Sanok based on German law. The newly established town was to become for a long time an important centre of administration, the capital of the Sanok district. At the news of Jerzy II Trojdenowicz’s death, King Casmir the Great immediately headed for Ruthenia to secure his reign there. During his first expedition he captured Lvov and having taken Catholic inhabitants as well as spoils of war from the city he withdrew to Poland. Casimir’s second expedition, made shortly after the first, met with the resistance of Ruthenian boyars, supported by Tartar troops. In January 1341 Tartars were defeated near Lublin, whilst the leader of rebelling boyars, Dymitr Detko, recognised the authority of the Polish king and was made governor of the Halych part of Ruthenia. It was arguably during that expedition that Casimir the Great incorporated the area in question, i.e. the Sanok district, into Poland, and brought his own garrison into Sanok, the capital of the district. Following the incorporation into Polish Kingdom the Sanok district, together with the districts of Przemyśl, Lvov, Halych and Chełm, became part of the Ruthenian Voivodeship until the times of partitions. After the situation had stabilised and Polish rule over this territory had strengthened, the Sanok district began to enjoy a new period of growth and prosperity. With the incorporation of the territory into Poland, a great colonisation activity commenced. The countryside consisting of forests and meadows, i.e. areas with favourable conditions for breeding and farming, was perfect for colonisation. Settlers mainly colonised river and stream valleys, were afterwards towns were established. Apart from Sanok, established earlier, the municipal privileges were granted to Krosno (about 1348), Jasliska (1366), Tyczyn (1368), Rymanów (1376), Brzozów (before 1388), Zarszyn (before 1395), Dubiecko (1407), Dynów (before 1423), Tyrawa Królewska (present-day Mrzygłód, 1425), Jaćmierz (1437), Nowotaniec (1444) and Lesko (1477). The towns experienced various fortunes. Some of them developed and have remained towns till now, others have lost their significance. Those times are best exemplified by beautiful wooden churches from the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, preserved today in Haczów, Blizne and Humniska. In addition to the settlers who founded the towns, from the 15th century onwards, the empty areas of the Sanok district were heavily colonised by Vlach shepherds. It was Vlachs who founded such villages as: Odrzechowa, Szczawne, Płonna, Radoszyce, Olszanica and Uherce. Royal grounds of the district as well as private, mostly owned by two powerful families: Bala and Kmita, became rapidly populated. The families’ estates extended in the area of the Upper San and its mountain tributaries: Hoczewka, Solinka and Olszanica.
The 15th century saw not just the development of colonisation. It was also the heyday of the existing towns, including Sanok. Its significance in the reign of Władysław Jagiełło must have been considerable, as the king chose the parish church in Sanok as the place where he made his marriage vows to his third wife, Elżnieta Granowska, the daughter of Otto, the Voivode from Pilcza. It was in Sanok that they met and were joined in marriage on 2 May 1417 by Lvov Archbishop Jan Mikołaj from Rzeszów. The wedding reception was held in the Sanok castle. Also, Władysław Jagiełło’s next wife, Sonka (Sophia) Duchess of Halshany, was associated with Sanok, as it was granted to her by her husband on account of her coronation in 1424. From then it was the residence of royal wives.
The Sanok district was exposed to the danger of raids of Tartar units, which at the close of the 15th century or, according to other sources, at the beginning of the 16th century ventured as far as Dynów and Dubiecko. Inhabitants of the Sanok district met with Tartars twice in the 17th century. First, in 1623 Tartar troops, moving up the San valley, burnt down Mrzygłód, and the following year arrived as far as in Zarszyn, Jaćmierz, Długie, Nowosielce and Strachocina, burning the towns and taking their inhabitants into captivity. The only towns which defended themselves against the raids were those fortified ones, as Tartars, in accordance with their combat art, avoided them not to waste time capturing them. The close of the 16th century saw the beginning of the deterioration of the Sanok district’s capital. It came as the result of the defeats and stationing troops, both Polish and foreign. The 17th century was the century of wars fought by the Commonwealth. On 5 August 1772 in Petersburg partition treaties were signed concerning the division of the Polish territory. The Sanok district fell under the Austrian rule. As a result of the new administrative division the Sanok district became a part of one of the eighteen regions Galicia was divided into. The period of Austrian partition was marked by the increasing importance and number of Jews. Being a part of the Commonwealth, the Sanok district shared its ups and downs. Now, it was forced to be under the rule of the Habsburg monarchy. For nearly the whole time of the Austrian reign life in the Sanok district went peacefully and uneventfully. However, the echoes of the November Uprising reached there and, as elsewhere, volunteers set out to fight against Russians.
Galicia and the Sanok district were shocked by a tremendous tragedy, which was later referred to as the Galician Slaughter. On 1 November 1918 in Lvov, the Austrians handed over to the Ukrainians well-stocked military depots, and the Ukrainian People’s Council proclaimed independence of the Western-Ukrainian People’s Republic, which had its army consisting of several thousand soldiers.
During WWII the Sanok dictrict was occupied by Germans and Russians. This situation continued till 22 June 1941, when the Germans attacked their former ally. At the close of war and a few years aftwrwards, the Ukrainian Isnurgent Army (UPA) attacked Polish population and destroyed their villages. On 27 March 1947, the decision to get rid of the UPA was made and to that end all people of the Ukrainian-origin were displaced to North-Western Poland.
Sanok, the town’s history
The oldest written mention about the town dates from the times when the district belonged to Ruthenian dukes. The Latopis Hipacki chronicle says that in 1150 Hungarian King Gejza II “crossed the mountains and captured the Sanok stronghold with its governor and seized many villages in the Przemyśl district”. In 1339, when it was still part of Halych Ruthenia, Sanok was granted a self-governing privilege based on Magdeburg Law. It was issued on 20th January 1339 by Duke George Trojdenovitch II of Halicz, himself from the Mazovian line of the Piast dynasty. Certain archaeological excavations carried out on the castle hill and on Fajka hill near Sanok, not only confirm the written sources, but also date the Sanok stronghold origins to as early as the 9th century. On Fajka hill, where probably the first settlement of Sanok was situated, some remains of an ancient sanctuary and a cemetery were found, as well as numerous decorations and encolpions of the Kiev type. Also, two stamps of the Great Kiev Duke Rurik Ruścisławowicz from the second half of the 12th century were found. After 1340 Halicz Ruthenia was seized by Polish King Casimir the Great, who reconfirmed the municipal privilege of Sanok on 25 of April 1366. At that time Sanok became the centre of a new administration district named after Sanok, which was a part of the Ruthenian Voivodeship. The district covered the area from the sources of the San in the south-east to Błażowa in the north and Krosno in the west. The Sanok castle housed municipal and rural offices, controlled by the district governor. Several courts of justice operated in the town, including municipal and rural courts of lower instance and also the higher instance court for the entire Sanok land, based on the German law.
In the 16th century castellan Mikołaj Wolski helped transform the castle from the Gothic to Renaissance style. In spite of subsequent numerous reconstructions and a collapse of the side wings it has survived in this form until now. In 1417 King Władysław Jagiełło married Elżbieta Granowska in Sanok's parish church. In those times the parish already possessed the school for the sons of the town's citizens and noblesmen from the nearby areas. The greatest of them were: Gregory from Sanok, an outstanding humanist and Jan Grodek - the nine-time rector of Jagiellonian University in the years 1540-1552. Sanok was a widow's property of Polish queens, hence after the death of King Władysław Jagiełło his last wife, Zofia Holszańska lived in the castle for many years. Another famous Queen of Poland, Bona Sforza, did so much for the town that her family coat of arms (a dragon-snake swallowing a Saracen) was incorporated into the town’s emblem.
The period from the mid-14th century to the mid-16th century is considered the most prosperous in the history of the town. From the end of the 16th century a slow decline began, mainly due to numerous fires. The greatest of those, in 1566, caused so much damage, that only the castle, the Franciscan monastery, five houses and the upper suburb survived. During the Revolutions of 1848 the National Council of the Sanok district and the National Guard were established in Sanok. Around 1845 Walery Lipiński and Mateusz Beksiński established in Sanok a small manufactory for making boilers. It developed in 1886 into a larger industrial facility and a few years later Kazimierz Lipiński (son of Walenty) established the First Galician Company for Machinery and Carriage Construction in Sanok and in the years 1894 to 1895 started building a factory in Posada Olchowska quarter. The long-lasting traditions of those establishments are now continued by Autosan Sanok Coach Factory. The print shop organized in 1848 by Karol Pollak was most vital for the cultural and educational development. In 1855 the first book of “Biblioteka Polska” (“The Polish Library”) was printed, edited by Kazimierz Józef Turowski. Construction of the railway from Chyrów via Zagórz and Łupków to Hungary in 1872 and its extension from Zagórz via Sanok to Jasło in 1884 had a great impact on town's development.
During the First World War Sanok suffered great losses because of military operations and cholera epidemic. On 1 of November 1918 the first Polish patrols emerged from the building of the “Sokół” (“Falcon”) organization and the local authority was taken over by the Polish people. Between the World Wars new production plants and facilities were established in the town, including the Rubber Factory, "Warta" Battery Plant, electricity, waterworks, gas supplies and many other facilities. In 1934 the Museum of Sanok Land was founded.
On 9 September 1939 German troops invaded Sanok. From that time to 22 June 1941 Sanok became a border town, as the river San was made the border between the General Gouvernement and the Soviet Union. The war was disastrous to the town, especially to its industries. As a matter of fact it did not end with the dislodgement of the German forces. It soon turned into a civil war between the Ukrainian underground forces on one side and the militia, security and military forces of the communist Poland on the other. It lasted until 1948, wreaking havoc in villages of the Sanok district. Its last dramatic accord was the so-called Vistula Operation, a massive deportation of Ukrainian speaking inhabitants of the Sanok district to the regained territories.