Poland (Polish: Polska) is a nation in Central Europe with a long and exciting history, a colorful legacy reflected in the diversity of monuments from many eras, and a highly diverse terrain that stretches from the long Baltic Sea coast in the north to the Tatra Mountains in the south. Between them are rich primeval woods teeming with interesting wildlife, including bisons in Biaowiea; magnificent lakes and rivers perfect for a variety of watersports, the most famous of which are in Warmisko-Mazurskie; rolling hills; flat plains; and even deserts. Among Poland’s cities are Toru’s completely preserved Gothic old town, Gdask’s Hanseatic history, and ód’s 19th-century industrial development.
While Poland today has a very homogeneous society in terms of ethnicity, language, and religion, it was a very multi-cultural and ethnically diverse country for centuries (when the erstwhile Republics of Poland encompassed a much larger territory than it does today), and was known for a time as Europe’s most religiously tolerant country. Poland, in particular, had Europe’s biggest Jewish population, which was almost wiped out during World War II, yet the enormous legacy endures. Poland’s western areas, which include significant portions of Lower Silesia, Lubuskie, and Zachodniopomorskie, as well as other regions, have historically been a part of neighboring Germany. The natural border of mountain ridges that separates Poland from its southern neighbors, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, has had little effect on cultural impact (and periodic warring). To the east, modern-day Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine constituted a continuous political unit centuries ago, and cultural evidence of this may be found closer to the present-day boundaries. Finally, although Poland currently shares just a tiny strip of border with Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast in the former’s northeastern corner, the Russian Empire formerly ruled the whole eastern half of Poland, leaving many cultural and architectural remnants.
Despite losing a third of its people during World War II, including a disproportionately significant percentage of its elites, and suffering many economic losses as a Soviet satellite state after the war, Poland thrived culturally in many respects throughout the twentieth century. Poland’s difficult transition to democracy and capitalism in the 1980s laid the groundwork for its fellow Soviet-block nations. Poland entered the European Union in the new century and has seen uninterrupted economic development unmatched by any other EU member. This enabled it to significantly enhance its infrastructure and had a dramatic impact on its society, which once again became fairly cosmopolitan while maintaining its characteristic hospitability. Poles are inventive and entrepreneurial, always coming up with new ideas for events and festivals, and new structures and organizations sprout up practically overnight, so that each time you return, you are certain to find something new.
After entering the European Union in 2004, Poland saw a rise in the number of visitors. Tourism contributes substantially to Poland’s total economy and accounts for a sizable share of the country’s service sector.
Kraków was Poland’s historic capital and a remnant of the Renaissance Golden Age. The city was the site of the coronation of the majority of Polish monarchs. The Zoological Gardens in Wrocaw are the biggest in Poland and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. The Old Town of Warsaw, Poland’s capital, was rebuilt after being destroyed during WWII. Gdask, Pozna, Szczecin, Lublin, and Toru are other popular tourist destinations. Near Owicim lies the historic site of the Nazi-German Auschwitz concentration camp.
According to the World Tourism Organization, Poland is the 16th most visited nation in the world by foreign visitors (UNWTO).
Outdoor sports like as skiing, sailing, and mountain trekking, as well as agrotourism and historical sites, are among Poland’s most popular tourist attractions. The Baltic Sea coast is in the north; the Masurian Lake District and Biaowiea Forest are in the east; and Karkonosze, the Table Mountains, and the Tatra Mountains are in the south, where Rysy, Poland’s highest peak, and the renowned Orla Per mountain route are situated. The Pieniny and Bieszczady Mountains are located in the far south-east. There are more than 100 castles in the nation, many of them are located along the famous Trail of the Eagles’ Nests.
Poland’s area spans various geographical zones, with latitudes ranging from 49° to 55° N and longitudes ranging from 14° to 25° E. The Baltic seacoast runs from the Bay of Pomerania to the Gulf of Gdask in the north-west. This coast is distinguished by a number of spits, coastal lakes (former bays shut off from the sea), and dunes. The Szczecin Lagoon, the Bay of Puck, and the Vistula Lagoon interrupt the mostly straight shoreline. The North European Plain encompasses the center and portions of the north.
A geographical area consisting of four mountainous districts of moraines and moraine-dammed lakes created during and after the Pleistocene ice period rises above these lowlands. The Pomeranian Lake District, the Greater Polish Lake District, the Kashubian Lake District, and the Masurian Lake District are the names of these lake districts. The Masurian Lake District is the biggest of the four, encompassing most of northern Poland. The lake districts are part of the Baltic Ridge, a succession of moraine belts that run along the Baltic Sea’s southern coast.
The areas of Lusatia, Silesia, and Masovia are located south of the Northern European Lowlands and are distinguished by wide ice-age river basins. Further south is the Polish mountain range, which includes the Sudetes, the Kraków-Czstochowa Upland, the Witokrzyskie Mountains, and the Carpathian Mountains, which include the Beskids. The Tatra Mountains, which run along Poland’s southern border, are the highest point in the Carpathians.
The Vistula (Polish: Wisa) is 1,047 kilometers (651 km) long; the Oder (Polish: Odra), which forms part of Poland’s western border, is 854 kilometers (531 mi) long; its tributary, the Warta, is 808 kilometers (502 mi) long; and the Bug, a Vistula tributary, is 772 kilometers (480 mi) long. The Vistula and Oder rivers, as well as many minor rivers in Pomerania, run into the Baltic Sea.
The yna and Angrapa flow into the Baltic through the Pregolya, while the Czarna Hacza flows into the Baltic via the Neman. While the vast majority of Poland’s rivers go into the Baltic Sea, the Beskids are the source of some of the higher tributaries of the Orava, which flows to the Black Sea through the Danube and the Váhand. The eastern Beskids are also the source of several streams that flow into the Dniester and eventually into the Black Sea.
Rivers in Poland have been utilized for navigation since ancient times. Longships, for example, were used by Vikings to go up the Vistula and Oder rivers. When the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was Europe’s breadbasket in the Middle Ages and early modern periods, the transport of grain and other agricultural goods down the Vistula into Gdask and on to other areas of Europe took on enormous significance.
A rare natural karst spring of water containing calcium salts is located in the valley of the Pilica river in Tomaszów Mazowieckithere and is protected in the Niebieskie róda Nature Reserve in Sulejów Landscape Park. The name of the reserve, Niebieskie róda, which translates as Blue Springs, originates from the fact that red waves are absorbed by water and only blue and green are reflected from the bottom of the spring, resulting in the unusual color.
Poland has one of the most lakes in the world, with over ten thousand closed bodies of water spanning more than one hectare (2.47 acres) apiece. Only Finland has a higher density of lakes in Europe. Lake niardwy and Lake Mamry in Masuria, and Lake ebsko and Lake Drawsko in Pomerania, are the biggest lakes, spanning more than 100 square kilometers (39 square miles).
In addition to the lake regions in the north (Masuria, Pomerania, Kashubia, Lubuskie, and Greater Poland), the Tatras include a significant number of mountain lakes, the biggest of which is Morskie Oko. Lake Hacza in the Wigry Lake District, east of Masuria in the Podlaskie Voivodeship, has the highest depth—more than 100 metres (328 feet).
The shoreline of the lakes in the Greater Polish Lake District were among the first to be inhabited. Biskupin, a stilt house village inhabited by over a thousand people, was established before the 7th century BC by members of the Lusatian civilization.
Lakes have always played a significant role in Polish history and continue to do so in contemporary Polish society. The Polanie, the predecessors of today’s Poles, constructed their first castles on islands in these lakes. The mythical Prince Popiel reigned from the Kruszwica tower on Lake Gopo. Duke Mieszko I, Poland’s first historically recorded monarch, held his castle on an island in the Warta River near Pozna. Nowadays, the Polish lakes serve as a venue for water activities such as yachting and wind-surfing.
The Polish Baltic coast stretches 528 kilometers (328 miles) from Winoujcie on the islands of Usedom and Wolin in the west to Krynica Morska on the Vistula Spit in the east. Poland, for the most part, has a smooth coastline that has been sculpted by the constant movement of sand caused by currents and winds. This constant erosion and deposition has resulted in the formation of cliffs, dunes, and spits, many of which have moved inland to shut off ancient lagoons, such as ebsko Lake in Sowiski National Park.
Prior to the conclusion of WWII and subsequent changes in national boundaries, Poland possessed only a very short coastline, which was located at the end of the ‘Polish Corridor,’ the only internationally recognized Polish territory that provided the country with access to the sea. However, after World War II, the redrawing of Poland’s boundaries and resulting’shift’ of the country’s borders left it with an enlarged coastline, providing for much more access to the sea than had previously been available. The 1945 Wedding to the Sea referred to the magnitude of this event and its relevance to Poland’s future as a great industrialised country.
The Hel Peninsula and the Vistula Spit are the two biggest spits. Wolin is the name of Poland’s biggest Baltic island. Szczecin, Winoujcie, Gdask, Gdynia, Police, and Koobrzeg are the biggest seaports, while the principal coastal resorts are Winoujcie, Midzyzdroje, Koobrzeg, eba, Sopot, Wadysawowo, and the Hel Peninsula.
Throughout the nation, the climate is mainly temperate. The climate is oceanic in the north and west then progressively warms and becomes continental in the south and east. Summers are typically warm, with average temperatures ranging from 18 to 30 degrees Celsius (64.4 to 86.0 degrees Fahrenheit) depending on location. Winters are chilly, with average temperatures in the northwest about 3 °C (37.4 °F) and in the northeast at 6 °C (21 °F). Precipitation falls throughout the year, although winter is drier than summer, particularly in the east.
Lower Silesia, situated in south-western Poland, has the highest summer temperatures in Poland, averaging between 24 and 32 °C (75 and 90 °F) but reaching as high as 34 to 39 °C (93.2 to 102.2 °F) on certain days during the warmest months of July and August. Tarnów, located in Lesser Poland, and Wrocaw, located in Lower Silesia, are the hottest cities in Poland. Wrocaw has typical summer temperatures of 20 °C (68 °F) and winter temperatures of 0 °C (32.0 °F), although Tarnów has the longest summer in Poland, lasting 115 days from mid-May to mid-September. Poland’s coldest area lies in the northeast, in the Podlaskie Voivodeship, near the borders with Belarus and Lithuania. Suwaki is usually the coldest city. Cold fronts from Scandinavia and Siberia have an impact on the climate. In the winter, the average temperature in Podlaskie varies from 6 to 4 °C (21 to 25 °F). The greatest effect of the oceanic climate is seen in the city of Wroclaw and along the Baltic Sea coast from Police to Supsk.
Poland has the eighth-largest population in Europe and the sixth-largest in the European Union, with 38,544,513 people. Its population density is 122 people per square kilometer (328 per square mile).
Poland has traditionally been home to a diverse range of languages, cultures, and faiths. Prior to World War II, when Nazi Germany’s rule led to the Holocaust, the nation had a notably significant Jewish population. Before the war, there were an estimated 3 million Jews in Poland; fewer than 300,000 survived. The war’s result, especially the relocation of Poland’s boundaries to the region between the Curzon Line and the Oder-Neisse line, along with post-war deportation of minorities, decreased the country’s ethnic variety considerably. After the war, the main three Allied countries (the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union) redrawn the country’s boundaries, and almost 7 million Germans fled or were expelled from the Polish side of the Oder-Neisse line.
According to the 2002 census, 36,983,700 individuals, or 96.74 percent of the population, identify as Poles, while 471,500 (1.23 percent) claimed another nationality and 774,900 (2.03 percent) did not declare any nationality. Silesians (173,153 according to the census), Germans (152,897 according to the census, 92 percent of whom live in Opole Voivodeship and Silesian Voivodeship), Belarusians (c. 49,000), Ukrainians (c. 30,000), Lithuanians, Russians, Roma, Jews, Lemkos, Slovaks, Czechs, and Lipka Tatars are the largest minority nationalities and ethnic groups in Poland. Vietnamese are the most numerous ethnic group among foreign citizens, followed by Armenians and Greeks.
Poland’s official language is Polish, which belongs to the West Slavic branch of Slavic languages. Until recently, Russian was widely studied as a second language, but it has since been surpassed by English as the most frequently studied and spoken second language. In 2015, more over half of Poles claimed that they spoke English, with Russian coming in second and German coming in third. Other frequently spoken languages include French, Italian, and Spanish.
Poland’s population has declined in recent years as a result of increased emigration and a drop in birth rates. Since Poland’s admission to the European Union, a large number of Poles have moved, mainly to the United Kingdom, Germany, and Ireland, in pursuit of better job prospects. With improved economic circumstances and Polish wages reaching 70% of the EU average in 2016, this tendency began to decline in the 2010s, and the country’s workers became more required. As a consequence, Polish Development Minister Mateusz Morawiecki recommended that Poles living abroad return to Poland.
Polish communities may still be found in nearby Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania, as well as in other nations. The total number of ethnic Poles residing in other countries is believed to be about 20 million. Outside of Poland, the United States and Germany have the highest concentrations of Poles. In 2013, the total fertility rate (TFR) in Poland was projected to be 1.33 children per woman.
Poland has made significant contributions to the advancement of religious freedom since its inception. Since the country’s conversion to Christianity in 966, it has been open to other faiths via a succession of laws: the Statute of Kalisz (1264), the Warsaw Confederation (1573). However, the Catholic Church persuaded Poland’s King Wadysaw II Jagieo to issue the Edict of Wielu (1424), which outlawed early Protestant Hussitism. Theological movements in Poland include the Calvinist Polish Brethren and a number of other Protestant organizations, as well as atheists such as ex-Jesuit philosopher Kazimierz yszczyski, one of Europe’s earliest atheist intellectuals. In addition, after being persecuted in Western Europe, Anabaptists from the Netherlands and Germany moved in Poland in the 16th century and were known as the Vistula delta Mennonites.
Poland had a religiously varied nation until World War II, with significant Jewish, Christian Orthodox, Protestant, Armenian Christian, and Roman Catholic communities coexisting. In the Second Polish Republic, Roman Catholicism was the main religion, claimed by about 65 percent of Polish people, followed by various Christian denominations and approximately 3 percent of Jews. Poland has become predominantly Roman Catholic as a consequence of the Holocaust and the post–World War II flight and expulsion of German and Ukrainian communities. In 2007, the Catholic Church claimed 88.4 percent of the population. Despite decreasing rates of religious attendance, Poland remains one of Europe’s most religious nations, with 52 percent or 51 percent of Polish Catholics practicing their faith.
Karol Józef Wojtya (later Pope John Paul II), a Polish citizen, served as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church from 16 October 1978 until his death on 2 April 2005. He was the first non-Italian Pope since Dutch Pope Adrian VI in 1522, and he was the only Slavic and Polish Pope to date. Furthermore, he is credited with having played a significant role in hastening the fall of communism in Poland and throughout Central and Eastern Europe; he is famously quoted as telling Poles “not to be afraid” at the height of communism in 1979, later praying: “Let your Spirit descend and change the image of the land… this land.”
Polish Orthodox (approximately 506,800), different Protestants (around 150,000), Jehovah’s Witnesses (126,827), Eastern Catholics, Mariavites, Polish Catholics, Jews, and Muslims (including the Tatars of Biaystok) are among the religious minorities. Protestant churchgoers include about 77,500 Lutherans in the biggest Evangelical-Augsburg Church, 23,000 Pentecostals in the Pentecostal Church of Poland, and lesser numbers in other Evangelical Protestant denominations. There are also thousands of neopagans, some of them are members of legally recognized churches such as the Native Polish Church.
The 1989 law of the Polish Constitution currently guarantees religious freedom, allowing for the formation of new denominations. The Concordat between the Holy See and Poland provides religious education in public schools. According to a 2007 poll, 72 percent of respondents were not opposed to religion teaching in public schools; alternative ethical courses are offered in just one percent of the public educational system.
Famous Roman Catholic pilgrimage destinations in Poland include the Jasna Góra Monastery in the southern Polish city of Czstochowa, the Basilica of Our Lady of Liche, and the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Kraków. Many visitors also visit John Paul II’s family residence in Wadowice, close outside Kraków. Mountain Grabarka, near Grabarka-Klasztor, attracts Orthodox pilgrims.
Poland’s high-income economy is one of the biggest of the post-Communist nations and one of the EU’s fastest expanding. Poland is the only European country to have escaped the late-2000s recession due to its strong internal market, low private debt, flexible currency, and lack of reliance on a particular export industry. Poland has followed an economic liberalization strategy since the collapse of the communist regime. It exemplifies the shift from a centrally planned to mainly market-based economy. Machinery, furniture, food items, clothes, shoes, and cosmetics are among the most successful exports of the nation. Germany is Poland’s biggest trade partner.
Privatization of small and medium-sized state-owned enterprises, as well as a liberal legislation on starting new businesses, have facilitated the growth of the private sector. Several consumer rights groups have also emerged in the nation. Since 1990, “critical sectors” like as coal, steel, rail transportation, and energy have been restructured and privatized. The greatest privatizations have been the sale of Telekomunikacja Polska to France Télécom in 2000 and the listing of 30% of Poland’s largest bank, PKO Bank Polski, on the Polish stock exchange in 2004.
With 32.3 branches per 100,000 people, the Polish banking industry is the biggest in the East Central/Eastern European area. Banks are the country’s biggest and most sophisticated financial market sector. The Polish Financial Supervision Authority regulates them. During the transition to a market-oriented economy, the government privatized some banks, recapitalized the others, and implemented legislative changes that increased competition in the industry. This has attracted a large number of key international investors (ICFI). Poland’s banking industry consists of about 5 state banks, a network of over 600 cooperative banks, and 18 foreign-owned bank branches. Furthermore, foreign investors own controlling interests in almost 40 commercial banks, accounting for 68 percent of banking capital.
Poland’s agricultural industry includes a significant number of private farms, and the country has the potential to become a major food producer in the European Union. The most profitable exports include smoked and fresh fish, exquisite chocolate, dairy goods, meats, and speciality breads, with the currency rate favorable to export growth. Food exports were 62 billion zloty in 2011, up 17 percent from 2010. Health-care, education, the pension system, and state administration structural changes have resulted in higher-than-expected budgetary constraints. In terms of foreign investment, Warsaw leads Central Europe. GDP growth was robust and consistent from 1993 to 2000, with just a brief dip from 2001 to 2002; the nation also avoided recession in 2008.
In 2003, the economy grew at a 3.7 percent annual rate, up from 1.4 percent in 2002. GDP growth in 2004 was 5.4 percent, 3.3 percent in 2005, and 6.2 percent in 2006. According to Eurostat statistics, Poland’s PPS GDP per capita in 2012 was 67 percent of the EU average.
In December 2010, the average wage in the business sector was 3,848 PLN (1,012 EUR or 1,374 USD), and it was rising rapidly. Salaries differ by region: the median salary in Warsaw was 4,603 PLN (1,177 EUR or 1,680 USD), while in Kielceit it was 3,083 PLN (788 euro or 1125 US dollars). Salaries in Poland are distributed unevenly throughout the country’s regions. They vary from 2,020 PLN (517 euro or 737 US dollars) in Kpno County, Greater Poland Voivodeship, to 5,616 (1,436 euro or 2,050 US dollars) in Lubin County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship.
Since the opening of the labor market in the European Union, Poland has witnessed a mass emigration of over 2.3 million people overseas, mostly due to better salaries provided abroad and an increase in unemployment levels after the worldwide Great Recession of 2008.
The outflow of employees has raised the average pay for those who have stayed in Poland, particularly those with intermediate level skills.
Products and goods manufactured in Poland include: electronics, buses and trams (Solaris, Solbus), helicopters and planes (PZL widnik, PZL Mielec), trains (Pesa SA), ships (Gdask Shipyard, Szczecin Shipyard, Gdynia Polish Navy Shipyard), military equipment (FB “ucznik” Radom, Bumar-abdy SA), medicines (Polpharma, Polfa).