Poland is a country with a rich history and culture. Popular destinations include Warsaw, Krakow, Wrocław, Poznan, Zakopane, Gdynia, Łódź, Szczecin, Torun and Lublin. Poland also has a darker history and some of the most notorious death camps involved in the holocaust were located in the country, the most infamous being Auschwitz, located outside of Krakow.
Poland has many historical landmarks and museums that showcase its rich history. For example, Wawel Castle in Krakow was built in the 14th century and was the residence of Polish kings for centuries. It is also the burial place of many Polish kings and national heroes. It now houses a museum with collections of art, armour and other historical artifacts. The Royal Castle in Warsaw was the official residence of Polish monarchs from the 16th to the 18th century. This is also now a museum with collections of art and historical artifacts.
Poland’s cities are full of interesting architecture and landmarks. The Old Towns of Warsaw and Krakow are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The colourful houses and winding streets of these Old Towns are a delight to explore.
Poland also has stunning natural beauty. The Tatra and Bieszczady Mountains are popular destinations for nature lovers. These mountains are home to many species of wildlife, including bears, wolves and lynx so take precautions if you visit.
If World War 2 is your thing, there is plenty to follow up due to Poland's location between Germany and the former Soviet Union.
History of Poland
Poland was established as a state in the 10th century. Prior to that various groups held sway over the area including Celtic, Baltic, Scythian, Sarmatian, Germanic and Slavic tribes.
Disputes led to Poland's fragmentation into five parts in 1138 and attempts at reunification were interrupted due to Mongol invasions and the death of King Henry II. It wasn't until 1320 that Poland became whole again.
In 1333 Poland became a leading European power and a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth established in 1569, along victories over Russia and the Ottoman Empire, led from around 1619 to the Commonwealth becoming the largest state in Europe.
So where did it all go wrong?
After Wladyslaw IV died in 1648 the Commonwealth descended into internal squabbles and warfare. A Ukraine uprising along with devastating wars against Sweden and other regional powers, and Prussian independence led to the loss of great power status and a third of its population, along with many of its treasures that were never recovered.
With a new monarch in 1764 and effective rule led to turmoil and the intervention by Russia, Austria and Prussia. A series of partitions imposed upon the Commonwealth in 1772, 1793, and 1795 effectively partitioned it out of existence for 123 years.
On stage Napoleon, in his war against Prussia he proclaimed the Duchy of Warsaw, a client state that actively aided Napoleon in his wars. With the defeat of Napoleon the Duchy was split between Russia, Prussia and Austria, with just Krakow allowed to keep it independence.
Attempted rebellions in 1830, 1848, and 1863 all ended in failure and even more reduced status for the Duchy. It got integrated into the German Empire in 1871 but with the end of World War 1, Poland was reinstituted at the behest of the victorious powers. Defeat of the Russian Red Army after World War 1 and a series of other wars allowed Poland to fuse back together the territories that were partitioned away.
World War II started with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, and with its conquest was split between the Soviet Union and Germany. The Soviets killed and deported thousands of Poles, whilst simultaneously the Germans had planned for the complete destruction of all Poles.
Under Germany's genocidal policies against the Jews, six extermination camps were set up in Poland, Auschwitz being the most infamous. During World War 2 Poland lost about 18% of its population - by far the most of any other country. Most of the deaths were non-military.
After World War 2, Poland was set up as a puppet government and client of the Soviet Union. With the fall of the Soviet Union, Poland regained its independence in 1989, joined the European Union and NATO, and cemented its place in the world.