Poland has had a long and rich history. Over the past thousand years the country has defended its freedom and sovereignty from foreign aggressions on numerous occasions. Due to country’s geo-political location between the East and the West, Polish history is marked with wars and uprisings. There was a time when Poland was the largest country in Europe but there was also a stage when it was totally erased from the world map for over a hundred years. Thanks to the resilience and pride of the people who value freedom above all, Poland has not only managed to overcome troubles but also has been offering its own contribution to European history and culture.
Poland’s history dates back to prehistory times when Slavic tribes arrived on this territory and settled down. The first documented ruler was Mieszko I (from Piast dynasty) in the 10th century. In 966 duke Mieszko I converted to Christianity and by baptism brought Poland to the community of Western nations. The first coronation took place at Wawel Cathedral in Krakow in 1025 and the Kingdom of Poland began to take shape.
The Jagiellonian dynasty phase brought close ties with the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania. In 1385 Lithuania accepted Christianity from Polish hands and Polish-Lithuanian union was formed, which lasted for more than 400 years.
Over time a new threat emerged. The Teutonic Order directed their campaigns against Lithuania and Poland. In 1410 at the Battle of Tannenberg (Grunwald) the united forces of Poland and Lithuania completely destroyed the Teutonic Knights. It was one of the biggest and most important battles of medieval times.
The 16th century was Poland’s “Golden Age”. The Renaissance currents brought about country’s flourishing, Poland advanced culturally, arts and science developed. Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), formulated the first modern heliocentric theory of the solar system and gave a start to modern astronomy. While Europe was absorbed with religious turmoil, Poland proclaimed a policy of religious tolerance which attracted many refugees from religious persecution (Christians, Jews, Muslims). The country also expanded territorially. In 1569 the Union of Lublin was signed forming the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. From this time on Poland and Lithuania were known as the Republic of Both Nations and prospered together on the territory of almost 1,000,000 square kilometers of central and eastern Europe. The Union was largely run by the nobility but led by elected kings. This early democratic system (“a sophisticated noble democracy”) was untypical and in contrast to the absolute monarchies prevailing at the time in the rest of Europe.
In 1596 king Zygmunt III Waza moved the capital from Krakow to Warsaw as the city was more centrally located.
From the mid-17th century the Commonwealth entered a period of decline caused by internal disorder and anarchy, and devastating wars. The state was invaded by Swedes; the so called “Swedish Deluge” left the country in ruins. The last great victory was taken in 1683 when the allied armies of Europe led by the Polish king John III Sobieski save Europe from invasion of Islam in the huge battle of Vienna.
In the 18th century the Republic was in crisis. The state required reorganization. King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski (the last king of Poland) introduced numerous reforms. On 3rd May 1791 Europe’s first and the world’s second constitution was signed. However, the reform process was not enough to turn the tide of failing fortune. Poland gradually fell under foreign influence. The rulers of Russia, Prussia and Austria invaded Poland and partitioned its territory. In 1794 the Kosciuszko Uprising began but soon it was crushed. The three occupying powers through partitions terminated the Commonwealth’s independent existence in 1795. The country disappeared from the map of Europe and until 1918 there was no independent Polish state.
Despite the oppression, the idea of Polish independence was still alive in the nation and Poland continued to exist as a spiritual and cultural community. Poles engaged in armed resistance. They fought with Napoleon Bonaparte, organized November Uprising (1830-1831) and January Uprising (1863-1864), all of which failed. But yet some great achievements in science and art were obtained at that time: Frederic Chopin (1810-1849), the famous pianist and composer, who was born and raised in Poland preserved the national heritage in music; in 1853 Ignacy Lukasiewicz made a kerosene lamp, invented a way to refine kerosene from crude oil and built the first oil refinery in 1856; Maria Sklodowska-Curie (1867-1934), the famous physicist and chemist, discovered radioactive elements and won two Nobel Prizes, the only one ever in two different sciences.
The outbreak of World War I gave Poland chance to regain freedom. On 11th November 1918 Poland reappeared on the map of Europe after 123 years. The Second Polish Republic was established. In 1920 the young state stopped the massive Soviet invasion aimed at Western Europe in the battle of Warsaw.
On 1st September 1939 Poland was invaded by the Nazi Germany and World War II began. On September 17th the Soviet Union launched the unexpected attack and the country was again divided between eastern and western powers. The Poles formed the strongest underground resistance movement in the occupied territories (known as Home Army). Many Polish soldiers joined military formations on the western and eastern fronts and fought together with the Allies against the German aggressor. In 1944 the Warsaw Uprising broke out being the largest single military effort taken by any European resistance movement of World War II. Six million of Polish citizens perished during the war, including three million of Polish Jews; the country lay in ruins.
1. Warsaw – 1,753,977 :
Warsaw is the largest and the capital city of Poland. It is located in east-central Poland and has a population of 1,753,977. It is Poland’s leading tourist attraction and is home to thousands of multinationals. Warsaw experiences a humid continental with a mean annual temperature of 8.5° Celsius (47.3° Fahrenheit). Parade Square in Warsaw is known for being one of the biggest city squares in the world.
2. Kraków – 765,320
Kraków is the second largest city in Poland. Around 765,320 people are found in its borders. Krakow experiences an oceanic climate with a mean annual temperature of 8.7° Celsius (48° Fahrenheit). In 2000, it was named the official European center of culture by the European Union. The city has an ancient history and today enjoys a status of the second most important cities in all of Poland.
3. Wrocław – 637,683
Wrocław is located in western Poland and has a population of around 637,683. It is classified as a “global city”, with some of the best living conditions in Poland. It experiences a humid continental climate with a mean annual temperature of approximately 9.8° Celsius (51° Fahrenheit). It is home to many manufacturing and technological companies. The population growth rate is around 10% per decade.
4. Bydgoszcz – 353,938
Bydgoszcz is located in north-central Poland with a population of 353,938. The city experiences a continental climate. It is known for its financial and insurance services. Bydgoszcz is Poland’s capital of cultural music, and is home to the famous Pomeranian Philharmonic concert hall. Bydgoszcz is served by a reliable transport system, and finds itself at one of the largest railway crossroads in the country.