Poland

  Where is Poland?  
Rzeczpospolita Polska - the Republic of Poland - is situated in Central Europe, between the Baltic Sea and the Tatra Mountains – a part of the Carpathians. It covers the area of 322,577 square kilometres and is inhabited by about 38 mln people. It is a quite homogenous country – more than 90% of the population is Polish. The name ‘Poland’ comes probably from one of the Slavonic tribes that used to live in this area – Polanie, that is, ‘dwellers of the plains’.
Poland has many neighbours: Germany to the west, Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south, Ukraine, Byelorussia and Lithuania to the east, and Russia to the north-east. The northern border runs through the Baltic Sea, with Denmark and Sweden being the marine neighbours.
Due to its location, Poland is a good place to start, or finish, a journey through Central Europe. From here, you can easily get to Prague, Bratislava, Budapest or Vienna.

Visit Poland Trips for a range of tourist destinations and holiday activities from across Poland as well as information about how to get there and accommodation options.

  Language  
Polish language is a Slavonic one. With Czech, Slovakian, and some local dialects, it forms a group of the Western Slavonic languages which is a part of the Indo - European language family. To most of the foreign visitors, our language seems very difficult. No wonder – even for Poles it is not so easy to pronounce such words as ‘Szczebrzeszyn’, ‘Rzeszowszczyzna’, or ‘przedszkole’… But it is still worth learning, as more than 46 mln people speak this language! Do not worry – in Poland you can easily communicate in English, German, or Russian. In small villages, though, or places that are not among the regular tourist destinations, it will be easier just to use the reliable sign language.

  Famous people  
Poland can be proud of being the birth place of many famous people, who contributed to the development of world culture, history, or science. In Zelazowa Wola, about 40 km from Warsaw, Frederic Chopin was born in 1810. One of the greatest composers died in Paris in 1849, but his heart was brought here by his sister and buried in the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860 – 1941) became world famous as a piano virtuoso. He toured and played not only in Europe and both the Americas, but also in New Zealand and Tasmania. Poland can also pride itself on its Nobel Prize winners – Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916), Wladyslaw Reymont (1867–1925), Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004), and Wislawa Szymborska (b. 1923) in literature, and Maria Curie-Sklodowska (1867-1943), in science.
The latter still remains the only woman who got the Nobel Prize twice – for extracting pure radium, and then polonium. Also Lech Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity movement that contributed to the fall of Communism in Europe and first president of the fully democratic Republic of Poland was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

  Polish cuisine  
A visit to the traditional Polish inn is a must for everyone who would like to feel the real spirit of this country. On the menu, dumplings, golabki (stuffed cabbage), golonko (knuckle), and pork chops are obligatory. Plus, of course, some delicious soups that the Poles eat very frequently - white borsch, beetroot soup, or flaki (tripe). Another specialite de la maison is fried or marinated mushrooms, and cabbage – the taste of cabbage with beans, or dumplings with cabbage, is simply unforgettable! Typical Polish dinner is always accompanied by kompot – a kind of juice prepared of stewed fruits. For the dessert, the home-made apple cake, cheese cake, or doughnuts would be best (those from Krakow have the filling of jam made of wild rose fruits!).
Every pub in Poland offers a wide range of good Polish beer and vodka. Most popular is the pure vodka, or Zubrowka – ‘bison vodka’, with a blade of the bison grass in each bottle that gives the special flavour and yellowish colour. This species of grass comes from the Bialowieza forest, where the national park and reserve of the bison is. If you are not a fan of pure vodka, taste some flavoured drinks, such as the Krupnik or cherry vodka. Poland is also famous for its mead.

  Historical outline  
Before the Polish state had emerged, the territory of Poland was inhabited by different Slavic tribes that were unified by its first ruler -Mieszko I. In 966 in Gniezno, considered the first capital of Poland, he accepted Christianity, introducing his young realm into Europe. Since the coronation of the first Polish king Boleslaw Chrobry (1025), Poland was struggling for a place in Central Europe. The rapid development of the kingdom started due to Kazimierz the Great in the 14th century. As a Polish byword has it, he found Poland made of wood, and left it made of stone. Kazimierz the Great founded numerous churches and fortified cities, codified the law and developed the salt mine – the greatest source of income. In 1386 the Lithuanian prince Jagiello (Jogaila) married Jadwiga, then King of Poland in the absence of a male heir of the Piast dynasty. This led to the union of Poland and Lithuania, and the establishment of a new major power in Europe. Thus the heyday of the Commonwealth of Both Nations started. In the 16th century it stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north, up to the Black Sea in the south. At that time, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was considered a great centre of arts and science, as well as the most tolerant country: Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, Jews, Ukrainians and Tatars were living next to each other. Democracy was also born – the first election of king took place in 1573. The first European constitution was created in Poland, too, on the 3rd of May, 1791. This Golden Age of the Polish Kingdom terminated in dramatic circumstances, among the ravages of the 17th-century wars and resulting political disintegration. In 1795 Poland disappeared completely from the map of Europe and was partitioned by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. It was reborn as independent country as late as 1918, on the 11th of November – now the Independence Day.

  Capital of Poland  
Warsaw is the official capital of Poland, and also the country’s biggest city (1.7 mln inhabitants). It has a striking history, architecture, atmosphere, and culture – the peculiar mixture of the East and West is still visible here. It is worth remembering that under the Russian occupation in the 19th century Warsaw was the fourth largest city of the Tsarist Empire. The city centre is not exactly defined – there is the Old Town, New Town (Nowy Swiat), and the area by the Main Railway Station. All these districts give some idea of the complicated and tragic history of Warsaw. The city was purposefully pulled down by the Nazis during the Second World War – more than 80% of the buildings were destroyed. The Old Town was successfully restored, and is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Old Square is among the most picturesque squares in Europe. In order to trace the history of the city, it is enough to follow the Royal Way: Krakowskie Przedmiescie is the most spectacular street in Warsaw, famous for its brilliant monuments: the Statue of Copernicus, Church of the Holy Cross, where the heart of Chopin is entombed, the University of Warsaw and the Namiestnikowski Palace – the seat of the President of Poland. There is also the Royal Castle with the famous Sigismundus Column - the landmark of the city. The Palace of Culture and Science, finished in 1955, was a gift from Stalin. It became an important symbol of the communist regime in Poland. Warsaw is also the city of Fredric Chopin – here, in the Lazienki Park, you can find the most beautiful statue commemorating this composer.

  Pilgrimage to Poland  
Poland is still considered a very religious country – more than 90% of the citizens are catholics. In fact, religion has always been a very important factor in Polish culture and tradition. No wonder that the distinctive feature of the countryside is the frequent presence of tiny shrines by the roads.
Poland is the homeland of the late Pope John Paul II. Here you can also follow the traces of famous saints, see holy relics and visit numerous shrines, of which some became well-known pilgrimage centres. The most important among them is the one at Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, where the holy icon of the Black Madonna is kept. Close to Warsaw there is Niepokalanow, where Saint Maximilian Kolbe used to live. He managed to change this Franciscan convent into the biggest catholic monastery in the world. In 1939 there were as many as 700 friars in Niepokalanow! The sanctuaries in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, or Kalwaria Paclawska were built to imitate the Calvary in Jerusalem. In the basilica in Miechow, frequently visited by pilgrims, there is an exact copy of the Holy Sepulchre. In Lysa Gora, one of the oldest Benedictine convents in Poland houses the relics of the Holy Cross. Thousands of pilgrims come also to Krakow, to visit Lagiewniki, known as the capital of the Divine Mercy.

  Poland of the Jews  
Before the Second World War, Poland was home of the biggest Jewish Diaspora in Europe, whose history dates more than 800 years back. While it is estimated that about 6 mln Jews were killed during the war, approximately 3.3 mln of them were from Poland. Although The Nazis wanted to destroy not only the nation but also its culture, Poland is still the land where you can follow the numerous traces of the splendid Jewish culture that was flourishing here in the past. Visiting eastern or southern Poland one can rediscover the history of the people that do not live here anymore… There are still the old synagogues and cemeteries, including the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe, located in Lodz. Lezajsk is a burial place of Elimelech (1717–1787), the first zaddik in the history of Judaism. In other cemeteries, world-famous rabbis, or seers, are buried. One of the biggest Talmudic schools in Europe was established in Lublin in the 16th century, and reborn in the 20th century as Jeshivat Chachmej – the Academy of Sages. Still, the most frequently visited place is the former Jewish town of Kazimierz in Krakow – the great symbol of the history of Jews in Poland.
Thousands of Jews visit Poland to follow the traces of Holocaust – the concentration, and extermination camps built by the Nazis in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Majdanek, Gross-Rosen, Kulmhof, Stutthof…

  Pearls of Poland (UNESCO)  
The first UNESCO World Heritage List was created in 1978. Only twelve places had the privilege to enter it; among them was Krakow, and also the Salt Mine in the nearby Wieliczka. Eventually, they were joined by Auschwitz-Birkenau - the largest extermination camp built by the Nazis, and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska – the Shrine of St. Mary, and the Passion of Christ devotion, built in the 17th century as a symbolic copy of Jerusalem. Then Warsaw entered the list, with two other cities: Torun and Zamosc. Torun is the city of the world-famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who was born here in 1473. It is also famous for the local delicacy – the gingerbread. A walk around the Old Town allows you to explore one of the best-preserved complexes of gothic residential architecture in Northern Europe. Zamosc is among the most picturesque towns of Poland, famously described as ‘the city of arcades’, ‘Padua of Northern Europe’, or ‘the pearl of renaissance’. Zamosc was designed by Bernardo Morondo as the ideal renaissance city, and today its beautiful architecture still amazes the visitors. Old Italian, Georgian, and Jewish houses, give the town this unique atmosphere of a typical Eastern Polish town. The gothic castle in Malbork was entered on the UNESCO list in 1997. Picturesquely situated by the Nogat river, it was constructed in the 13th-15th century as a convent building of the Teutonic Knights. This magnificent architectural complex consists of numerous chambers and towers and is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe.
The most unusual place in Poland entered on the UNESCO list is the Bialowieza forest – the only relic of the immense primeval forest of Europe. It represents unusual richness of its flora and fauna, while the average age of its trees is 126. This reserve is also home to the bison - the biggest European mammal.

www.unesco.org
www.wieliczka.nu
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