Poland has long suffered from the vicissitudes of war as its geographical location on the flat northern European Plain means that it has acted as a thoroughfare for great armies of Europe. From Swedish invasions from the north to Napoleonic armies from the west, the Grand Duchy, and later Kingdom of Poland, never benefited from great periods of peace.
After the ravages of World War II, Poland has thrown off the yoke of Communism and while proudly retaining its rich folkloric traditions, is once more emerging as a dynamic country on the world stage and as a member of the European Union.
The old town of Warsaw, surrounded by its mediaeval walls, evolved during the 13th and 14th centuries around the Castle of the Mazovian Princes as an alternative capital to Krakow. Despite the destruction inflicted by invading armies, its mediaeval urban layout has survived. The most recent occupation by the Soviets followed the almost complete destruction of the city of Warsaw by World War II bombing raids. Warsaw was painstakingly reconstructed from mediaeval plans utilising the detailed paintings of the Italian artist Canaletto. Experience major icons such as the Royal Castle, the Wilanow Palace and the many aspects of the old town, and learn about Poland’s greatest cultural hero, the composer Chopin.
From Warsaw you can visit Chopin’s birthplace at Zelazowa Wola and the Folklore Museum of the Mazovian country at Skansen in Sierpc before a visit to Torun. Here Nicolaus Copernicus postulated that the earth and planets rotate around the sun. Torun’s buildings were not affected during World War II and the city remains an excellent example of mediaeval architecture.
Gdansk is a dynamic port and one of the finest cities in northern Europe. As part of its turbulent history it was taken over by the Teutonic Knights, became a Hanseatic League city, was part of the kingdom of Poland and then taken over by Prussia. It was here that the first shots of World War II were fired, and it is in the dockyards of Gdansk, that the Solidarity movement which freed Poland from the yoke of Communism was born.
Explore the Old Town; learn of its important maritime heritage; view the Gdansk Crane; experience St Mary’s – Europe’s largest mediaeval brick-built church; Great Mill – one of medieval Europe’s most significant industrial buildings; and learn of the events at the Polish Post Office where in 1939 German troops attacked the Polish Postal Administration, an event which was regarded as the start of World War II.
Take some time to visit Malbork, where you can learn about the Teutonic Knights – a German crusading Order – who established their capital in the huge fortified monastic castle of Malbork in the 13th century.
This land of “1000” lakes demonstrates the natural beauty of North-Eastern Poland. Listed by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve, these lakes are the largest in Poland. They are surrounded by largely unspoiled countryside providing rambling tracks, cruises and scenic roads winding amongst the lakes.
Considered by many as Poland’s winter capital, Zakopane is a quintessential mountain resort with strong folkloric traditions and many wooden houses and churches reflecting local architecture. The Tatra National Park is listed by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve to protect its natural unique landforms. The Tatras are on the Polish side of the Carpathian Mountains, which form the border with Slovakia.
The fascinating city of Krakow, with its fine market square and Mediaeval Cloth Hall, is picturesquely set overlooking the River Vistula and has a history reaching back over a thousand years with a whole host of Mediaeval Renaissance and Baroque architecture. This former capital of Poland is often regarded as the looking glass on Polish tradition and is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage City. It is a rich cultural city with many fine monuments including the mighty Wawel Castle – the former royal residence – with its fascinating cathedral together with St Catherine’s Church in the city’s old Jewish Quarter, featured in “Schindler’s List”.
Experience the icons of the city including the Royal Castle, Cathedral and St Mary’s Basilica, and take the time to visit the fascinating old salt mines at Wieliczka and experience some of the darker side of Polish history with a visit to the concentration camp of Auschwitz.
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