Legnica is not a big city, but it is ambitious, and theatre is a considerable part of its hopes for the future.
The city was first mentioned in chronicles from 1004. It became the residence of the dukes of Lower Silesia in 1163, when the emperor granted ducal titles and liens to Silesian dukes, and was the seat of a principality ruled from 1248 – 1675. By the 17th century, the dukes used the name “Silesian Piasts” and in 1847 a Polish historian used for the first time the term Piast Dynasty.
Legnica became famous for the Battle of Legnica (or Battle of Wahlstatt) that took place at Legnickie Pole near the city of 9 April 1241 during the Mongol invasion of Europe. The Christian army of the Polishduke Henry II the Pious of Silesia, supported by the feudal nobility, included Poles, Bavarian miners and military orders, was defeated by the Mongols. Although the Mongols killed Henry and destroyed his forces, their advance into Europe was halted.
As the capital of the Duchy of Legnica at the beginning of the 14th century, Legnica was one of the most important cities of Central Europe, with a population of about 16,000. It is supposed that there were performances of traveling theatres at the castle and in the street.
Legnica, along with other Silesian duchies, became a vassal of he Kingdom of Bohemia during the 14th century and was part of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1526 Legnica was inherited by the Habsburg monarchy of Austria, and 150 years later, it passed to direct Habsburg rule after the death of the last Silesian Piast duke (despite the earlier inheritance pact by Brandenburh and Silesia, by which it was to go to Brandenburg.
After the administrative reorganization of the Prussian state following the Congress of Vienna (1815), city and the surrounding territory were incorporated into the administrative district Liegnitz, within the Province of Silesia on 1 May 1816. Along with the rest of Prussia, the town became part of the German Empire in 1871 during the unification of Germany. Liegnitz became the third city of Lower Silesia (after Breslau/Wroclaw and Goerlitz/Zgorzelec) to be raised to the status of an urban district.
The city began to develop broadly. The authorities admitted that the theatre building in the center was much needed, and would contribute to the city’s prestige. The new building was designed by Carl Ferdinand Lanhans, a designer of Opera in Breslau/Wroclaw and Theatre in Leipzig. The opening ceremony of the new theatre was on Christmas 1842, and the height of its activity was during the time of the Third Reich. The season ran for nine months, and performances were played seven times per week. The ensemble included actors, singers, dancers, and orchestra. There were farces, operettas, plays and operas (Wagner for example) in the repertoire. The theater had 500 seats, and there were always long lines of ticket-buyers.
In September 1944, the Germans announced total war, and the theatres were closed. Artists were pressed to work for the war purposed. Half a year later, the Red Army liberated the city; but the theatre building was completely destroyed, and all the moveable equipment was stolen. Theoreticallly, the Poles were the authorities in the city, but in practice the Russians ruled it for many years. (From 1945 to 1990 the headquarters of the Soviet forces in Poland, the so-called Northern Group of Forces, was located in Legnica.)
However, in 1946, the Soviet theatre began to present performances (the first was an American revue); and an amateur Jewish theatre opened in another building.
The Russians returned the theatre building to the Poles in 1964. But the Polish theatre, finally starting up again in 1977, did not acquire much success until Jacek Glomb began working in Legnica in 1994. He has collected a young team of actors, and invited great directors to collaborate with the theatre. Many productions of Modjeska Theatre have achieved recognition throughout Poland, and have toured to international festivals. Thus, the theatre evolved in both city and country, and created its own distinct style.