“ (…) we promise to one another, for ourselves and for our descendants, for all time, pledging our faith, honour and conscience (…), to keep the peace between ourselves, and not shed blood on account of differences in faith or church, nor will we allow punishment (…) or exile, nor will we in any fashion aid any sovereign or agency in such undertakings.”
The Confederation of Warsaw of 28th of January 1573
(the Memory of the World Register since 2003)
Poland, a Central European country with a population of 38.5 million and a surface area of 312,679 square kilometres (120,727 sq. miles), is a democratic, parliamentary republic. Warsaw is its capital city. In centuries past, political dependence on territories which lie within Poland’s present-day borders changed many times. They became the source and destination of numerous migrations, making them a treasure trove of heritage left by a variety of cultures. The country, located between the Baltic Sea in the north and the Carpathian Mountains in the south, has a very diverse natural environment. There are thirteen Polish wetlands on the Ramsar List, along with the Biebrza Marshes and the Słowiński National Park with its moving sand dunes. Forests and wooded areas occupy approx. 31% of the country’s surface. Its fauna is among the most diverse in Europe – Poland is home to the white stork (25% of the world’s population). Furthermore, the Polish coat of arms is composed of a white-tailed eagle as it is believed that the legendary founder of the country, Lech, saw such an eagle’s nest while searching for an appropriate place to set up a home for his people.
Did you know…
- The name Poland is derived from the name of the Slavic tribe Polanie, which roughly translated means “people who live in open country”.
- The Jagiellonian University in Kraków, established in 1364, is one of the oldest universities in Europe. Its famous alumni include Nicolaus Copernicus, Pope Saint John Paul II and Wisława Szymborska (winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature).
- A Pole from Białystok, Ludwig Zamenhof, seeking to unite people using a single international tongue, invented the language Esperanto.
- The star constellation Scutum (‘the Shield’) was discovered by Johannes Hevelius, a Polish astronomer from Gdańsk, who originally named it Scutum Sobiescianum (Shield of Sobieski) in honour of the Polish King John III Sobieski and his successful leading of the Battle of Vienna in 1683.
- One of the oldest apple varieties in the world is the Polish kosztela, which has been cultivated since the 16th century.
- The first portable mine detector was invented by the Polish engineer and WWII officer Józef Kosacki. The device was first used during the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942. Kosacki decided not to patent his invention, giving it free to the British Army.
- The Polish secret agent, Krystyna Skarbek, is believed to be the inspiration behind some of Ian Fleming’s James Bond female characters (incl. Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale). Ms Skarbek was a renowned agent, serving both Polish and British intelligence during WWII.
- In July 1916, Maria Skłodowska-Curie was one of the first women to obtain a driving licence. She used it to drive a car converted into a mobile radiological unit which helped to treat wounded soldiers on the battlefields of the WWI.
Polish culture remained very important even in times of national crises and played a crucial role in the building of Polish national identity. In spite of many hardships and censorship, Poles remained creative and innovative.
Polish literature has usually been written in the Polish language. However, in the past, many important pieces of Polish writing were created in Latin or Yiddish. Poland’s contemporary literature saw two Nobel Prize winners: Czesław Miłosz (awarded the prize in 1980) who, having lived under two totalitarian regimes, adopted an ironic style which nevertheless affirmed the value of human existence and Wisława Szymborska (awarded the prize in 1996) whose poetry, filled with humour, irony and wit, gave the world such pieces as The Cat in an Empty Apartment or Nothing Twice.
Poland's musical output has also been substantial. In the 1960s, the so-called ‘Polish composers' school’, characterized by new aesthetic tendencies, was conceived. The key representatives of Polish contemporary classical music were, inter alia, Witold Lutosławski, Krzysztof Penderecki and Henryk Mikołaj Górecki.
Jazz music, though officially banned by the communist government, flourished right after World War II, giving voice to the spirit of freedom and nonconformity. The great Polish jazz tradition, including key players such as Krzysztof Komeda, continues to inspire future generations of musicians. From Tomasz Stańko through to Grammy Music Award winner Leszek Możdżer, Włodek Pawlik and Urszula Dudziak (a UNESCO Artist for Peace), jazz still plays an important role in the national music scene.
Polish cinema has provided a substantial contribution to international cinematography. After the death of Stalin, followed by a change of political climate, the Polish Film School group was formed, giving the world such renowned cinematographers as Andrzej Wajda (Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2000) and Roman Polański (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown). In the following decades, more Polish film directors gained international recognition, including Krzysztof Kieślowski (the Decalogue series, the Three Colours trilogy), Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, In Darkness) and the cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (Schindler’s List).
Soon after World War II, two fellow students from Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts, Eryk Lipiński and Henryk Tomaszewski, started what later became known as the Polish Poster School. From the early 1950s until 1989, Poland became an art poster mecca, and a poster itself a statement on social and cultural reality. With clever use of composition, vivid colours and symbolism, Polish posters and their creators became well known around the world, Jan Lenica and Waldemar Świerzy among them.
There are two Polish theatres bearing the status of a “national theatre”: The National Theatre in Warsaw and the National Old Theatre in Kraków. While the first tends to experiment courageously, the Old Theatre is believed to be more academic and traditional in spirit. Polish theatre came to the forefront with Juliusz Osterwa, Tadeusz Kantor and Jerzy Grotowski as its main figures. Moreover, theatre festivals (such as Kraków’s Dedications, Warsaw’s Meetings and Poznań’s Malta) play an important role in the promotion of the arts and are very well attended.
The capital and the largest city in Poland with a population of almost 2 million is not only the seat of government and the country's administrative centre, but is also the headquarters of many key institutions, as well as national and international companies.
The city is an architectural compilation of different styles, including the majestic silhouettes of baroque churches, the classicistic pavilions of Łazienki residential complex and modernist pre- and post-war public buildings and villas. Also called “the Phoenix city”, Warsaw is in itself a great story of rebirth – almost completely destroyed during World War II, it is now a vibrant and green metropolis. Warsaw’s tumultuous past is most visible in its architectural disorder, with gothic relics, baroque palaces, social realist architecture meeting contemporary glass and steel designs. Although today's Warsaw is a fairly young city, it has many varied tourist attractions on offer:
- National Museum
- Warsaw Rising Museum
- POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
- Chopin Museum
- Museum of Modern Art
- Zachęta – National Gallery of Art
- Copernicus Science Centre
- Poster Museum
- Museum of Caricature and Cartoon Art
With its churches, market square and colourful tenement houses, Warsaw’s Old Town is one of the main tourist attractions. Some of the most notable landmarks of the Old Town are the Royal Castle, King Sigismund's Column, the Market Square and the Barbican. The complex was restored completely after WWII, following a campaign by its citizens and is now included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction over a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century.
Other popular Polish destinations are: Gdańsk, Lublin, Łódź, Olsztyn, Poznań, Szczecin, Toruń, Wrocław.
Memory of the World
Poland, so frequently wrecked by armed conflicts, is well aware of how fragile world heritage can be. Therefore, it has actively participated in the creation of the programme ‘Memory of the World’ and hosted the first meeting of the International Advisory Committee (IAC) in 1993. Today, there are fourteen sites of Polish documentary heritage which have been added to the Memory of the World Register, including Nicolaus Copernicus’ masterpiece ‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium : libri VI’, the Warsaw Ghetto Archives and the Twenty-One Demands made by the Solidarity trade union which challenged Poland's communist regime.
More information: http://www.unesco.pl/