Jelenia Góra is situated in Lower Silesian Voivodeship (since 1999), having previously been the seat of Jelenia Góra Voivodeship (1975-1998). The city constitutes a separate urban gmina and city county (powiat), as well as being the seat of Jelenia Góra County (which surrounds but does not include the city). As at 2007 the population of Jelenia Góra is 86,372.
The city was inherited by Habsburg Austria in 1526, two years after the town adopted the Protestant faith. A Protestant school was built in 1566. In 1560 a fire destroyed large parts of the city and stopped the economic development, which until then was characterized by linen weaving. The city recovered when Joachim Girnth, a shoemaker on a return journey from Holland, introduced veil weaving. The first "light veils" were offered in 1625, and five years later the city received a imperial privilege by Ferdinand II for these veils.
During the Thirty Years' War the city suffered badly. Hirschberg was beleaguered by troops of both parties , paid high contributions, and during a siege in 1634 the city burned down again. Two more sieges followed in 1640 and 1641. The town needed several years to recover. One reason for the new boost was the creation of a merchant society 1658, which secured Hirschbergs position as the most important center of linen and veil trade in the Silesian mountains during the 17th and 18th century.
The Protestants of the city were oppressed during the Counter-Reformation, but the second Treaty of Altranstädt, which allowed to establish a Protestant community center and a church outside the medieval city walls, brought relief. Great sacrifices by the merchant society, especially its most prominent member Christian Menzel, made the construction of a large church, modeled after Church of Catherine in Stockholm, possible. The cemetery of the church was the preferred burial place for most merchant families (largely destroyed after 1945).
Hirschberg was annexed with Lower Silesia by the Kingdom of Prussia during the Silesian Wars. The city was again partly destroyed, had to pay contributions and was seized several times. The detachment from Austria and the new border in the mountains to the south badly damaged the economy as the merchants lost a large part of their customers. Although Prussia took on substantial efforts to revive the economy they never recovered completely and finally lost their position during the industrial revolution.
In 1871 the town became part of the German Empire upon the Prussian-led unification of Germany. Hirschberg was one of the largest towns in the Province of Silesia. The Deutsche Riesengebirgsverein (German Giant Mountains Club), a organization to protect the environment of the Karkonosze (known then as the Riesengebirge or Giant Mountains) and to promote tourism, was founded in 1880 by Theodor Donat and 47 other dignitaries of the region. It was the seventh oldest German mountaineering club with up to 18,000 members and 95 local groups, some of them even in Hamburg, the Rhineland or New York. In 1912–14 the Riesengebirgsmuseum, a museum about the mountains and the history of Hirschberg and the region, was opened by the club. It was closed in 1945 together with the Riesengebirgsverein, whose members were expelled. The museum was rearranged in 1950 and opened again in 1953. The club still exists in Germany, although its mission is obsolete.
Following the end of World War II in 1945, the town was placed under Polish administration according to the decisions of the Potsdam Conference, and became officially known by its Polish name of Jelenia Góra. The remaining German inhabitants were expelled westward and replaced with Polish settlers. The city was not destroyed in the war. After the war the new Polish authorities dismantled the Old Town until 1965 and destroyed the cemetery of the Protestant church. Afterwards the buildings around the market place were reconstructed in more simple forms. The town was expanded through the incoporation into it of surrounding localities, including in 1976 the spa town of Cieplice (Bad Warmbrunn), now the district of Cieplice Śląskie-Zdrój.