History of Warsaw

The History of Poland is rooted in the arrival of the Slavs, who gave rise to permanent settlement and historic development on Polish lands. During the Piast dynasty Christianity was adopted in 966 and medieval monarchy established.
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Artur Rogóż
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History of Warsaw

Post autor: Artur Rogóż » 09 wrz 2011, 17:31

I INTRODUCTION Warsaw (Polish Warszawa)
Capital and largest city of the Polish Republic, located on the great Polish plain in the region known as Mazovia (Mazowsze) and standing on the river Vistula. The climate is temperate with warm summers and cold winters. Warsaw is a modern city: it was 90% destroyed during the second world war (1939-45), the scene of fierce fighting between occupying German forces and the Polish resistance, the 'Home Army', which staged a rising in 1944, a failed bid to liberate the city before the Red Army entered Warsaw. The historic old town (stare miasto) was painstakingly reconstructed in the post war period while in the city centre a gigantic 'Palace of Culture' (Pa(ac Kultury) was built in the monumental style of 'socialist-realism' as befitted a gift from Stalin. It remains the leading Warsaw landmark. Since the fall of communism in 1989 the city's skyline has been transformed by new office blocks and hotels (the imposing Marriott-LIM tower stands opposite the Palace of Culture) as Warsaw enjoyed the benefits of a 1990s economic boom.


The city of Warsaw covers an area of 494 sq km (191 sq mi) and following government decentralisation in 1999 it becomes the administrative centre also of a newly defined Mazowsze region (województwo). Warsaw itself is further subdivided into 11 local districts (gminy). Downtown Warsaw (Sródmiescie) lies on the west bank of the Vistula with the famous old town to the north at the end of Warsaw's best known thoroughfares, Nowy Swiat (New World) and Krakowskie Przedmiescie. Along these avenues lie some of Warsaw's other famous landmarks: the residence of the Polish president, the Europejski and Bristol hotels, leading finally to the rebuilt Royal Castle, the Zygmunt column (1646) and the old town market square. Running south, Krakowskie Przedmiescie flows past the monument to the astronomer Nicholas Copernicus (1828) into Nowy Swiat and then Al. Ujazdowskie, a favourite location of foreign embassies including the US and, nearby, the British, to reach one of the city's best known parks, Lazienki, with its monument (1926) to the composer Frederic Chopin where each summer Sunday open air Chopin recitals take place. Numerous Neoclassical and Baroque palaces and churches including the Holy Cross Church line this, so-called 'Royal Route', from old town, past Lazienki park arriving eventually at the Wilanów Palace on the southern edge of the city. Central Warsaw is dominated however by the Palace of Culture (when completed in 1955, at 230 m or 750 ft, the second tallest building in Europe), with the Central Station (built in the early 1970s) close by on Al. Jerozolimskie, also the Marriott-LIM tower (1989) and the Hotel Forum (early 1970s). Marszalkowska, running north-south across the city centre is Warsaw's other famous shopping street. Residential apartment blocks exist in downtown Warsaw but are much more noticeable away from the city centre. While the old town was reconstructed to replicate what had existed before 1939 most of the city is built in the modern unimaginative post-war style. Housing is mainly tower block apartments around the city centre. In the few parts of the city that escaped total wartime destruction less dense pre-war type housing exists, for example in the popular east bank area known as Saska Kepa. While the city expanded outwards in the 1950s through to 1970s in the 1990s a major wave of city centre reconstruction has taken place with new hotel, office and condominium blocks being erected on cleared city centre sites. One problem that constantly arises in such redevelopment is the unearthing of unexploded second world war ammunition. Another major feature of 1990s life in the city is that fast growing car ownership generates frequent traffic jams along Warsaw's still underdeveloped trunk routes and arteries. With no major ring road around the city Europe's main east-west European highway cuts through Warsaw's heart (Trasa Lazienkowska) contributing to enormous road wear and tear, air pollution and traffic blockage. One problem is that there are few bridges over the Vistula but the city hopes soon to erect a major road crossing, the Swietokrzyska bridge, in place of the existing but inadequate Syrena bridge. In the 1980s work started on a north-south metro which was opened in 1995 and by 1999 stretched from the southern suburbs of Kabaty and Ursynów to the city centre with plans for extension to the northern suburbs.


The city of Warsaw had a population of just over 1,625,900 (mid 1997 estimate) and has changed little since 1980. While earlier periods of Poland's post-war history were marked by substantial internal population flows from country to town in recent times they have become subdued. Labour mobility is low in Poland by comparison with the West due to barriers such as lack of housing. Wartime destruction devastated not only the city but also its population. It is estimated that 670,000 of its people died during the war including the entire Jewish population of 375,000, a population systematically exterminated by the Nazis. Wartime population loss meant that in the early post 1945 period the city grew once again through internal migration. Poland is an ethnically homogenous country and the same holds for the capital. The population is also predominantly Catholic (35 million out of a national population of 38 million) with an estimated 87,000 Protestants, 5,000 Muslims and only 1,223 Jews (all figures 1996). Only one synagogue (Nozyk) remains active.


Warsaw has made important contributions to European culture. Samuel Bogumil Linde, a member of the Warsaw-based Society of the Friends of Science (1800-32) composed the first Polish dictionary in the years 1807-14. Chopin studied at the musical academy. The chemist and physicist Marie Curie was born in Warsaw in 1867 where her house is now a museum. Famous writers associated with Warsaw include Boleslaw Prus, whose novel The Doll (1890) is set largely in the city; his contemporary Wladyslaw Reymont, who won the Nobel Prize in 1916; and the 20th-century novelists Jerzy Andrzejewski, Marek Hlasko, Andrzej Szczypiorski and Tadeusz Konwicki. The inventor of Esperanto, Ludwik Zamenhoff, was also a Warsaw citizen. As capital of the Congress Kingdom (1815-1831), Warsaw flourished. The principal institutions of higher education, the University of Warsaw (1816), Warsaw Agricultural University (1818) and Warsaw Polytechnic (1826) were founded at this time. They were later joined by another forty educational institutions and research institutes including the Warsaw School of Commerce. Major libraries include the National Library, the Library of Warsaw University and the Library of Parliament. There are some 30 museums and art galleries. The National Museum has a collection of Polish art from the 14th to the 20th century, Wilanów houses the Poster Museum and a Centre for Contemporary Art exists in the Ujazdowski Castle. The 19th century Great Theatre stages major ballet and opera performances. Warsaw hosts the Chopin Piano Competition (inaugurated in 1927) every five years, the international Henri Wieniawski violin competition (started in 1935), together with an annual contemporary music festival Warszawska Jesien (each September) and the international Jazz Jamboree (October), while the International Book Fair takes place each May in the Palace of Culture.


The city's sports facilities are poorly developed with the large 'Tenth-Anniversary Stadium' (stadion dziesieciolecia, 1955) turned over to a large market. Its numerous large and small parks include Belweder Park, where Stanislaw August, the last king of Poland, built the Classical Palace on the Water as his residence. The Saxon Gardens in the city centre were developed in the 18th century. Warsaw Zoo lies in the Praga district. Warsaw cinemas show substantially foreign (American) products as Polish cinema has gone into an economic and cultural decline. Warsaw has a thriving night-life. The variety and number of restaurants has increased substantially since the collapse of Communism.


As the capital city Warsaw is Poland's leading administrative centre. It is also a centre for science, research and higher education. In addition, through the post-war years to 1989 and the collapse of communism, the city's industrial base was further developed by the setting up of diverse activities such as steel-making (Huta Warszawa), car assembly (FSO), tractors (Ursus) and consumer electronics (Unitra and Polkolor) making it the second most important industrial region in Poland (after Katowice in the south). In the post 1989 period Warsaw has become the most dynamic city in Poland. Its unemployment is negligible (2.8% in 1997 against a national average of 10.5%), its wages are better than average (but some expenses, especially accommodation, are also greater) and it is the lead destination for foreign direct investment (FDI). The inflow of Western capital is reflected, for example, in the take-over of the Warsaw steelworks by the Italian concern Lucchini, the purchase of FSO cars by the South Korean firm Daewoo, the take-over by the French electronics firm Thomson of the Polkolor TV works, the purchase of the Wedel chocolate firm by Pepsico and by the activities of Western banks, construction, supermarket and hotel chains. Warsaw is now a major trade, distribution and services economy in which manufacturing, though still important, is taking second place. One phenomenon of the 1990s was the explosion in 'bazaar trade' as Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians and others flocked to Warsaw to buy and sell. Poland's largest bazaar in a former sports stadium on the east bank of the Vistula ('Jarmark Europa' - 'The Europe Bazaar' at the 'Tenth anniversary stadium') was throughout the early 1990s in the top 5 of Poland's leading export earning 'enterprises'. Warsaw is also developing as a finance, banking and consulting centre - the stock exchange was reopened after a 50 year gap in 1991. Meanwhile the city's vibrant and expanding cultural activities ensure that is also becoming a tourist centre. The most impressive economic feature has been the sheer scale of new construction from hotels, offices, low-rise residential accommodation, warehouses and hypermarkets (on the edge of the city where the French concerns GJant and Carrefour are located) to metro system and (planned for 2000) a major new bridge link across the Vistula river. The international airport at Okecie in the south of the city was rebuilt in 1992. Another marked change in economic/cultural life in the country and well reflected in Warsaw was the sudden development post 1989 of a flurry of new private television and radio stations, newspapers and magazines. The Warsaw Voice weekly newspaper is a favourite for the city's English-speaking community.


Following reform of local government the city of Warsaw, from 1999, was divided into 11 administrative sub units (gminy). Elections to all levels of local government were held in October 1998 and normally take place every four years. The city president is chosen by those elected to the city council.


As Warsaw booms so it attracts young people to the city despite the severe problem of housing shortage. As in other major cities drugs, crime, law and order are major contemporary issues. Warsaw has become a stage on drug smuggling routes from East to West. Small scale gang warfare and bombings are a steady feature of 1990s Warsaw but appeared to reach a new level of intensity when a former chief of police was murdered outside his home in early 1998. The Polish population is relatively young (30% below the age of 20 according to mid 1996 estimates) and demand for education is high leading in the 1990s to an explosion in the private higher education sector with many new private university level institutions opening in the city. The huge increase in motor car ownership has also led to serious congestion, pollution and injury through road accidents since the roads infrastructure is poor and driving often reckless. Alcohol intake is high but many Poles are becoming more conscious of health issues and smoking appears to be less prevalent than in the earlier period.


One legend has it that a mermaid (syrenka, the city's symbol) from the Vistula predicted the founding of Warsaw to two children, Wars and Sawa, who then gave their name to the city. Warsaw was founded around 1294 by duke Boleslaw of the Mazovian branch of the original royal Piast dynasty. It was not until 1413 that Warsaw became the regional capital. At that point its population was some 4,500. The city lay on major east-west trade routes as well as on the important route from Gdansk and Torun down to the Black Sea. In 1529, with the extinction of the Mazovian princely line, Warsaw was absorbed into the Polish-Lithuanian state. Parliamentary sessions began to take place from the 1550s and the nobility chose the King in Royal Elections on Wola Field from 1573 onwards. Wladyslaw III decided in 1596 to transfer his capital from Kraków to Warsaw, given the latter's proximity to the Baltic, where he had regional territorial ambitions, and also to facilitate military operations against Muscovy. By 1611 the court and government had moved to Warsaw, which remained the capital for the next 200 years. In the mid seventeenth century the Polish-Lithuanian state was hit by a series of crises including invasion. Warsaw was devastated by the Swedes in 1655 and was occupied by the Russians on several occasions in the eighteenth century. Only with Stanislaw August, the last king of Poland, did Warsaw undergo major regeneration, its population nearly quadrupling between 1764 and 1792 (rising from 30,000 to 110,000).

After 1795 Warsaw fell to Prussia and declined in status to a provincial town (the population fell by half over ten years from 140,000 to 70,000). Napoleon, who made it the capital of the Duchy of Warsaw (1807-15) revived it as a satellite state and launch pad for his campaign against Russia in 1812. After Napoleon's defeat Warsaw became the capital of a new Polish Kingdom in 1815, with the Russian Tsar as its hereditary monarch. However after the 1830 Insurrection the Russians reduced the city to provincial status once more. Nonetheless urban development continued: a permanent fire service was established in 1834, a railway line to Vienna in 1848 and in 1859 the first iron bridge across the Vistula was constructed. After the 1863 Insurrection the Kingdom was completely absorbed into the Russian empire. As industrialisation deepened the influx of workers and expansion of the city swelled the population to 260,000 in 1874 and 406,000 in 1885. But it was not until 1918 that Warsaw once again became capital of an independent Polish state. On the eve of World War II. its population had reached over one million.

On September 1, 1939, as the war broke out, Warsaw suffered the first German air raids on a major city. After innumerable bombing and artillery attacks, the city fell to the German Army on September 27. Throughout the war Warsaw was the capital of a rump Polish state, the General Gouvernement, set up by the German authorities. It was also the centre of the Polish underground army. Over the next five years the Germans systematically plundered the city of art treasures, razed national monuments and terrorised the populace in a calculated plan to annihilate Jewish and Polish identity. Some 500,000 Jews were the first victims. Herded into a walled ghetto less than 2.6 sq km (1 sq mi), more than 300,000 inhabitants of the ghetto were sent to concentration camps and killed between July 22 and October 3, 1942. In April 1943, German troops liquidated the ghetto, and most of the remaining 60,000 Jews were killed after a heroic resistance that lasted for three weeks.

On August 1, 1944, as Soviet armies neared the city, the citizens of Warsaw rose against the Germans and fought for 63 days before they were finally defeated with some 160,000 fatalities. After the uprising (immortalised in Andrzej Wajda's film Kanal, 1957) German troops deported the remainder and deliberately destroyed what remained of the city. Soviet and Polish troops liberated Warsaw in January 1945. After the war the capital was rebuilt with aid from other countries. Where possible the original plans were followed in the reconstruction of historic buildings and districts. The decision to rebuild the Royal Castle was taken only in 1971 and the castle was opened in 1984. Of the city's pre-war population only 162,000 survived the war. After 1945, as the key government and administrative structures were re-established in Warsaw re-population occurred at a rapid pace, with the figure again topping one million inhabitants by 1956. In the 1950s through to early 1970s Warsaw consolidated itself as the centre of political power in Poland, with a key role in the post-war division of Europe serving as the symbolic base for the military alliance known as the Warsaw Pact (1955). As the country hit economic crisis towards the end of the 1970s Warsaw's urban structure began to deteriorate, mirroring the decline in the credibility of the communist party and the system it represented.

Contributed by Dr John Bates and Professor George Blazyca

Eyewitness Travel Guides Warsaw, Malgorzata Omilanowska and Jerzy S. Majewski, (Darling Kindersley, London, 1997)

Warszawa, Edyta Tomczyk, Slawomir Lubowski, (Pascal, Bielsko-Biala, 1997)

Maly Rocznik Statystyczny 1998, [Concise Statistical Yearbook 1998], (Glówny Urzad Statystyczny, Warsaw, 1998)

The Historical Museum of Warsaw, Guidebook, Janusz Durko, (Rynek Starego Miasta 28/42, Warsaw)

Welcome to Warsaw, (Bessa, Warsaw), [Monthly guide to Warsaw freely available in leading hotels], http://www.welcometo.com.pl

What, Where, When Warszawa, (International Communications Ltd, Warsaw) Monthly guide to Warsaw freely available in leading hotels]

The Warsaw Voice, [Weekly English language newspaper], http://www.warsawvoice.com.pl

Poland, Tim Sharman, (Columbus Books, London, 1988)

God's Playground, Vols. 1 and 2, Norman Davies, (OUP, Oxford, 1981)

Warszawo: Ty moja Warszawo, [Warsaw my Warsaw], Wieslaw Glebocki, Karol Morawski, (Alfa, Warsaw, 1994)

The Jews in Warsaw: A History, Wladyslaw T. Bartoszewski, Antoni Polonsky, (Blackwell, Oxford, 1991)

Rzeczpospolita, [Poland's most authoritative daily newspaper, available at http://www.rzeczpospolita.pl]


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