Szczytno  is a town in north-eastern Poland with 27,970 inhabitants (2004). Previously part of the Olsztyn Voivodeship from 1975-1998, Szczytno was assigned to the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship in 1999. It is the seat of Szczytno County.
Szczytno-Szymany International Airport, located nearby, is the most important airport of the Masurian region. Szczytno, which is located on the Olsztyn – Elk line, used to be a railroad junction until Polish Railways closed minor connections stemming from the town towards Czerwonka and Wielbark.
Between 1350 and 1360 Ortolf von Trier, a knight of the Teutonic Order and the Komtur of Elbing (Elbląg) (1349-1371), founded a fort in Galindia, probably near an Old Prussian settlement. The first mentioning of the fort as Ortulfsburg was a document from 24 September 1360, after Ortolf invited Masovian colonists, among whom the settlement became known as Szczytno. This settlement, which was known for its beekeepers, became known as Beutnerdorf. The first custodian of the settlement was Heinrich Murer. In 1370 the wooden fort was destroyed by Lithuanians led by Kęstutis, after which it was rebuilt using stone. The name Ortulfsburg gradually changed into Ortelsburg. The settlement grew in size owing to its location on a trade route from Warsaw to Königsberg (now Kaliningrad).
The castle was occupied by Polish troops during the Thirteen Years' War. With its inclusion in the Duchy of Prussia in 1525, it lost its importance as a border fortress and began to decline. Margrave and regent George Frederick (1577-1603), who enjoyed hunting nearby, began the redevelopment of the area. Among his projects was the rebuilding of the castle into a hunting lodge.
The increased activity near the castle led to the 1580 founding of the community of Ortelsburg by German craftsmen, independent of Beutnerdorf. The attempt of a local leader, Andreas von Eulenburg, to secure brewing and legal rights led to battles with nearby Passenheim (Pasym). This year-long conflict ended with the Ortelsburg community receiving legal independence on 23 March 1616. King Władysław IV Vasa of Poland visited the town from 1628–29 and in 1639. Ortelsburg suffered from 17th century fires and the plague in 1656. The town became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701. King Frederick William I of Prussia granted Ortelsburg its town charter in 1723. The town had approximately 1,000 inhabitants in 1782.
King Frederick William III and Queen Louise arrived in Ortelsburg on 23 November 1806 while fleeing French troops during the Fourth Coalition. The town was briefly the seat of the Prussian government, and Frederick William released his Ortelsburger Publicandum there on 1 December. The French troops plundered Ortelsburg on 23 December. The town was forced to host numerous troops of the Grande Armée in 1812, although the local deputy Ritter von Berg distinguished himself through his public service.
Ortelsburg became the seat of Landkreis Ortelsburg, one of the largest in East Prussia, in 1818 after Prussian administrative reforms, with Ritter von Berg chosen as the first district administrator. The town became part of the German Empire in 1871 during the unification of Germany. The town began to quickly expand economically after the opening of a railway line in 1888. According to the German census of 1900, Masurians, the Lutheran descendants of the Masovian colonists, constituted 74.5% of Ortelsburg's population. From 1883–84 the only Polish language newspaper printed in the region was called Mazur. In 1910 the "Bank Mazurski" was founded. Beutnerdorf was incorporated into Ortelsburg in 1913.
Ortelsburg was almost completely destroyed on 30 August 1914 at the beginning of World War I by troops of the Russian Empire, with 160 houses and 321 commercial buildings burning down. The town's recovery was supported by Berlin and Vienna.
To determine if the town would remain in Weimar Germany or join the Second Polish Republic, the East Prussian plebiscite was held in the town on 11 July 1920, at the height of the Polish-Soviet War and the prospect of Soviet takeover of Poland. Poles were persecuted and activists were attacked and dispersed by Germans before the referendum. In the plebiscite 5,336 votes were given to remain in Germany with 15 votes for Poland. In 1925 Ortelsburg had 10,357 inhabitants.
Poles organized Samopomoc Mazurska ("Masurian Self-Help"), an organisation for the protection of Poles under German rule and year later "Zjednoczenie Mazurskie". The Polish newspaper Mazurski Przyjaciel Ludu was printed. The Polish activist Jerzy Lanc was killed during his attempt to establish a Polish school. The town was the location of the Polish House. In this building during the interwar era, meetings of Polish journalists and activists were organised. The Polish House is connected to such names as Gustaw Leyding, Kazimierz Jaroszyk (chief editor of Mazur), Bogumił Linka, brothers Karol and Hugo Bahrke, Michał Kajka, Jan Jagiełko, and Bogumił Labusz. The Polish House was the headquarters of such organisations as "Zjednoczenie Mazurskie", "Samopomoc Mazurska" and the Union of Poles in Germany. Today the building is dedicated to the memory of the people and institutions that were engaged in Polish movement in Masuria.
In March 1933 the Nazi Party polled 76.6% of votes.
Most of the town's population fled before the Red Army at the end of World War II. The city was placed under Polish administration in 1945 according to the Potsdam Agreement and received the name Szczytno, under which it was known to the local non-German population.
The nearby Szczytno-Szymany International Airport, as well as Stare Kiejkuty, a military intelligence training base, came under scrutiny in late 2005 as possible "black sites" (secret prisons or transfer stations) used in the CIA's program of so-called extraordinary rendition of suspected terrorists. The existence of the nearby training base and the record of CIA-registered affiliated aircraft having landing at Szczyton-Szymany have been unequivocally confirmed, but the Polish government has repeatedly denied any involvement of these facilities in extraordinary renditions.