Silesia is located in Central Europe with areas in Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. It became an official province in 1815 and has established a distinct culture and the Silesian language. Greater Moravia and Bohemia were the first known states in Silesia.
Silesia, mainly Protestant, fought as an ally of Bohemia in the brutal Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). The land was overrun with invading armies and mercenaries, and almost three quarters of the population lost their lives. Silesia slowly recovered from the destruction with the support of Sweden, religious freedom was encouraged, and Emperor Charles VI attempted to encourage trade with Austria. In the 18th century, Frederick the Great of Prussia fought three wars against Empress Maria Theresa, the only woman to hold a German throne, in order to wrest Silesia from Austrian dominance. Despite Austria's determined resistance, the Prussian army defeated the Austrians in 1762.
As a territory rich in coal and fertile soil, Silesia was often the target of foreign invasions. After the Prussian victory over the Russians and the Austrians, Silesia entered a stage of major development as more settlers were encouraged to rebuild the devastated countryside. A land blessed with fertile soils in the north and rich iron, coal, and zinc deposits in the west and south, Silesia developed an industrial base, supplying raw materials for the expanding Prussian Empire. Its major cities include Breslau, site of a famous university and an uprising against Napoleon in 1813, and Liegnitz, a ducal seat and site of a Baroque castle.
In 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, Silesia was the first region under attack. Approximately 14% of the Silesian population was lost during World War II.