Warsaw is the capital city of Poland. The metropolis stands on the Vistula River in east-central Poland and its population is estimated at 1.765 million residents within a greater metropolitan area of 3.1 million residents, which makes Warsaw the 8th most-populous capital city in the European Union.
Warsaw city limits cover 516.9 square kilometres (199.6 sq mi), while the metropolitan area covers 6,100.43 square kilometres (2,355.39 sq mi).
Warsaw is an alpha global city, a major international tourist destination, and a significant cultural, political and economic hub.
Warsaw’s historic Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Once described as the Paris of the East, Warsaw was believed to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world until World War II.
Bombed at the start of the German invasion in 1939, the city withstood a siege for which it was later awarded Poland’s highest military decoration for heroism, the Virtuti Militari.
Deportations of the Jewish population to concentration camps led to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 and the destruction of the Ghetto after a month of combat.
A general Warsaw Uprising between August and October 1944 led to even greater devastation and systematic razing by the Germans in advance of the Vistula–Oder Offensive.
Warsaw gained the new title of Phoenix City because of its extensive history and complete reconstruction after World War II, which had left over 85% of its buildings in ruins.
Warsaw is one of Europe’s most dynamic metropolitan cities.
In 2012 the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Warsaw as the 32nd most liveable city in the world.
In 2017 Warsaw came 4th in the “Business-friendly” category and 8th in “Human capital and lifestyle”.
Warsaw was also ranked as one of the most liveable cities in Central and Eastern Europe.
The city is a significant centre of research and development, Business process outsourcing, Information technology outsourcing, as well as of the Polish media industry.
The Warsaw Stock Exchange is the largest and most important in Central and Eastern Europe.
Frontex, the European Union agency for external border security as well as ODIHR, one of the principal institutions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have their headquarters in Warsaw.
Together with Frankfurt, London and Paris, Warsaw is also one of the cities with the highest number of skyscrapers in the European Union.
Warsaw is the seat of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra, University of Warsaw, the Warsaw Polytechnic, the National Museum, the Great Theatre—National Opera, the largest of its kind in the world, and the Zachęta National Gallery of Art.
The picturesque Old Town of Warsaw, which represents examples of nearly every European architectural style and historical period, was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.
Other main architectural attractions include the Castle Square with the Royal Castle and the iconic King Sigismund’s Column, the Wilanów Palace, the Łazienki Palace, St. John’s Cathedral, Main Market Square, palaces, churches and mansions all displaying a richness of colour and detail.
Warsaw is renowned for its bars, restaurants, art galleries and, most notably, several dozen museums and outspread greenery, with around a quarter of the city’s area occupied by parks.
Warsaw’s name in the Polish language is Warszawa (also formerly spelled Warszewa and Warszowa).
Other previous spellings of the name may have included Worszewa and Werszewa.According to some sources, the origin of the name is unknown.
Originally, Warszawa was the name of a fishing village.
According to one theory, Warszawa means “belonging to Warsz”, Warsz being a shortened form of the masculine name of Slavic origin Warcisław.
However the ending -awa is unusual for a big city; the names of Polish cities derived from personal names usually ending in -ów/owo/ew/ewo (e.g. Piotrków, Adamów) while the -av- in the early name of Wrocław is part of a personal name.
Folk etymology attributes the city name to a fisherman, Wars, and his wife, Sawa. According to legend, Sawa was a mermaid living in the Vistula River with whom Wars fell in love.
In actuality, Warsz was a 12th/13th-century nobleman who owned a village located at the modern-day site of the Mariensztat neighbourhood.
The official name of the city in full is Miasto stołeczne Warszawa (“The Capital City of Warsaw”).
A native or resident of Warsaw is known as a Varsovian – in Polish warszawiak, warszawianin (male), warszawianka (female), warszawiacy, and warszawianie (plural).
Other names for the Polish capital include Varsovia (Latin, Spanish) and Varsóvia (Portuguese), Varsovie (French), Varsavia (Italian), Warschau (German, Dutch), װאַרשע /Varshe (Yiddish), Varšuva (Lithuanian), and Varsó (Hungarian).
History of the Polish capital city
The first settlements on the site of today’s Warsaw were located in Bródno (9th/10th century) and Jazdów (12th/13th century).
After Jazdów was raided by nearby clans and dukes, a new similar settlement was established on the site of a small fishing village called Warszowa.
The Prince of Płock, Bolesław II of Masovia, established this settlement, the modern-day Warsaw, in about 1300.
At the beginning of the 14th century, it became one of the seats of the Dukes of Masovia, becoming the official capital of the Masovian Duchy in 1413.
14th-century Warsaw’s economy rested on mostly crafts and trade.
Upon the extinction of the local ducal line, the duchy was reincorporated into the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland in 1526.
In 1529, Warsaw for the first time became the seat of the General Sejm, permanently from 1569.
In 1573 the city gave its name to the Warsaw Confederation, formally establishing religious freedom in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Due to its central location between the Commonwealth’s capitals of Kraków and Vilnius, Warsaw became the capital of the Commonwealth and the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland when King Sigismund III Vasa moved his court from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596.
In the following years, the town expanded towards the suburbs. Several private independent districts were established—the property of aristocrats and the gentry, which they ruled by their own laws.
Three times between 1655 and 1658 the city was under siege, and three times it was taken and pillaged by the Swedish, Brandenburgian and Transylvanian forces.
In 1700, the Great Northern War broke out. The city was besieged several times and was obliged to pay heavy tribute.
The Polish capital turned into an early-capitalist city. The reign of Augustus II and Augustus III was a time of development for the city.
The Saxon monarchs brought many renowned German architects, who rebuilt the city in a style similar to Dresden.
In 1747 the Załuski Library was established, the first Polish public library and the largest at the time.
Stanisław II Augustus, who remodelled the interior of the Royal Castle, also made Warsaw a centre of culture and the arts.
He extended the Royal Baths Park and ordered the construction or refurbishment of numerous palaces, mansions and richly-decorated tenements.
This earned Warsaw the nickname Paris of the East.
Warsaw remained the capital of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1795 when it was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia in the third and final partition of Poland it subsequently became the capital of the province of South Prussia.
The 19th and 20th Century Warsaw
Liberated by Napoleon’s army in 1806, Warsaw was made the capital of the newly created Duchy of Warsaw.
Following the Congress of Vienna of 1815, Warsaw became the centre of Congress Poland, a constitutional monarchy under a personal union with Imperial Russia.
The Royal University of Warsaw was established in 1816.
Following repeated violations of the Polish constitution by the Russians, the 1830 November uprising broke out.
But the Polish-Russian war of 1831 ended in the uprising’s defeat and in the curtailment of the Kingdom’s autonomy.
On 27 February 1861, a Warsaw crowd protesting against Russian rule over Poland was fired upon by Russian troops. Five people were killed.
The Underground Polish National Government resided in Warsaw during the January Uprising in 1863–64.
The Polish capital flourished in the late 19th century under Mayor Sokrates Starynkiewicz (1875–92), a Russian-born general appointed by Tsar Alexander III.
Under Starynkiewicz Warsaw saw its first water and sewer systems designed and built by the English engineer William Lindley and his son, William Heerlein Lindley, as well as the expansion and modernisation of trams, street lighting, and gas infrastructure.
The Russian Empire Census of 1897 recorded 626,000 people living in the Polish capital, making it the third-largest city of the Empire after St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Warsaw was occupied by Germany from 4 August 1915 until November 1918.
The Allied Armistice terms required in Article 12 that Germany withdraw from areas controlled by Russia in 1914, which included Warsaw.
Germany did so, and underground leader Piłsudski returned to Warsaw on 11 November and set up what became the Second Polish Republic, with Warsaw as the capital.
In the course of the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920, the huge Battle of Warsaw was fought on the eastern outskirts of the city in which the capital was successfully defended and the Red Army defeated.
Poland stopped the full brunt of the Red Army by itself and defeated the idea of the “export of the revolution”.
The Średnicowy Bridge was constructed for a railway (1921–1931), connecting both parts of the city. Warszawa Główna railway station (1932–1939) was unfinished and destroyed during WWII.
Stefan Starzyński was the Mayor of the Polish capital from 1934–1939; he was murdered by the Nazis in December 1939.
After the German Invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 started the Second World War, Warsaw was defended until 27 September.
Central Poland, including Warsaw, came under the rule of the General Government, a German Nazi colonial administration.
All higher education institutions were immediately closed and Warsaw’s entire Jewish population – several hundred thousand, some 30% of the city – were herded into the Warsaw Ghetto.
The Polish capital would become the centre of urban resistance to Nazi rule in occupied Europe.
When the order came to annihilate the ghetto as part of Hitler’s “Final Solution” on 19 April 1943, Jewish fighters launched the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Despite being heavily outgunned and outnumbered, the Ghetto held out for almost a month.
When the fighting ended, almost all survivors were massacred, with only a few managing to escape or hide.
By July 1944, the Red Army was deep into Polish territory and pursuing the Germans toward Warsaw.
Knowing that Stalin was hostile to the idea of an independent Poland, the Polish government-in-exile in London gave orders to the underground Home Army (AK) to try to seize control of Warsaw from the Germans before the Red Army arrived.
Thus, on 1 August 1944, as the Red Army was nearing the city, the Warsaw uprising began.
The armed struggle, planned to last 48 hours, was partially successful, however, it went on for 63 days.
Eventually, the Home Army fighters and civilians assisting them were forced to capitulate.
They were transported to PoW camps in Germany, while the entire civilian population was expelled.
Polish civilian deaths are estimated at between 150,000 and 200,000.
The Germans then razed the Polish capital to the ground. Hitler, ignoring the agreed terms of the capitulation, ordered the entire city to be razed to the ground and the library and museum collections taken to Germany or burned.
Monuments and government buildings were blown up by special German troops known as Verbrennungs- und Vernichtungskommando (“Burning and Destruction Detachments”).
About 85% of the city had been destroyed, including the historic Old Town and the Royal Castle.
On 17 January 1945 – after the beginning of the Vistula–Oder Offensive of the Red Army – Soviet troops and Polish troops of the First Polish Army entered the ruins of the capital and liberated the city’s suburbs from German occupation.
The city was swiftly taken by the Soviet Army, which rapidly advanced towards Łódź, as German forces regrouped at a more westward position.
In 1945, after the bombings, revolts, fighting, and demolition had ended, most of the capital lay in ruins.
After World War II, under a Communist regime set up by the conquering Soviets, the “Bricks for Warsaw” campaign was initiated, and large prefabricated housing projects were erected in the Polish capital to address the housing shortage, along with other typical buildings of an Eastern Bloc city, such as the Palace of Culture and Science, a “gift” from the Soviet Union.
Warsaw resumed its role as the capital of Poland and the country’s centre of political and economic life.
Many of the historic streets, buildings, and churches were restored to their original form. In 1980, the historic Old Town was inscribed onto UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
John Paul II’s visits to his native country in 1979 and 1983 brought support to the budding “Solidarity” movement and encouraged the growing anti-communist fervour there.
In 1979, less than a year after becoming pope, John Paul celebrated Mass in Victory Square in the Polish capital and ended his sermon with a call to “renew the face” of Poland: Let Thy Spirit descend! Let Thy Spirit descend and renew the face of the land! This land!
These words were very meaningful for the Polish citizens who understood them as the incentive for liberal-democratic reforms.
In 1995, the city Metro opened with a single line. A second line was opened in March 2015.
With the entry of Poland into the European Union in 2004, Warsaw is currently experiencing the largest economic boom of its history.
The opening fixture of UEFA Euro 2012 took place in Warsaw, a game in which Poland drew 1–1 with Greece.
The Polish capital was the host city for the 2013 United Nations Climate Change Conference and for the 2016 NATO Summit.
The Polish capital’s climate is humid continental with cold, snowy, cloudy winters and warm, sunny, stormy summers.
Spring and autumn can be unpredictable, highly prone to sudden weather changes; however, temperatures are usually mild and with low humidity, especially around May and September.
The average temperature ranges between −1.8 °C (29 °F) in January and 19.2 °C (66.6 °F) in July. The mean year temperature is 8.5 °C (47.3 °F).
Temperatures may often reach 30 °C (86 °F) in the summer, although the effects of hot weather are usually offset by relatively low dew points and large diurnal temperature differences.
The Polish capital is Europe’s fourth driest capital, with yearly rainfall averaging 529 millimetres (20.8 in), the wettest month being July.