The town's origins date back to around 1150 when Premonstratensian monks from nearby Litomyšl built a church and founded a village at a ford on the river Svitava ("pure", "clear"), from which the settlement got its name. Svitavy was first mentioned in 1256 when it was taken over by the bishop of Olomouc, Bruno von Schauenburg. Settlers were then brought in from Germany. In 1330, Svitavy was promoted to the status of a city, and at the end of the 14th century, walls were built around the city with three gates. Svitavy has a valuable historical core, which includes the elongated main square with the second longest arcade in the Czech Republic and a collection of architecturally noteworthy civic buildings, several churches, remains of city walls, and baroque statues. Among the most notable buildings in Svitavy are the old city hall and the neighboring building "U mouřenína" ("The Moor"), located on the main square. Also of particular interest are the City Museum and the Ottendorfer House. The oldest church in Svitavy is the Church of St. Giles. There are only a few remains left of the city walls, including a semi-circular bastion. There are a variety of monuments and statues in the town's public spaces.