Travel Geography and Research
Conventional long form: Republic of Poland
Conventional short form: Poland
Local long form: Rzeczpospolita Polska
Local short form: Polska
Government type: Republic
Independence: 11 November 1918 (republic proclaimed)
National holiday: Constitution Day, 3 May (1791)
Poland (Polish, Polska), officially the Republic of Poland is a country in Central Europe. Poland is an ancient nation that was conceived near the middle of the 10th century. Its golden age occurred in the 16th century. During the following century, the strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation. In a series of agreements between 1772 and 1795, Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland amongst 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 and by 1990 had swept parliamentary elections and the presidency.
A “shock therapy” program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe, but Poland still faces the lingering challenges of high unemployment, underdeveloped and dilapidated infrastructure, and a poor rural underclass. Solidarity suffered a major defeat in the 2001 parliamentary elections when it failed to elect a single deputy to the lower house of Parliament, and the new leaders of the Solidarity Trade Union subsequently pledged to reduce the Trade Union’s political role. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. With its transformation to a democratic, market-oriented country largely completed, Poland is an increasingly active member of Euro-Atlantic organizations.
Geographic location :
The latitude and longitude of Poland is 52º 00′ N and 20º 00′ E respectively. It is located in central Europe and lies on the eastern part of Germany. The total area is slightly smaller than that of New Mexico. Warsaw, the capital is located on 52º 15′ N and 21º 00′ E latitude and longitude respectively. There are 16 provinces in Poland and it is six hours ahead of Washington DC during Standard Time.
Poland is bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north.
Total: 312,685 sq km
Land: 304,465 sq km
Water: 8,220 sq km
Land boundaries: Total: 3,056 km.
Border countries: Belarus 416 km, Czech Republic 790 km, Germany 467 km, Lithuania 103 km, Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast) 210 km, Slovakia 541 km, Ukraine 529 km.
Coastline: 491 km
Maritime claims: Territorial sea: 12 nm
Weather & Climate :
The climate is mostly temperate throughout the country. The climate is oceanic in the north and west and becomes gradually warmer and continental as one moves south and east. Summers are generally warm, with average temperatures between 20 °C (68 °F) and 27 °C (80,6 °F). Winters are cold, with average temperatures around 3 °C (37,4 °F) in the northwest and –8 °C (17,6 °F) in the northeast. Precipitation falls throughout the year, although, especially in the east; winter is drier than summer. The warmest region in Poland is Lesser Poland located in Southern Poland where temperatures in the summer average between 23 °C (73,4 °F) and 30 °C (86 °F) but can go as high as 32 °C (89,6 °F) to 38 °C (100,4 °F) on some days in the warmest month of the year July. The warmest city in Poland is Tarnów. The city is located in Lesser Poland; it is the hottest place in Poland all year round. The average temperatures being 30 °C (86 °F) in the summer and 4 °C (39,2 °F) in the winter. Tarnów also has the longest summer in Poland spreading from mid May to mid September. Also it has the shortest winter in Poland which often lasts from January to March, less than the regular three-month winter. The coldest region of Poland is in the Northeast in the Podlachian Voivodeship near the border of Belarus. The climate is efficient due to cold fronts which come from Scandinavia and Siberia. The average temperature in the winter in Podlachian ranges from -15 °C (5 °F) to -4 °C ( 24,8 °F).
Generally, the Polish seasons are clearly differentiated. Spring begins in March and, although initially it is rather cold, as the days progress it gets warmer. It is an ideal season for those who prefer pleasant warmth instead of unbearable heat in the summer. This season is perfect if you plan on taking in the sights of Poland, walking and even hiking in the Polish mountains due to low temperatures and humidity.
Summer in Poland starts in June and is typically the warmest and brightest season of the year. June is supposedly the hottest month of the year, but only in theory. In reality, you cannot count on that unless you enjoy being disappointed. The weather varies greatly from year to year as I mentioned above. There is plenty of sun, though, in summer and this is the season when all the resorts on the Baltic coast are filled to capacity with tourists and locals alike. The resorts are most crowded during the months of June, July and August.
Autumn begins in September and since it is preceded by summer, it is usually still a little bit warm and sunny at the beginning. But this is short lived as it gradually turns colder and foggy by November. There is something about autumn in Poland with landscapes beautifully adorned with falling, colorful leaves that it gained its reputation as the famous “Polish golden autumn.” They say that there is no better season than this to come to see Polish mountains. The views are stunningly beautiful during autumn here.
And then there comes the Polish Winter which is usually grey and wet. Temperatures drop rapidly, the days become shorter and there are frequent intervals of snow. Although Polish winters last from December to March, high up in the mountains snow stays well into May. It is not a problem for winter sports enthusiasts and holiday-makers. Winter, after summer, is the second most popular season appealing to tourists visiting the mountainous regions of Poland . The coldest months of the season are January and February where temperatures often drop to -20 C degrees.
Prehistory : Main article: Prehistory of Poland (until 966)
Historians have postulated that throughout Late Antiquity, many distinct ethnic groups populated the regions of what is now known as Poland. The exact ethnicity and linguistic affiliation of these groups has been hotly debated; in particular the time and route of the original settlement of Slavic peoples in these regions has been the subject of much controversy.
The most famous archeological find from Poland’s prehistory is the Biskupin fortified settlement (now reconstructed as a museum), dating from the Lusatian culture of the early Iron Age, around 700 BC.
Piast dynasty : Main article: History of Poland (966-1385)
Poland around 1020
Poland began to form into a recognizable unitary and territorial entity around the middle of the tenth century under the Piast dynasty. Poland’s first historically documented ruler, Mieszko I, was baptized in 966, adopting Catholic Christianity as the nation’s new official religion, to which the bulk of the population converted in the course of the next centuries. In the twelfth century, Poland fragmented into several smaller states. In 1320, W?adys?aw I became the King of a reunified Poland. His son, Kazimierz III, is remembered as one of the greatest Polish kings.Poland was also a centre of migration of peoples and the Jewish community began to settle and flourish in Poland during this era (see History of the Jews in Poland). The Black Death which affected most parts of Europe from 1347 to 1351 did not reach Poland.
Jagiellon dynasty : Main article: History of Poland (1385-1569)
Under the Jagiellon dynasty Poland forged an alliance with its neighbour, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1410, a Polish-Lithuanian army inflicted a decisive defeat on the Teutonic Knights, both countries’ main adversary, in the battle of Grunwald. After the Thirteen Years War, the Knight’s state became a Polish vassal. Polish culture and economy flourished under the Jagiellons, and the country produced such figures as astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus and poet Jan Kochanowski. Compared to other European nations, Poland was exceptional in its tolerance of religious dissent, allowing the country to avoid the religious turmoil that spread over Western Europe in that time.
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth : Main article: History of Poland (1569-1795)
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at its greatest extent
A golden age ensued during the sixteenth century after the Union of Lublin which gave birth to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The szlachta (nobility) of Poland, far more numerous than in Western European countries, took pride in their freedoms and parliamentary system. During the Golden Age period, Poland expanded its borders to become the largest country in Europe.The reforms, particularly those of the Great Sejm, which passed the Constitution of May 3, 1791, the world’s second modern constitution, were thwarted with the three partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, and 1795) which ended with Poland’s being erased from the map and its territories being divided between Russia, Prussia, and Austria.
Partitions of Poland : Main article: History of Poland (1795-1918)
Poles would resent their fate and would several times rebel against the partitioners, particularly in the nineteenth century. In 1807 Napoleon recreated a Polish state, the Duchy of Warsaw, but after the Napoleonic wars, Poland was again divided in 1815 by the victorious Allies at the Congress of Vienna. The eastern portion was ruled by the Russian Czar as a Congress Kingdom, and possessed a liberal constitution. However, the Czars soon reduced Polish freedoms and Russia eventually de facto annexed the country. Later in the nineteenth century, Austrian-ruled Galicia, particularly the Free City of Kraków, became a centre of Polish cultural life.
Reconstitution of Poland : Main article: History of Poland (1918-1939)
Poland between 1922 and 1938
During World War I, all the Allies agreed on the reconstitution of Poland that United States President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed in Point 13 of his Fourteen Points. Shortly after the surrender of Germany in November 1918, Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic (II Rzeczpospolita Polska). It reaffirmed its independence after a series of military conflicts, the most notable being the Polish-Soviet War (1919–1921) when Poland inflicted a crushing defeat on the Red Army.The 1926 May Coup of Józef Pi?sudski turned the reins of the Second Polish Republic over to the Sanacja movement.
World War II : Main article: History of Poland (1939-1945)
The Sanacja movement controlled Poland until the start of World War II in 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded on September 1 and the Soviet Union followed on September 17. Warsaw capitulated on September 28, 1939. As agreed in the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, Poland was split into two zones, one occupied by Germany while the eastern provinces fell under the control of the Soviet Union.
Postwar Communist Poland : Main article: History of Poland (1945-1989)
At the end of World War II, the gray territories were transferred from Poland to the Soviet Union, and the pink territories from Germany to Poland
The Soviet Union instituted a new Communist government in Poland, analogous to much of the rest of the Eastern Bloc. Military alignment within the Warsaw Pact throughout the Cold War was also part of this change. The People’s Republic of Poland (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) was officially proclaimed in 1952. In 1956, the régime of W?adys?aw Gomu?ka became temporarily more liberal, freeing many people from prison and expanding some personal freedoms. Similar situation repeated itself in the 1970s under Edward Gierek, but most of the time persecution of communist opposition persisted.
Democratic Poland : Main article: History of Poland (1989-present)
A shock therapy programme of Leszek Balcerowicz during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into a market economy. As with all other post-communist countries, Poland suffered temporary slumps in social and economic standards, but became the first post-communist country to reach its pre-1989 GDP levels. Most visibly, there were numerous improvements in other human rights, such as free speech. In 1991, Poland became a member of the Visegrad Group and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance in 1999 along with the Czech Republic and Hungary. Poles then voted to join the European Union in a referendum in June 2003, with Poland becoming a full member on May 1, 2004.
Natural History :
Poland’s territory extends across several geographical regions. In the northwest is the Baltic seacoast, which extends from the Bay of Pomerania to the Gulf of Gdansk. This coast is marked by several spits, coastal lakes (former bays that have been cut off from the sea), and dunes. The largely straight coastline is indented by the Szczecin Lagoon, the Bay of Puck, and the Vistula Lagoon. The center and parts of the north lie within the Northern European Lowlands. Rising gently above these lowlands is a geographical region comprising the four hilly districts of moraines and moraine-dammed lakes formed during and after the Pleistocene ice age. These lake districts are the Pomeranian Lake District, the Greater Polish Lake District, the Kashubian Lake District, and the Masurian Lake District. The Masurian Lake District is the largest of the four and covers much of northeastern Poland. The lake districts form part of the Baltic Ridge, a series of moraine belts along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea. South of the Northern European Lowlands lie the regions of Silesia and Masovia, which are marked by broad ice-age river valleys. Farther south lies the Polish mountain region, including the Sudetes, the Cracow-Cz?stochowa Upland, the ?wi?tokrzyskie Mountains, and the Carpathian Mountains, including the Beskids. The highest part of the Carpathians is the Tatra Mountains, along Poland’s southern border.
Cities of Poland :
This page contains a list of cities and towns in Poland, preceded by a table of major Polish cities.
|Basic name||Administrative Division||Latitude||Longitude|
Population: 38,500,696 (July 2008 est.)
0-14 years: 15.2% (male 3,013,109/female 2,849,977)
15-64 years: 71.4% (male 13,681,481/female 13,808,412)
65 years and over: 13.4% (male 1,964,477/female 3,183,240) (2008 est.)
Median age: Total: 37.6 years
Male: 35.8 years
Female: 39.5 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: -0.045% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 10.01 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 9.99 deaths/1,000 population (2008)
Net migration rate: -0.46 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: At birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
Under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.99 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.62 male(s)/female
Total population: 0.94 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: Total: 6.93 deaths/1,000 live births
Male: 7.66 deaths/1,000 live births
Female: 6.17 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: Total population: 75.41 years
Male: 71.42 years
Female: 79.65 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.27 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: 0.1%; note – no country specific models provided (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: 14,000 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS – deaths: 100 (2001 est.)
Ethnic groups: Polish 96.7%, German 0.4%, Belarusian 0.1%, Ukrainian 0.1%, other and unspecified 2.7% (2002 census)
Religions: Roman Catholic 89.8% (about 75% practicing), Eastern Orthodox 1.3%, Protestant 0.3%, other 0.3%, unspecified 8.3% (2002)
Languages: Polish 97.8%, other and unspecified 2.2% (2002 census)
Literacy: Definition: age 15 and over can read and write
Total population: 99.8%
Female: 99.7% (2003 est.)
Agriculture is mostly privately run and was so even during the Communist years. It accounts for 15% of the gross national product and occupies more than 25% of the workforce. Poland is generally self-sufficient in food; the main crops are rye, potatoes, beets, wheat, and dairy products. Pigs and sheep are the main livestock. Poland is relatively rich in natural resources; the chief minerals produced are coal, sulfur, copper, lead, and zinc. The country’s leading manufactures include machinery, iron and steel products, chemicals, ships, food processing, and textiles.
Industry, which had been state controlled, began to be privatized in the early 1990s, although restructuring and privatization of the country’s large coal, steel, and chemical industries has moved forward slowly, when it has progressed at all. Prices were freed, subsidies were reduced, and Poland’s currency (the zloty) was made convertible as the country began the difficult transition to a free-market economy. Reforms initially resulted in high unemployment, hyperinflation, shortages of consumer goods, a large external debt, and a general drop in the standard of living. The situation later stabilized, however, and during the 1990s Poland’s economy was the fastest growing in E Europe. Growth slowed significantly in 2001. Germany, Russia, Italy, France, and the Netherlands are important trading partners.
1 zloty (PLN) = 100 groszy
Coins : 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 gr, 1, 2, 5 z?
Banknotes : 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 z?
GDP growth : 7% (2007)
GDP per capita : $16,600 (2007)
GDP by sector : agriculture (3%), industry (32%), services (66%) (2007)
Recent GDP growth (comparing to the same quarter of previous year):
Total 2003 3.7%
Total 2004 5.4%
Total 2005 3.3%
Total 2006 6.1%
Total 2007 6.5%
In January 2007, industrial output was up 15.6% annually.
Labour force : 20 million (2005)
Labour force by occupation : agriculture (16%), industry (29%), services (55%) (2007)
Unemployment : 7.7%<href=”#cite_note-0 title=””>
Exports : $110bn (2006)
Imports : $126bn (2006)
Public finances :
Public debt : 47% of GDP (2005)
Revenues : $68bn (2006)
Expenses : $77bn (2006)
Economic aid : $68 billion in available EU structural adjustment and cohesion funds (2007-13)
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars
Fiscal year : Calendar year
Cost of living :
Costs of living vary, depending on location. The average cost of living in a large city (except in Warsaw) is about EUR 200 per month (including nutrition, rent for a room and bus tickets), in small cities and at the countryside it is considerably lower.
The politics of Poland take place in the framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister is the head of government and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, the Sejm and the Senate. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
Executive power is exercised by the government, which consists of a council of ministers led by the Prime Minister. Its members are typically chosen from a majority coalition in the lower house of parliament (the Sejm), although exceptions to this rule are not uncommon. The government is formally announced by the president, and must pass a motion of confidence in the Sejm within two weeks.
Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, Sejm and Senate. Members of parliament are elected by proportional representation, with the proviso that non-ethnic-minority parties must gain at least 5% of the national vote to enter the lower house. Currently four parties are represented. Parliamentary elections occur at least every four years.
The political system is defined in the Polish Constitution, which also guarantees a wide range of individual freedoms.
Historical Museum of Warsaw
History buffs will appreciate this fascinating museum dedicated to Warsaw, a city that was nearly wiped out during World War II when 85 percent of its buildings were reduced to rubble and the Nazis massacred two-thirds of its people. Warsaw’s past glory, its troubles, and its recent destruction and reconstruction are related through both exhibits and film.
Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, Oswiecim
Four million people are said to have perished in this German concentration camp. Located in upper Silesia, south of Krakow, the Auschwitz-Birkenau facility was built to fulfill three functions: labor, internment, and extermination. Originally, the camp was intended to serve as a prison for Polish political prisoners, but gradually the place became a death camp for all people persecuted by the Nazis, including Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Poles. The infamous Auschwitz death camp has been converted into a museum, and its crematoria have been faithfully restored. The Birkenau buildings nearby, which have been left untouched since 1945, provide a harrowing portrait of human cruelty.
Bialowieza National Park
In northeastern Poland, not far from the border with Belarus, lies one of Europe’s last primeval woodlands. The Bialowieza Forest, with its wide variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds, is a nature lover’s dream. The world’s only remaining European bisons roam here, along with the nearly extinct tarpans (wild horses). In addition to its natural treasures, this national park also has significant archaeological sights, including hundreds of early Slavic burial mounds. Although many sections of the park are strictly protected, there is a large network of campsites and trails designed for the numerous visitors wishing to explore this scenic nature preserve.
This ancient Polish city celebrated its 1,000th anniversary in 1997. Lying on Poland’s northern coast, not far from Russia’s Baltic enclave, Gdansk has traditionally been at the forefront of all major developments in Poland’s turbulent history. On September 1, 1939, the first shots of World War II were fried in Westerplatte, a Polish garrison right outside the city. Like Warsaw, Gdansk was nearly wiped out during World War II, but carefully reconstructed at the end of the bloody six-year conflict. For visitors, Gdansk holds numerous treasures, including the faithfully restored old town with its impressive city hall, the Neptune Fountain, Arthur’s Court, and the Church of the Holy Virgin Mary. The scenic waterfront, with its interesting maritime museum, is ideal for a cultural stroll.
Author and critic Wilhelm Feldman once mused that the soul of Poland lay in Krakow. The third largest city in Poland, Krakow sits atop a rocky hill that overlooks the Vistula Riverin southern Poland, north of the Slovakian border. Named one of the great historic cities of the world by UNESCO, Krakow is a glorious visual feast of castles, churches, elaborate facades, and proud towers that chronicle seven centuries of Polish architecture. Krakow sights include medieval Wawel Castle; Rynek Glowny, the town’s lively central square; St. Adalbert’s Church, which dates back to the 10th century; and Czartoryski Museum with its excellent collection of European Art.
This impressive fortress was built during the 14th century by the Teutonic Knights, who came to Poland at the bequest of the Polish Monarchs, in order to convert the heathen Prussians to Christianity. Over the next few centuries, the castle continuously changed hands between the Poles and their expansionist neighbors, most notably the Prussians. At the end of World War II, the castle lay in shambles, but Poland devoted money and time to the reconstruction and restoration of this ancient fortress. The historic halls, chapels, and courtyards have all been restored to their 14th-century splendor. Today the castle houses several permanent displays, including medieval sculptures, coins and medals, weaponry, pottery, tapestries, and amber art, in addition to a historical exhibit detailing the castle’s turbulent history.
Royal Castle, Warsaw
This stunning renaissance palace, originally built by King Sigismund III, was completely obliterated during World War II. One of Warsaw’s most beautiful structures, the palace was carefully reconstructed in the 1970s thanks to donations from powerful locals and wealthy expatriates. Glimmering under an intricate gold veneer and showcasing darkly evocative wall paintings, the palace is now a museum housing an impressive collection of Polish art.
Royal Lazienki Palace and Gardens, Warsaw
The residence of Poland’s last monarch, King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, Lazienki Palace was built in the Polish neoclassical style and later converted into a summer residence by the king. Over the years, the palace and its sweeping gardens have become a favorite destination for Warsaw residents. The palace has been converted into a museum and is now open to the public. During the summer, Lazienki Palace provides an elegant background for the annual plays staged right in the gardens. Musical concerts are performed every Sunday at the foot of an impressionistic monument to Polish composer Frederic Chopin.
Slowinski National Park
Located in northwestern Poland, the Slowinski National Park is a UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves site. The park stretches from the Baltic coast in the north and encompasses Lebsko, Dolgie Wielkie, and Dolgie Male lakes further south. A fourth lake, Lake Gardno, is ideal for sailing and even has its own yacht club. The most intriguing feature of this park is the shifting sand dunes that move 30 feet each year and often reach heights of 90 feet. The park contains well-marked hiking trails, camping facilities, an observation tower atop Rowokol Hill, and a Forest and Natural History Museum. It is open from May through September.
This most appealing of Polish cities, Torun is located roughly half-way between Gdasnk and Warsaw. Founded in 1233 by the Teutonic Order, Torum experienced two important growth periods. In the 14th century, the town became a major trading post along the Vistula River. During the 16th century, Torun became one of Poland’s major learning centers; it is the birthplace of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Torun showcases a unique Gothic architectural heritage–including the Town Hall, the Church of the Sacred Virgin Mary, and the parish church of St. John’s–alongside its renaissance and baroque houses.
Warsaw’s Old Town
The historic center of Warsaw was completely obliterated during World War II, but it was so carefully reconstructed thereafter that most visitors find it hard to question its authenticity. Narrow streets, shady alleyways, and intricate cobblestones provide the setting for lively squares, stately castles, richly decorated chapels, and soaring cathedrals. Three-story buildings with colorful facades house cafes, restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques always teaming with life and spirit. Numerous museums, some visible to the naked eye and others slightly hidden, offer both cultural and artistic exhibitions year-round.
Wieliczka Salt Mines
Located five miles southeast of Krakow, the Wieliczka Salt Mines have operated continuously since they were first built during the Middle Ages. Visitors to this unusual sight can tour the mine along a winding underground path replete with artistic salt carvings and even a 17th-century solid salt chapel. There are two additional underground chapels, including the Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, the largest and most ornate of the bunch. The Wieliczka Salt Mines–Poland’s most visited tourist attraction–are still operational.
Wilanow Palace, Warsaw
On the outskirts of Warsaw