Portal:Poland

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Panorama of Kraków, former capital of Poland

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Map of Poland

Poland is a country in Central Europe, bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast to the north. It is an ancient nation whose history as a state began near the middle of the 10th century. Its golden age occurred in the 16th century when it united with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to form the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the following century, the strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation. In a series of agreements in the late 18th century, Russia, Prussia and Austria partitioned Poland amongst themselves. It regained independence as the Second Polish Republic in the aftermath of World War I only to lose it again when it was occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. The nation lost over six million citizens in the war, following which it emerged as the communist People's Republic of Poland under strong Soviet influence within the Eastern Bloc. A westward border shift followed by forced population transfers after the war turned a once multiethnic country into a mostly homogeneous nation state. Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union called Solidarity (Solidarność) that over time became a political force which by 1990 had swept parliamentary elections and the presidency. A shock therapy program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. With its transformation to a democratic, market-oriented country largely completed, Poland is an increasingly active member of NATO and the European Union.

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From Polish history

Contour map of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth at its greatest extent in 1619 superimposed on present-day national borders
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a federal monarchy-republic formed by the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1569, and lasting until 1795. The Commonwealth was an extension of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, a dynastic union that had existed between the two nations since 1386. The Commonwealth was one of the largest and most populous states in Europe and for over two centuries successfully withstood aggressions from the Russians, the Ottomans and Sweden. It was notable for its political system, which was a precursor to modern democracy and federation; for its remarkable religious toleration; and for the second-oldest written national constitution in the world. Its economy was dominated by agriculture. While the Commonwealth's first century was a Golden Age for both Poland and Lithuania, the second century was marked by military defeats, a return to serfdom for the peasants, and growing anarchy in political life.
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Wawel Cathedral
Credit: Jan Mehlich

The Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Wenceslaus and Stanislaus on the Wawel Hill in Kraków is the spiritual heart of Poland. It was the site of royal coronations in the 14th–18th centuries and its crypts have been a burial place for Polish kings and queens, bishops of Kraków, saints, national heroes and greatest poets. The church is an amalgam of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles, and its golden-domed Sigismund's Chapel is considered a gem of Renaissance architecture.

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Carpathian newt (Lissotriton montandoni)

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Henryk Sienkiewicz
Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846–1916) was a Polish journalist, novelist and philanthropist, best remembered for his historical novels. Born into an impoverished Polish noble family in Russian-ruled Congress Poland, he began publishing journalistic and literary pieces in the late 1860s. In the late 1870s he explored the United States, sending back travel essays that won him popularity with Polish readers. He began serializing novels in the 1880s and soon became one of the most popular Polish writers of the turn of the century. Numerous translations gained him international renown, culminating in his receipt of the 1905 Nobel Prize in Literature for his "outstanding merits as an epic writer." In Poland he is best known for his Trilogy of historical novels — With Fire and Sword, The Deluge and Sir Michael — set in the 17th-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, while he is mostly remembered abroad for Quo Vadis, a novel set in Nero's Rome. Several of his works have been filmed, some more then once, with the 1951 Hollywood adaptation of Quo Vadis receiving most international recognition.
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Medieval port crane in Gdańsk

Gdańsk is Poland's principal seaport located in the Kashubian region on the Baltic Sea. Together with the spa town of Sopot and the industrial city of Gdynia, it forms a conurbation known as Trójmiasto ("Tricity"). It has a complex political history with long spells of Polish rule interspersed with periods of German control and two spells as a free city. As an important port and shipbuilding center, the picturesque city was a member of the Hanseatic League. For much of its history the majority of its inhabitants were German speakers who referred to their city as Danzig, but after World War II it became firmly Polish. Gdańsk is the birthplace of the Solidarity movement which, led by Lech Wałęsa, played a role in bringing down the communist rule across Central Europe.

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