Poland’s culture is inextricably linked to its complex 1,000-year history. Its distinct personality arose as a consequence of its geographical location at the crossroads of European civilizations. With its roots in Proto-Slavic civilization, Polish culture has been deeply impacted throughout time by its intertwining connections with the Germanic, Latinate, and Byzantine cultures, as well as in constant dialogue with the numerous other ethnic groups and minorities residing in Poland. The people of Poland have historically been seen as welcoming to foreign artists and ready to adopt cultural and aesthetic trends prevalent in other nations. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Polish emphasis on cultural development often took priority over political and economic activities. These elements have contributed to Polish art’s versatility, with all of its subtle nuances.
The list of notable Poles starts with the polymath Mikoaj Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus), who studied at the Jagiellonian University, which Casimir the Great established in 1364 with the profits of his Wieliczka Salt Mine. Many notable people were born in Poland, including Fryderyk Chopin, Maria Skodowska Curie, Tadeusz Kociuszko, Kazimierz Puaski, Józef Pisudski, Lech Wasa, and Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtya). Along with the dramatist, painter, and poet Stanisaw Wyspiaski, great Polish painter Jan Matejko dedicated his colossal work to the most important historical events on Polish territories. Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy) was a Polish avant-garde philosopher and theorist of aesthetics. Joseph Conrad was a well-known English novelist. Academy Award winners Roman Polaski, Andrzej Wajda, Zbigniew Rybczyski, Janusz Kamiski, Krzysztof Kielowski, and Agnieszka Holland are among the many world-famous Polish film filmmakers. Helena Modjeska and Pola Negri are two well-known Polish actresses.
Poland has a long history of tolerance for minorities, as well as a lack of discrimination based on religion, nationality, or ethnicity. Prior to WWII, ethnic minorities made up a significant part of the Polish population. Poland maintains a high degree of gender equality, has a well-established disability rights movement, and advocates for peaceful equality.
Poland was the first nation in the world to outlaw all kinds of physical punishment. Throughout much of its lengthy history, Poland has seen only relatively little foreign immigration; this tendency may be ascribed mainly to Poland’s rejection of slavery, a lack of overseas colonies, and occupation of its territory throughout most of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite this, the nation has traditionally been recognized as having a highly tolerant culture that provides equal rights to all individuals regardless of ethnic origin. This may be attributed mainly to King Casimir III the Great’s support of Poland’s Jewish population during a period when much of Europe descended into antisemitic attitudes and deeds. The history of Jews in Poland illustrates a nation’s harmonious coexistence with a certain ethnic minority.
Today, as many as 96.7 percent of Poles claim to be Poles, and 97.8 percent claim to speak Polish at home (Census 2002). Poland’s population became one of the world’s most ethnically homogenous as a consequence of drastically changed boundaries after World War II and subsequent immigration. This homogeneity is the consequence of post-World War II deportations conducted by Soviet authorities in order to eliminate significant Polish minorities from Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine, as well as repatriation of Ukrainians from Poland to the Soviet Union (see territorial changes of Poland and historical demography of Poland for details). Unlike in many other nations, ethnic minority rights in Poland are explicitly protected by the Polish Constitution (art. 35), and the country now has sizable German, Ukrainian, and Belarussian minorities.
In 2013, the Polish parliament rejected proposed legislation allowing civil partnerships, which the majority of Polish society opposes, but it granted refuge to a homosexual man from Uganda based on his sexual orientation for the first time. In a 2013 CBOS opinion survey, 60 percent of Poles opposed homosexual civil partnerships, 72 percent opposed same-sex marriage, 88 percent opposed adoption by same-sex couples, and 68 percent opposed homosexuals and lesbians openly displaying their lifestyle. Article 18 of Poland’s Constitution prohibits same-sex marriage.
According to the findings of a 2004 study conducted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Poles worked the second most hours per week of any nationality globally. Poland is one of the world’s safest and most peaceful nations.
Polish artists, including renowned composers such as Chopin and Penderecki, as well as traditional, regionalized folk performers, constitute a vibrant and varied music scene, which even acknowledges its own music genres such as poezja piewana and disco polo. As of 2006, Poland is one of the few nations in Europe where rock and hip hop reign supreme over mainstream music, but all forms of alternative music are welcomed.
The roots of Polish music may be traced back to the 13th century, when manuscripts containing polyphonic works linked to the Parisian Notre Dame School were discovered at Stary Scz. Other early works, such as the tune of Bogurodzica and Bóg si rodzi (a coronation polonaise for Polish monarchs by an unknown composer), may possibly have been written during this time period; however, the earliest known famous composer, Mikoaj z Radomia, was born and lived in the 15th century. During the 16th century, two major musical ensembles centered in Kraków and connected to the King and Archbishop of Wawel accelerated the development of Polish music. During this time, composers such as Wacaw z Szamotu, Mikoaj Zieleski, and Mikoaj Gomóka were active. Diomedes Cato, a native-born Italian who resided in Kraków from the age of five, became a famous lutenist at the court of Sigismund III, not only importing but also blending musical genres from southern Europe.
Polish classical music developed into national genres such as the polonaise by the end of the 18th century. Józef Elsner and his students Fryderyk Chopin and Ignacy Dobrzyski were the most popular composers in the nineteenth century. Karol Kurpiski and Stanisaw Moniuszko were important opera composers of the time, while renowned soloists and composers included Henryk Wieniawski and Juliusz Zarbski. The most famous composers at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century might be considered to be Wadysaw Zeleski and Mieczysaw Karowicz, with Karol Szymanowski attaining popularity prior to World War II. Alexandre Tansman was a Parisian with close ties to Poland. Andrzej Panufnik fled while Witold Lutosawski, Henryk Górecki, and Krzysztof Penderecki composed in Poland.
Traditional Polish folk music has had a significant influence on the works of several well-known Polish composers, none more so than Fryderyk Chopin, a highly regarded national hero of the arts. Chopin’s piano compositions are all technically difficult, emphasizing subtlety and emotional depth. Chopin, as a brilliant composer, created the instrumental ballade and made significant contributions to the piano sonata, mazurka, waltz, nocturne, polonaise, étude, impromptu, and prélude. He was also the creator of a series of polonaises that drew significantly from traditional Polish folk music. It is mainly due to him that such works acquired widespread appeal across Europe throughout the nineteenth century. The most unique folk music may now be heard in the towns and villages in the hilly south, especially in the area around the winter resort town of Zakopane.
Today, Poland has a thriving music scene, with the jazz and metal genres especially popular among the young. Polish jazz artists, like as Krzysztof Komeda, developed a distinct style that was most popular in the 1960s and 1970s and is still popular today. Poland has been a significant site for large-scale music festivals after the collapse of Communism, with the Open’er Festival, Opole Festival, and Sopot Festival among the most notable.
Polish art has always followed European trends while retaining its own identity. Jan Matejko’s Krakówschool of Historicist painting created massive depictions of traditions and important events in Polish history. Stanisaw Witkiewicz was a staunch advocate of realism in Polish painting, whose most prominent representation was Jozef Chemoski. The Moda Polska (Young Poland) movement saw the beginning of contemporary Polish art, and was headed by Jacek Malczewski (Symbolism), Stanisaw Wyspiaski, Józef Mehoffer, and a group of Polish Impressionists. Avant-garde artists of the twentieth century represented a variety of schools and movements. Tadeusz Makowski’s art was inspired by Cubism, while Wadysaw Strzemiski and Henryk Staewski worked in the Constructivist style.
In the younger generation, notable modern painters include Roman Opaka, Leon Tarasewicz, Jerzy Nowosielski, Wojciech Siudmak, Mirosaw Baka, and Katarzyna Kozyra and Zbigniew Wsiel. Xawery Dunikowski, Katarzyna Kobro, Alina Szapocznikow, and Magdalena Abakanowicz are among the most well-known Polish sculptors. Since the interwar years, Polish art and documentary photography has gained international acclaim. The Polish Poster School was founded in the 1960s, led by Henryk Tomaszewski and Waldemar Wierzy. Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts, Cracow School of Art and Fashion Design, Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Art Academy of Szczecin, University of Fine Arts in Pozna, and Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Fine Arts are the top fine art schools in Poland.
Cities and towns in Poland exhibit a wide range of European architectural styles. St. Andrew’s Church in Kraków and St. Mary’s Church in Gdask are examples of Romanesque architecture, while St. Mary’s Church in Gdask is an example of the Brick Gothic style prevalent in Poland. Richly adorned attics and arcade loggias are typical features of Polish Renaissance architecture, as seen in Pozna’s City Hall. For a period, the late Renaissance style known as mannerism coexisted with the early Baroque style, most notably in the Bishop’s Palace in Kielce, and was exemplified by the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Kraków.
Poland’s architectural monuments have not fared well throughout history. Despite this, a number of historic buildings have survived, including castles, cathedrals, and stately houses, many of which are unique in the regional or European setting. Some have been carefully repaired, such as Wawel Castle, while others, such as Warsaw’s Old Town and Royal Castle and Gdask’s Old Town, have been entirely rebuilt after being devastated during WWII.
Gdask’s architecture is mainly of the Hanseatic type, a Gothic style popular among historic trade towns around the Baltic Sea and in northern Central Europe. Wrocaw’s architectural style is mostly indicative of German architecture, since it was historically situated within German states. Kazimierz Dolny on the Vistula River is an excellent example of a well-preserved medieval town. Kraków, Poland’s historic capital, has some of Europe’s best-preserved Gothic and Renaissance urban structures. Meanwhile, the heritage of Poland’s eastern regions’ KresyMarchlands, where Wilno and Lwów (now Vilnius and Lviv) were recognized as two important artistic centres, had a particular role in the development of Polish architecture, with Catholic church architecture receiving special mention.
Baroque architecture dominated the second part of the 17th century. Side towers, such as those on the Branicki Palace in Biaystok, are characteristic of Polish baroque architecture. The University of Wrocaw represents the traditional Silesian baroque. The lavish decorations of Warsaw’s Branicki Palace are typical of the rococo style. Warsaw was the epicenter of Polish classicism during the reign of Poland’s last monarch, Stanislaw August Poniatowski. The most famous example of Polish neoclassical architecture is the Palace on the Water. The Gothic Revival style is shown in the architecture of Lublin Castle, while the Izrael Poznaski Palace in ód is an example of eclecticism.
Because of Poland’s history, Polish food has developed through the ages to become extremely diverse. Many parallels exist between Polish food and other Central European cuisines, particularly German and Austrian cuisines, as well as Jewish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Russian, French, and Italian culinary traditions. It is high in meat, particularly pig, poultry, and beef (depending on area), as well as winter vegetables (cabbage in the dish bigos) and spices. It is also known for its usage of different types of noodles, the most prominent of which are kluski, as well as cereals like kasha (from the Polish word kasza). Polish food is substantial and rich in cream and eggs. Festive dinners, such as the vegetarian Christmas Eve supper (Wigilia) or Easter brunch, may take many days to prepare.
The main course typically includes a serving of meat, such as roast, chicken, or kotlet schabowy (breaded pork cutlet), as well as vegetables, side dishes, and salads, such as surówka [surufka] – shredded root vegetables with lemon and sugar (carrot, celeriac, seared beetroot) or sauerkraut (Polish: kapusta kiszona, pronounced [kapusta kjina] Potatoes, rice, or kasza are common side dishes (cereals). Desserts like Polish sernik, makowiec (a poppy seed pastry), or drodówka [drdufka] yeast pastry, and tea round off the meal.
Bigos [bi]; pierogi [pjrji]; kielbasa; kotlet schabowy [ktlt sxabv]breaded cutlet; gobki [wpkji] cabbage rolls; zrazy[zraz] roulade; piecze roast [pjt]; sour cucumber soup (zupa ogórkowa, [zupa Sour rye soup, flaki [flakji] tripe soup, barszcz [bart], and chodnik [xwdik] are some of the dishes available.
Honey mead, which has been popular since the 13th century, beer, wine, and vodka (ancient Polish names include okowita and gorzaka) are all traditional alcoholic drinks. The earliest written reference of vodka in the world comes from Poland. Beer and wine are the most common alcoholic beverages now, having surpassed vodka, which was popular from 1980 to 1998. Tea has been popular in Polish society since the 19th century, whereas coffee has been popular since the 18th century. Other popular beverages include mineral waters and juices, soft drinks popularized by fast-food restaurants since the late twentieth century, as well as buttermilk, soured milk, and kefir.