Poland (Polish: Polska), is a country in Central Europe with a rich and eventful history, colourful heritage reflected in the variety of monuments from different periods and very varied landscape, extending from the long Baltic Sea coastline in the north to the Tatra Mountains in the south. In between you will find lush primeval forests featuring fascinating species of animals including bisons in Białowieża; beautiful lakes and rivers ideally suitable for various watersports, the best known of which are in Warmińsko-Mazurskie; rolling hills; flat plains; and even deserts. Among Poland's cities you can find the perfectly preserved Gothic old town of Toruń, Hanseatic heritage in Gdańsk and evidence of the 19th-century industrial boom in Łódź.
While today Poland has a very homogenous society in terms of ethnicity, language and religion, over the centuries (when the erstwhile Republics of Poland encompassed a much different territory than today) it had been a very multi-cultural and ethnically varied country, for a period known as Europe's most religiously tolerant. In particular, Poland held Europe's largest Jewish population, which has been all but wiped out by the events of World War II, yet the immense heritage remains. Poland's western regions, including large parts of Lower Silesia, Lubuskie and Zachodniopomorskie, as well as other regions, have been parts of neighbouring Germany at different periods of time. The natural border of mountain ridges separating Poland from its southern neighbours Czech Republic and Slovakia did not stop the cultural influence (and periodic warring). Towards the east, today's Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine have centuries ago formed a continuum within a single political entity, and the cultural evidence of it can be found closer to the present-day borders. Lastly, while Poland now only shares only a small strip of border with Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast in the former's northeastern corner, the entire eastern half of Poland used to be controlled by the Russian Empire, leaving behind many traces in both culture and built heritage.
Despite losing a third of its population, including a disproportionally large part of its elites, in World War II, and suffering many economic setbacks as a Soviet satellite state afterwards, Poland in many ways flourished culturally in the 20th century. Paving the way for its fellow Soviet-block states, Poland had a painful transition to democracy and capitalism in the 1980s. In the new millennium, Poland joined the European Union and has enjoyed continuous economic growth unlike any other EU country. This has allowed it to markedly improve its infrastructure and had a profound effect on its society, who again became quite cosmopolitan but remained as hospitable as it has traditionally been. Creative and enterprising, Poles continually come up with various ideas for events and festivals, and new buildings and institutions spring up almost before your eyes, so that every time you come back, you are bound to discover something new.
Poland experienced an increase in the number of tourists after joining the European Union in 2004.Tourism contributes significantly to Poland's overall economy and makes up a relatively large proportion of the country's service market.
Kraków was the former capital and a relic of Poland's Golden Age of Renaissance. The city served as the place of coronation of most Polish kings. In Wrocław, the Zoological Gardens are the largest in Poland, and are one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. The Old Town of Poland's capital, Warsaw, was reconstructed after its wartime destruction. Other cities attracting tourists include Gdańsk, Poznań, Szczecin, Lublin and Toruń. The historic site of the Nazi-German Auschwitz concentration camp is located near Oświęcim.
Poland is the 16th most visited country in the world by foreign tourists, as ranked by World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Poland's main tourist offerings include outdoor activities such as skiing, sailing and mountain hiking, as well as agrotourism, sightseeing historical monuments. Tourist destinations include the Baltic Sea coast in the north; the Masurian Lake District and Białowieża Forest in the east; on the south Karkonosze, the Table Mountains and the Tatra Mountains, where Rysy, the highest peak of Poland, and the famous Orla Perć mountain trail are located. The Pieniny and Bieszczady Mountains lie in the extreme south-east. There are over 100 castles in the country, many along the popular Trail of the Eagles' Nests.
Poland's territory extends across several geographical regions, between latitudes 49° and 55° N, and longitudes 14° and 25° E. In the north-west is the Baltic seacoast, which extends from the Bay of Pomerania to the Gulf of Gdańsk. 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 centre and parts of the north lie within the North European Plain.
Rising 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 north-eastern 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 Lusatia, Silesia and Masovia, which are marked by broad ice-age river valleys. Farther south lies the Polish mountain region, including the Sudetes, the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, and the Carpathian Mountains, including the Beskids. The highest part of the Carpathians is the Tatra Mountains, along Poland's southern border.
The longest rivers are the Vistula (Polish: Wisła), 1,047 kilometres (651 mi) long; the Oder (Polish: Odra) which forms part of Poland's western border, 854 kilometres (531 mi) long; its tributary, the Warta, 808 kilometres (502 mi) long; and the Bug, a tributary of the Vistula, 772 kilometres (480 mi) long. The Vistula and the Oder flow into the Baltic Sea, as do numerous smaller rivers in Pomerania.
The Łyna and the Angrapa flow by way of the Pregolyato the Baltic, and the Czarna Hańcza flows into the Baltic through the Neman. While the great majority of Poland's rivers drain into the Baltic Sea, Poland's Beskids are the source of some of the upper tributaries of the Orava, which flows via the Váhand the Danube to the Black Sea. The eastern Beskids are also the source of some streams that drain through the Dniester to the Black Sea.
Poland's rivers have been used since early times for navigation. The Vikings, for example, traveled up the Vistula and the Oder in their longships. In the Middle Ages and in early modern times, when the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was the breadbasket of Europe; the shipment of grain and other agricultural products down the Vistula toward Gdańsk and onward to other parts of Europe took on great importance.
In the valley of Pilica river in Tomaszów Mazowieckithere is a unique natural karst spring of water containing calcium salts, that is an object of protection in Niebieskie Źródła Nature Reserve in Sulejów Landscape Park. The origin of the name of the reserve Niebieskie Źródła, that means Blue Springs, comes from the fact that red waves are absorbed by water and only blue and green are reflected from the bottom of the spring, giving that atypical colour.
With almost ten thousand closed bodies of water covering more than 1 hectare (2.47 acres) each, Poland has one of the highest numbers of lakes in the world. In Europe, only Finland has a greater density of lakes.The largest lakes, covering more than 100 square kilometres (39 sq mi), are Lake Śniardwy and Lake Mamry in Masuria, and Lake Łebsko and Lake Drawsko in Pomerania.
In addition to the lake districts in the north (in Masuria, Pomerania, Kashubia, Lubuskie, and Greater Poland), there is also a large number of mountain lakes in the Tatras, of which the Morskie Oko is the largest in area. The lake with the greatest depth—of more than 100 metres (328 ft)—is Lake Hańcza in the Wigry Lake District, east of Masuria in Podlaskie Voivodeship.
Among the first lakes whose shores were settled are those in the Greater Polish Lake District. The stilt house settlement of Biskupin, occupied by more than one thousand residents, was founded before the 7th century BC by people of the Lusatian culture.
Lakes have always played an important role in Polish history and continue to be of great importance to today's modern Polish society. The ancestors of today's Poles, the Polanie, built their first fortresses on islands in these lakes. The legendary Prince Popiel ruled from Kruszwica tower erected on the Lake Gopło. The first historically documented ruler of Poland, Duke Mieszko I, had his palace on an island in the Warta River in Poznań. Nowadays the Polish lakes provide a location for the pursuit of water sports such as yachting and wind-surfing.
The Polish Baltic coast is approximately 528 kilometres (328 mi) long and extends from Świnoujście on the islands of Usedom and Wolin in the west to Krynica Morska on the Vistula Spit in the east. For the most part, Poland has a smooth coastline, which has been shaped by the continual movement of sand by currents and winds. This continual erosion and deposition has formed cliffs, dunes, and spits, many of which have migrated landwards to close off former lagoons, such as Łebsko Lake in Słowiński National Park.
Prior to the end of the Second World War and subsequent change in national borders, Poland had only a very small coastline; this was situated at the end of the 'Polish Corridor', the only internationally recognised Polish territory which afforded the country access to the sea. However, after World War II, the redrawing of Poland's borders and resulting 'shift' of the country's borders left it with an expanded coastline, thus allowing for far greater access to the sea than was ever previously possible. The significance of this event, and importance of it to Poland's future as a major industrialised nation, was alluded to by the 1945 Wedding to the Sea.
The largest spits are Hel Peninsula and the Vistula Spit. The largest Polish Baltic island is called Wolin. The largest sea harbours are Szczecin, Świnoujście, Gdańsk, Gdynia, Police and Kołobrzeg and the main coastal resorts - Świnoujście, Międzyzdroje, Kołobrzeg, Łeba, Sopot, Władysławowo and the Hel Peninsula.
The climate is mostly temperate throughout the country. The climate is oceanic in the north and west and becomes gradually warmer and continentaltowards the south and east. Summers are generally warm, with average temperatures between 18 and 30 °C (64.4 and 86.0 °F) depending on a region. Winters are rather cold, with average temperatures around 3 °C (37.4 °F) in the northwest and −6 °C (21 °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 Lower Silesia located in south-western Poland where temperatures in the summer average between 24 and 32 °C (75 and 90 °F) but can go as high as 34 to 39 °C (93.2 to 102.2 °F) on some days in the warmest month of July and August. The warmest cities in Poland are Tarnów, which is situated in Lesser Poland and Wrocław, which is located in Lower Silesia. The average temperatures in Wrocław are 20 °C (68 °F) in the summer and 0 °C (32.0 °F) in the winter, but Tarnów has the longest summer in all of Poland, which lasts for 115 days, from mid-May to mid-September. The coldest region of Poland is in the northeast in the Podlaskie Voivodeship near the border of Belarus and Lithuania. Usually the coldest city is Suwałki. The climate is affected by cold fronts which come from Scandinavia and Siberia. The average temperature in the winter in Podlaskie ranges from −6 to −4 °C (21 to 25 °F). The biggest impact of the oceanic climate is observed in Świnoujście and Baltic Sea seashore area from Police to Słupsk.
Poland, with 38,544,513 inhabitants, has the eighth-largest population in Europe and the sixth-largest in the European Union. It has a population density of 122 inhabitants per square kilometer (328 per square mile).
Poland historically contained many languages, cultures and religions on its soil. The country had a particularly large Jewish population prior to World War II, when the Nazi Germany's regime led to the Holocaust. There were an estimated 3 million Jews living in Poland before the war—less than 300,000 survived. The outcome of the war, particularly the shift of Poland's borders to the area between the Curzon Line and the Oder-Neisse line, coupled with post-war expulsion of minorities, significantly reduced the country's ethnic diversity. Over 7 million Germans fled or were expelledfrom the Polish side of the Oder-Neisse boundary, after the country's borders were re-drawn by the big three Allied powers (United States, Britain and the Soviet Union) after the war.
According to the 2002 census, 36,983,700 people, or 96.74% of the population, consider themselves Polish, while 471,500 (1.23%) declared another nationality, and 774,900 (2.03%) did not declare any nationality. The largest minority nationalities and ethnic groups in Poland are Silesians (173,153 according to the census), Germans (152,897 according to the census, 92% 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. Among foreign citizens, the Vietnamese are the largest ethnic group, followed by Armenians and Greeks.
The Polish language, part of the West Slavic branch of the Slavic languages, functions as the official language of Poland. Until recent decades Russian was commonly learned as a second language, but has been replaced by English as the most common second language studied and spoken. In 2015, more than 50% of Poles declared to speak English - Russian came second and German came third, other commonly spoken languages include French, Italian and Spanish.
In recent years, Poland's population has decreased due to an increase in emigration and a decline in the birth rate. Since Poland's accession to the European Union, a significant number of Poles have emigrated, primarily to the United Kingdom, Germany and Ireland in search of better work opportunities abroad. With better economic conditions and Polish salaries at 70% of the EU average in 2016, this trend started to decrease in the 2010s and workforce became needed in the country. As a result, the Polish Minister of Development Mateusz Morawiecki suggested that Poles abroad should return to Poland.
Polish minorities are still present in the neighboring countries of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania, as well as in other countries . Altogether, the number of ethnic Poles living abroad is estimated to be around 20 million. The largest number of Poles outside of Poland can be found in the United States and Germany. The total fertility rate (TFR) in Poland was estimated in 2013 at 1.33 children born to a woman.
From its beginnings, Poland has contributed substantially to the development of religious freedom. Since the country adopted Christianity in 966, it was also welcoming to other religions through a series of laws: Statute of Kalisz (1264), Warsaw Confederation (1573). The Polish king Władysław II Jagiełło, however, was pressed by the Catholic Church to issue the Edict of Wieluń(1424), outlawing early Protestant Hussitism. Polish theological thought includes movements such as Calvinist Polish Brethren and a number of other Protestant groups, as well as atheists, such as ex-Jesuit philosopher Kazimierz Łyszczyński, one of the first atheist thinkers in Europe. Also, in the 16th century, Anabaptists from the Netherlands and Germany settled in Poland—after being persecuted in Western Europe—and became known as the Vistula delta Mennonites.
Until World War II Poland was a religiously diverse society, in which substantial Jewish, Christian Orthodox, Protestant, Armenian Christian and Roman Catholic groups coexisted. In the Second Polish Republic, Roman Catholic was the dominant religion, declared by about 65% of the Polish citizens, followed by other Christian denominations, and about 3% of Judaism believers. As a result of the Holocaust and the post–World War II flight and expulsion of German and Ukrainian populations, Poland has become overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. In 2007, 88.4% of the population belonged to the Catholic Church. Though rates of religious observance are lower, at 52% or 51% of the Polish Catholics, Poland remains one of the most devoutly religious countries in Europe.
From 16 October 1978 until his death on 2 April 2005 Karol Józef Wojtyła (later Pope John Paul II), a Polish native, reigned as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. He has been the only Slavic and Polish Pope to date, and was the first non-Italian Pope since Dutch Pope Adrian VI in 1522. Additionally he is credited with having played a significant role in hastening the downfall of communism in Poland and throughout Central and Eastern Europe; he is famously quoted as having, at the height of communism in 1979, told Poles "not be afraid", later praying: "Let your Spirit descend and change the image of the land... this land".
Religious minorities include Polish Orthodox (about 506,800), various Protestants (about 150,000),Jehovah's Witnesses (126,827), Eastern Catholics, Mariavites, Polish Catholics, Jews, and Muslims(including the Tatars of Białystok). Members of Protestant churches include about 77,500 Lutherans in the largest Evangelical-Augsburg Church, 23,000 Pentecostals in the Pentecostal Church in Poland, and smaller numbers in various Evangelical Protestantchurches. There are also a several thousand neopagans, some of whom are members of officially registered churches such as the Native Polish Church.
Freedom of religion is now guaranteed by the 1989 statute of the Polish Constitution, enabling the emergence of additional denominations. The Concordat between the Holy See and Poland guarantees the teaching of religion in state schools. According to a 2007 survey, 72% of respondents were not opposed to religious instruction in public schools; alternative courses in ethics are available only in one percent of the entire public educational system.
Famous sites of Roman Catholic pilgrimage in Poland include the Monastery of Jasna Góra in the southern Polish city of Częstochowa, Basilica of Our Lady of Licheń, Divine Mercy Sanctuary, Kraków. Many tourists visit also the Family home of John Paul II in Wadowice just outside Kraków. Orthodox pilgrims visit Mountain Grabarka near Grabarka-Klasztor.
Poland's high-income economy is considered to be one of the largest of the post-Communist countries and is one of the fastest growing within the EU. Having a strong domestic market, low private debt, flexible currency, and not being dependent on a single export sector, Poland is the only European economy to have avoided the late-2000s recession. Since the fall of the communist government, Poland has pursued a policy of liberalising the economy. It is an example of the transition from a centrally planned to a primarily market-based economy. The country's most successful exports include machinery, furniture, food products, clothing, shoes and cosmetics. Poland's largest trading partner is Germany.
The privatization of small and medium state-owned companies and a liberal law on establishing new firms have allowed the development of the private sector. Also, several consumer rights organizations have become active in the country. Restructuring and privatisation of "sensitive sectors" such as coal, steel, rail transport and energy has been continuing since 1990. The biggest privatisations have been the sale of the national telecoms firm Telekomunikacja Polska to France Télécom in 2000, and an issue of 30% of the shares in Poland's largest bank, PKO Bank Polski, on the Polish stockmarket in 2004.
The Polish banking sector is the largest in East Central/Eastern European region, with 32.3 branches per 100,000 adults. The banks are the largest and most developed sector of the country's financial markets. They are regulated by the Polish Financial Supervision Authority. During the transformation to a market-oriented economy, the government privatized several banks, recapitalized the rest, and introduced legal reforms that made the sector more competitive. This has attracted a significant number of strategic foreign investors (ICFI). Poland's banking sector has approximately 5 national banks, a network of nearly 600 cooperative banks and 18 branches of foreign-owned banks. In addition, foreign investors have controlling stakes in nearly 40 commercial banks, which make up 68% of the banking capital.
Poland has a large number of private farms in its agricultural sector, with the potential to become a leading producer of food in the European Union. The biggest money-makers abroad include smoked and fresh fish, fine chocolate, and dairy products, meats and specialty breads, with the exchange rate conducive to export growth. Food exports amounted to 62 billion zloty in 2011, increasing by 17% from 2010. Structural reforms in health care, education, the pension system, and state administration have resulted in larger-than-expected fiscal pressures. Warsaw leads Central Europe in foreign investment. GDP growth had been strong and steady from 1993 to 2000 with only a short slowdown from 2001 to 2002, also the country avoided recession in 2008.
The economy had growth of 3.7% annually in 2003, a rise from 1.4% annually in 2002. In 2004, GDP growth equaled 5.4%, in 2005 3.3% and in 2006 6.2%. According to Eurostat data, Polish PPS GDP per capita stood at 67% of the EU average in 2012.
Average salaries in the enterprise sector in December 2010 were 3,848 PLN (1,012 euro or 1,374 US dollars) and growing sharply. Salaries vary between the regions: the median wage in the capital city Warsaw was 4,603 PLN (1,177 euro or 1,680 US dollars) while in Kielceit was 3,083 PLN (788 euro or 1125 US dollars). There is a wide distribution of salaries among the various districts of Poland. They range from 2,020 PLN (517 euro or 737 US dollars) in Kępno County, which is located in Greater Poland Voivodeship to 5,616 (1,436 euro or 2,050 US dollars) in Lubin County, which lies in Lower Silesian Voivodeship.
Since the opening of the labor market in the European Union, Poland experienced a mass emigration of over 2.3 million abroad, mainly due to higher wages offered abroad, and due to the raise in levels of unemployment following the global Great Recession of 2008.The out migration has increased the average wages for the workers who remained in Poland, in particular for those with intermediate level skills.
Products and goods manufactured in Poland include: electronics, buses and trams (Solaris, Solbus), helicopters and planes (PZL Świdnik, PZL Mielec), trains (Pesa SA), ships (Gdańsk Shipyard, Szczecin Shipyard, Gdynia Polish Navy Shipyard), military equipment (FB "Łucznik" Radom, Bumar-Łabędy SA), medicines (Polpharma, Polfa), food (Tymbark, Hortex, E. Wedel), clothes (LLP), glass, pottery (Bolesławiec), chemical products and others.
Poland is recognised as a regional economic leader within East-Central Europe, with nearly 40 percent of the 500 biggest companies in the region (by revenues) as well as a high globalisation rate. Poland was the only member of the EU to avoid the recession of the late 2000s. The country's largest firms comprise the WIG30 index, which is traded on the Warsaw Stock Exchange.
Well known Polish brands include, among others PKO BP, PKN Orlen, PGE, PZU, PGNiG, Tauron Group, Lotos Group, KGHM Polska Miedź, Asseco, Plus, Play, PLL LOT, Poczta Polska, PKP, Biedronka, and TVP.
Poland is recognised as having an economy with development potential, overtaking the Netherlands in mid-2010 to become Europe's sixth largest economy. Foreign Direct Investment in Poland has remained steady ever since the country's political transformation following the Round Table Agreement in 1989. However, problems still exist—it is believed that progress of privatization was uneven across sectors due to emergence of interest groups supporting government's push for the reforms based on feasibility rather than efficiency, at the cost of Poland's remaining sectors in need of development and modernisation, such as the extractive industries.