The first recorded mention of the city is in 863 AD. It was the capital of Slavic Krivichs tribe in the ninth century.
Several kilometers from Smolensk lies the Katyn (Russian: Катынь; Polish: Katyń) forest. In 1940, the forest was the site of a massacre of some 4,410 of Poland's intelligentsia, political elite, and Polish soldiers and high-ranking military officials. The term "Katyń massacre", however, has come to encompass a series of massacres of Poles by directive of Joseph Stalin. In total, 21,768 Poles of various professions (professors, doctors, soldiers, lawmakers, and police officers) were murdered at the hands of the Soviet Union's NKVD. In 2007, Andrzej Wajda, one of Poland's most esteem film directors, whose father had been murdered in Katyń, released a dramatic film titled Katyń that does an excellent job of examining the massacre and its effect on Poles in the years immediately after the massacre.
On April 10, 2010, nearly 70 years to the day after the massacre, Polish President Lech Kaczyński along with an entourage of high ranking Polish officials and other notable Poles were en route to a memorial service to be held in honor of the victims of the Katyń massacre when the plane carrying the Polish delegation crashed in Smolensk, killing everyone on board. Amongst those killed, were the President's wife; the commanders of Polish Army, Navy, Air Force, Polish Special Forces; the President's Undersecretary of State, multiple government ministers, and representatives of Poland's intelligentsia. A shocked Poland mourned for weeks after the accident for the 96 victims. The bodies of the President and the First Lady, whose body was so badly disfigured that she was identified only by an inscription on her wedding ring from her husband, lied in state at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. Mourners lined up outside the Presidential Palace in the April cold in excess of 18 hours just to lay flowers by the caskets of the President and First Lady. The President and the First Lady were later buried in Kraków's Wawel Castle with an estimated two million mourners waiting outside the castle.