For a better understanding of Warsaw and Poland one ought to take look at the history of the city. It is a rich, fascinating, and often a very tragic history. For those who do not have the time to read lengthy history books I am including this shortened version of Warsaw's history.
Although almost 700 years old, Warsaw is considered to be a young
city by Polish
standards. Warsaw was only starting to emerge as a city from the
when cities such as: Krakow, Gdansk, Wroclaw or Kalisz were
First traces of settlement in the Warsaw area date from the 10th century. The first notable structure does not come in until the beginning of the 14th century, when the dukes of Mazovia built a stronghold on the site where the Royal Palace stands today, thus starting a township. The city's outlay closely followed that of many other medieval Polish towns: central square with a nearby church and the whole town surrounded by fortified walls for protection.
In 1413 Warsaw became the seat of the Mazovian dukes, and the city experiences a wave of development. At about this period we see the emergence of the New Town along the northern walls of the Old Town.
In 1526 the last duke of Mazovia died without an heir, thus putting Warsaw along with the whole of Mazovia under the direct rule of the Polish king in Krakow.
A view of Warsaw from the right bank of the Vistula (circa 1656).
Warsaw-The capital of Poland:
In 1569 Warsaw became the seat of the Sejm (Polish parliament), due
to its central
location in the new union between Poland and Lithuania. Four years
city became the seat of the royal elections, however the King still
In 1596 Warsaw became the capital after a fire in the King Zygmunt III Waza's residence in Krakow. During the 1655-1660 Swedish invasion of Poland, Warsaw suffered heavy damage this included physical and cultural losses.
The 18th century saw some of the most splendid growth of the city. It was during this period that many of the palaces, churches and monasteries were erected and the cultural life flourished, especially during the reign of the last Polish king Stanislaw August Poniatowski.
The grand theater in Warsaw around the early 19th century.
A 16th century depiction of Warsaw.
Partition of Poland:
By 1795 Poland had been totally partitioned by three empires: Prussia, Russia and the Habsburg Empire. Warsaw found itself under the Prussian rule and its role was diminished to that of a small provincial town. However in 1807 Warsaw became the capital when Napoleon created the Duchy of Warsaw. With the collapse of Napoleonic France in 1830, however, Warsaw fell to the Russian rule. Despite the Russian occupation, Warsaw continued in its steady development along with a steady population increase. By 1900 Warsaw had 700,000 inhabitants.
Polish Independence and WWII:
In 1918 Poland regained her independence and Warsaw became the capital of the Second Republic of Poland. Between the wars a deliberate development of the city was undertaken. Already in 1939 the population of Warsaw had risen to over 1.3 million. When World War II broke out in 1939 the capital heroically defended itself until the 27th of September, 1939. During the five years of German occupation that followed the city's population lived in terror.
The Warsaw Ghetto is burned down.
The Jewish citizens were forced to live in a walled-in ghetto. From
they were sent to the gas chambers of Oswiecim (Auschwitz) and other
When the Germans decided to clear the Warsaw ghetto in the spring of
Jews resisted the Germans in an armed battle rather than to give up
a fight. In an unequal battle than ensued thousands of Jewish fighters
were brutally wiped out. Intellectuals were also persecuted.
everyone was in constant danger of getting arrested in a round up and
sent to work or to a concentration camp.
On the 1st of August, 1944 the Warsaw Uprising broke out. From the beginning the fighters of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) were doomed, because of lack of help from the outside. After 63 days of heroic resistance the Warsaw uprising was brutally suppressed. This was the largest act of rebellion in Nazi occupied Europe and contributed to a quicker end of the war. However the human costs were incredible. Over 200,000 Poles, soldiers and civilians alike perished. After the suppression of the uprising all inhabitants were expelled from the city and the Nazis systematically burned and blew up the remaining buildings of the capital. In August, 1944 Warsaw was no more.
The Aftermath of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The Old Town lays in ruins.
The statue of King Zygmunt after the column with his statue was blown up following the Warsaw Uprising.
Warsaw from 1945 to today:
Warsaw was finally liberated on the 17th of January, 1945, altogether 800,000 of its inhabitants had perished during the war. The survivors came back to their city almost immediately and started to rebuild it. Warsaw again became the capital of Poland. But once more its fate was really determined by Moscow, a fact symbolized by the Palace of Culture (originally named in honor of Joseph Stalin) towering over the city center since 1955. In 1981 the communist rulers had to rely on the army to defend their power against the Solidarity movement of Lech Walesa, announcing martial law on 13th of December. With the crumbling economy and the transformations going on in the Soviet Union, the communists finally had to allow free elections in 1989. These ended in a complete defeat for the Communist Party. Right away the new government began extensive democratic and economic reforms. For Warsaw a great economic boom began. Many foreign and domestic companies decided to make Warsaw their principle place of business. This brought many new changes to the city including many new buildings, a more hectic life-style, and an ever increasing population. With 1.6 million inhabitants Warsaw is trying to catch up with the western capitals. Despite many problems the city is growing. Every year the face of the city changes in a dramatic and surprising way. The city has also opened up to tourists whom it hopes to attract in large numbers. Most importantly the city is again free after decades of unwelcome foreign rule and influence.