By the Middle Ages, Wiślica was already one of the oldest tribal centres and a major ducal seat. The history of the town is interwoven with the stories of Dukes Henry of Sandomierz and Casimir the Just, Kings Władysław the Elbow-high, Casimir the Great and the Jagiellonian dynasty, as well as the chronicler Jan Długosz.
Initially Wiślica only covered an area consisting of a small gypsum outcrop overlooking vast marshes. However, it formed an excellent and natural strategic-defensive location, as well as being a great starting point for journeys across the boggy areas. Wiślica was for the first time recognised as the seat of dukes in 1898 due to Karol Potkański, who saw the place as the capital of the state of the Vistulans, a thesis he presented based on an interpretation of the Pannonia Legend. The theory was in vogue for decades until the remains of a wall were found in an excavation at Batalionów Chłopskich Street during works connected with a water pipeline. It turned out that the wall was once part of the St. Nicolas Church, most likely erected during the reign of the first Piast dynasty in the 11th century. This would suggest that the character of both the church and the settlement, located on a route connecting Ratisbona with Kievan Rus' via Prague, Cracow, and Sandomierz, was commercial. A tomb chapel was added to the structure in the 11th century, which included a number of female burials. This immensely complicated the possible interpretation of the whole complex, while the mystery of the archaeological finds situated on the north wall also remain unsolved.
In the vast boggy areas near the today’s village, you can still see the early medieval castle, which can be dated back to the 10th or 11th century, when it had a defensive function on a trade route. This was also same period of possibly the most mysterious residential complex in Wiślica. Długosz called it “Regia” – a royal location, and it consisted of two ducal palaces (known as palas) along with adjacent rotundas.
In 1135, the first stage of the Wiślica history came to a tragic end when the borough was destroyed by Ruthenians and Cumans. However, it was rebuilt quite quickly after this event.
During the Fragmentation of Poland, Wiślica remained under the reign of Henry of Sandomierz, and afterwards, from 1166, of his brother Casimir the Just, during which time it flourished again. Henry of Sandomierz is considered to be the founder of the first Romanesque collegiate church in Wiślica, and it was also in his era that a collegiate chapter was created. Casimir the Just, brother of Henry of Sandomierz, altered the church. This was also the time when one of the most prominent achievements of medieval art was created in Poland – the Floor of Orants. It is also thought that the relic complex of the palas buildings in Regia was created in the same period. After Casimir the Just reformed the canonical environment at the end of the 12th or at the beginning of the 13th century, another Romanesque church was built, this one founded by Kraków bishops. This period is also incredibly fascinating for another reason: it was the time when the Wiślica Duchy was formed, receiving the status of a separate territorial unit in the Małopolska land, with Wiślica as its undisputed capital. It probably still existed in 1234, as evidenced by the “dominium Visliciae et Sandomiriae” annotation in the privilege issued by Bolesław the Chaste.
The golden era of Wiślica was interrupted yet again in 1241, this time by a Tatar invasion, as a result of which it was damaged and burnt, along with all of its facilities. It reappears in the history books after a short break around the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th centuries.
During the struggles to unite the Kingdom of Poland, Wiślica supported the aspirations of Władysław the Elbow-high to the throne. From the end of the 13th century, the town started to play a significant part in Małopolska yet again. The 14th century proved to be incredibly important for Wiślica – with the support of Władysław the Elbow-high, numerous events were organised in the town, with the participation of the highest dignitaries from Kraków and Sandomierz, which shows the duke’s (and from 20 January 1320 – the king’s) immense affection for Wiślica. It was probably in the first quarter of the 14th century that the borough was granted town privileges, the exact date being unknown, while after 1333 it received its location privilege in line with German (Magdeburg) law.
The most prosperous era of Wiślica coincided with the reign of Casimir the Great, when the town once again became one of the most important religious, administrative and judicial centres in the whole of Małopolska land. It was also the seat of the board managing the royal demesne, and the number of visits by Casimir the Great shows how significant the town was at this time. The year 1347 is remembered as the moment of adopting and announcing the first document of codified law in Poland, known to this day as the Wiślica Statutes. With the support of the king, Wiślica was surrounded by a stone wall with three gates: Krakowska, Buska and Zamkowa. Furthermore, a church was founded in 1350, which still towers above the buildings to this day. It was also the king’s doing that Wiślica was given the privilege of salt storage. The privileges are confirmed by documents issued later by Casimir Jagiellon (1460) and Jan Olbracht (1493). Władysław Jagiełło also cared about the town, and in 1386 he granted its inhabitants exemptions from levies related to fairs and customs duties, as well as reaffirming the town privilege in 1409. Furthermore, Wiślica became his favourite town, as evidenced by the number of times he visited. In addition to the written sources, tangible traces of the ruler’s stays in Wiślica are depicted in the Russian Revival frescos in the chancel of the Minor Basilica, still admired by visitors to this day.
The 15th century was a special time in the development of Wiślica. The town’s population was increasing rapidly, partly due to it being the venue of the majority of chivalrous events. The town’s urban structure also took its final shape. Jan Długosz, a historian and chronicler, was particularly fond of Wiślica. The curator of the local collegiate church had a house of stone and brick built for curates and canons, and it survived the town fire of 1471 without any severe damage. Next to the house, he had built a majestic bell tower and a memorial plaque. The population growth in the 15th century and the inability to extend the residential areas of Wiślica led to the rapid development of a suburb – Gorysławice. There is also a mention that a water pipeline was created in Wiślica in 1528. Enjoying the favours of rulers, the town continued to grow stronger, bringing in more Jews, who probably appeared there as early as in the 12th century.
This period of good fortune came to an end in 1564 with a huge fire that consumed the town. Severely damaged by various disasters, including fires, floods, and epidemics, Wiślica went steadily into decline, despite the attempts by Sigismund III Vasa to revive it. The 1657 Swedish invasion, known as the 'Deluge', marked the downfall of the town, a critical moment for Wiślica from which it never recovered. In 1766, King Stanisław August Poniatowski gave his permission to demolish the castle, the walls and the gates. The partitioning of Poland entirely inhibited any potential for the further development of Wiślica. In 1818 the wooden town hall was knocked down, while in 1819, after almost 650 years, the collegiate chapter was dissolved. By the end of the 18th century the St. Martin and Holy Spirit churches ceased functioning, to be demolished in the first half of the 19th century. 1858 saw yet another fire in Wiślica, and then the town lost its privileges in 1869.
The second half of the 19th century saw Wiślica remaining in decline, despite being an important trade centre. It was still a venue for fairs and weekly markets, with the population returning to the levels from the 15th and 16th centuries. It had 1912 inhabitants in 1849, 1342 of them being Jews. By 1902 the population had grown to 4562, but since the town was situated near the border with Galicia the tsar government did not build any roads, deliberately leading to the lack of progress in civilisation for this part of Poland. In 1914, Russian locations in Wiślica came under fire from Austrian artillery, resulting in considerable damage to the structure of the collegiate church and the bell tower, the House of Długosz, and all the other buildings in the town. In 1919, renovation works commenced for the most important historical sites in the town, under the supervision of Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz. This resulted in the reconstruction of the damaged parts of the churches, with the demolition of the two Romanesque towers being the price to pay. In 1929, Pope Pius XI re-founded the Wiślica chapter. The interwar period was a time of further growth for the town, which was then interrupted by World War II. This time, the ravages of war spared the monuments but brought doom to the majority of the population, in particular to Jewish citizens. The year 1949 marks the beginning of archaeological research conducted by Zespół Badań nad Polskim Średniowieczem (Polish Middle Ages Research Team), which yielded spectacular results in uncovering the long forgotten glory of Wiślica.