Warsaw

Warsaw is a city with a fascinating history, modern architecture, visitor-friendly infrastructure, creative inhabitants and a rich offer of cultural events – it truly is the beating heart of Poland. The history of Warsaw is a mixture of a turbulent past, the will to survive, as well as the courage and activities of its people.

Warsaw has existed for several hundred years and the beginnings of its settlement date back to the turn of the 10th century. The city really began to flourish until three centuries later, when Old Warsaw was established in the area of what we today call the Old Town. In 1596, Warsaw become the state capital when the king Sigismund III Vasa moved his court from Cracow to Warsaw, thus becoming the arena of international political games, but also the home to great artists, scientists, and social activists. Since 16th century, it has been the place where sessions of the Parliament of Rzeczpospolita (the Joint Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) were held. The 17th century was a period of great prosperity for Warsaw. The Royal Court attracted many new citizens, including members of the clergy and the gentry.

In the years 1655–1658, Warsaw was besieged, conquered and occupied three times by Sweden. In the Saxon dynasty reign, after the political situation had settled down, Warsaw regained its status as an important cultural centre. The next golden age of the capital city spans the years of the reign of the last King of Poland, Stanisław Augustus Poniatowski. He remodeled the interior of the Royal Castle and made Warsaw a centre of culture and the arts. He extended the Royal Baths Park and ordered the construction or refurbishment of numerous palaces, mansions and richly-decorated tenements. This earned Warsaw the nickname ‘Paris of the East’.

In the 18th century, the partitions of Poland took place and the country disappeared from the map of Europe for 123 years. It was carried out by Prussia, Russia and the Habsburg Austria dividing up the Commonwealth lands among themselves. In 1918, Warsaw became the capital city of reborn Poland.

However, Poland lost independence after the German and Soviet invasions of Poland in 1939. Again, the city became the main centre of resistance and conspiracy. The April of 1943 witnessed the outbreak of an uprising in the Jewish Ghetto. After it had come to an end, the Jewish quarters with half a million people ceased to exist. On 1st August 1944, the Warsaw uprising organized by the Home Army broke out. The Honorary Capitulation Act was signed on the 2nd October. After the uprising had been quashed, Warsaw was condemned to annihilation. Its citizens were exiled and transported to nazi concentration camps. The Germans started to destroy the city through systematic bombardments. As a result, 650 000 people were killed and 84% of buildings were destroyed.

After the war, Poland regained "independence" and became a communist country within the Eastern Bloc. The new government was appointed by Joseph Stalin and was under the control of the Soviet Union. The process of rebuilding Warsaw started immediately in 1945.

In the difficult years of communism, a new hope for Poles arose when Karol Wojtyła (John Paul II) was chosen as Pope in 1978. Two years later, in 1980, the “Solidarity” movement was founded, being the first mass independent trade union in a communist state. This movement, led by Lech Walesa, eventually broke Soviet control in 1989 and Warsaw became the capital city of a democratic country.

The metamorphosis the city has undergone over recent centuries is truly amazing. Independence uprisings, wars, and the ill-fated Warsaw Uprising have all cast a deep shadow on the capital’s history. Despite all of this, the city was able to rise from the ashes – a fact that has been recognised by UNESCO by including the Old Town on the World Heritage list. Today, the historical West-Bank city of Warsaw is truly captivating, with its charms and discreet elegance. Located in the very heart of a modern, attractive and friendly city, it attracts millions of tourists annually!