The one minute summary on Poland
This is it: one minute to the best info on Poland. This info alone will put you ahead of 99% of foreigners visiting Poland, garner the admiration of the locals who will instantly want to be your friends, and the envy of your fellow travelers. Read on. You’ll make friends faster that way, become a traveler instead of simply being a tourist, and also enjoy your travels a lot more.
Poland’s history as a state begins near the middle of the 10th century. By the mid-16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth ruled a vast tract of land in central and eastern Europe. During the 18th century, internal disorders weakened the nation, and in a series of agreements between 1772 and 1795, Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland among themselves. Poland regained its independence in 1918 only to be overrun by Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. It became a Soviet satellite state following the war, but its government was comparatively tolerant and progressive.
Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union “Solidarity” that over time became a political force with over ten million members. Free elections in 1989 and 1990 won Solidarity control of the parliament and the presidency, bringing the communist era to a close.
A “shock therapy” program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. With its transformation to a democratic, market-oriented country largely completed and with large investments in defense, energy, and other infrastructure, Poland is an increasingly active member of Euro-Atlantic organizations.
That was it. I promised one minute.
For other condensed info check also my other posts on local culture (don’t make the mistakes I made), local food or local drinks. And when you call your friends to tell them you were by far the most knowledgeable at the party, do that with confidence that you’ll not get hit with a 6.99 per minute bill. You’ll also pick the local food from the tray, and order a local drink with confidence.
- Cultural Mistakes To Avoid in Poland
- Does my current phone work in Poland ? Tips to cell phone usage in Poland
- Local food you should try in Poland and No miss drinks in Poland
Now, cheers to the most Poland aware person at the cocktail party.
What are the key history moments for Poland?
The first cities in today’s Poland, Kalisz and Elbl?g on the Amber Trail to the Baltic Sea, were mentioned by Roman writers in the first century AD, but the first Polish settlement in Biskupin dates even further back to the 7th century BC. Poland was first united as a country in the first half of the 10th century, and officially adopted Catholicism in 966.
The first capital was in the city of Gniezno, but a century later the capital was moved to Cracow, where it remained for half a millennium. Poland experienced its golden age from 14th till 16th century, under the reign of king Casimir the Great, and the Jagiellonian dynasty, whose rule extended from the Baltic to the Black and Adriatic seas.
In the 16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the largest country in Europe; the country attracted significant numbers of foreign migrants, including Germans, Jews, Armenians and the Dutch, thanks to the freedom of confession guaranteed by the state and the atmosphere of religious tolerance (rather exceptional in Europe at the time of the Holy Inquisition). Under the rule of the Vasa dynasty, the capital was moved to Warsaw in 1596.
During the 17th and the 18th centuries, the nobility increasingly asserted its independence of the monarchy; combined with several exhausting wars, this greatly weakened the Commonwealth. Responding to the need for reform, Poland was the 1st country in Europe (and the 2nd in the world, after the US) to pass a constitution.
The constitution of 3 May 1791 was the key reform among many progressive but belated attempts to strengthen the country during the second half of the 18th century. With the country in political disarray, various sections of Poland were subsequently occupied by its neighbors, Russia, Prussia and Austria, in three coordinated “partitions” of 1772 and 1793, and 1795. After the last partition and a failed uprising, Poland ceased to exist as a country for 123 years. However, this long period of foreign domination was met with fierce resistance.
During the Napoleonic Wars, a semi-autonomous Duchy of Warsaw arose, before being erased from the map again in 1813. Further uprisings ensued, such as the 29 November uprising of 1830-1831 (mainly in Russian Poland), the 1848 Revolution (mostly in Austrian and Prussian Poland), and 22 Jan 1863. Throughout the occupation, Poles retained their sense of national identity, and kept fighting the subjugation of the three occupying powers.
Warsaw in 1900s Poland returned to the map of Europe with the end of World War I, officially regaining its independence on November 11th, 1918. Soon, by 1920-21, the newly-reborn country got into territorial disputes with Czechoslovakia and, especially, the antagonistic and newly Soviet Russia with which it fought a war. This was further complicated by a hostile Weimar Germany to the west, which strongly resented the annexation of portions of its eastern Prussian territories, and the detachment of German-speaking Danzig (contemporary Gda?sk) as a free city.
This put Poland in a precarious position of having potential enemies facing her again from all three sides. World War II World War II officially began with a coordinated attack on Poland’s borders by the Soviet Union from the east and Nazi Germany from the west and north. Only a few days prior to the start of WWII, the Soviet Union and Germany had signed a secret pact of non-aggression, which called for the re-division of the newly independent central and eastern European nations. Germany attacked Poland on 1 Sep 1939, and the Soviet Union attacked Poland on 17 Sep 1939, effectively starting the fourth partition, causing the recently re-established Polish Republic to cease to exist. Hitler used the issue of Danzig (Gda?sk) and German nationalism to try to trigger a war with Poland in much the same way he used the Sudetenland Question to conquer the Czechs. Many of WWII’s most infamous war crimes were committed on Polish territory. Much of the Holocaust took place in Poland, as Poland had the largest population of Jews of any country in the world, over three million, 90% of whom were murdered by the Nazis. Polands cities had especially large Jewish populations. Before World War II Warsaw was 30% Jewish, Lodz 34%, and Lublin 35%. All six of the Nazis extermination camps were located in Poland; of these Auschwitz is the most well known. Much of the Jewish resistance to the Nazis was also centered in Poland, the most famous example being the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943.
In addition to the Jews, Polish non-Jews were vigorously persecuted by the Nazis with 2 to 3 million non-Jewish Poles murdered by them. Polish civilians were ruthlessly rounded up, tortured, put into concentration camps, and executed. The Soviets rounded up and executed the cream of the crop of Polish leadership in the Katy? Massacre of 1940. About 22,000 Polish military and political leaders, business owners, and intelligentsia were murdered in the massacre, officially approved by the Soviet Politburo, including Stalin and Beria. Due to WWII, Poland lost about 20% of its population, added to the fact that the Polish economy was completely ruined.
Nearly all major cities were destroyed and with them the history of centuries was gone. After the war Poland was forced to become a Soviet satellite country, following the Yalta and Potsdam agreements between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. To this day these events are viewed by many Poles as an act of betrayal by the Allies. Poland’s territory was significantly reduced and shifted westward to the Oder-Neisse Line at the expense of defeated Germany.
The native Polish populations from the former Polish territories in the east, now annexed by the Soviet Union, were expelled by force and replaced the likewise expelled German populations in the west and in the north of the country. This resulted in the forced uprooting of over 10 million people and until recently had shadowed attempts at Polish-German reconciliation. Communism (People’s Republic of Poland) The Communist era (1945-1989) is a controversial topic.
After World War II, Poland was forced to become a Socialist Republic, and to adopt a strong pro-Soviet stance. Between 1945-1953, pro-Stalinist leaders conducted periodic purges. After the bloody Stalinist era of 1945-1953, Poland was comparatively tolerant and progressive in comparison to other Eastern Bloc countries. But strong economic growth in the post-war period alternated with serious recessions in 1956, 1970, and 1976, resulting in labor turmoil over dramatic inflation as well as shortages of goods. Ask older Poles to tell you about communism and you’ll often hear stories of empty store shelves where sometimes the only thing available for purchase was vinegar. You’ll hear stories about backroom deals to get meat or bread, such as people trading things at the post office just to get ham for a special dinner. A brief reprieve from this history occurred in 1978.
The then-archbishop of Cracow, Charles Wojtyla, was elected as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, taking the name John Paul II. This had a profound impact on Poland’s largely Catholic population, and to this day John Paul II is widely revered in the country. In 1980, the anti-communist trade union “Solidarity” (Polish: Solidarno??) became a strong force of opposition to the government, organizing labour strikes, and demanding freedom of the press and democratic representation. The communist government responded by organizing a military junta, led by general Wojciech Jaruzelski, and imposing martial law on 13 Dec 1981; it lasted until 22 Jul 1983.
During this time, thousands of people were detained. Phone calls were monitored by the government, independent organizations not aligned with the Communists were deemed illegal and members were arrested, access to roads was restricted, the borders were sealed, ordinary industries were placed under military management, and workers who failed to follow orders faced the threat of a military court. Solidarity was the most famous organization to be made illegal and its members faced the possibility of losing their jobs and imprisonment.
But this internecine conflict and ensuing economic disaster greatly weakened the role of the Communist Party. Solidarity was legalized again, and soon led the country to the first free elections in 1989, in which the communist government was finally removed from power. This inspired a succession of peaceful anti-communist revolutions throughout the Warsaw Pact block. Contemporary Poland (Third Republic of Poland) Nowadays, Poland is a democratic country with a stable, robust economy, a member of NATO since 1999 and the European Union since 2004.
The country’s stability has been recently underscored by the fact that the tragic deaths of the President and a large number of political, business and civic leaders in a plane crash did not have an appreciable negative effect on the Polish currency or economic prospects. Poland has also successfully joined the border-less Europe agreement (Schengen), with an open border to Germany, Lithuania, Czech Republic and Slovakia, and is on track to adopt the Euro currency in a few years time. Poland’s dream of rejoining Europe as an independent nation at peace and in mutual respect of its neighbours has finally been achieved.
The one minute summary for Poland geography
Best places to see in Poland
Ever since Poland joined the European Union, international travellers have rapidly rediscovered the country’s rich cultural heritage, stunning historic sites and just gorgeous array of landscapes. Whether you’re looking for architecture, urban vibes or a taste of the past: Poland’s bustling cities and towns offer something for everyone. If you’d rather get away from the crowds and enjoy nature, the country’s vast natural areas provide anything from dense forests, high peaks and lush hills to beaches and lake reserves. Pay attention to the remarkable details on Krakow’s historic buildings Cities Most of the major cities boast lovely old centres and a range of splendid buildings, some of them World Heritage sites. Many old quarters were heavily damaged or even destroyed in WWII bombings, but were meticulously rebuilt after the war, using the original bricks and ornaments where possible. Although remains of the Soviet Union and even scars of the Second World War are visible in most of them, the Polish cities offer great historic sight seeing while at the same time they have become modern, lively places.
The capital, Warsaw, has one of the best old centers and its many sights include the ancient city walls, palaces, churches and squares. You can follow the Royal Route to see some of the best landmarks outside the old centre.
The old city of Kraków is considered the country’s cultural capital, with another gorgeous historic centre, countless monumental buildings and a few excellent museums. Just 50 km from there is the humbling Auschwitz concentration camp which, due to the horrible events it represents, leaves an impression like no other World Heritage site does.
The ancient Wieliczka salt mine is another great daytrip from Krakow. Once a Hanseatic League-town, the port city of Gda?sk boasts many impressive buildings from that time. Here too, a walk along the Royal Road gives a great overview of notable sights. Wroc?aw, the former capital of Silesia, is still less well-known but can definitely compete when it comes to amazing architecture, Centennial Hall being the prime example. Its picturesque location on the river Oder and countless bridges make this huge city a lovely place. The old town of Zamo?? was planned after Italian theories of the “ideal town” and named “a unique example of a Renaissance town in Central Europe” by UNESCO.
The stunning medieval city of Toru? has some great and original Gothic architecture, as it is one of the few Polish cities to have escaped devastation in WWII. Other interesting cities include Pozna? and Lublin. Natural attractions Tatra National Park With 23 national parks and a number of landscape parks spread all over the country, natural attractions are never too far away. Bia?owie?a National Park, on the Belarus border, is a World Heritage site for it comprises the last remains of the primeval forest that once covered most of Europe. It’s the only place where European Bisons still live in the wild. If you’re fit and up for adventure, take the dangerous Eagle’s Path (Orla Per?) in the Tatra Mountains, where you’ll also find Poland’s highest peak. Pieni?ski National Park boasts the stunning Dunajec River Gorge and Karkonoski National Park is home to some fabulous water falls.
The mountainous Bieszczady National Park has great hiking opportunities and lots of wild life. Wielkopolska National Park is, in contrast, very flat and covers a good part of the pretty Pozna? Lakeland. The Masurian Landscape Park, in the Masurian Lake District with its 2000 lakes, is at least as beautiful. Bory Tucholskie National Park has the largest woodland in the country and has a bunch of lakes too, making it great for birdwatching.
The two national parks on Poland’s coast are also quite popular: Wolin National Park is located on an island in the north-west, S?owi?ski National Park holds some of the largest sand dunes in Europe. Castles & other rural monuments Malbork castle The Polish countryside is lovely and at times even gorgeous, with countless historic villages, castles, churches and other monuments.
Agrotourism is therefore increasingly popular. If you have a taste for cultural heritage, the south western parts of the country offer some of the best sights, but there’s great stuff in other areas too.
The impressive Gothic Wawel Castle in Krakow may be one of the finest examples when it comes to Poland’s castles, but most of the others are located in smaller countryside towns. The large, red brick Malbork castle (in northern Poland) is perhaps the most stunning one in the country, built in 1406 and today the world’s biggest brick Gothic castle.
The castle of Ksi??, near Wa?brzych is one the best examples in historic Silesia, which also brought forward the now semi-ruined Chojnik castle, located on a hill above the town of Sobieszów and within the Karkonoski National Park. After surviving battles and attacks for centuries, it was destroyed by lightning in 1675 and has been a popular tourist attraction since the 18th century. The picturesque Czocha Castle near Luba? originates from 1329.
A bit off the beaten track are the ruins of Krzy?topór castle, in a village near Opatow. The Wooden Churches of Southern Lesser Poland are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage, just like the Churches of Peace in Jawor and Swidnica. The Jasna Góra Monastery in Cz?stochowa and the beautiful, World Heritage listed Kalwaria Zebrzydowska park are famous pilgrimage destinations. The lovely Muskau Park in ??knica, on the German border, has fabulous English gardens and is a UNESCO listing shared with Germany.