Warsaw Poland Travel Guide and Photo Gallery

  Welcome to Warsaw!  Witamy w Warszawie!
Warsaw (Polish: Warszawa) is the capital of Poland. With 1.7 million inhabitants, it is Poland's largest city. Warsaw is located on the River Vistula (Polish: Wisła), roughly equidistant (350 km, 217 mi) from both the Baltic Sea, which is in the north (Bałtyk) and the Carpathian Mountains, which are in the southern part of Poland (Karpaty).

Although not particularly well known among mainstream tourists, Warsaw has a picturesque Old Town that tells a story, some remarkable landmarks from the communist era and a skyline full of skyscrapers, which were developed during the last few years.

One of the most beleaguered of European cities, Warsaw has lived through many destructive invasions and occupations. The occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II nearly destroyed the city and left some 800,000 residents dead. Warsaw survived, however, and is Poland's capital and largest city.

Its motto is, appropriately, contemnit procellas, "It defies the storms." Warsaw is located in central Poland on the Vistula (in Polish, Wisla) River in a region known as the Middle Polish Lowlands.

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Warsaw's maximum elevation is 380 feet (116 meters) above sea level, and it has a moderate, if not cool, climate. The average July temperature is only 66 F (19 C), while the average January temperature is 26 F (-3 C). Rainfall averages 21 inches (53 centimeters) a year.

Although many of Warsaw's historic buildings have been reconstructed since 1945, the city only partly resembles what it was historically. The commercial heart of Warsaw was and remains Marszalkowska Street. This north-south thoroughfare was laid out in 1757 and by the 20th century was lined with shops, cafes, theaters, and restaurants.

Since 1955 its major attraction has been the Palace of Culture and Science, a monumental building located on Defilad Square. This square is the largest in Warsaw and is used for military parades and other processions. The building was a gift from the Soviet Union and houses scientific and cultural institutions as well as theaters and sports facilities.

The oldest part of Warsaw is Stare Miasto, or Old City, located on the west bank of the Vistula River north of the Marszalkowska district. Warsaw's Old City was surrounded by a wall, much of which still stands on the right side of Podwale Street. The center of the Old City is the market, a square dating from the late 13th and early 14th centuries surrounded by houses painstakingly restored after World War II to their original 15th-century appearance.

South of the market is the Castle Square, in the middle of which stands the Sigismund III Vasa column, erected in 1644 and now the oldest monument in Warsaw. Castle Square was originally the courtyard of the royal castle, first built in the late 13th and early 14th centuries but destroyed in 1944. Only its library survived, but the castle has been rebuilt. Between the market and Castle Square is St. John's Cathedral, the oldest church in Warsaw. 

To the north of the Old City is Nowe Miasto, or New City. This part of Warsaw dates from the late 14th century and was a center for artisans and agricultural workers. It too has a market, whose most notable landmark is the Church of the Nuns of the Holy Sacrament. This baroque structure was rebuilt after the war. The scientist Marie Curie was born in this part of Warsaw.  Leading south from Castle Square is Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street, historically one of Warsaw's most beautiful streets. The University of Warsaw is on this street, as is the Radziwill Palace, now the seat of the Presidium of the Polish Council of Ministers. The Square of the Three Crosses is farther south with the classical St. Alexander's Church. This church was modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. Poland's parliament building is nearby.

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Warsaw is one of Poland's major industrial centers. Industry accounts for almost a third of the city's employment. Until 1989 and the fall of Communism in the country most businesses were either state- or cooperatively owned. In 1989 the government began reforms to move Poland toward privatization and a market economy. Some of the major products produced here are automobiles, electronic equipment, stainless steel products, tractors, clothing, precision instruments, and processed food items. Construction and various trade activities also employ many Warsaw residents. Consumer goods are frequently in short supply, and long lines in stores are not uncommon. 

Warsaw is Poland's premier educational and cultural center. There are several institutions of higher learning, including the University of Warsaw and the Technical University of Warsaw. The National Library, founded in 1919, has more than 4 million volumes. The Polish Academy of the Sciences, with its many related research institutes, is located in Warsaw, as are the National Museum and the Zacheta Art Gallery. Warsaw has an active musical life. The National Philharmonic plays here, and the city hosts an international Chopin piano competition and the International Festival of Contemporary Music. The composer-pianist Frederic Chopin and the pianist- statesman Ignacy Paderewski both lived for a time in Warsaw.

Although Warsaw may have existed as far back as the 10th century, its recorded history begins in the 13th century with a castle built for the duke of Mazovia. The town around the castle grew and in 1526, when the last of the Mazovian dukes died, was incorporated into the Polish kingdom. The royal court was moved to Warsaw in 1611, and the city became the capital of Poland.

A Swedish invasion devastated Warsaw in 1655-56, and the War of the Polish Succession (1733-38) brought further decay and pestilence. A revolt after the second partition of Poland in 1794 was suppressed by Prussian and Russian troops. The third partition of Poland in 1795 left Warsaw a provincial town of South Prussia.

Napoleon entered the city in 1806 and restored it as the capital of the newly created Duchy of Warsaw, but most of the duchy was incorporated as a separate kingdom under Russian sovereignty by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Warsaw was invaded during the Polish-Russian War of 1830-31, and an 1863 insurrection was brutally suppressed by Russian troops. A period of Russification followed.

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Despite its many setbacks, Warsaw continued to grow and had more than 750,000 residents by the turn of the century. A multinational city, nearly half of its citizens were Jewish during the first decades of the 20th century. After World War I Warsaw again became the capital of an independent Poland.

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Warsaw entered its darkest period in 1939. The Nazi invasion at the beginning of World War II left 10,000 dead and more than 50,000 wounded. The city's cultural treasures were plundered, and its inhabitants were carried off to labor camps or extermination camps. In 1940 the Jewish ghetto was walled off, and by 1942 more than 300,000 Jews had perished or were sent to death camps. Another 60,000 died in the ghetto uprising of 1943. Polish resistance to the Nazis centered in Warsaw and resulted in the insurrection of 1944, a 63-day siege that left at least another 150,000 dead. After this the Nazis began to systematically destroy the entire city. When Soviet troops liberated Warsaw in 1945, they found a city in ruins. 

Warsaw remained Poland's capital after the war. The city is divided into seven precincts. The mayor is appointed by the prime minister, and there is a popularly elected national council that serves as the city's legislature. The city of Warsaw and its surroundings form the Warsaw Capital Province.

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