Warsaw, known in Polish as Warszawa ([varˈʂava] ( listen) (also [varˈʃava]); see also other names), is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly 260 kilometres (160 mi) from the Baltic Sea and 300 kilometres (190 mi) from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population is estimated at 1,708,491 residents within a greater metropolitan area of 2,666,278 residents, making Warsaw the 9th most populous city proper in the European Union. The area of the city covers 516.9 square kilometres (199.6 sq mi), while the city’s agglomeration covers 6,100.43 square kilometres (2,355.39 sq mi).
Warsaw is an Alpha- global city, a major international tourist destination and an important economic hub in Central Europe. It is also known as the «phoenix city» because it has survived many wars throughout its history. Most notably, the city had to be painstakingly rebuilt after the extensive damage it suffered from World War II, during which 85% of its buildings were destroyed. On 9 November 1940 the city was awarded Poland’s highest military decoration for heroism, the Virtuti Militari, for the Siege of Warsaw (1939).
Warsaw is the source for naming entities such as Warsaw Confederation, the Warsaw Pact, the Duchy of Warsaw, the Warsaw Convention, the Treaty of Warsaw, the Warsaw Uprising, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The Warszawianka is widely considered the unofficial anthem of the city.
The first fortified settlements on the site of today’s Warsaw were Bródno (9th/10th century) and Jazdów (12th/13th century). After Jazdów was raided, a new similar settlement was established on the site of a small fishing village called Warszowa. The Płock prince Bolesław II of Masovia, established this settlement, the modern Warsaw, about 1300. In the beginning of the 14th century it became one of the seats of the Dukes of Masovia, becoming the capital of Masovia in 1413. 14th-century Warsaw’s economy rested on crafts and trade. Upon the extinction of the local ducal line, the duchy was reincorporated into the Polish Crown in 1526.
16th to 18th centuries
In 1529 Warsaw for the first time became the seat of the General Sejm, permanent 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 of the Polish Crown, in 1596, when King Sigismund III Vasa moved the court from Kraków to Warsaw.
In the following years the town expanded towards the suburbs. Several private independent districts were established, the property of aristocrats and the gentry, which were ruled by their own laws. Three times between 1655–1658 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 contributions. Warsaw turned into an early-capitalistic principal city.
Stanisław August Poniatowski, who remodelled the interior of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, also made Warsaw a centre of culture and the arts. This earned Warsaw the name of the Paris of the east.
19th and 20th centuries
Warsaw remained the capital of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1795, when it was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia to become the capital of the province of South Prussia. 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 the Congress Poland, a constitutional monarchy under a personal union with Imperial Russia. The Royal University of Warsaw was established in 1816.
German airship Schütte Lanz SL2 bombing Warsaw in 1914
Following the repeated violations of the Polish constitution by the Russians, the 1830 November Uprising broke out. However, 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 the Russian rule over Poland was fired upon by the Russian troops. Five people were killed. The Underground Polish National Government resided in Warsaw during January Uprising in 1863–64.
Warsaw 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 works.
“ The history of contemporary civilisation knows no event of greater importance than the Battle of Warsaw, 1920, and none of which the significance is less appreciated. ”
—Sir Edgar Vincent d’Abernon[dead link]
The Russian Empire Census of 1897 recorded 626,000 people living in Warsaw, making it the third-largest city of the Empire after St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Warsaw was occupied by Germany from the 4 August 1915 until 1918. It then became the capital of the newly independent Poland in 1918. 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 by itself the full brunt of the Red Army and defeated an idea of the «export of the revolution».
World War II
Sea of rubble – over eight out of every ten buildings in Warsaw were destroyed by the end of World War II. In left centre can be seen ruins of Old Town Market Square.
During World War II, 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 – herded into the Warsaw Ghetto. The city would become the center 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.
Warsaw Uprising was a struggle by the Polish Home Army to liberate Warsaw from German occupation before the Red Army could take it over.
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, went on for 63 days. Stalin gave orders to his troops to wait outside of Warsaw. 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 Warsaw 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 entered the ruins of Warsaw, and liberated Warsaw’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 bombing, the revolts, the fighting, and the demolition had ended, most of Warsaw lay in ruins.
After the war, under a Communist regime set up by the conquering Soviets, large prefabricated housing projects were erected in Warsaw to address the housing shortage, along with other typical buildings of an Eastern Bloc city, such as the Palace of Culture and Science. The city 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, Warsaw’s 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 fervor there. In 1979, less than a year after becoming pope, John Paul celebrated Mass in Victory Square in Warsaw 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 the democratic changes.
In 1995, the Warsaw Metro opened. With the entry of Poland into the European Union in 2004, Warsaw is currently experiencing the biggest economic boom of its history. The opening fixture of UEFA Euro 2012 took place in Warsaw, a game in which the co-hosts Poland, drew 1-1 with Greece.