Rynek Główny, Kraków
Photograph by Jon Hicks/CorbisCafé patrons enjoy a view of St. Mary’s Church across Kraków’s picturesque Rynek Główny, one of the largest public plazas in Europe. Dating to the 13th century and home to examples of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, the Old Town’s market square is a popular shopping and dining destination for locals and tourists.
St. Mary’s Façade, Gdańsk
Photograph by Dominique Steiner/Bilderberg/Aurora Photos
Viewed from the Main Town Hall, the Gothic façade of St. Mary’s—the world’s largest brick church—looms above neighboring buildings in Gdańsk, a thousand-year-old seaport on Poland’s Baltic coast that has been ruled in turns by Teutonic Knights, Prussians, Germans, and Poles.
Hikers, Tatra Mountains
Photograph by Karol Majewski, My Shot
Hikers in the Tatra Mountains climb a trail above the twin pools of Black Tarn and Sea Eye Tarn. The highest point in the Carpathians, the mountains lie in Poland and Slovakia and are distinguished by their high-altitude lakes and well-marked trails.
Photograph by Michael Drabik, My ShotYoung dancers in colorful folk dresses leave the stage after a performance in Poland. Steeped in history and ancient traditions, the country derives its name from the Polanie, or “plains people,” a Slavic group that settled in northern Europe before the birth of Christ.
Royal Wawel Cathedral, Kraków
Photograph by Guy Edwardes/Getty Images
Kraków’s Royal Wawel Castle and Cathedral is illuminated behind a World War II memorial by sculptor Bronisław Chromy. Perched on Wawel Hill, the 14th-century cathedral houses 18 chapels, as well as tombs, artifacts, and a library.
Tatra Mountain Range
Photograph by Jan Wlodarczyk/Photo Library
The Tatra Mountains, part of the Carpathian Mountain range, buffer the southern border of Central Europe’s largest country. North of the range, Poland is mostly low-lying, a vast plain with no natural protection to the east and west.
St. Mary’s Church, Kraków
Photograph by Qiu Tianshu, My ShotA starry, vaulted ceiling soars over the elaborately painted interior of St. Mary’s Church in Kraków, Poland’s old royal capital. The Gothic church was rebuilt on a foundation of ruins in the 14th century, when the nation was formed from a group of small principalities.
Art Gallery, Kraków
Photograph by Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images
Two women pause before a photo of the late Pope John Paul II at an open gallery in Kraków. Born Karol Wojtyła near the southern village of Ząb, the first Polish pope was revered in his home country, where more than 90 percent of the population is Roman Catholic.
Kosciuszko Mound, Kraków
Photograph by Henryk Kaiser/Aurora Photos
Visitors climb the Kosciuszko Mound, a 19th-century memorial raised in honor of Polish national hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko. A panorama of surrounding Kraków awaits those who reach the top.
Photograph by De Agostini Editore/Photo LibraryBuilt by knights of the Teutonic Order in the 13th century, massive Malbork Castle’s red brick and Gothic style make it unique among medieval castles in Europe. The fortress, located near Gdańsk, is now a museum with guided tours and exhibitions. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
Dunes, Słowiński National Park
Photograph by Iook Galeria/Aurora Photos
An expanse of rippled sand dunes resembles a desert landscape in Poland’s Słowiński National Park, a seaside reserve on the Baltic coast, about 71 miles (115 kilometers) from Gdańsk. In addition to the remarkable moving dunes, the ecologically diverse park includes forests, peat bogs, and marshes that are home to a variety of wildlife.
Photograph by Isabelle Eshraghi/Agence VU/Aurora
A sunbather relaxes on one of Poland’s many Baltic coast beaches. The country’s coastline stretches across much of its northern border, meeting Germany to the east and Russia’s Kaliningrad to the west, and includes the major port city of Gdańsk.
Folk Art Fair, Kraków
Photograph by Ashok Sinha/Getty Images
Vendors offer traditional Polish fare at a cultural event in Kraków. Polish specialties include kielbasa, a type of sausage, and various soups, dumplings, and pastries. The ingredients of Poland’s national dish, called bigos, may include cabbage, mushrooms, prunes, and an assortment of meats.
- Warsaw; 2,200,000
- 312,685 square kilometers (120,728 square miles)
- Roman Catholic
- Life Expectancy:
- GDP per Capita:
- U.S. $9,700
- Literacy Percent:
Poland Facts Flag
Buffered by the Baltic Sea in the north and the Carpathian Mountains in the south, Poland enjoys no such natural protection to the east and west. Nazi Germany invaded in 1939 and built the Auschwitz concentration camp, where 1.35 million Jews and more than 100,000 others were murdered. After World War II, Joseph Stalin seized a chunk of eastern Poland for the Soviet Union.
Communists took power in 1947 but did not win Poles away from Roman Catholicism. In 1980 soaring prices and tumbling wages spawned Solidarity, the Eastern bloc's first free-trade union. In 1989 Solidarity swept Poland's first free elections in more than 40 years and began moving the U.S.S.R.'s largest, most populous satellite toward democracy and free enterprise. It was the first Eastern European country to overthrow communist rule.
Faced with triple-digit inflation, Poland in 1990 introduced a bold economic reform plan. It developed a market-oriented economy and joined the European Union in 2004. Poland joined NATO in 1999, and it increased its profile on the international stage by joining the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq. A Polish-led international force, including 2,400 Polish troops, took over responsibility for south-central Iraq in September 2003.
- Industry: Machine building, iron and steel, coal mining, chemicals, shipbuilding
- Agriculture: Potatoes, fruits, vegetables, wheat; poultry
- Exports: Machinery and transport equipment, intermediate manufactured goods