Overview

Called Warszawa in Polish, this city of about 1,615,000 (2001) inhabitants, is the capital of the nation of Poland and of Mazowieckie province in central Poland. Sitting astride the Vistula River, the city is said to have been founded by two children, Wars and Sawa, who were said to have had the event predicted by a mermaid. The city's coat of arms reflect that story and Warsaw's history of strife, showing a mermaid with sword and shield, though that emblem was only adopted in the middle of the eighteenth century from the original siren emblem. The city's motto is “Contemnit procellas” (“It defies the storms”), which more than accurately reflects the history and resiliency of the the Polish people of Warsaw. Indeed, having weathered numerous wars, conquests and even being leveled, the city has managed to somehow survive and be rebuilt each time.

Today Warsaw is a center of politics, culture and transportation for Poland and among the great cities of Eastern Europe and Europe itself. Among the many industries of the city are steel, machinery, chemicals, food products and textiles, as well as a rapidly growing tourism industry. Notable buildings include the Holy Cross Church, the St. Carmelite Church, which dates from the 15th century, the Palace of Culture and monuments to Nicolaus Copernicus and Adam Mickiewicz. As well, the city's old district was miraculously rebuilt following World War II and even after being razed to the ground, still contains a 14th century style market and 14th century cathedral. Among the institutes of higher education in Warsaw are the University of Warsaw, which was founded in 1818, and the Polish Academy of Sciences.

History of Warsaw

The city of Warsaw is only about 700 years old and a young city by the standards of some it neighbors, including Krakow and Gdansk which are hundreds of years older as far as their recorded histories go. The first known settlement in the area of Warsaw can be dated to about the 10th century AD, but the village remained just that until the 14th century, when the Dukes of Mazovia built a stronghold in the village, which became the first large building of note in Warsaw. The stronghold itself is now replaced by the Royal Palace of Poland and no longer stands as it once was. By 1413, the Dukes of Mazovia had made Warsaw their capital and the city experienced a great period of growth and development. The walls that had sprung up around the town during the previous century now failed to contain the entire population, as a new town rose up to the north.

When the Duke of Mazovia died without a heir in 1526, the entirety of the Duchy fell into the hands of the Polish crown itself, which then ruled from the city of Krakow. With the union of Poland and Lithuania, Warsaw found itself in geographical central position in the realm of Poland. The Polish Parliament (Sejm) would itself move to Warsaw in 1569 and the royal election are recorded in Warsaw as early as 1573, but still the king himself ruled from Krakow in the southwest. It would not be until a fire swept through the royal palace of King Zygmunt III in Krakow, in the year 1596, that Warsaw became the royal capital of Poland as well, though the king's desire to expand his power in the Baltic area, also led to the decision. The first war with Sweden, between 1655 and 1660, saw King Charles X, of Sweden, occupy the city from 1655 – 1656, during which the city saw massive damage. And though it would again fall to Swedish forces, this time under King Charles XII, in 1702, the city would survive to experience massive growth throughout the centuries.

But Poland would not long survive this period and Warsaw found itself under Russian rule in 1792 and 1794, after which it passed into Prussian rule (1795) and was reduced to a backwater town in the mighty Prussian confederacy. It would not stay that way for long though, as following the movements of Napoleon throughout Eastern Europe and by the French Emperor's decree, the city would find itself part of the newly created Duchy of Warsaw. Though the duchy; maintained a sizable army, large enough that they added more than 100,000 troops to Napoleon's invasion of Russia and almost bankrupt themselves in doing so, and controlled more than four million people, the Duchy of Warsaw would not survive Napoleon's empire and fell to Russian forces by 1830. Though the Congress of Vienna made some small mention of Polish self-determination, the city would remain in Russian hands for almost another century.

The city did grow during this time and shortly before World War I it contained about 700,000 citizens. In 1915, German forces took the city, but it was liberated by Polish partisans in November of 1918. Following the reclamation of Warsaw, the city again became the capital of the nation of Poland. It was not through with its difficulties yet though and the city was forced into a historic defense of the city, under the French general Maxime Weygand, during the Russo-Polish War. Though the city's successful repulsing of the Russian forces had turned the tide of the war, the struggles were still not over. In 1926, Marshal Joseph Pilsudski would declare his rule in a military coup of Warsaw. Though the city endured the turmoil and even managed to undertake a large scale development project, through which it had risen to over 1,300,000 people by the end of the 1930s, what would come with the German invasion of 1939 would make it all for naught. Warsaw managed to hold out against the Germans until September 27th, 1939, but eventually it fell to the overwhelming forces that Hitler's Germany could bring upon the city.

To start, the Jewish population of Warsaw found itself forced to live in the squalor of the ghettos and many of those who managed to survive the starvation and massive outbreaks of diseases in the Nazi inflicted squalor would later die in the massive German death camps in Poland. When the Germans decided to clear the ghetto in February, 1943, the Jewish people trapped there fought to their last and the Germans killed an estimated 40,000 Jewish citizens in reprisal. Indeed by the time the Soviet forces liberated the city, it was said that less than 200 Jewish people were left alive within its boundaries.

Though not near as bad as the ghetto, the non-Jewish citizens of Warsaw found the Nazi fist to be heavy also. Intellectuals of all types found their lives threatened and many of the city's citizens where shipped off to concentration or work camps. It would only take a spark to alight the city against the German conquerors now and when the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) rose up against the Germans in August of 1944, the city had determined to fight to the bitter end. But Warsaw would not receive any assistance from the nearby Soviet army and after 63 days of fighting, the resistance collapsed and the Germans were back in control of Warsaw. During the fighting more than 200,000 citizens of Warsaw had died, but the city was not at the end of its sad story. Following the end of the fighting, the Germans moved all citizens out of the city and razed it completely; the city of Warsaw had been destroyed.

Though more than 800,000 of its citizens had been killed during World War II, the shell that was Warsaw was liberated by the Soviet forces on January 17th, 1945. Almost immediately people returned to the city and began to rebuild. Warsaw was lovingly rebuilt piece by piece, so that many of the new structures looked exactly how they had before the Germans had destroyed the city. Again Warsaw became the capitol of the Polish nation, but it was also again really under the dominion of a greater power. For the Polish people ruled themselves in name only, the true power was from Moscow and Joseph Stalin. Among the new buildings in the city following the war was the Palace of Culture, which was granted by Russia as a reminder of Russian dominance, or more specifically, Stalin's dominance over the city. One can but suspect that Stalin understood what the courageous resistance, by Warsaw, during World War II meant and what type of threat that willingness to resist implied. Also in 1955, the Warsaw Pact which established the Warsaw Treaty Organization was ratified in the city.

Following the Solidarity movement under Lech Walesa and the crumbling power of the Soviet Union, the Polish people found themselves holding free election again in 1989. Though the communist party of Poland had tried to maintain power via military action for almost the entire 80s, these elections spelled the end of the line for the communist Poland. The new government immediately began to transform Poland and Warsaw itself, by instituting many reforms, both political and economic. And though the Warsaw of today is still trying to catch up with the much of the developed world, the city has made great leaps forward in just the last 15 years.



Sources
http://www.warsaw1.net/warsaw-basic.htm
http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/world/A0861861.html
http://www.staypoland.com/realestate/warsaw/history.htm
Warsaw. (2006). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 30, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9108778
http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/Slavonic/staff/PolishHistory.html

War"saw (?), n. Zool. (a)

The black grouper (Epinephelus nigritus) of the southern coasts of the United States.

(b)

The jewfish; -- called also guasa.

 

© Webster 1913.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.