POLAND TOURISM GUIDE
Poland is now one of the major destinations for travellers. Its beauty can be admired in both its old cities and in the wild scenery of 22 national parks, about 1200 nature reserves, more than 100 landscape parks and 400 protected areas. The countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s regions are largely divided into horizontal bands: the Baltic Coast and the hilly post-glacial lake district. Central Poland is split into northern lowlands and southern uplands, including the KrakÃƒÂ³w-Wielun Upland with its limestone areas, caves and medieval castles. The Carpathian Mountains, including the Tatras, lie in the extreme south; their mountain scenery, folklore and sports facilities are important parts of their charm.
Spanning both banks of the River Wisla (Vistula), PolandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capital and largest city was almost completely destroyed during World War II. Following massive and painstaking reconstruction, WarsawÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Old Town (Stare Miasto) on the west bank was authentically reconstructed from original plans and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Polish capital plays an important role in the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cultural life and there are over 20 museums. One of the best is the Warsaw Historical Museum, which traces WarsawÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s history and shows films shot by the Nazis showing their systematic destruction of the city. The National Museum has a superb collection of art and archaeology. Zamek KrÃƒÂ³lewski, the reconstructed Royal Castle, is now an important museum of fine and applied arts. The WilanÃƒÂ³w Palace has a spectacular collection of old paintings and furniture; its Orangerie holds the new Museum of Posters. The enormous Palace of Culture and Science was an unwelcome gift from Josef Stalin; however, it offers wonderful views over the whole city. The Lazienki Palace is set in a lovely park with an open-air Greek theatre and a monument to the famous Polish composer Frederic Chopin. The National and the Polish are the most renowned of the cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s many theatres. Zelazowa Wola, 53km (32 miles) west of Warsaw, is an attractive park in which stands the manor house where Chopin was born. Nature enthusiasts can visit the nearby Kampinos National Park, where it is possible to see wild boar and elk.
Lublin is a charming medieval university city 164km (102 miles) southeast of Warsaw. Still further east on the banks of the River Labunka is Zamosc, founded at the end of the 16th century and once an important center on the trade route linking Northern and Western Europe to the Black Sea. Its Old Town has recently been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its focal point is the Market Square; the old and new Lublin Gates indicate the cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s former role as an important regional fortress. Lublin is given a southern flavour through the many buildings designed by Bernardo Morando of Padua, and by the many Armenians and Greeks who settled here. The Bialowieza National Park, an area of primal forest straddling the border with Belarus, is the last major refuge of the European bison as well as being home to many other rare forest-dwelling species.
PolandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s second city also stands on the banks of the River Wisla (Vistula), but far to the south in the wooded foothills of the Tatra Mountains. It still retains its charming medieval air, having largely escaped destruction during World War II; it is one of UNESCOÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 12 most significant historical sites. In the middle of the central Market Square Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the largest in Europe Ã¢â‚¬â€œ is the Cloth Hall, which was reconstructed in the 19th century from 14th-century merchantsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ stalls; this houses the art and sculpture galleries of the National Museum. Opposite is St MaryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Church with its world-famous wooden altar carved by Wit Stwosz. The Jagiellonian University, founded in 1364, is one of the oldest in Europe. After many years of neglect, KrakÃƒÂ³wÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s former Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, is reviving; the Old Synagogue (1557) is the oldest surviving in the country. Also in Kazimierz is the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s largest Ethnographic Museum. KrakÃƒÂ³w was PolandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capital until 1596. Overlooking the city is Wawel Castle, with its marvelous 16th-century tapestries and, beside it, the Gothic Cathedral, where many Polish kings are buried. The Czartoryski Palace houses the cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best collection of ancient art, European paintings and crafts.
Another of PolandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the cathedral-like salt mines at Wieliczka, 13km (8 miles) from KrakÃƒÂ³w. The subterranean route spans 4.5km (2.8 miles) leading to the oldest part of the mine through 14th- and 15th-century chapels and crystal caves. 70km (43 miles) from KrakÃƒÂ³w lies the site of the Oswiecim-Birkenau (Auschwitz-Birkenau) concentration camp in which 4 million people were killed by the Nazis. The camp area has been designated as a memorial monument and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Other important nearby locations include the Bledowska Desert, perhaps the only true desert in Europe; Wadowice, the birthplace of Pope John Paul II; and the Icon of the Black Madonna in the huge Jasna GÃƒÂ³ra monastery complex at Czestochowa, 100km (60 miles) north of KrakÃƒÂ³w (reputed to have been painted by St Luke). Bieszczadski National Park is part of the Carpathian mountain range and contains the surviving fragments of the Great Bieszczady Forest, home to the brown bear, lynx and wildcat.
TATRY (TATRAS MOUNTAINS)
Although the 80km of the Tatras in the extreme south are only a small part of the entire range, they attract over 1.5 million visitors every year, with high peaks for climbing, excellent trails, cable cars and superb wintersports facilities. Zakopane, about 112km (70 miles) south of KrakÃƒÂ³w in the foothills, is a charming resort and wintersports centre. There is a fairytale atmosphere here, with its Ã¢â‚¬ËœgingerbreadÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ wooden cottages and many inhabitants who still wear national dress. There are four National Parks in the Tatras: BabiogÃƒÂ³rski, Gorczanski, Pieninski (also with the beautiful mountain gorge of the River Dunajec) and Tatrzanski. Camping is not allowed in the parks; climbing is, but only with a guide. Organised trips are available to the Koscieliska Valley, through beautiful countryside; the mountain of Kasprowy Wierch by means of a cable car offering spectacular views; and Morskie Oko, the glacial lake which is one of the TatrasÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ main attractions.
The principal city in the southwest and the capital of Lower Silesia, Wroclaw (Breslau) can claim to be the cradle of the Polish state: it was here that the Polanie tribe built their first fortified settlement (on Ostrow Tumski Island). During the 14th century, the city fell under the rule of Bohemia, followed by the Hapsburgs in the 16th century, and later the Prussians and the German Third Reich. During World War II the town had become a Nazi stronghold, Ã¢â‚¬ËœFestung BreslauÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. But after the war the German population was forced to leave and large numbers of displaced Poles from LwÃƒÂ³w (now LÃ¢â‚¬â„¢viv) in the Polish Ukraine were encouraged to move there. The mingling of the inhabitants of these two great cities has greatly shaped WroclawÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s culture. The modern city is threaded with 90km (56 miles) of canals and tributaries of the River Oder and there are more than 100 bridges. Important sights include the 15th-century Town Hall, now the Historical Museum; the Ethnographic Museum in the Royal Palace; and the Cathedral on Ostrow Tumski (Cathedral Island). The 120m (400ft) by 15m (50ft) tall painting, Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice, remains the cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best-loved sight; painted in 1894, it celebrates the Russian armyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defeat by Tadeusz KrsciuszkoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s militia. Within easy travel from the city are the spas and health resorts of the Klodzko Valley, the rugged Stolowe Mountains, the ski resorts in the Karkonosze Mountains (part of which is a national park) on the border with the Czech Republic, and the many picturesque medieval (and earlier) towns in the region, such as Boleslawiec, Paczkow and Swidnica.
Wielkopolska is the core of the original Polish nation. Poznan, the sedate regional capital, stands beside the River Warta in the middle of the flatlands north of Silesia. Important sights include the Italianate Town Hall in the Old Market Square, the Gorki Palace, the 12th-century Church of St John and Przemyslaw Castle, once the seat of the Grand Dukes of Poland. The National Museum houses one of the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s few displays of old master paintings. Watersports can be enjoyed in and on the many lakes in the woods surrounding the city. The Poznan International Trade Fair is held here every year in June.
Formerly known as Danzig, the important Baltic port of Gdansk has had a troubled history. The Order of Teutonic Knights took it from the Poles in the 14th century and later lost it to the Prussians. In the 20th century, it lost its status as a free city when it was attacked and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1939. Its Lenin Shipyards were the birthplace of Solidarnosc (Solidarity) and thus of todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s democratic Poland. Almost the entire city was destroyed in World War II, but was restored to its former glory. The city is now a provincial capital at the mouth of the Wisla (Vistula) and Motlawa rivers and a commercial, industrial and scientific centre. The city has the largest Gothic church in Poland Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and possibly the largest brick building in the world Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the Church of the Virgin Mary (Kosciol Mariacki). The 17th-century Golden Gate and the Court of the Fraternity of St George can be viewed along the spectacular Royal Way, one of GdanskÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most historic streets. The National Art Museum has an excellent collection of Gothic art and sculpture. The beach resort at nearby Sopot has EuropeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s longest pier (500m/1640ft). Within easy reach are the forested Hel Peninsula, the Kashubian Lakeland, and the Teutonic castles at Malbork (Marienburg), Gniew and elsewhere. There is also a narrow-gauge railway that runs along the Vistula Spit offering an attractive way to see part of the Baltic coast.
Spread across the northeast is Mazuria, a huge, thinly populated area of lakes, dense forests and swamps. It is rich in wildlife, including wild bison and EuropeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s largest herd of elks, and offers every form of outdoor pursuit Ã¢â‚¬â€œ sailing, canoeing, camping Ã¢â‚¬â€œ even mushroom-picking. In the heart of the Mazurian forest, at Ketrzyn (Rastenburg), is the site of HitlerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬ËœEagleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s NestÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, the concrete bunker where members of his High Staff attempted to assassinate him in August 1944. The medieval walled town of Torun, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the banks of the River Wisla (Vistula) south of Gdansk, was the birthplace of the astronomer Copernicus (Mikolaj Kopernik). The most notable historic sites include St MaryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Church, St JohnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Church (where Copernicus was baptised); the striking Gothic Town Hall and the Granaries (which helped to make Torun a prosperous trade town). Important museums are the Town Museum with the wonderful stained glass for which the town was known, the Copernicus Museum, and the Ethnographic Museum. Szczecin, 60km (37 miles) upstream from the mouth of the River Oder, is the largest port on the Baltic Sea. Formerly known as Stettin, it was the capital of Pomerania and its sights include the Pomeranian princesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ 14th-century Palace and the 12th-century Cathedral. The city was largely rebuilt in the last century taking Paris as a model, and has a spacious feel to it with many wide, tree-lined boulevards. It is easy to escape the cities of the north for the beach resorts of the Pomeranian coast, such as Kolobrzeg (large and fashionable) or Leba (a quiet resort with a beach of fabulous white sand), or the beech woods and islands of the Wolin National Park. Slowinski National Park is known for its giant Ã¢â‚¬Ëœwandering sand dunesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ which can shift several meters each year.