November 25, 2012 9:43 pm

Poland lies at the heart of Europe. This land of low plains has long provided a route between eastern Europe and western Europe, and between northern Europe and southern Europe. As a result, Poland has been invaded many times.
Facts About Poland
Official name
Republic of Poland
Official language
38,500,000 people
Rank among countries in population
Major cities
Warsaw, Lodz, Krakow
121,000 square miles
313,000 square kilometers
Rank among countries in area
Highest point
Mount Rysy
8,199 feet/2,499 meters
Poland’s history goes back 1,000 years. During that time, the country’s size and shape changed many times as a result of wars. Poland has even been chopped up and given away to other countries. For more than 100 years, from 1797 to 1918, there was no Poland. Germany, Austria, and Russia each had part of the country.
Poland became a country again in 1918, but not for long. In 1939, German tanks rolled into Poland. Germany’s invasion of Poland started World War II (1939-1945). Germany and the Soviet Union (Russia) soon divided Poland between them.
After World War II ended in 1945, Poland regained its independence. But the Soviet Union controlled what Poland did. It made sure Poland had a communist government. Poland finally became an independent democracy in the early 1990s.
Much of Poland consists of low, rolling plains. Poland’s name comes from its first settlers, the Polanie or “plains dwellers.” Forests of spruce and pine trees cover about a quarter of the land. Mountains rise in southern Poland. The countryside has many farms.
The Baltic Sea borders Poland to the north. Resorts and beautiful beaches line the Baltic coast. Thousands of lakes dot the land near the coast. The coast and the lakes are popular vacation places. Ships come and go from ports on the Baltic Sea.
Many of Poland’s towns and cities date back to early times. If you visit Poland, you’ll see a mixture of old and new. The towns and cities have picturesque historic buildings as well as modern skyscrapers and factories.
Warsaw is the capital of Poland and its largest city. Warsaw sits near the middle of Poland, on the banks of the Wisla River. The city has a castle and many palaces and museums. Poland was a kingdom for many years, and its king and queen lived at the royal castle.
Polish composer Frederick Chopin was born near Warsaw in 1810 and studied music in the city. Scientist Marie Curie was born in Warsaw in 1867. Chopin and Curie were both Polish patriots, but they moved to France. There was no Poland when they left. They and other Polish patriots hoped that the French army would help win back Poland. This did not happen.
Warsaw was a beautiful city before World War II. During the war, most of Warsaw was destroyed. The Polish people rebuilt the city after the war. The Old Town section, in the center of Warsaw, looks much like it did before the war. The rest of the city has modern buildings.
Krakow is one of the Poland’s oldest cities. It contains many historic buildings. The most famous is a cathedral built in the 1350s. The kings of Poland were crowned there.
Krakow has long been a center of learning. Astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus studied in Krakow. The city’s most famous citizen is probably Pope John Paul II. The pope heads the Roman Catholic Church. Before becoming pope, John Paul had been archbishop of Krakow. In 1978, he became the first Polish pope ever.
Gdansk is a port city on the Baltic Sea. Much of the city looks as it did hundreds of years ago. Narrow streets wind past old houses with carved stone balconies.
Gdansk is also important because a movement to end communist control of Poland began here. During the 1970s, Polish workers in Gdansk began to protest against the government. They joined together in a group called Solidarity. It was led by Lech Walesa, a shipyard worker.
After a long struggle, Solidarity forced Poland’s government to hold elections. In 1990, Walesa was elected president of Poland. Poland got a new constitution in 1997. It guaranteed freedoms for the Polish people.
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