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Poland

Poland is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions, covering an area of 312,696 square kilometres (120,733 sq mi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate.

With a population of approximately 38.5 million people, Poland is the sixth most populous member state of the European Union. Poland’s capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk and Szczecin.

The establishment of the Polish state can be traced back to A.D. 966, when Mieszko I, ruler of the realm coextensive with the territory of present-day Poland, converted to Christianity.

The Kingdom of Poland was founded in 1025, and in 1569 it cemented its longstanding political association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by signing the Union of Lublin.

This union formed the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the largest (about 1 million km2) and most populous countries of 16th and 17th century Europe, with a uniquely liberal political system which adopted Europe’s first written national constitution, the Constitution of 3 May 1791.

More than a century after the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century, Poland regained its independence in 1918 with the Treaty of Versailles.

In September 1939, World War II started with the invasion of Poland by Germany, followed by the Soviet Union invading Poland in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

More than six million Polish citizens perished in the war. In 1947, the Polish People’s Republic was established as a satellite state under Soviet influence.

In the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1989, most notably through the emergence of the Solidarity movement, the sovereign state of Poland reestablished itself as a presidential democratic republic.

Poland is a developed market and regional power. It has the eighth largest and one of the most dynamic economies in the European Union, simultaneously achieving a very high rank on the Human Development Index.

Additionally, the Polish Stock Exchange in Warsaw is the largest and most important in Central Europe. Poland is a developed country, which maintains a high-income economy along with very high standards of living, life quality, safety, education and economic freedom.

Poland has a developed school educational system. The country provides free university education, state-funded social security and a universal health care system for all citizens.

Poland has 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 14 of which are cultural.

Poland is a member state of the European Union, the Schengen Area, the United Nations, NATO, the OECD, the Three Seas Initiative, and the Visegrád Group.

The Name of Poland

The origin of the name “Poland” derives from the West Slavic tribe of Polans (Polanie) that inhabited the Warta river basin of the historic Greater Poland region starting in the 6th century. The origin of the name “Polanie” itself derives from the early Slavic word “pole” (field).

In some languages, such as Hungarian, Lithuanian, Persian and Turkish, the exonym for Poland is Lechites (Lechici), which derives from the name of a semi-legendary ruler of Polans Lech I.

Early Bronze Age in Poland begun around 2400 BC, while the Iron Age commenced in approximately 750 BC. During this time, the Lusatian culture, spanning both the Bronze and Iron Ages, became particularly prominent.

The most famous archaeological find from the prehistory and protohistory of Poland is the Biskupin fortified settlement (now reconstructed as an open-air museum), dating from the Lusatian culture of the early Iron Age, around 700 BC.

History of Poland

Throughout the Antiquity period, many distinct ancient ethnic groups populated the regions of what is now Poland in an era that dates from about 400 BC to 500 AD.

These groups are identified as Celtic, Sarmatian, Slavic, Baltic, and Germanic tribes. Also, recent archaeological findings in the Kujawy region confirmed the presence of the Roman Legions on the territory of Poland.

These were most likely expeditionary missions sent out to protect the amber trade. The exact time and routes of the original migration and settlement of Slavic peoples lacks written records and can only be defined as fragmented.

The Slavic tribes who would form Poland migrated to these areas in the second half of the 5th century AD. Up until the creation of Mieszko’s state and his subsequent conversion to Christianity in 966 AD, the main religion of Slavic tribes that inhabited the geographical area of present-day Poland was Slavic paganism.

With the Baptism of Poland, the Polish rulers accepted Christianity and the religious authority of the Roman Church. However, the transition from paganism was not a smooth and instantaneous process for the rest of the population as evident from the pagan reaction of the 1030s.

Piast Dynasty

Poland began to form into a recognizable unitary and territorial entity around the middle of the 10th century under the Piast dynasty.

Poland’s first historically documented ruler, Mieszko I, accepted Christianity with the Baptism of Poland in 966, as the new official religion of his subjects.

The bulk of the population converted in the course of the next few centuries.

In 1000, Boleslaw the Brave, continuing the policy of his father Mieszko, held a Congress of Gniezno and created the metropolis of Gniezno and the dioceses of Kraków, Kołobrzeg, and Wrocław.

However, the pagan unrest led to the transfer of the capital to Kraków in 1038 by Casimir I the Restorer.

In 1109, Prince Bolesław III Wrymouth defeated the King of Germany Henry V at the Battle of Hundsfeld, stopping the German march into Poland.
The significance of the event was documented by Gallus Anonymus in his 1118 chronicle.

In 1138, Poland fragmented into several smaller duchies when Bolesław divided his lands among his sons.

In 1226, Konrad I of Masovia, one of the regional Piast dukes, invited the Teutonic Knights to help him fight the Baltic Prussian pagans; a decision that led to centuries of warfare with the Knights.

In 1264, the Statute of Kalisz or the General Charter of Jewish Liberties introduced numerous right for the Jews in Poland, leading to a nearly autonomous “nation within a nation”.

In the middle of the 13th century, the Silesian branch of the Piast dynasty (Henry I the Bearded and Henry II the Pious, ruled 1238–41) nearly succeeded in uniting the Polish lands, but the Mongols invaded the country from the east and defeated the combined Polish forces at the Battle of Legnica where Duke Henry II the Pious died.

In 1320, after a number of earlier unsuccessful attempts by regional rulers at uniting the Polish dukedoms, Władysław I consolidated his power, took the throne and became the first king of a reunified Poland.

His son, Casimir III (reigned 1333–70), has a reputation as one of the greatest Polish kings and gained wide recognition for improving the country’s infrastructure.

He also extended royal protection to Jews and encouraged their immigration to Poland.

Casimir III realized that the nation needed a class of educated people, especially lawyers, who could codify the country’s laws and administer the courts and offices.

His efforts to create an institution of higher learning in Poland were finally rewarded when Pope Urban V granted him permission to open the University of Kraków.

The Golden Liberty of the nobles began to develop under Casimir’s rule, when in return for their military support, the king made a series of concessions to the nobility and establishing their legal status as superior to that of the townsmen. When Casimir the Great died in 1370, leaving no legitimate male heir, the Piast dynasty came to an end.

Time of insurrections

Poles rebelled several times against the partitioners, particularly near the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century.

An unsuccessful attempt at defending Poland’s sovereignty took place in 1794 during the Kościuszko Uprising, where a popular and distinguished general Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who had several years earlier served under Washington in the American Revolutionary War, led Polish insurrectionists against numerically superior Russian forces.

Despite the victory at the Battle of Racławice, his ultimate defeat ended Poland’s independent existence for 123 years.

In 1807, Napoleon I of France temporarily recreated a Polish state as the satellite Duchy of Warsaw, after a successful Greater Poland Uprising of 1806 against Prussian rule.

But, after the failed Napoleonic Wars, Poland was again split between the victorious powers at the Congress of Vienna of 1815.

The eastern part was ruled by the Russian tsar as Congress Poland, which had a very liberal constitution.

However, over time the Russian monarch reduced Polish freedoms, and Russia annexed the country in virtually all but name.

Meanwhile, the Prussian controlled territory of Poland came under increased Germanization.

Thus, in the 19th century, only Austrian-ruled Galicia, and particularly the Free City of Kraków, allowed free Polish culture to flourish.

Throughout the period of the partitions, political and cultural repression of the Polish nation led to the organisation of a number of uprisings against the authorities of the occupying Russian, Prussian and Austrian governments.

In 1830, the November Uprising began in Warsaw when, led by Lieutenant Piotr Wysocki, young non-commissioned officers at the Officer Cadet School in Warsaw revolted.

They were joined by large segments of Polish society, and together forced Warsaw’s Russian garrison to withdraw north of the city.

Over the course of the next seven months, Polish forces successfully defeated the Russian armies of Field Marshal Hans Karl von Diebitsch and a number of other Russian commanders; however, finding themselves in a position unsupported by any other foreign powers, save distant France and the newborn United States, and with Prussia and Austria refusing to allow the import of military supplies through their territories, the Poles accepted that the uprising was doomed to failure.

Upon the surrender of Warsaw to General Ivan Paskievich, many Polish troops, feeling they could not go on, withdrew into Prussia and there laid down their arms.

After the defeat, the semi-independent Congress Poland lost its constitution, army and legislative assembly, and was integrated more closely with the Russian Empire.

During the Spring of Nations (a series of revolutions which swept across Europe), Poles took up arms in the Greater Poland Uprising of 1848 to resist Prussian rule. Initially, the uprising manifested itself in the form of civil disobedience but eventually turned into an armed struggle when the Prussian military was sent in to pacify the region.

Eventually, after several battles, the uprising was suppressed by the Prussians, and the Grand Duchy of Posen was more completely incorporated into Prussia.

In 1863, a new Polish uprising against Russian rule began. The January Uprising started out as a spontaneous protest by young Poles against conscription into the Imperial Russian Army.

However, the insurrectionists, despite being joined by high-ranking Polish-Lithuanian officers and numerous politicians, were still severely outnumbered and lacking in foreign support.

They were forced to resort to guerrilla warfare tactics and failed to win any major military victories. Afterwards, no major uprising was witnessed in the Russian-controlled Congress Poland, and Poles resorted instead to fostering economic and cultural self-improvement.

Despite the political unrest experienced during the partitions, Poland did benefit from large-scale industrialisation and modernisation programs, instituted by the occupying powers, which helped it develop into a more economically coherent and viable entity.

This was particularly true in Greater Poland, Silesia and Eastern Pomerania controlled by Prussia (later becoming a part of the German Empire); areas which eventually, thanks largely to the Greater Poland Uprising of 1918 and Silesian Uprisings, were reconstituted as a part of the Second Polish Republic, becoming the country’s most prosperous regions.

During World War I, all the Allies agreed on the reconstitution of Poland that United States President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed in Point 13 of his Fourteen Points.

A total of 2 million Polish troops fought with the armies of the three occupying powers, and 450,000 died. Shortly after the armistice with Germany in November 1918, Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic (II Rzeczpospolita Polska).

It reaffirmed its independence after a series of military conflicts, the most notable being the Polish-Soviet War (1919–21) when Poland inflicted a crushing defeat on the Red Army at the Battle of Warsaw, an event which is considered to have halted the advance of Communism into Europe and forced Vladimir Lenin to rethink his objective of achieving global socialism. The event is often referred to as the “Miracle at the Vistula”.

During this period, Poland successfully managed to fuse the territories of the three former partitioning powers into a cohesive nation-state.

Railways were restructured to direct traffic towards Warsaw instead of the former imperial capitals, a new network of national roads was gradually built up and a major seaport was opened on the Baltic Coast, so as to allow Polish exports and imports to bypass the politically charged the Free City of Danzig.

The inter-war period heralded in a new era of Polish politics. Whilst Polish political activists had faced heavy censorship in the decades up until the First World War, the country now found itself trying to establish a new political tradition.

For this reason, many exiled Polish activists, such as Ignacy Paderewski (who would later become prime minister) returned home to help; a significant number of them then went on to take key positions in the newly formed political and governmental structures.

Tragedy struck in 1922 when Gabriel Narutowicz, inaugural holder of the presidency, was assassinated at the Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw by painter and right-wing nationalist Eligiusz Niewiadomski.

In 1926, a May coup, led by the hero of the Polish independence campaign Marshal Józef Piłsudski, turned rule of the Second Polish Republic over to the nonpartisan Sanacja (Healing) movement in an effort to prevent radical political organizations on both the left and the right from destabilizing the country.

The movement functioned integrally until Piłsudski’s death in 1935. Following Marshall Piłsudski’s death, Sanation split into several competing factions.

By the late 1930s, Poland’s government had become increasingly rigid; with a number of radical political parties that threatened the stability of the country such as the Communist Party of Poland banned.

As a subsequent result of the Munich Agreement in 1938, Czechoslovakia ceded to Poland the small 350 sq mi Zaolzie region.

The area was a point of contention between the Polish and Czechoslovak governments in the past and the two countries fought a brief seven-day war over it in 1919.

The formal beginning of World War II was marked by the Nazi German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, followed by the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September. On 28 September 1939 Warsaw capitulated.

As agreed earlier in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Poland was split into two zones, one occupied by Nazi Germany, the other, including all of Kresy, fell under the control of the Soviet Union. In 1939–41, the Soviets deported hundreds of thousands of Poles to distant parts of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet NKVD secretly executed thousands of Polish prisoners of war (inter alia Katyn massacre) ahead of the Operation Barbarossa.
German planners had in November 1939 called for “the complete destruction” of all Poles and their fate, as well as many other Slavs, was outlined in genocidal Generalplan Ost.
Poland made the fourth-largest troop contribution in Europe and its troops served both the Polish Government in Exile in the west and Soviet leadership in the east.
In the west, the Polish expeditionary corps played an important role in the Italian and North African Campaigns and are particularly remembered for the Battle of Monte Cassino.
In the east, the Soviet-backed Polish 1st Army distinguished itself in the battles for Warsaw and Berlin.

Polish servicemen were also active in the theatres of naval and air warfare; during the Battle of Britain Polish squadrons such as the No. 303 “Kościuszko” fighter squadron achieved considerable success, and by the end of the war, the exiled Polish Air Forces could claim 769 confirmed kills.

Meanwhile, the Polish Navy was active in the protection of convoys in the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

The domestic underground resistance movement, the Armia Krajowa (Home Army), fought against German occupation.

The wartime resistance movement in Poland was one of the three largest resistance movements of the entire war and encompassed an unusually broad range of clandestine activities, which functioned as an underground state complete with degree-awarding universities and a court system.

The resistance was loyal to the exiled government and generally resented the idea of a communist Poland; for this reason, in the summer of 1944, they initiated Operation Tempest, of which the Warsaw Uprising that began on 1 August 1944 was the best-known operation.

The objective of the uprising was to drive the German occupiers from the city and help with the larger fight against Germany and the Axis powers.

Secondary motives were to see Warsaw liberated before the Soviets could reach the capital, so as to underscore Polish sovereignty by empowering the Polish Underground State before the Soviet-backed Polish Committee of National Liberation could assume control.

A lack of Allied support and Stalin’s reluctance to allow the 1st Army to help their fellow countrymen take the city led to the uprising’s failure and subsequent planned destruction of the city.

German forces under direct order from Adolf Hitler set up six extermination camps, all of which operated in the heart of Poland.

They included Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz. The Germans transported the condemned Jews from the Third Reich and across occupied Europe to murder them in the death camps set up in the Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany.

Germany killed 2.9 million Polish Jews and 2.8 million ethnic Poles including Polish academics, doctors, lawyers, nobility, priests and numerous others. It is estimated that, of pre-war Poland’s Jewry, approximately 90% were killed.

Throughout the occupation, many members of the Armia Krajowa, supported by the Polish government in exile, and millions of ordinary Poles – at great risk to themselves and their families – engaged in rescuing Jews from the Nazi Germans.

Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the largest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. To date, 6,620 Poles have been awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel–more than any other nation.

Some estimates put the number of Poles involved in rescue efforts at up to 3 million, and credit Poles with sheltering up to 450,000 Jews.

Around 150,000 Polish civilians were killed by Soviet Communists between 1939 and 1941 during the Soviet Union’s occupation of eastern Poland (Kresy), and another estimated 100,000 Poles were killed by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in the regions of Wołyń and Eastern Galicia between 1943 and 1944 in what became known as the Wołyń Massacres.

The massacres were part of a vicious ethnic cleansing campaign waged by Ukrainian nationalists against the local Polish population in the German-occupied territories of eastern Poland.

At the war’s conclusion, in 1945 Poland’s borders were shifted westwards, resulting in considerable territorial losses. Over 2 million Polish inhabitants of Kresy were expelled along with the Curzon Line in accordance with Stalin’s agreements.

The western border was moved to the Oder-Neisse line. As a result, Poland’s territory was reduced by 20%, or 77,500 square kilometres (29,900 sq mi).

The shift forced the migration of millions of other people, most of whom were Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, and Jews.

Of all the countries involved in the war, Poland lost the highest percentage of its citizens: over 6 million perished – nearly one-fifth of Poland’s population – half of them Polish Jews.

Over 90% of deaths were non-military in nature. Population numbers did not recover until the 1970s.

At the insistence of Joseph Stalin, the Yalta Conference sanctioned the formation of a new provisional pro-Communist coalition government in Moscow, which ignored the Polish government-in-exile based in London; a move which angered many Poles who considered it a betrayal by the Allies.

In 1944, Stalin had made guarantees to Churchill and Roosevelt that he would maintain Poland’s sovereignty and allow democratic elections to take place.

However, upon achieving victory in 1945, the elections organized by the occupying Soviet authorities were falsified and were used to provide a veneer of ‘legitimacy’ for Soviet hegemony over Polish affairs.

The Soviet Union instituted a new communist government in Poland, analogous to much of the rest of the Eastern Bloc.

As elsewhere in Communist Europe the Soviet occupation of Poland met with armed resistance from the outset which continued into the fifties.

Despite widespread objections, the new Polish government accepted the Soviet annexation of the pre-war eastern regions of Poland (in particular the cities of Wilno and Lwów) and agreed to the permanent garrisoning of Red Army units on Poland’s territory.

Military alignment within the Warsaw Pact throughout the Cold War came about as a direct result of this change in Poland’s political culture and in the European scene came to characterise the full-fledged integration of Poland into the brotherhood of communist nations.

The People’s Republic of Poland (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) was officially proclaimed in 1952.

In 1956, after the death of Bolesław Bierut, the régime of Władysław Gomułka became temporarily more liberal, freeing many people from prison and expanding some personal freedoms. Collectivization in the Polish People’s Republic failed.

A similar situation repeated itself in the 1970s under Edward Gierek, but most of the time persecution of anti-communist opposition groups persisted.
Despite this, Poland was at the time considered to be one of the least oppressive states of the Soviet Bloc.

Labour turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union “Solidarity” (“Solidarność”), which over time became a political force.

Despite persecution and imposition of martial law in 1981, it eroded the dominance of the Polish United Workers’ Party and by 1989 had triumphed in Poland’s first partially free and democratic parliamentary elections since the end of the Second World War. Lech Wałęsa, a Solidarity candidate, eventually won the presidency in 1990.

The Solidarity movement heralded the collapse of communist regimes and parties across Europe.

The 1990s To Present

A shock therapy programme, initiated by Leszek Balcerowicz in the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its socialist-style planned economy into a market economy.

As with other post-communist countries, Poland suffered slumps in social and economic standards, but it became the first post-communist country to reach its pre-1989 GDP levels, which it achieved by 1995 largely thanks to its booming economy.

Most visibly, there were numerous improvements in human rights, such as freedom of speech, internet freedom (no censorship), civil liberties (1st class) and political rights (1st class), as ranked by Freedom House non-governmental organization. In 1991, Poland became a member of the Visegrád Group and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance in 1999 along with the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Poles then voted to join the European Union in a referendum in June 2003, with Poland becoming a full member on 1 May 2004.

Poland joined the Schengen Area in 2007, as a result of which, the country’s borders with other member states of the European Union have been dismantled, allowing for full freedom of movement within most of the EU.

In contrast to this, a section of Poland’s eastern border now constitutes the external EU border with Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
That border has become increasingly well protected and has led in part to the coining of the phrase ‘Fortress Europe’, in reference to the seeming ‘impossibility’ of gaining entry to the EU for citizens of the former Soviet Union.

In an effort to strengthen military cooperation with its neighbours, Poland set up the Visegrád Battlegroup with Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, with a total of 3,000 troops ready for deployment.

Also, in east Poland created the LITPOLUKRBRIG battle groups with Lithuania and Ukraine.

These battle groups will operate outside of NATO and within the European defence initiative framework.

On 10 April 2010, the President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczyński, along with 89 other high-ranking Polish officials died in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russia.

The president’s party was on their way to attend an annual service of commemoration for the victims of the Katyń massacre when the tragedy took place.

In 2011, the Presidency of the Council of the European Union responsible for the functioning of the Council was awarded to Poland.

The same year parliamentary elections took place in both the Senate and the Sejm. They were won by the ruling Civic Platform.

Poland joined European Space Agency in 2012, as well as organised the UEFA Euro 2012 (along with Ukraine).

In 2013, Poland also became a member of the Development Assistance Committee. In 2014, the Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, was chosen to be President of the European Council and resigned as prime minister.

The 2015 elections were won by the opposition Law and Justice Party (PiS).

Poland’s territory extends across several geographical regions, between latitudes 49° and 55° N, and longitudes 14° and 25° E.

In the north-west is the Baltic seacoast, which extends from the Bay of Pomerania to the Gulf of Gdańsk.

This coast is marked by several spits, coastal lakes (former bays that have been cut off from the sea), and dunes.

The largely straight coastline is indented by the Szczecin Lagoon, the Bay of Puck, and the Vistula Lagoon.

The centre and parts of the north of the country lie within the North European Plain. Rising above these lowlands is a geographical region comprising four hilly districts of moraines and moraine-dammed lakes formed during and after the Pleistocene ice age.

These lake districts are the Pomeranian Lake District, the Greater Polish Lake District, the Kashubian Lake District, and the Masurian Lake District.

The Masurian Lake District is the largest of the four and covers much of north-eastern Poland.

The lake districts form part of the Baltic Ridge, a series of moraine belts along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea.

South of the Northern European Plain are the regions of Lusatia, Silesia and Masovia, which are marked by broad ice-age river valleys.

Farther south is a mountainous region, including the Sudetes, the Kraków-Częstochowa Uplands, the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, and the Carpathian Mountains, including the Beskids.

The highest part of the Carpathians is the Tatra Mountains, along Poland’s southern border.

The geological structure of Poland has been shaped by the continental collision of Europe and Africa over the past 60 million years and, more recently, by the Quaternary glaciations of northern Europe. Both processes shaped the Sudetes and the Carpathian Mountains.

The moraine landscape of northern Poland contains soils made up mostly of sand or loam, while the ice age river valleys of the south often contain loess.

The Polish Jura, the Pieniny, and the Western Tatras consist of limestone, while the High Tatras, the Beskids, and the Karkonosze are made up mainly of granite and basalts.

The Polish Jura Chain has some of the oldest rock formations on the continent of Europe.

Poland has 70 mountains over 2,000 metres (6,600 feet) in elevation, all in the Tatras. The Polish Tatras, which consist of the High Tatras and the Western Tatras, is the highest mountain group of Poland and of the entire Carpathian range.

In the High Tatras lies Poland’s highest point, the north-western summit of Rysy, 2,499 metres (8,199 ft) in elevation.

At its foot lie the mountain lakes of Czarny Staw pod Rysami (Black Lake below Mount Rysy) and Morskie Oko (the Marine Eye).

The second highest mountain group in Poland is the Beskids, whose highest peak is Babia Góra, at 1,725 metres (5,659 ft).

The next highest mountain groups are the Karkonosze in the Sudetes, the highest point of which is Śnieżka at 1,603 metres (5,259 ft), and the Śnieżnik Mountains, the highest point of which is Śnieżnik at 1,425 metres (4,675 ft).

Other notable uplands include the Table Mountains, which are noted for their interesting rock formations, the Bieszczady Mountains in the far southeast of the country, in which the highest Polish peak is Tarnica at 1,346 metres (4,416 ft), the Gorce Mountains in Gorce National Park, whose highest point is Turbacz at 1,310 metres (4,298 ft), the Pieniny in Pieniny National Park, the highest point of which is Wysokie Skałki (Wysoka) at 1,050 metres (3,445 ft), and the Świętokrzyskie Mountains in Świętokrzyski National Park, which have two similarly high peaks: Łysica at 612 metres (2,008 ft) and Łysa Góra at 593 metres (1,946 ft).

The lowest point in Poland – at 1.8 metres (5.9 ft) below sea level – is at Raczki Elbląskie, near Elbląg in the Vistula Delta.

In the Zagłębie Dąbrowskie (the Coal Fields of Dąbrowa) region in the Silesian Voivodeship in southern Poland is an area of sparsely vegetated sand known as the Błędów Desert.

It covers an area of 32 square kilometres (12 sq mi). It is not a natural desert but results from human activity from the Middle Ages onwards.

The Baltic Sea activity in Słowiński National Park created sand dunes which in the course of time separated the bay from the sea creating two lakes.
As waves and wind carry sand inland the dunes slowly move, at a rate of 3 to 10 metres (9.8 to 32.8 ft) per year.

Some dunes reach the height of up to 30 metres (98 ft). The highest peak of the park is Rowokol (115 metres or 377 feet above sea level).