Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Warsaw (Polish: Warszawa) is the capital of Poland and its largest city. It is located on the Vistula river roughly 350 km from both the Baltic coast and the Carpathian Mountains. Its population as of 2003 was estimated at 2,269,000. The city, also the capital of Masovian Voivodship, is home to many industries (manufacturing, steel, electrical engineering, automotive industry), higher learning institutons (Warsaw University, Politechnical School, Higher School of Business, Medical Academy, etc), a philharmonic orchestra, the National Theatre and Opera.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Sights
3 Coat of Arms
4 Administrative districts
5 See also
6 Alternative meanings of Warsaw


Warsaw was a little fishing village in the 13th century. In time, it became one of the seats of the Dukes of Mazovia. Upon the extinction of the ducal line, the duchy was incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland in 1526. In 1572, Warsaw gave its name to the Warsaw Confederacy, an agreement by the Polish Gentry to tolerate different religious faiths in the Kingdom of Poland. Due to its central location in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Warsaw became the capital of Poland in 1596, when King Sigismund III (Vasa) moved the capital from Krakow. Warsaw remained the capital of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1795, when it was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia, to become the capital of the Province New East Prussia. Liberated by Napoleon's army in 1807, it was made the capital of the newly created Duchy of Warsaw. Following the decisions of the Congress of Vienna 1815, Warsaw became the center of the Polish Kingdom, a consitutional monarchy under a personal union with Imperial Russia. Following repeated violations of the Polish constitution by the Russians, the 1830 November Uprising broke out. However, the Polish-Russian war 1831 ended in the defeat of the uprising and the curtailment of the autonomy of the Kingdom. On February 27, 1861 a crowd in Warsaw protesting Russian rule over Poland was fired upon by Russian troops killing five protesters. Warsaw become the capital of newly independent Poland again in 1918.

Warsaw is notable among Europe's capital cities not for its size, its age, or its beauty but for its indestructibility. It is a phoenix that has risen repeatedly from the ashes. Having suffered dreadful damage during the Swedish and Prussian wars of 1655-56, it was again assaulted in 1794, when the Russian army massacred the population of the right-bank suburb of Praga. Its most remarkable act of survival, though, was its rebirth following almost complete destruction during the Second World War.

The Second World War began when Germany invaded western Poland on 1 September 1939. On 17th September, eastern Poland was invaded by the USSR. Poland capitulated after 6 weeks fighting. Western Poland was incorporated into the German Reich, eastern Poland into the USSR while central Poland, including Warsaw, became part of a German-occupied military zone, the General Government.

Warsaw became an occupied city under the control of the Nazi SS. Under Nazi theory, both Poles and Jews were regarded as subhuman and devoid of human rights. All higher education institutions were closed (since subhumans needed no education) and Warsaw's entire Jewish population -- several hundred thousand, some 40% of the city -- herded into the Warsaw ghetto. When the order came to liquidate the Ghetto as part of Hitlers "final solution", Jewish fighters launched the Ghetto Uprising. Despite being heavily outgunned and outnumbered, the Ghetto held out for almost a month. When it ended, the survivors were massacred.

During 1943 and 1944 the tide of the war changed as the USSR, which had been at war with Germany since 1941, inflicted several severe defeats on the German army. By July 1944 the Soviets were deep into Polish territory and pursuing the Germans towards Warsaw. Knowing that Stalin was hostile to the idea of an independent Poland, the Polish government-in-exile (based in London) gave orders to the underground Home Army (AK) to try and seize control of Warsaw from the Nazis just before the Soviets arrive. Thus on August 1, 1944, as the Soviet army entered the right-bank of the city, the Home Army and the general population started the Warsaw uprising. Despite Stalin's hostility towards Poland, they had expected that Soviet troops would assist them against their common German enemy.

Instead, the Soviet army sat and watched as the Germans ruthlessly suppressed the uprising. Although the insurgency, planned to last 48 hours, held out for 63 days, eventually the Home Army fighters were forced to capitulate. They were transported to POW camps in Germany while the entire civilian population was expelled. Hitler then ordered the entire city to be rased to the ground. When the Russians finally entered the city, 85% of the buildings had been destroyed include the historic Old Town and the Royal Castle. Surviving Home Army fighters were rounded up by the NKVD (Soviet secret police) and either killed or deported to Siberia.

After the war, Boleslaw Bierut's puppet regime, set up by Stalin, made Warsaw the capital of communist Poland, and the city was resettled and rebuilt. A lot of plattenbaus can be found in Warsaw. Few of the inhabitants of pre-war Poland returned: hundreds of thousands were dead, thousands more in exile from the new regime. Nonetheless, the city resumed its role as the capital of Poland and the country's centre of social, political, economic, scientific and cultural life. Many of the historic streets, buildings, and churches were restored to their original form. In 1980, the historic Old Town of Warsaw was inscribed onto UNESCO's World Heritage list.

Historical population

1700: 30,000 (The biggest Polish city of those times were Gdansk 70,000)
1792: 120,000
1800: 63,400
1830: 139,700
1850: 163,600
1882: 383,000
1900: 686,000
1925: 1,003,000
1960: 1,139,200
1970: 1,315,600
1975: 1,436,100
1980: 1,596,100
1990: 1,611,800
2003: 2,269,000


Coat of Arms

Since the second half of the 18th century, the Warsaw Coat of Arms (originally a siren) has been a mermaid with sword and shield in hand, representing the creature who in legend led a prince to the site of Warsaw and ordered him to found the city. The city's motto is, appropriately, "Contemnit procellas" ("It defies the storms").

The city colours are yellow and red, arranged as two stripes on a flag - yellow on top and red on the bottom.

Administrative districts

Warsaw is divided in 18 distinct entities with their own administrative bodies

See also

Alternative meanings of Warsaw

This page is about the city Warsaw in Poland. There are also: