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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old Nov 18th, 2006, 01:18 AM Thread Starter
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Information about Poland?

Hi, I have a work to make about Poland in english at school, if there are some Polish here if you have a little bit of time to write, could you just tell me any interesting information about your country, traditional food, customs, popular Polish artist or what's the major religion in Poland or anything like that.

Thanks a lot lot lot in advance
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old Nov 18th, 2006, 03:58 AM
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Re: Information about Poland?

When in doubt, check Wikipedia:



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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old Nov 20th, 2006, 11:10 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Information about Poland?

Originally Posted by quasar View Post
When in doubt, check Wikipedia:


Thanks you!

As I see, Polish doesn't have a only 2 minutes for peoples who would like to know them
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old Nov 20th, 2006, 11:20 PM
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Re: Information about Poland?

Proto-Slavonic origins

The earliest signs of human activity in the basins of the Vistula and Oder date back to about 100 thousand BC. Neanderthal hunters crossed the area, especially present-day southern Poland. The earliest settlements of Homo Sapiens in Poland go back to the Mesolithic Age (8 thousand - 5.5 thousand BC). These settlements were established by migrant peoples belonging to the Danubian Basin Culture.
With time (partly due to incursions by warrior tribes from Asia), the inhabitants of the present-day territories of Poland began to organise themselves into larger social groups

Excavated settlement at Biskupin

and establish fortified strongholds. An example of this type of construction can be found in Biskupin (8th century BC), an island settlement surrounded by palisades, which had a population of around 1,000 -1,200 people.
Later, from the 6th century BC onwards, Poland became the target of raids by Scythian and Sarmatian tribes from the east, and Celtic and Germanic tribes from the west. Often the invaders would assimilate with the indigenous inhabitants and settle in the conquered territories. Alongside the destruction, these invasions also brought the achievements of the civilised world and encouraged trade - the earliest traces of the "Amber Road", a trade route linking the Baltic Sea with Rome and the Mediterranean basin, date back to the 5th century BC.


Poland has a moderate climate with both maritime and continental elements. This is due to humid Atlantic air which collides over its territory with dry air from the Eurasian interior. As a result, the weather tends to be capricious and the seasons may look quite different in consecutive years. This is particularly true for winters, which are either wet, of the oceanic type, or - less often - sunny, of the continental type. Generally, in north and west Poland the climate is predominantly maritime, with gentle, humid winters and cool, rainy summers, while the eastern part of the country has distinctly continental climate with harsh winters and hotter, drier summers.
Generally, Poland receives all kinds of air masses typical of the northern hemisphere. This results in a variable climate and considerable problems with weather forecasting. Poland's climate is also characterized by substantial weather changes in consecutive years, caused by disturbances in the pattern of main air masses coming to the country. Summer may be hot and dry a few times in a row and then it becomes cool and wet. This phenomenon tends to happen in several-year cycles.
Poland's climate is also strongly influenced by the lowland topography of this part of Europe, stretching from France to Ukraine. Not stopped by any natural barriers, air masses move quickly from the Atlantic or North Sea. Another factor is the country's location, far from vast water bodies (the Atlantic Ocean) and close to extensive land areas (Eurasia). The Baltic Sea is a major contributor to the climate of north Poland while the southern part of the country is also affected by the Black Sea.

Winds: the sea breeze and the halny
The main pressure systems that affect the weather are the Icelandic low (stronger in winter) and the Azores anticyclone (more active in summer) as well as the changing atmospheric fronts from Asia: the East Asian high in winter and the South Asian low in summer. For a major part of the year Poland has predominantly west circulation of winds, caused by the eastward movement of barometric lows from the Atlantic. As a result, on 60 percent of all windy days the winds are from the west, blowing mainly from the area stretching between the Czech Republic and Scandinavia. In the eastern part of the country, the percentage of easterly winds is higher, while in the mountains, southerly winds occur more frequently.
The wind pattern is not uniform throughout the year. In summer months, that is from July to September, the winds are mainly westerly, whereas in winter, notably in December and January, easterly winds prevail. In the transitory seasons, both winds occur roughly with the same frequency.
The winds in Poland are typically weak to moderate, their speed ranging from 2 to 10 m/s. Strong and very strong winds occur at the seaside, causing storms, and in the mountains, where their speed may exceed 30 m/s. Hurricanes that uproot trees and blow off roofs are rather unusual.
With its diversified topography, Poland also has local winds. Along the Baltic coast, on a cloudless summer day you can experience a pleasant, invigorating sea breeze which occurs during the day and is felt about 10km inland. At night its direction reverses: the air moves from the cooler land towards the warmer sea, causing the land breeze.
In the mountains, there are mountain-valley winds. The best-known one is the halny, which blows in the Tatras and has been the subject of many poems and paintings. This kind of wind is not unique to Poland, though; it occurs in all mountains around the world and is called the föhn.
The halny is strong and gusty and its effects are higher temperature and lower air humidity on the leeward slopes. It develops when moving air is stopped by a mountain range and forced to rise. The halny is a nuisance for people as it lowers their mental and physical fitness and makes them irritable. It is strong enough to break trees, sometimes over large areas, blow off roofs and knock over fences. In winter it causes sudden thaws leading to floods.

Cloudiness and precipitation
A visible effect of the collisions of air masses above Poland is cloudiness. The number of cloudy days is between 60 and 70 percent, which is relatively high. The most cloudy regions are the lake districts in the north and the Sudetes; the least cloudy are Wielkopolska and the Silesian Lowland. The average number of cloudy days a year, with the sky more than 80% overcast, is 120-160; for sunny days, with cloudiness below 20%, it is 30-50.
The heaviest precipitation in Poland was recorded in June 1973 in the Tatra's Hala Gasienicowa. During one rain as much as 30cm of water fell. With Poland's predominantly westerly winds, the highest precipitation occurs on western slopes of mountains and hills. In the Carpathians and Sudetes, the annual precipitation is 800-1400mm. In the lowlands and uplands, it ranges between 400mm and 750mm. Similar levels are recorded in the Pomeranian and Masurian lake districts. This is caused by the proximity of the Baltic Sea, from which humid sea air flows east. The lowest precipitation occurs in the eastern part of Wielkopolska and in Kujawy, a region lying in the rain shadow of the Pomeranian Lake District.

Occasionally, Poland witnesses extraordinary precipitation. In 1901, when winds brought dust from Sahara, a black-brown rain fell. 71 years later the same phenomenon was responsible for orange snow in Zakopane. The maximum precipitation is in summer. At this time of the year it is on average 2-3 times higher than in winter (in the Carpathians, as much as four times higher). The smallest seasonal differences are recorded in the coastal lowlands.
Winter comes to Poland from the north-east. The average annual number of days with snowfall is 30-40 in the country's western and central part, and over 50 days in the north-east. It snows for 120 days a year in the Karkonosze and for 145 days in the Tatras. Snow stays the longest in the mountains (up to 200 days) and in north-west Poland (90-120 days). The western part of the country has the fewest days with snow cover (40-50).

Temperature: heat and frost
The average annual temperature in Poland ranges from 5-7*C in the hilly Pomeranian and Masurian lake districts and in the uplands to 8-10*C in the belt of the sub-Carpathian basins, the Silesian Lowland and the Wielkopolska Lowland. Only in the upper parts of the Carpathians and Sudetes is it about 0*C (Kasprowy Wierch, -0.8*C; Mt Sniezka, -0.4*C).
The hottest month is July with the average temperature standing at 16-19*C. The coldest area in July is the mountains, where the air temperature drops as the altitude increases (on average by 0.6*C for every 100 metres). In the summit areas of the Tatras and Sudetes, the average air temperature in July is just about 9*C. July is also cooler in areas adjacent to the Baltic (about 16*C), which is caused by the cold sea waters. The hottest area is central Poland, with the temperatures exceeding 18*C.
Hot days, when the temperature exceeds 25*C, occur from May to September. Their number increases the further you go from the sea. On average, there are only five such days at the Rozewie Cape and over 40 in the Sandomierz Basin and Lublin Upland.
The coldest month in Poland is January. Cold continental air flowing in from the east in January makes the eastern part of Poland one of the coldest areas in the country.
Sub-zero temperatures are recorded between November and March. The average annual number of frosty days ranges from about 25 along the lower Odra River and at the seaside to 65 in the Suwalki Lake District; in the mountains, it reaches 132 days on Mt Sniezka and 150 days on Kasprowy Wierch. The number of freeze days, typically in late spring and early autumn, ranges in the lowlands from 90 (at the seaside) to 130, while in the mountains it exceeds 200.
Varying air temperatures affect the length of the vegetation season, during which the average daily air temperature is at least 5*C. On average the vegetation season in Poland lasts about 200 days. It is the shortest in the mountains, in the eastern part of the Pomeranian Lake District and in the Masurian and Suwalki lake districts. It is the longest in the Silesian Lowland and along the lower Odra. The lowest temperatures ever recorded in Poland were -41*C in Siedlce (in 1940) and -40.6 *C in the Zywiec Basin (in 1929). The highest temperature, +40.2*C, was recorded in Pruszkow near Opole in 1921.

Poland has as many as six distinct seasons. Apart from the four typical European seasons, there are also two periods described as early spring (przedwiosnie) and early winter (przedzimie). The seasons hardly conform to the calendar pattern. During the przedwiosnie, which is about a month long, the average daily air temperature ranges from 0*C to 5*C. Spring in Poland lasts usually about 60 days and comes from the west. The daily temperature at that time ranges from 5*C to 15*C. This is also when the vegetation season begins in Poland.
The summer, with temperatures above 20*C, begins in May and is about four months long. In autumn, the average temperature drops to between 5*C and 15*C. Almost every year, mid September sees the coming of Polish "Indian summer", which is a warm and sunny transition between summer and autumn. Leaves start to fall off the trees, but you can still feel the wafts of warmth.
Once the trees have lost all their leaves and the days are markedly shorter, przedzimie begins. Temperatures drop below 5*C. After about six weeks, winter comes and the frosts don't want to go away for a long time - until late February or early March, and even then przedwiosnie can be felt only in Pomerania and west Poland. The highlanders have to wait for it until mid March, while in the north east early spring arrives another two weeks later.
The seasons are of different length in every geographical region. For instance, summer in north Poland lasts about 2.5 months, while in the south east, centre and south west of the country it is over three months long. Winter length ranges from two months at the seaside and in the west to 3-4 months in the north east and even six months in the Tatras.
This climatic calendar is more complicated, though, as there are plenty of anomalies which make another distinctive feature of Poland's climate. There are many proverbs about the unpredictable weather, especially in March and April. Przedwiosnie may arrive as early as at the beginning of February and, conversely, it can sometimes snow even in September. In January 1982 the air temperature in Wloclawek dropped overnight from 8*C to -20*C, the record drop since temperatures started to be officially recorded in Poland. On 8 January 1994 the temperature in Cracow's centre stood at 17.3*C.

Over the last thousand years, Poland's climate has undergone substantial changes. For insstance, as late as in the 12th century grapes were grown in many regions. That was when the climate was the mildest. Today, even in Zielona Gora, once noted for its vineyards, you can see just one small plantation maintained for decorative purposes.

The hottest and coldest areas
The hottest part of Poland is the Silesian Lowland, strongly influenced by the Atlantic air. An important factor is also the region's location close to higher-lying areas that stop clouds and moisture, which results in high insolation. The thermal winter period here is only about 60 days long and winters are relatively mild, while summers are sunny and hot, lasting over 100 days, which puts them among the longest in Poland. Average temperature in July exceeds 18.5*C. The highest temperatures are recorded near Wroclaw, on the Wroclaw Plain. This is the only area in Poland where the annual average temperature is over 8.5**C. Because of this mild climate, the Silesian Lowland has one of the longest vegetation seasons in the country, lasting 220 days.
The coldest spot is the north-eastern corner around Suwalki. With its morainal hills, postglacial lakes and low temperatures, this region bears much similarity to the distant Scandinavia. Harsh and long winters, lasting over four months, earned it the name of Poland's cold pole. The influence of the continental climate manifests itself in very low temperatures in winter and pretty high ones in summer. The average temperatures in the Suwalki region have the biggest amplitudes in Poland, over 23*C, which is even more than in the mountains. The average air temperatures in January, the coldest month, are below -5*C, the lowest in Poland. In summer the average air temperature drops below 17.5*C. The annual average air temperature in the Suwalki Lake District is slightly more than 6*C. Predictably, summer here is one of the shortest in Poland, lasting about 60 days. The vegetation season in this harsh climate is about 190 days long, to which the breathtaking wild nature of the Suwalki region has become well adapted.

Areas with the lowest and highest precipitation
Paradoxically, the driest part of Poland is a region abounding in lakes and rivers - Kujawy. As it lies in a rain shadow, it sees relatively rare rains and snowfalls. Before reaching Kujawy and west Wielkopolska, the prevailing north-west air masses lose their moisture above the higher-lying Pomeranian Lake District. Other factors are the flatness of the terrain and the lack of any sizeable forests. At Lake Goplo, the yearly precipitation is just 300mm, which is the lowest value in the country.
Radically different are the Tatras, where rain, snow or even hail is more likely than sunshine. Rocks and plants are often covered by hoar-frost, rime or dew, collectively referred to as horizontal precipitation. Water circulation in this area is particularly intense. Retained for a short time by the mountains or by a snow cover, water escapes quickly as fog or through crystal-clear mountain streams
The Tatras have the highest precipitation in Poland. This is particularly evident in the Five Lakes' Valley (Dolina Pieciu Stawow Polskich), where the annual precipitation exceeds 1800mm of water. The period from April to October has more precipitation than the winter half-year. June is usually the rainiest month of the year, while February is the least likely month for any precipitation (in high mountains, it is September). On Kasprowy Wierch, there are annually about 230 days with daily precipitation over 0.1mm and about 50 days when it exceeds 10mm. The mount also has the longest-lying snow cover. Some snow is blown by winds and when it is warm enough, water evaporates intensively, which makes an impressive sight.
In winter, the Tatras see a curious phenomenon known as temperature inversion. In the valleys, it is colder than in the higher parts of the mountains. The so-called fog seas that develop in depressions make the air above extremely clear, so that the views from the peaks extend over hundreds of kilometres.

Poland has areas of outstanding natural value, both Europeanwide and worldwide. There are still places hardly touched by the civilization, like the wild and desolate Bieszczady Mountains with their spectacular pastures known as poloniny, and the inaccessible flood plains along the Biebrza River, home to many rare bird species, sometimes found nowhere else in Europe.
The most valuable gems of Poland's flora include the several hundred ancient oak trees in the Rogalin forest near Poznan. Every Polish schoolchild learns about the thousand-year-old Bartek oak near Kielce which was officially recognized in the 1930s as the biggest and oldest tree in the country. Bartek appears in many legends like the one about King Casimir the Great, eminent ruler of medieval Poland, who is said to have tried his subjects in its shade. In fact, however, Bartek is much younger than a yew tree in Henrykow Lubanski, north-east of Jelenia Gora, whose age is estimated as over 1250 years, which is more than the history of Polish statehood.

Oaks and yews are the longest-living trees. Poland's famous monument oaks: Bartek, Chrobry, Lech, Czech and Rus are all between 700 and 1000 years old. Lime trees, once often planted in villages, especially at manor houses and churches, also live relatively long. Poland's oldest elm and ash, both the most impressive in Europe, are over 400 years old. This is also the age limit for spruces and firs, the only trees that reach up to 50m. Beeches and pines live shorter, though they still outlive birches and poplars.



Poland's territory accounts for 1.4 percent of Europe's total surface area, and for 0.23 percent of the world's land masses. Poland is 120 times bigger than Liechtenstein and 520 times bigger than Singapore. The Voivodeship of Greater Poland (Wielkopolska) is exactly the size of Belgium.

Poland lies in the central part of the European continent, the geometrical centre of which is near Warsaw. This is where the lines from Nordkyn in Norway to Matapan in Greece, and from Cabo da Roca in Portugal to the central Urals intersect. The boundary between the East and West European continental masses also runs through Poland.

Poland's total surface area is 322,500 sq km (312,600 sq km of land, 1,200 sq km of inland waters, and 8,700 sq km of territorial waters). This makes it the ninth largest country in Europe, after Russia, Ukraine, France, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Finland and Norway, and the 63rd largest in the world.


Over the centuries, Poland's territory has changed many times, but it has always comprised the basins of the Warta and Vistula Rivers, and the lands between the Carpathians and the Baltic Sea. In the 16th-18th centuries the country's area was as much as 1 million sq km. Before the Partitions (late 18th century) it was about 733,000 sq km. Partitioned and annexed by Russia, Prussia and Austria, in 1795 Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for the next 123 years. On the restoration of independence in 1918 it covered 388,000 sq km.

Poland has areas of outstanding natural value, both Europeanwide and worldwide. There are still places hardly touched by the civilization, like the wild and desolate Bieszczady Mountains with their spectacular pastures known as poloniny, and the inaccessible flood plains along the Biebrza River, home to many rare bird species, sometimes found nowhere else in Europe.
The most valuable gems of Poland's flora include the several hundred ancient oak trees in the Rogalin forest near Poznan. Every Polish schoolchild learns about the thousand-year-old Bartek oak near Kielce which was officially recognized in the 1930s as the biggest and oldest tree in the country. Bartek appears in many legends like the one about King Casimir the Great, eminent ruler of medieval Poland, who is said to have tried his subjects in its shade. In fact, however, Bartek is much younger than a yew tree in Henrykow Lubanski, north-east of Jelenia Gora, whose age is estimated as over 1250 years, which is more than the history of Polish statehood.


Oaks and yews are the longest-living trees. Poland's famous monument oaks: Bartek, Chrobry, Lech, Czech and Rus are all between 700 and 1000 years old. Lime trees, once often planted in villages, especially at manor houses and churches, also live relatively long. Poland's oldest elm and ash, both the most impressive in Europe, are over 400 years old. This is also the age limit for spruces and firs, the only trees that reach up to 50m. Beeches and pines live shorter, though they still outlive birches and poplars.

Conifers up to 50m can be found in the Bialowieza Forest, ruled by the European bison, Europe's biggest animal. Great brown bears live in the Tatras and the Bieszczady, while white-tailed and golden eagles, Poland's biggest birds of prey, wheel the skies.
Poles have a particular liking for horses, a common sight almost everywhere, and storks. Horses have always played an important role in Polish culture, economy and customs: they were used for riding, cart-pulling, hunting, farming and fighting. Poles spent much time in the saddle already in the early Middle Ages when they had to fight off countless attacks. Unsurprisingly, they were famed as excellent riders and horse-riding became a much valued skill in Poland. The remarkable charges of Polish hussars at Kircholm (1605) and at the Siege of Vienna (1683) have their place in the history of Europe. Polish cavalrymen were known far outside the country. It is a Polish emigre, General Kazimierz Pulawski, a hero of the American War of Independence, who is regarded as the father of American cavalry. The horse was so popular and common in old Poland that in 1746 one of the first Polish encyclopedias described the animal in the following way: "Everyone knows what a horse looks like".
Today horses are rarely used as draught animals, but you can still see them in many Polish farmsteads. In the 1960s there were over two million horses in Poland; now the number has dropped to a fourth of that and they are largely bred in the east part of the country. They prove irreplaceble during the occasional very harsh winters, when only horse-pulled sleighs can reach remote places cut off from the world by heavy snows. The animals are also beginning to play an important role in recreation, rehabilitation and sports. Horse-riding is quite a popular pastime in Poland. There are numerous stud farms and at many places you can rent a horse.
Passion for horses combined with centuries-long breeding traditions put Polish Arabians among the most valued horses in the world. They are bred at three state-owned stud farms: in Michalow, Bialka and Janow Podlaski. The auctions at Janow have long been attracting world's leading horse breeders like Shirley Watts, wife of the famous Rolling Stones drummer, whose acquisitions include the mare Pilarka, the first Polish World Champion. Polish horses fetch fairly high prices; for example, in 1981 the stud El Paso was sold for 1 million dollars, while in 1985, 1.5 million dollars was paid for the mare Penicylina.
Many Polish towns, institutions and organizations have the stork in their names, emblems or logos, which best shows how much the bird is revered in the country. It was also Poland's mascot at the Expo 2000 in Hanover. Storks feature in many Polish fairy tales and legends, they have often been given human names like Wojtek and a stork nest has always been believed to bring fortune to the homestead (for this reason, old cart wheels were once commonly placed on the roof to attract the birds).
Poland is called a stork haven or a "stork superpower" as it has the biggest number of white storks in Europe. While this species is no longer seen in Holland and Sweden, and it only occasionally appears in France, Poland boasts over one-fourth of its European population. This is due to the country's landscapes which abound in places suitable for nesting as well as to clean environment with plenty of food.
The location of stork nests varies throughout the country. In Warmia and Masuria storks tend to choose roofs, while in Wielkopolska they prefer trees. This is probably related to different types of landscape in every region. Over the last 20 years, and particularly over the last decade, stork nests on electricity pylons and industrial stacks have become an increasingly common sight. Consequently, many power plants decide to install special platforms on their low-voltage poles so that the nest base is located at a safe distance from the cables. There are even producers of ready-made stork platforms. The most unusual locations of stork nests are church roofs, fire-station towers, observation platforms for hunters, haystacks and even wayside crosses.
White storks occur almost anywhere in the country except for the higher parts of the Carpathians, Sudetes and the Swietokrzyskie Mountains. Most nests are situated in the vast valleys of the main rivers: the Vistula, Odra, Warta, Notec, Pilica, Biebrza and Narew, which provide diversified food. Almost 25 percent of the population live in the north-eastern part of the country. Recently Warmia has become a region with the highest density of storks in Central Europe.


Poland has over a dozen large stork colonies with at least 20 nests in each. There are even villages with more storks than people, like Zywkowo in north Warmia where 36 people live side by side with 180 storks in 40 nests. The birds are virtually everywhere and when they fly away in autumn, the village becomes empty and cheerless. Starting from March, the villagers look in the sky and listen for the familiar clattering.


Nature has bestowed Poland generously with both non-renewable and renewable resources. The latter, such as wind and solar energy, are used more and more frequently, their growing popularity supported by great advances in technology.
Poland is a country rich in minerals. It is among the world's biggest producers of hard and brown coal, copper, zinc, lead, sulphur, rock salt and construction minerals.
As early as in antiquity, the country was famous for its amber, transported along the Amber Route from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic coast. The largest amounts of amber, often called Baltic gold, were found at the mouth of the Vistula and on the Sambia Peninsula (now in Russia's Kaliningrad Region). It was a much valued material at that time and played a major role in barter trade with the Meditterranean. Amber was traded most intensively in the second century AD.
Today Poland remains a major supplier of this material, with its resources estimated at 12,000 tons. The richest deposit is Mozdzanowo, where a variety of colours and shades can be found, including some 60 percent of transparent amber. Significant deposits also exist at the base of the Hel Peninsula, but they are located too deep (130m). Curiously, new and promising deposits have been recently discovered in the Lublin Upland.

Amber is the fossilized resin of Tertiary conifers, sometimes with insects or plant fragments inside. Since prehistoric times it has been used for producing jewellery and decorative elements. Amber is extremely luminous and for this reason it was believed in antiquity to be sun rays frozen in sea water and washed ashore.
The world's amber capital is Gdansk. Its central ulica Mariacka, lined with amber shops and galleries, is often called Amber Street. The Church of St Bridget's has an impressive 175cm-high Amber Monstrance depicting the Tree of Life and made by local artisans to commemorate the 2000 years of Christianity. Even more spectacular will be the high altar currently being built in the church and intended to surpass the famous Amber Chamber. It will be 11m high and 9m wide, with ambers laid in layers so that the sun light illuminates them in their full beauty.

The earliest evidence of mining in Poland dates back to 3500 BC when flint was mined by Neolithic tool makers. In Krzemionki Opatowskie, there is one of the world's best preserved flint workings (3500-1200 BC). This is also one of the most valuable archeological sites in Europe.
In the fourth century BC iron ore started to be mined in the Silesian Upland and the Swietokrzyskie Mountains. At the same time quarries of construction and ceramic materials (stones, clays etc.) appeared in various parts of the country, as did lead, copper, silver and gold mines in Silesia and Malopolska.
In the Middle Ages mining rock salt in Bochnia and Wieliczka near Cracow was an important industry. The mines were royal property and under the Piasts and Jagiellons provided one-third of the state's income. Salt money was spent on maintaining the royal court, castles that protected trade routes, the army and the Cracow Academy (today's Jagiellonian University) founded in 1364 by King Casimir the Great.
That period also saw the emergence of the miner as a distinct occupation. In the 14th century capital companies known as gwarectwa appeared in Poland to mine precious metals on royal charter. This was the main branch of mining until the 17th century.
In the mid 18th century coal mining became prominent. The Silesian coalfields (Zaglebie Dabrowskie, Zaglebie Gornoslaskie, Zaglebie Krakowskie) grew into major industrial regions. In east Galicia, near Jaslo, Krosno and Boryslaw, oil mining developed a bit later. After the First World War, East Podkarpacie became a centre of natural gas mining. In 1919 a mining academy was established in Cracow with the aim of educating new engineers.
As a result of post-war border shifts, Poland lost most of its resources of oil and natural gas, while gaining rich deposits of coal in Upper and Lower Silesia. In the 1970s it became one of the world's biggest producers of hard coal. In 1979 a record 201 million tons were mined. Hard coal became the basic fuel and the main hard-currency earner, often referred to as "black gold". Until the late 1980s coal mining was considered to be a national industry and miners enjoyed great respect and prestige.

Hard and brown coal
Poland's reserves of hard coal are estimated at 45.4 billion tons. With the current annual production of 102 million tons (in 2000), they will suffice to meet the country's demand for almost 500 years, that is twice as long as the world's average. In fact, they will suffice for much longer as coal is being replaced in Polish economy with environment-friendly natural gas. For this reason, by 2020 the production of hard coal will be reduced to some 82 million tons a year, and by 2050 to about 40 million tons.
Poland has three major Upper Carboniferous coalfields, with 130 deposits of which 47 are currently exploited, their documented resources estimated at 16.6 billion tons.
The main coalfield (Gornoslaskie Zaglebie Weglowe) lies in the Silesian Upland and is among the biggest hard-coal fields in the world. With an area of about 4,500 sq km, it has as many as 108 deposits, and the most valuable ones, characterized by high heating value, are located in the west and north. Coal is currently mined in Silesia in 41 mines. So far, the Silesian miners have produced some 9 billion tons of this fuel.
Hard coal is also found in the Lublin Upland's Bogdanka coalfield (known as Lubelskie Zaglebie Weglowe and having 11 deposits). Coal seams stretch from the Polish-Ukrainian border to Radzyn Podlaski. There is only one mine here, called Bogdanka, but it is the most modern and profitable mine in the country. In 2000 it produced 4.25 million tons of coal.
Hard-coal deposits also exist in Lower Silesia, notably in the Walbrzych and Kamienna Gora area, but they are difficult to exploit and production is unprofitable, so all the local mines were closed down by 2000.
Second to hard coal among Poland's most important fuels is brown coal. Its reserves are estimated at nearly 14 billion tons. The deposits are located in eight regions, mainly in central Poland (coalfields at Konin, Belchatow and in Wielkopolska) and in its western part (at Turoszow on the Polish side of the Lusatian Neisse). Opening the mine at Turoszow in the 1950s marked the beginnings of brown-coal mining in Poland. Today the country is the world's sixth producer of this fuel, with 78 documented deposits, of which the exploited twelve have 2.1 billion tons.
Brown coal is utilized almost exclusively by the energy industry, with 98 percent used by large power plants. Mines are situated next to power plants with which they typically constitute one economic entity. Poland's biggest brown-coal power plant is Belchatow in the south of the Lodz province.
The Belchtow coalfield is at once the youngest and the biggest brown-coal field. Discovered in 1960, its deposits were estimated at 2 billion tons. There are actually three separate fields: Belchatow, Szczercow and Kamiensk. In 1981 a mine was opened here, which supplies the Belchatow power plant. It is the biggest and one of the most advanced opencast mines in the world. Coal is mined here from 100 to 230m below the ground level. The mine's current production is about 35 million tons a year and it is adjusted to the needs of the Belchatow power plant. In winter as many as 140,000 tons a day are produced. Mining is carried out predominantly in the Belchatow field (3,200 ha) which will be used up by 2017. In 2002 the Szczercow field is planned to be opened, which has similar geology and will additionally supply a new plant, Belchatow II. These resources will suffice until 2020-2030.
Brown coal is the cheapest fuel used in the energy industry. In Poland, the cost of producing 1 GJ of energy from it is three times lower than for hard coal, six times lower than for natural gas and over eight times lower than for heating oil. However, exploiting brown-coal fields is environmentally hazardous as it destroys large expanses of soil, changes the surface-water structure, causes air pollution and is noisy.

Oil and natural gas
Although the world oil industry was born in Poland, the country can't compare with Kuweit. On the other hand, Polish geologists, geophysicists and oil engineers have not said their last word yet. Top-class equipment and cutting-edge exploration techniques including 3-D seismography make it possible to discover gas in areas that were once believed to contain no hydrocarbons. Significant deposits of natural gas are much more likely to be found in Poland than oil deposits.
Natural oil seepages were known in Poland as early as in the 13th century. Oil oozed out of the ground and gathered on sandstone outcrops, stream banks or water surface in a wide belt along the northern rim of the Carpathians. In the 19th century wells dug out by hand to collect "rock oil" were a common sight in many parts of Podkarpacie. The substance was used then for lubricating cart wheels and as a medicine for the cattle. In 1854 Ignacy Lukasiewicz drilled the world's first oil well in Bobrka near Krosno.
Deposits of oil and natural gas have been discovered in the Carpathians, Carpathian Foreland (the Carpathian Depression), Sudetian Monocline and Pomerania. Currently there are 92 known and documented deposits of oil, estimated at 13.7 million tons. In 2000 underground deposits yielded 350,000 tons of oil (64,000 in the south and 279,000 in the Polish Lowland). This is far less than the country's needs: about 18 million tons of oil and 11 bcm of natural gas a year.
Since 1981 the Baltic shelf has been explored for oil. The Petrobaltic company, which holds a prospecting licence for 8,600 sq km of the shelf, has discovered the B3 deposit, situated 80km off the Rozewie Cape, and has started to exploit it. Another deposit, B8, will be soon ready for exploitation. The submarine resources, 1400m below the water surface, are estimated at 20 million tons. This is high-quality oil, almost sulphur-free. Today the Baltic oil accounts for about half of Poland's oil production.
The submarine oil deposits are accompanied by natural gas deposits; for every cubic metre of Baltic oil, there are 85 cubic metres of gas. So far, four gas-condensate deposits have been discovered, estimated at 10 bcm. This gas is planned to be utilized by a gas power station at Zarnowiec near Gdansk. Waste gas from the B3 field, now burning unproductively, will be transported through an 82km sea pipeline and then overland to the popular resort and major fishing harbour of Wladyslawowo, where it will be used by a thermal power plant.
As the Carpathian deposits have been largely used up and many of them are being closed down, now most of the country's oil and natural gas comes from the Polish Lowland. The significance of this region grew even more in 1996 with the finding of the Barnowko-Mostno-Buszewo (BMB) deposit near Gorzow Wielkopolski. This is Poland's biggest deposit, estimated at 10-12 million tons of oil and some 4.5 bcm of high-methane gas. The Polish Lowland natural gas is found mainly in Permian and Carboniferous rocks and has a high content of nitrogen. The gas from the Carpathians and Carpathian Foreland, found in Jurrasic, Cretaceous and Tertiary rocks, is of better quality, high on methane and low on sulphur.
Of the 242 documented deposits of natural gas in Poland, the biggest are: Przemysl in the Carpathian Foreland (nearly 21 bcm); Koscian (south-east of Poznan; 10.4 bcm), exploited only since 1999; and BMB. The biggest oil deposits are BMB and Cychry, also in the Polish Lowland.
In 2000 a very promising deposit was discovered at Miedzychod in the Notec Forest. It is almost certain to be as big as BMB, if not bigger. Other interesting exploration sites are located in the Carpathian Foreland, between Rzeszow, Przemysl, Lubaczow and Tarnogrod.
Exploration and exploitation of oil and gas deposits in Poland requires a licence granted by the Ministry of Environment. Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo SA (Polish Oil and Gas Company) holds 97 licences for 51,500 sq km. These are the best-surveyed areas in the country. 120 licences have been granted to foreign oil prospectors. Most of them (59 licence blocks) are held by companies co-established by Apache Corporation and FX Energy. Wielkopolska Energia SA, whose shareholders are El Paso Energy and Texaco, has 16 licences. Other licence holders include CalEnergy Gas Polska and RWE-DEA Polska Oil. Most active in the field of hydrocarbons exploration in Poland are the Americans. Apache Poland holds more licences than any other foreign prospector and has the largest seismic base. Its first success was the finding in 2000 of the Wilga natural gas deposit in central Poland, estimated at 1 bcm.

Metals, non-metals and rocks
The biggest resources of metals in Poland are those of copper, zinc and lead. Poland is one of the world's leading producers of copper.
Copper is extracted from sulphide ores found in Zechstein deposits, Europe's biggest and some of the biggest in the world. The deposits are located in two Lower Silesia geological units: the North Sudetian Basin (Niecka Polnocnosudecka) and the Sudetian Monocline (Monoklina Przedsudecka). The latter also contains many other metals including silver, gold, lead, selenium and nickel, all of which are mined.
The resources are estimated at 2.5 billion tons of ore, including 49 million tons of metallic copper. In 1998 the resources grew by 14% when the Glogow Gleboki deposit, situated at more than 1400m underground, was discovered. The resources of the already exploited deposits - Lubin, Polkowice, Rudna and Sieroszowice - are 1.5 billion tons of ore, including some 30 million tons of metallic copper.
Copper ore is mined only in the Legnica-Glogow Copper District by KGHM Polska Miedz SA, Poland's sole producer of copper from primary materials. In 2000, 27 million tons of ore were mined there, yielding about 480,000 tons of copper.
Zinc-lead ores are located in Malopolska, near Olkusz - one of the country's oldest mining centres, which developed by exploiting its lead and silver deposits until the 16th century when it began to decline - as well as near Boleslaw and Chrzanow.
Poland also has immense deposits of sulphur and is one of the biggest exporters of it. The deposits located in three areas of the Carpathian Depression - Staszow, Tarnobrzeg and Lubaczow - are among the richest in the world (504 million tons). Over the last few years sulphur production has dropped significantly and in 2000 it was 1.4 million tons, of which over 50% was exported. This reduction has been largely due to environmental considerations as it was necessary to remove sulphur from oil, natural gas and smelter gases produced by sulphur works.
Another mineral in great abundance is rock salt, its resources estimated at over 80 billion tons. Its biggest deposits are located in Kujawy (about 52 billion tons), Pomerania and the Carpathian Monocline where KGHM Polska Miedz SA mines it at Sieroszowice. Rock salt is also mined at Klodawa in the Kujawy region. It is no longer mined at Bochnia and Wieliczka, the cradle of Polish salt mining. The only work carried out there is for protecting the old chambers.
The annual production of salt in Poland is 3.2 million tons, with about 70% produced from brine. Brine deposits support the renowned spa at Ciechocinek where salt from the wooden graduation towers can be smelt from far away. Salty air with a great amount of iodine makes you feel like on the Baltic coast, although the sea is about 200km from here. Ciechocinek was famous for its subterranean brine springs already in the Middle Ages. In 1235 Duke Konrad of Mazovia granted the Teutonic Order the right to produce salt by evaporating the brine in exchange for 20 barrels of it a year. The Teutonic Knights built two saltworks in Ciechocinek which operated until the end of the 18th century. A new, enormous works was constructed in the mid 19th century and it was the largest factory of its kind in the world. The production techniques in Ciechocinek have not changed for 120 years.
All over the country there are also a variety of valuable rocks used for producing construction materials. The richest deposits are located in Upper and Lower Silesia, on the outskirts of the Swietokrzyskie Mountains and in the Lublin Upland. The most important for the economy are carbonate rocks: limestone, marl, dolomites and natural aggregate, used for road-building.

The world-famous Wieliczka salt mine can also be visited off the normal route. Dressed in working clothes and helmets with lamps, tourists walk around the true, "wild" mine, including the spectacular Crystal Caves. And don't think that the mine, operating since the 13th century, has no more secrets left. In early 2000 a new crystal cave was accidentally found in it. Inside are splendid, sizeable, pure crystals of salt. You'll be able to visit the new cavern virtually, using special cameras. Also, it's worth knowing that Wieliczka is the place where the world's biggest salt crystal was found; today it is a star exhibit at Vienna's Nature Museum.

Renewable resources
One treasure of Poland that until recently was used little or not at all is geothermal waters, their resources ranking among the richest in Europe. They are to be found at one-third of the country's area and are equivalent to some 3.5 billion tons of oil. This is sufficient for heating the houses of about 30 million people.
At the moment Poland has a few large geothermal plants. The first one was opened in Pyrzyce near Szczecin in 1997. Hot water (64*C) rises from a depth of 1700m. The biggest geothermal project currently underway in Poland is a chain of thermal plants in the Podhale region like the one already built in Banska Wyzna. Water at over 90*C is taken through four wells from a depth of about 3000m. At the moment three Podhale towns use the geothermal energy, including Zakopane (since 2001). By 2005 all of Podhale will be heated in this way.

Geothermal waters under the Tatras were already known in the 19th century. They emerged as hot springs attracting spotted salamanders which the locals called jaszczury. This explains the name of the best-known spring in Podhale, Jaszczurowka, now applied to a neighbourhood in Zakopane. For many years this spring fed a swimming pool and was used for therapeutic purposes. Some people believe that its water stimulates metabolism.

Poland is not a major player in hydropower engineering but it has an over century-long tradition in this field and excellent natural conditions to utilize the energy of flowing water. In the 20th century about 500 large and medium power plants were built, as were numerous waterwheels that drive mills, sawmills and fulling mills. After 1945 the priority was large coal power plants, and hydroelectric plants were neglected. Today much effort is made to increase the amount of hydroenergy produced in Poland. The rivers with the greatest potential are the Vistula (80%) and the Odra (10%). Now a mere 15% of their energy is used. Altogether, there are 128 large water power plants and about 360 small plants in the country.
Almost one-third of Poland's territory is conducive for building wind power plants. The best area is the coastal belt from Swinoujscie to Gdansk, notably aroud the Rozewie Cape, followed by the Suwalki region, south-west Poland, parts of Wielkopolska and almost the entire Mazovia. Currently Poland has about a dozen of modern wind power plants with a capacity of about 2.5 MW each plus a few tens of smaller plants. The electric energy produced by wind power plants is estimated to account for some 0.002% of the country's total production. Optimistic assumptions hold that by 2030 wind power plants will have 6000-9000 MW of installed power, producing 10 TW of energy a year.
Poland also has a relatively large potential of biomass from wastes, which can be used to produce heat. It is also possible to utilize solar energy by constructing solar collectors. The country's climatic conditions allow for the yearly production of 300-500 kWh of energy from every square meter of collector surface, which is equivalent to 70-100kg of coal.
Renewable resources do not contribute significantly to Poland's economy but this contribution is bound to grow like in other European countries.

Poland boasts the greatest plant diversity and wealth of forest biocoenoses in Central Europe. This is mainly due to its lowland location and moderate, transitory climate.

Diversity of plants
The composition of Poland's contemporary flora is a result of climatic changes and the diffusion of species in the postglacial period. There are over 2300 species of vascular plants, about 600 mosses, 250 liverworts, and 1600 lichens.
Since there are no natural barriers in the east and west that might hinder plant and animal migrations, most vascular plants in Poland are transitory species. They account for about 60 percent of the entire flora and include trees such as the common oak, black alder, common elm, European white elm, white willow and small-leaved lime.
Most vascular plants are species typical of various geographical areas. You can find here Euroasian and North American plants such as the red bilberry; Arctic and boreal such as the dwarf birch; Central European such as the fir, beech and many others; West European such as the heath; Black Sea and Hungarian such as the dwarf cherry and the yellow blooming spring adonis, common for dry meadows on limestone. There are few Mediterranean species, though.
For about 40 percent of species, Poland is the limit of occurrence. It is the northern limit for the broad-leaved lime, European larch and black poplar; the eastern and north-eastern limit for Atlantic and sub-Atlantic plants such as the beech, sycamore, field maple, sessile oak and crossed-leaved heath, characteristic of the Baltic coastland; the southern limit for the Swedish whitebeam, found only in the belt of coastal lowlands, and rare northern plants such as the dward birch and Lapland willow. For about 10 percent of species, Poland is the western limit.
Poland has few endemic species, found largely in the Carpathians, where they include the Poa nobilis and Euphrasia tatrae. Indigenous to the Babia Gora area is the laserwort (Laserpitium archangelica), found near the tree line and reaching up to two metres. In the Pieniny you can see the unique Chrysanthemum zawadzkii. In the Sudetes, only the Karkonosze range has some endemic violets and saxifrages.
In the rest of the country, there are about 15 endemic species and subspecies including the Polish larch, black birch and Ojcow birch. Some endemic species and species found only locally, outside their normal range, are relicts (survivors from distant epochs). These include the violet larkspur, Dianthus sylvestris, Saxifraga wahlenbergii, Lapland willow and dwarf birch. The best known relict species is the beautiful Arolla pine, found only in the Tatras. The Pontic azalea is an example of a steppe relict.
Carrs that often cover marshlands, valley edges and lake shores are dominated by the black alder. The undergrowth in shady carrs, taking advantage of the abundance of water, rise up to several metres. This is also the place to see the royal fern, Poland's biggest fern. Riverside carrs are rare, found in the Masurian Lake District and the valleys of the greatest rivers: the Vistula, Odra and Warta.
Unique and scientifically priceless is the Biebrza marshland, the largest swathe of land in lowland Europe west of the Bug River, that has survived almost untouched by civilization. The area abounds in plant species typical of north Europe and relicts from the Ice Age, including a variety of sedges. The unusual landscape of this area is shaped by the Biebrza, the only European river that has retained its natural character for the entire length. Its valley consists of three marshland basins separated by bottlenecks. Low gradient and a levee produced by the Narew, which is fed by the Biebrza, make the river flow very slowly. It meanders and in early spring floods over a several-kilometre-wide area, sometimes returning to its channel only by late summer. The vast flood plain is dotted only with sparse knolls, clumps of bushes, trees and haystacks sticking out of water. The most diversified central basin contains the Czerwone Bagno (Red Swamp), one of Poland's most extensive transitional peat swamps, covered with a century-old marshy coniferous forest. At its edge, the only marshy birch forests in the country stretch. The northern basin sees smaller floods and is the habitat of many rare plants. In the southern basin, the Biebrza meanders widely and its flow is the slowest.

Coniferous, broadleaved and mixed
In the past, Poland's landscape was dominated by vast forests; today they cover only about 28 percent of the country's territory, usually with their species composition changed over centuries. The most extensive woodlands are in the Carpathians, the Sudetes and the lakeland belt. The least wooded region is central Poland. The old Mazovian forests have survived only in small patches on barren dunes and marshes.
Originally, Polish woods were dominated by broadleaved species: willows and poplars in river valleys, alders on swamps, and mixed forests dominated by oaks, hornbeams and limes in other parts of the country. In some regions these dry-ground forests may also feature beeches, spruces and sycamores. This diversity of tree species supports rich wildlife.
Post-war afforestation consisted mainly in planting conifers. Poor, sandy soils, unsuitable for cereal crops, were afforested with pines which now cover 57,000 sq km, compared with just 3,300 sq km of beeches and 2,000 sq km of firs. Conifers have low resistance to pollution and, especially in one-species forests, pests.
Over the last 20 years the total area of Poland's forests has remained roughly the same. Two positive trends are the increasing share of broadleaved trees and the growing area of relatively old forests.
Most forests are coniferous, with a predominance of pines (about 70 percent) and spruces. The pine can grow on various soils and in extremely varied water conditions. It also has great endurance to weather. It appeared in this part of Europe after the Ice Age and has survived all climatic changes; only in the mountains was it surpassed by the spruce, fir and beech. Pine forests have a characteristic undergrowth with berry bushes, junipers and a profusion of mosses and lichens. The spruce, which is very tolerant of harsh climate, may be found chiefly in the mountains and the north-east where it makes dense forests with the undergrowth often limited to mosses, ferns and berry bushes.
Coniferous forests account for about 70 percent of Poland's woods. The largest of them are: the Puszcza Augustowska (Augustow Forest), Puszcza Piska (Pisz Forest), Puszcza Notecka (Notec Forest), Bory Tucholskie (Tuchola Forest) and Bory Dolnoslaskie (Lower Silesia Forest). In some areas, patches of mixed forests have survived. In the lakelands, these are dominated by the beech, while the larch is the prevailing tree in the mountains.
Better soil supports broadleaved forests, mainly with trees such as oaks and hornbeams or beeches. A good example of an oak-hornbeam forest can be found in Bialowieza and Kampinos. In the Swietokrzyskie Mountains you can see fir-beech forests.
Forests with beeches occur in lower mountains, in the Pomeranian Lake District, western part of the Masurian Lake District, the Lublin Upland and in the Bieszczady. The finest beech forests are the Lasy Kadynskie (Kadyny Forest) near Elblag and the Puszcza Bukowa (Beech Forest) near Szczecin.
Beech and oak-hornbeam forests look particularly attractive in the spring when most plants bloom. As they have to produce seeds before the trees shoot out leaves and obscure the sun, as soon as it becomes warm and sunny, the forest bottom virtually explodes with life. Colourful anemones, violets and liverworts all spring up at the same time.
A true gem in west Poland is the Puszcza Piaskowa (Piasek Forest), situated in the Odra valley near Cedynia and at the western fringes of the Mysliborz Lake District. Named after the village of Piasek, it is a vestige of the ancient woods that once stretched along the Odra. More than half of its trees are broadleaved species including 250-300 years old oaks, with some of them living up to 350-400 years. What makes its flora unique is also thermophilous grasses and shrubs.

Poland's most valuable forest
Poland boasts the last patch of the primeval forest that covered most European lowlands a thousand years ago. This is the Bialowieza Forest (Puszcza Bialowieska), straddling the border of Poland and Belarus, on the Bielska Plain, between the Narewka and Lesna rivers, the latter being a tributary of the Bug. Its Polish part covers about 580 sq km.
Some 500 years ago Polish kings banned logging and settling in this area to preserve it as hunting grounds. Although the forest was periodically exploited in the 19th century and in the inter-war period, it has retained its character of a primeval lowland forest, which is unique in Europe.
In 1921 the most valuable part of the forest was put under protection and designated a strict natural reserve. Three years later it was transformed into a national park, the oldest of the 23 national parks in Poland. It encompasses about 15 percent of the forest's area. In 1977 the Bialowieza National Park became a World Biosphere Reserve and two years later it was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is the only site in Poland that has entered both lists. In Europe, only one more national park, Montenegro's Durmitor, is also listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. For this reason, both parks are regarded as "Yellowstones of Europe". The Bialowieza National Park has also received the European Diploma, awarded by the Council of Europe to the continent's outstanding natural sites.
Two-thirds of the most valuable patch of the forest are covered by broadleaved trees, mainly oaks and hornbeams. Carrs and marshy meadows in wet areas, flooded for several months a year, are dominated by the black alder and ash. Pine, spruce and mixed forests stretch on dry grounds. Depending on the soil, there are altogether as many as about 20 types of forest, supplemented by marshes, peat bogs and numerous streams.
Species diversity of dry-ground woods attests to the primeval nature of the Bialowieza forest. The tallest trees are spruces. Below you can see the crowns of oaks, limes and maples that make up the proper forest canopy. The lowest trees are ashes. Ancient giants grow side by side with saplings shooting up between old trunks that fell to the ground and left them some room and access to the sun's rays. Decaying trees are distinctive feature of the park. They account for over 10 percent of the entire stand within the strict reserve. The organic matter produced during their decomposition is used by the new generations of plants.
For 80 years virtually no work has been conducted in the strictly protected area. The average age of its trees is 126 years, compared with 72 years in the rest of the forest and 54 years in Poland. Almost 1600 trees have reached a size that qualifies them as nature monuments.
The Bialowieza Forest is the southern and western limit for many boreal plant and animal species, characteristic of the taiga. There are 8500 species of insects, 250 birds, 54 mammals, over 1000 species of vascular plants, 200 mosses and about 300 lichens. Particularly numerous are the fungi (some 3000 species), which are largely relicts of the primeval forest and tend to grow on decaying trees.

Rustling firs
Apart from the Bialowieza Forest, a few other woods have survived in the north-eastern part of Poland as remnants of the vast forests that once extended over the borderlands of medieval Prussia, Lithuania and Poland. The largest of them, north of Bialowieza, are the Augustow Forest (Puszcza Augustowska; 1140 sq km), which, through natural restocking, has become a true wilderness; and the Knyszyn Forest (Puszcza Knyszynska; 839 sq km), with natural pine and pine-spruce stands and peatland vegetation.
Stretching across the Russian border, the Romincka Forest is dominated by spruces, typical of northern areas. The forest is noted for its clumps of the protected ostrich ferns. East of Lake Goldap stretches a scenic raised bog with spruces and alders.
In the Pomeranian Lake District, the most extensive wood is the Tuchola Forest (Bory Tucholskie; about 1200 sq km). Exploited for centuries, it has retained little of its original character and is now dominated by man-introduced pine monocultures. One enclave of primeval vegetation is the Wierzchlas yew reserve. This concentration of yews, Poland's biggest, comprises a fragment of the ancient Pomeranian Forest with some four thousand trees aged up to 600 years. Remnants of the primeval mixed forest are woods with a predominance of pines interspersed with wild serviceberries (protected). There are also many glacial relicts including the shrubby birch and twin flower.
Assemblages of aquatic vegetation are of great value. Lobelia lakes, extremely rare in Poland and Europe, are named after the water lobelia, which has white, tiny (up to 1cm) flowers rising above crystal-clean water. This plant requires clean and soft water with free carbon dioxide. Lobelias are usually accompanied by other plant species, equally rare in the country. Only 150 lobelia lakes have survived in Poland, almost all of them situated in the Pomeranian Lake District.
The Tuchola Forest abounds in assemblages of rare peatland and wetland vegetation. On the so-called dystrophic lakes (which exist in coniferous woods with vegetation adapted to acidic waters), peculiar skins of peatmosses and marsh teas occur, which sag under your feet.
In the Malopolska Upland, larger forest expanses can be found in the Swietokrzyskie Mountains, where you can relax under the rustling firs in the magnificent Swietokrzyska Forest, also knows as the Fir Forest (Puszcza Jodlowa). Natural stands cover about 63 percent of its area. Diversified geology results in a variety of habitats which support almost all tree species that occur in Poland: firs, beeches, two oak varieties, spruces, two lime varieties, yews and pines. Rare plants in the forest include a number of orchids, the marsh gentian and globe flower. Among the lush vegetation you can find raspberries, blackberries, large swathes of impressive ferns and impassable thickets of young firs or beeches.
The Swietokrzyska Forest is the cradle of the Polish yew. Gora Chelmowa near Nowa Slupia has Poland's largest concentration of this tree, which lives in its natural state only in this part of the country. The biggest and oldest yews in this place exceed five metres in circumference.
East of the Malopolska Upland, fine fir-beech stands have survived in Roztocze, an undulating upland cut by many gorges. Vast wooded stretches can be found in the Carpathian Depression; the largest of them is the Sol Forest (Puszcza Solska; 1240 sq km) east of the San valley. Relatively extensive woods occur in the Silesian Lowland. The biggest of them, and the biggest in Poland, is the Bory Dolnoslaskie (Lower Silesia Forest; over 1500 sq km) on sandy alluvial cones of Sudetian rivers. Most of the forest, however, is made up of pine plantations, with rather limited flora and fauna.
The West Carpathians are well wooded only in some parts, notably in the Beskid Slaski, Beskid Zywiecki and Beskid Sadecki. The Bieszczady retains its thick forest coat. The Sudetian forests were substantially destroyed at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. In the Karkonosze and the Izerskie Mountains, acid rains killed trees over vast areas. The disaster was caused by a particular pattern of winds which brought air pollution from nearby brown-coal power plants in Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Weakened by the rains, the trees fell victim to pests which completed the work of destruction. Today, attempts are being made to re-create the natural spruce-fir, beech and spruce forests in the disaster area.
Poland's meadows are predominantly man-made creations that usually replaced the felled forests. The broad valleys of the Biebrza and Narew, cut by ice-marginal streams, and the Lubuskie Lake District contain marshland meadows. Perhaps the most spectacular are the meadows in the Bieszczady - known as poloniny - and in the Tatras, where they are called hale. In spring they cover with thousands of blooming crocuses, indigenous to the Carpathians and brought here from the Balkans by wandering shepherds whose sheep spread the seeds that got into their wool.

Vegetation belts
As you go up above sea level, the climate changes gradually and so does the plant cover. The highest mountains in Poland, the Tatras, have as many as five distinct vegetation belts. The most extensive of them is the lower regiel (up to 1250m) with predominantly man-planted spruce forests. The upper regiel (up to 1500m) is dominated by spruce forests that have largely retained their original character. Near its upper limit you can see the European larch, mountain ash, Silesian willow, Carpathian birch and - covering steep slopes - spruce cliff forests. Another characteristic species is the Arolla pine, the queen of the Tatra forests, distinguished by a widely rounded crown and dark green needles. Native to the Altai Mountains, it came to Poland during the Ice Age.


The seeds of the Arolla pine are edible and favoured by many birds, especially the nutcracker. To save the cones, some of the pines are protected in August by nets, which puzzles many tourists. Since times immemorial the highlanders have utilized the wood, resin and seeds of Arolla pines. There is even a 17th-century recipe for an Arolla seed ointment which was believed to improve your mental fitness. Oil made from the seeds was a well-known remedy for a variety of ailments.

Above the upper regiel is the belt of dwarf mountain pines (1500-1800m) whose dense scrub may be up to three metres high. Their tough, strong branches fill up the spaces between rocks and trail over stones, their flexibility making them resistant to avalanches. Dwarf mountain pines play a major role in protecting the forests by entrapping falling rocks, slowing down flash floods and preventing erosion. As you go up, the scrub becomes lower and lower. In the upper parts of this belt, it is less than a metre high.
In terms of unique nature, the most valuable are the two uppermost zones: alpine pastures (1800-2250m), known as hale, and rock towers (subnival zone) which in Poland can be found only in the Tatras. Of the 430 mountain plants that occur in the country, the Tatras have as many as 400, and half of this number live mainly in the alpine pastures and the subnival zone. The latter contains over 100 species of flowering plants including the pink-blooming catchfly which grows on rocks in moss-like cushions capable of resisting strong winds. There are also many species of saxifrages, mosses and rock lichens. The Tatras are noted for a profusion of lichens, the highest in the country (about 700 species).
The Tatras also have the biggest number of endemic plants in Poland and a variety of relicts. The best known endemic species are the Saxifraga wahlenbergii, Cochlearia tatrae, larkspur (with beautiful violet, jug-shaped flowers), Poa granitica and Poa nobilis. Tens of species are endemic to the Carpathians.
Similar vegetation belts can be identified in the Karkonosze, the highest range in the Sudetes. Natural beech and mixed forests of the lower regiel (500-1000m) have been largely replaced by man-planted spruce monocultures. The upper regiel (up to 1250m) is a zone of spruce forests with some sycamores and mountain ashes, their undergrowth made up of heathers and grasses. In more humid areas you can find luxuriant herbs. Above there is the belt of dwarf mountain pines (1250-1450m) which occur in the Sudetes only in the Karkonosze range and the Snieznik Massif (1425m).
The flattened peak areas contain high-mountain peat bogs. The best known of them stretches below Mt Sniezka (1602m) in the Karkonosze, where dwarf mountain pines harbour tiny pools with marshland plants which are glacial relicts typical of the tundra. Around the pools, Lapland willows make up a dense thicket. Because of its landscape and characteristic flora, the ridge known as Rownia pod Sniezka is sometimes called the Karkonosze tundra. The alpine belt (above 1500m) is dominated by rock vegetation: grasses, mosses and lichens. Generally, the Karkonosze has rather poor plant cover, for which the granite bedrock is responsible. There are a few endemic species including Saxifraga moschata subs. basaltica and Sorubs sudetica as well as glacial relicts such as Saxifraga nivalis and the semiparasitic Pedicularis sudetica which takes water with mineral salts from other plants. Outside the Karkonosze, you can see in only in the Arctic.
The Bieszczady has a peculiar arrangement of vegetation. The range's distinctive feature is a low tree line (1200-1220m above sea level) and lack of the upper forest zone with spruces. The limit is marked only by dwarf beeches and alders which give way to pastures know as poloniny, the biggest attraction of the Bieszczady. These reach up to 1346m, which is the height of the highest mount, Tarnica. The meadows are covered with bilberry bushes and grasses. Only there can you find over 20 rare East Carpathian species such as the Silene dubia and Melampyrum saxosum, as well as over 70 high-mountain species.
The Bieszczady is one of the few places in Europe where nature has regained terrains once colonized by man. After the war almost all native residents were deported for political reasons and their mountainside fields and meadows are now replaced by a dense beech forest which retains the natural character of beech woods.


As Poland's flora evolved, so did its wildlife, undergoing similar changes. The country's fauna is made up of species that arrived in various epochs, starting from the last glaciation. The number of animal species greatly exceeds that of plants.
There are about 33,000 animal species in Poland, including invertebrates. Among the vertebrates, there are 85 species of mammals, 220 species of nesting birds, 8 reptiles, 17 amphibians, and 55 fish species.
Most are animals that spread easily and quickly, living all across the temperate zone in Eurasia, such as the tench and carp, common toad, slow-worm and grass snake, chaffinch, mallard and goshawk, red squirrel, brown hare, roe deer and red deer, all typical of the zone of broadleaved and mixed forests.
There are 36 endemic and 38 relict species. Poland is the limit of occurrence for many animals: the southern limit for the snow hare, three-toed woodpecker and nutcracker; the western limit for the thrush nightingale and Eastern European hedgehog; and the eastern limit for the rabbit, which is a western and south-western species.
Climatic differences are responsible for peculiar species pockets in the eastern part of the country. In the north-east (Masuria, the Suwalki region, Knyszyn Forest, Bialowieza Forest) you can see animals characteristic of the tundra and taiga such as the Ural owl, great grey owl, snow hare, elk. In the south-east the fauna of the Black Sea steppes occurs: the hamster, spotted souslik, steppe polecat. Southern and eastern fauna is represented by species such as the bee-eater, lesser kestrel, Aesculapian snake and Helix lutescens, related to the edible snail.

Lords of the forest
The biggest animals in Poland are the European bisons. By the 18th century, the European bison was almost extinct, with only small herds remaining in the Bialowieza Forest and the Caucasus. In 1919 the last Bialowieza bison was poached and in 1927 the last Caucasus specimen was killed. The whole population in the world numbered then just about 50 animals in zoos and closed preserves, like the Pszczyna Forest in the Silesian Upland. Out of them, twelve individuals were selected for breeding, started by Polish scientists at a fenced site in Bialowieza.
In 1952, the first inmates were released, but the first calf was born only five years later. Luckily, the bisons began to reproduce quickly. In the early 1970s over 200 animals roamed freely, of which only 38 came from the breeding reserves. The Bialowieza bisons started to be caught and transported to clesed reserves or released in vast forests with a predominance of broadleaved trees. Today these impressive animals can be seen in the Knyszyn Forest, Borki Forest, Niepolomice Forest, Pila Forest and in the Bieszczady where the last Caucasian male was successfully crossed with Bialowieza females. However, the Bieszczady bisons do not reproduce so well as in other places.


All bisons of pure Bialowieza breed that are born in Polish reserves have names beginning with "Po-", like Pomruk or Poranek.

Bison females are very caring mothers. A newly-born bison calf weighs about 30kg. Adult males can weigh up to 1000kg and they can eat as much as 60kg of plants a day. In winter, their diet is supplemented with hay by park wardens. European bisons live in herds of about a dozen animals, but in winter they form much larger groups. Only old bulls tend to live solitarily.
At present, some 250 bisons range freely in the Bialowieza Forest, with a similar number in Belarus. The entire population in Poland numbers about 660 animals. The species is now bred in most European countries, as Poland has presented many bisons to them. All European bisons around the world have ancestors from Bialowieza, and this is the only case in history when a species of this size has been saved by regeneration breeding. Today the only danger for their future is close blood relationship, which means low genetic diversity.
In a similar way, other species were reintroduced in Polish reserves. In return for bisons presented to Belarus, Poland was given several elks, which otherwise survived the war only in the Biebrza swamps. Elks are the biggest cervids in the world. In Polish forests, only bisons are bigger. An adult male may weigh over 400kg. Apparently clumsy, elks are perfectly adapted to living in marshlands with willow shrubs and pine thickets. Excellent swimmers, they can find food under water, even diving in search of tasty plants if necessary. Their most surprising trait, though, is a predilection for long wanderings: Polish elks have been seen as far as in the Rheinland!
The beaver is another species that has returned to Polish landscapes. Once very common, as proved by numerous place names deriving from its name (bobr): Bobr, Bobrek, Biebrza, Bobrka etc., in 1945 it numbered only a few animals, all of the Canadian variety brought to Scandinavia. European beavers came to the Suwalki region as they wandered up the rivers that flow from there to Lithuania and Belarus. Also, beavers from a breeding station in Voronezh, Russia, were brought to the Biebrza valley.
These skilful animals are called river architects, and for a good reason. They build dams to lift water and keep it in their lodges which can be up to two metres high and 30 square metres big. With its powerful incisors, an adult beaver can cut down a 30cm-thick aspen in about 15 minutes. Poland's biggest rodents, they live in rivers with riparian forests of willows and poplars. Today their population exceeds ten thousand. Bred in captivity, they are subsequently released. Beavers inhabit a variety of places in the country's lowlands and occasionally in the uplands as well.

Animals of the Polish mountains
An area with exceptionally rich fauna is the Tatras. Mammals living there include the bear, lynx, wolf, otter, badger, deer and roe deer. Birds include the golden eagle, lesser spotted eagle, red kite, northern hobby, buzzard, eagle owl, a few species of owls, black grouse, capercaillie and hazel grouse. The most characteristic species in the Tatras is the chamois. It moves over the steep slopes with great ease, jumping from one rock ledge to another. Chamois resemble common goats, but their grace and elegant way of moving are reminiscent of agile antelopes. They represent the Caprinae subfamily which belongs to even-toed ungulates including such mammals as the roe deer, deer, girafe, antelope and buffalo. Well-developed leg muscles, hoofs with cushioned pads, a heart larger than in other mammals, and low weight all allow the chamois to climb easily even the steepest rocks.
In summer, chamois stay in the alpine zone above the tree line, where they graze on the hale (pastures). In winter, when the weather is harsher, they go down to the two regiels, where they feed on conifer and broadleaved twigs, mosses, lichens and dry grasses. A thick hair coat protects them against sub-zero temperatures. In summer it is brownish-red with a black stripe on the back, while in winter it turns brownish-black to absorb more heat from the sun.
Chamois are most active at dawn and dusk. They give birth to single offspring in May and June. Adult males live a solitary life while females and calves form small herds. In the Polish Tatras, ten such herds have been identified, which occupy the area along the entire main ridge. Four of them are "international" herds living on both the Polish and Slovakian side.
Poland's chamois were taken under protection as early as in 1869. Since 1957, when only 77 animals were spotted, the Tatra National Park has been counting them every year. In late 2001 there were 70 chamois in the park, 25 in the High Tatras and 45 in the West Tatras. On the Slovakian side, they slightly exceed 200. The species is threatened with extinction.
Another symbol of the Tatra National Park is the marmot. These lovely rodents live in high meadows, forming colonies of about a dozen animals. They build elaborate underground burrows, sometimes dozens of metres deep, in which the whole colonies hibernate during winter. The marmot's body temperature drops then to just 4.6-7.6*C, with 2-3 breaths and 10 heart beats per minute.
Marmots feed on grass, herbs and plant roots. When the colony forage for food, one sentinel looks around warily, standing on its hind limbs and warns others with a whistling sound when it senses a danger. This is also an alarm signal for the chamois.
The Tatra marmot is slightly smaller and has brighter hair than the Alpine marmot. Its population was dramatically reduced as a result of hunting. For centuries their tallow was much sought after as a traditional remedy. A few years ago the Bayer Company examined it and found it to have no particular medical properties, yet there are still cases of poaching the marmot. In Poland the animal has been under strict protection since 1869. Today, there are some 200 marmots in the Tatras.
The range is also home to about a dozen brown bears. Their synanthropization is an increasing problem. Keen to experience nature, tourists sometimes act irrationally, provoking wild animals instead of avoiding them. The Park's authorities ask visitors to stay away from the bears, neither to feed them nor leave any food in cars and throw to leftovers only into special containers. Currently about a hundred bears live in Poland, which is as many as in the entire European Union. After the war there were just ten of them.
The largest refuge for big animals in Poland is the Bieszczady. In autumn the mountains see spectacular deer ruts. The stags from the Bieszczady, numbering about 1500, are the biggest in the country an have the most impressive antlers. The vast wilderness also supports some 60 bears, which outside this range and the Tatras can be seen in Poland only in the Babia Gora area in the Beskid Zywiecki. Deceptively ponderous, they move lightly and softly, capable of running up to 65 km/h at short distances.
The uninhabited Bieszczady provides shelter for wolves, once killed off but now under protection. Their population here is Poland's biggest. Wolves mainly live off deer, roe deer and elks. In search of prey, they roam from 10 to even 40 kilometres a day. They play a major role in eliminating weak and sick animals, though in winter they may attack sheep, therefore some local farmers demand that their population be culled.
The Bieszczady is also home to lynxes, wildcats, otters, eagle owls, foxes and a few extremely rare birds of prey such as the golden eagle and peregrine falcon. Particularly impressive are golden eagles, once common in lowland Poland and all across Europe. Today, as a result of intensive logging in the lowlands, they live mainly in mountainous areas. There are only 15 couples of golden eagles in Poland, found chiefly in the Carpathians. Their other nesting area is Masuria.
The golden eagle is up to 90cm long and weighs about 4kg, its wingspan exceeding 2.2m. It has dark brown plumage with a black tail. Only the head and neck are golden. Females are much bigger than males. The eagle hunts mainly medium-sized mammals and birds, grabbing them with its talons and dropping the prey from high above the ground. Then the kill is taken to the nest. The golden eagle also feeds on carrion and may live up to 100 years. When diving through the air, it attains a speed of up to 160 km/h. The bird nests on cliffs and in tall trees, with most pairs having a few nests which they change from time to time. A nest used for many seasons may be two metres wide and 1.5-2 metres high. The female lays two eggs which hatch out after 41-45 days. The eaglets stay in the nest for about 80 days. In Poland, the golden eagle is extremely rare and strictly protected. There are regulations that specify how close to the eagle's nest forestry and farming work can be done.
Poland's national emblem was probably modelled after the white-tailed eagle, the biggest bird of prey in the country, found in the north, mainly in Wolin Island and along the Baltic coast. Like in the case of the golden eagle, not only the species is strictly protected, but its nests as well. The white-tailed eagle is up to 95cm long, weighs up to 6kg and has a wingspan of 250cm. Both males and females have the same plumage: beige head and neck, dark-brown back, wings and abdomen, and white tail. It mainly feeds on fish and water birds like ducks, coots, geese and grebes, often supplementing its diet with carrion. It nests in high trees, on rock ledges or directly on the ground, on islets without any predators.
Poland's smallest eagle is the lesser spotted eagle, whose wingspan may reach about 160cm. It lives in the Beskid Niski, the wildest and most extensive part of the Polish Beskids.

Mysterious bats
West Wielkopolska boasts an underground bat reserve, unique in Europe. Dozens of kilometres of 30-50m deep concrete tunnels built between 1925 and 1941 by Germans provide winter shelter for a few thousand bats a year.
These fascinating though little known animals are the only mammals that can fly. They appeared as early as 55 million years ago and have always lived near human settlements. They don't build any homes but live in caves, tree holows and attics. They sleep during the day and become active at night. To get their bearings, they use ultrasonic echolocation rather than the sense of smell or sight. They are extremely useful animals - one bat can eat several thousand insects a night. Scientists know more than 900 species of bats, of which 21 occur in Poland. The most liked are the species that live near water bodies such as the common pipistrelle, Poland's smallest bat, with a weight of just 5g and a wingspan of about 20cm, which eats some 1000 mosquitoes a night.
Of the 18 bat families, only three European ones can hibernate in winter. Two of this trio - Vespertilionidae and Rhinolophidae - live in Poland and both are insectivorous. When they hibernate, they are totally defenseless. They lower their body temperature almost to that of the surroundings and slow down their vital functions. This allows them to use economically the fat that they accumulated in the autumn and wait until spring comes.
The bat is an unusual hibernator resembling a TV-set left in the stand-by mode. It wakes up as soon as the climatic conditions change. When the temperature exceeds the bat's tolerance range - becoming too low or too high - or when air humidity drops, it moves to a more suitable place. With a high body surface to weight ratio, keeping body moisture at a sufficient level is crucial for survival. A hibernating bat cannot drink, so it has to find a shelter with air humidity close to 100 percent, ideally a cave, which also has a relatively stable microclimate and temperature. This is why most Polish bats live in the Cracow-Czestochowa Upland, which abounds in caves. One of them is even known as the Bat Cave (Jaskinia Nietoperzowa) and the bats living in it include horseshoe bats.
In Poland's climate, bats may hibernate for about 180 days because this is for how long their stored fat reserve will suffice. Five-six months of winter (which for bats means lack of insects) are close to the creatures' physiological limit of hibernation. For this reason, there are hardly any bats living further north.


Bats have been regarded as ominous creatures only in European culture. In the Far East, they are believed to bring fortune. The Chinese, for example, know a talisman called wu fu, which stands for "five bats". They have intertwined wings and heads looking at a tree of life in the centre. For native American peoples, such as the Aztecs and Mayas, bats represented gods, including the god of fertility.

All bats are protected. Suggestions to protect them were put forward already in the 19th century when it was realized that they feed on forest pests. In 1868 the autonomous parliament of Galicia made the world's first draft of such a bill (which, amusingly, referred to them as birds), but it was never passed. Today bats are under protection in almost all European countries including Poland (since 1952). This was a necessary step as their number dropped dramatically when pesticides began to be widely used against insects, bats' staple food, and when old houses, forests and caves, which always provided them with shelter, were destroyed.
Recently their population in Poland has grown, partly owing to a ban on using some pesticides. This is also a good indicator of an improvement in the condition of the country's environment as these delicate creatures are very sensitive to pollution and observing them may be a kind of environment monitoring.


At the village of Wolosate, the park has a breeding station with a few dozens of Hucul horses. The origins of this breed haven't been fully traced. Most likely it is a result of crossing descendants of the tarpan with horses related to Mongolian breeds. But the main factor contributing to its emergence was the harsh environment. Stocky and sturdy, these genuine mountain horses are also exceptionally friendly. They stand 130-140cm at the shoulder and are usually of bay, black, chestnut or mouse colour. They make excellent pack and draught horses and are often used in hippotherapy and for mountain rides.

Typically, bat females give birth to just one young. Pregnancy lasts about eight weeks, but depends on the surrounding temperature. In our climate, a mechanism has evolved to prevent the offspring from being born at a time when there is no food, that is in December. Females form nursery colonies in early May and produce the young by mid June. For the first few days, mother carries the pup with her, but then begins to leave it when she goes hunting. The young is always fed with her milk. Within 6-7 weeks it grows up, learning to fly and hunt. As July passes into August, the colonies disperse. During that time males live solitary lives.

Kingdom of birds
406 species of birds have been spotted in Poland, including 220 species that nest within its borders. Only one fourth of this number spend the whole year in the country. Some northern species come to Poland for winter, but most migratory birds, notably swans and storks, stay here for summer.
The most common birds found in Poland are the coot, great crested grebe and mallard. Nesting birds that rarely fly off include 21 species of European origin, 14 from the Arctic and 118 from Siberia. Others are southern species which spend the winter sometimes as far away as in south Africa.
A real kingdom of birds is the Biebrza Basin, its wildlife making it one of the most unique areas in Poland. It is Europe's most valuable peatland/marshland and an important wildfowl breeding area on the continent, providing refuge for 263 bird species, including 185 nesting species.
A stunning number of birds can be seen in the Biebrza flood plains both in the breeding season and during the passage periods. In spring and autumn dozens of thousands of geese, ducks, cranes, ruffs and sandpipers rest here en route south. You can hear their fluttering wings, gaggling, quacking and other noises for kilometres away.
For water and mud birds, the valley of the Biebrza is one of the last refuges, as most natural marshlands in Europe have been reclaimed. This area is also home to many birds of prey, which number here a record 25 species. Well represented are birds typical of the taiga and tundra. The valley is their southern or western limit and some of them even make up isolated populations beyond their normal range.
Out of Poland's 56 endangered bird species, as many as 21 nest on the Biebrza. These include the bittern, greater and lesser spotted eagle, dunlin, ruff, great snipe, wood sandpiper, western curlew, little tern, short-eared owl and European roller. Their populations are particularly big, sometimes among the biggest in West and Central Europe. A few populations, like the 2000 breeding pairs of the aquatic warbler, a small singing bird, are believed to be the biggest in the world. The Biebrza valley has over twice as many ruff nests (about 300) as the entire Central Europe (about 140). Not a single nest of the great snipe is known in Central Europe, while about 400 males of that species have been counted on the Biebrza.
One of the greatest attractions for bird watchers is the tooting of the great snipe. The performance starts in the evening and continues until late in the night. A tooting male stands on a sedge clump and does not move for about half an hour, taking air in. Then he lets it out producing a sound that you can hear for hundreds of metres. Finally he flaps his wings and again becomes motionless. This is all to assert his territorial rights.
Even more spectacular tooting is done by the capercaillie, one of the biggest and rarest birds in Poland, living in places like the Sol Forest (Puszcza Solska). Spreading their tails, capercaillies sing a song of four different stanzas. During the last one they lose for a moment their sight sharpness and hearing. Because of hunting, poaching and forest logging, they have become extremely rare, their population estimated at a mere few hundred. The capercaillie lives predominantly in spruce forests, while its relative, the hazel grouse, is found mainly in mountain forests.
One refuge for the capercaillie is the Tuchola Forest, which is also home to many other rare birds such as the black stork, black grouse and cormorant. Another bird haven is Polesie, where you can spot the harrier, western curlew, great snipe, black-tailed godwit, black grouse, short-eared owl and crane. The Masurian lakes provide shelter for the grey heron, grey lag goose, osprey and buzzard. Lake Luknajno in the Great Masurian Lake District, designated a world biosphere reserve, is one of Europe's largest nesting grounds of the mute swan. It also attracts an increasing number of herring gulls, the biggest gulls nesting in Poland. with a wingspan of 1.5m. Thirty years ago the country had just two colonies of these birds; today their number and range have increased substantially.
Huge numbers of migratory birds nest at the confluence of the Warta and Odra rivers. Some 200 bird species live in this national park on permanent basis; half of them nest there, including many water birds whose colonies are particularly big. The local population of the black-headed gull is estimated at some 6,000 nesting pairs, of the coot - at 14,000 pairs, of the mallard - at 2,000 pairs. There are also an impressive 500 cormorant nests. The population of the grey lag goose is the biggest in Central Europe.

Closer to people
Many animals live in man-altered landscapes. Meadows are breeding grounds for birds. Crop fields are home to mice, voles (especially field voles) and hamsters. Partridges are still a relatively common sight. Country and town buildings provide shelter for the house mouse, house sparrow and swift, an excellent flier able to reach a speed of about 170 km/h and resembling the swallow. Swifts are the third most numerous group of birds living in Warsaw (after pigeons and sparrows) despite the fact that they come from rocky terrains.
At country houses you can often see swallow nests. Swallows build them from clay mixed with saliva. House martins stick their semicircular nests to house walls, while barn swallows prefer farm buildings like stables and their nests have elaborate entrances.
Some species have changed their habits and moved closer to people's houses only recently. Birds characteristic of forests colonized towns: the starling did it at the turn of the 20th century and the blackbird in the mid 20th century, followed by the magpie. Similar tendencies are observed in the case of the wood pigeon, kestrel and crow. In 1943 the collared turtle dove came to Poland; since about 1920 it had been spreading north-west from the European part of Turkey, always settling in towns. In urban parks, swans have become a common sight, more and more frequently joined by woodpeckers, flycatchers and thrushes, once found only in forests. Mountain wagtails now feel at home in Warsaw, where their breeding grounds change as the underground construction proceeds. The latest newcomers in the urban landscape are gulls. Their nests appear on roofs in such cities as Kolobrzeg and Slupsk.
Many species have been brought to Poland by man. These include escapees from fur animal farms such as the muskrat, which came to the country via Czechoslovakia in the late 1920s, American mink and raccoon dog. Other species have been deliberately brought and acclimatized as game animals: partridges, mouflons (sheep ancestors, living now in the Sudetes and the Swietokrzyskie Mountains), fallow deer and sika deer.

Rivers, lakes and the sea
Poland's big rivers are too polluted to harbour much wildlife. The short rivers of Pomerania and Masuria as well as many mountain streams are home to the trout and spawning grounds for the sea trout, a migratory variety of the salmon. To protect the fish, the entire 200km-long Drweca River and the slightly shorter Pasleka have been designated a nature reserve. The Drawa, cutting across Pomerania's forests and one of the cleanest rivers in the country, is a spawning ground for the salmon.
Fish commonly seen in clean waters are the bleak and roach, one of the best known fish species in Poland, found everywhere except for fast-flowing mountain streams. Other abundant species are the tench, carp, perch, pike, eel, bream and crucian carp, which prefers shallow and warm lower courses of rivers. Related to the perch, pike perch may weigh up to 10kg and occasionally even more. The crucian carp is resistant to pollution and recently the sheatfish has also appeared. It is one of the biggest fresh-water species in Europe - if you're lucky, you can catch crucian carps that weigh up to 30kg. Middle rivers are home to the barbel. As it needs clean water and relatively swift current, it is rather rare in Poland.
Clean, deep lakes rich in oxygen teem with pike perch, powan and whitefish. Whitefish feed on plankton which they catch while swimming just below water surface. When a lake becomes more abundant in food, they are surpassed by other fish species. The cool lakes in north-east Poland are ideal for the burbot and thunderfish. The only naturally fished Tatra lake is Morskie Oko, where you can see trout.
The Baltic Sea has little fauna due to its low salinity. Baltic water is five times less salty than in the North Sea and Atlantic. This is why you'll find in it no common marine creatures such as echinoderms and cephalopods, while snails and mussels are represented by just a few species. There is only one common jellyfish species. Baltic mussels and jellyfish are half the size of their relatives in the North Sea.
One glacial relict common in the Baltic Sea is the Mesidotea entomon, a millipede-like crustacean. The most abundant fish species are the herring and cod. Other commonly caught species are the sprat, a few kinds of flatfish and salmon. Grey seals, once often seen in the Gulf of Gdansk, today occur mainly in the northern part of the Baltic. Along the Polish coast they appear only occasionally, as do sea seals, ringed seals and porpoises. Whales and other big cetaceans are an extremely rare sight in the Baltic. This is caused by scarce food, shallow sea and problems with passing through the Danish Straits that close the sea.

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Re: Information about Poland?


In 2003 Poland's population stood at 38,111,000. This figure makes it the 29th most populated country in the world and the 8th in Europe. Before, it ranked seventh, but was surpassed by the independent Ukraine. It is forecast to regain the seventh place position roughly by 2030, surpassing Spain.
The first post-war census, held in February 1946, showed that 23.9 million people lived within the new Polish borders; in 1939, just before the war broke out, Poland's population was estimated at about 35 million. The country's losses due to military operations, fighting, extermination in death camps and forced deportations were among the highest in the world. An important factor was the dramatic shift of Poland's borders in 1945, as a result of which some one-fourth of the pre-war territory was lost to the Soviet Union.
Population density rose from nearly 80 people per sq km in 1946 to almost 124 in 2001. In Europe, this is the same density as Denmark's.
The first post-war years (1945-1950) saw intensive migrations. The new authorities pursued a program of populating the west and north territories. Most of the resettled people came from central and south-east Poland; others were repatriates from the terrains annexed by the Soviet Union or war emigrants returning from all over the world. It was a virtual exodus - between 1945 and 1947 about 5 million people settled in west and north Poland. While Poles returned to their country, Germans, Ukrainians and Belorussians emigrated or were deported - of the 23.9 million people who lived in Poland in 1946, non-Polish nationality was declared by 3.4 million.
In later decades (1950-1980) migrations were of an entirely different character. Following large-scale industrial investments undertaken by successive communist governments, people from industrially undeveloped regions moved to areas where extensive construction works were carried out (mainly the cities of Warsaw, Cracow, Katowice, Lodz and Poznan). This was accompanied by the migration of the rural population to urban centres (in the 1950s, 700,000 people moved to towns every year), which led to a dramatic change of the ratio of urban to rural population. While in 1946 about 68 percent of residents lived in rural areas and about 32 percent in towns, today the figures are respectively 38 and 62 percent.
The main population concentrations are the industrial agglomerations of Katowice (about 4 million people), Warsaw (about 2.5 million), Gdansk and Poznan (about 1.5 million each). The least populated areas are the north-east and north-west farmlands.


Poles account for 5.3 percent of all Europeans and for 0.65 percent of the world's population. Norway, whose area is nearly the same as Poland's (323,900 sq km), has 8.5 times fewer residents. The Opole province, Poland's smallest, is four times more populated than Iceland.

The Polish language

Regarded as rather hard for foreigners to master, Polish is an Indo-European language belonging to the West Slavonic group. When the proto Slavonic tribes left their lands between the Odra and Dnieper rivers in the early Middle Ages, they settled almost the entire central, east and south Europe, reaching the Elba in the west, the Volga and Dvina in the east and the Balkan Peninsula in the south. One of the effects of this expansion was the emergence of three groups of Slavonic languages: west, south and east. The West Slavonic group also comprises Czech and Slovak and despite a variety of differences between these languages, Poles, Czechs and Slovaks can easily understand one another without an interpreter.
Polish began to emerge around the 10th century, the process largely triggered by the establishment and development of the Polish state. Mieszko I, ruler of the Polanie from Wielkopolska, united a few culturally and linguistically related tribes from the basins of the Vistula and Odra before eventually accepting baptism in 966. With Christianity, Poland also adopted the Latin alphabet, which made it possible to write down Polish, until then existing only as a spoken language. The first manuscripts, produced by the clergy, were only in Latin, but occasionally they had to contain ethnically Slavonic names. Three documents with such insertions have survived from that period. The oldest of them is the Dagome iudex, in which Mieszko I subordinated his state to pope. It was written c. 990-992 and included a description of the duke's lands with information on his two major cities, Gniezno and Cracow. Pope Innocent IV's bull of 1136 contained 410 Polish-sounding placenames and people's names, while Hadrian IV's bull of 1155 mentioned 50 such names. This intermingling of Polish and Latin led in the 13th century to the formulation of the first rules of Polish spelling, which was done by Latin-educated Polish clergymen.
The first written texts in Polish were translations of Latin prayers and sermons rendered in the vernacular so that the faithful would understand what they prayed for and to whom. A good indication of the struggles with Polish and of people's shallow faith at that time is the Kazania ?więtokrzyskie (Sermons of the Holy Cross Monastery) from the second half of the 13th century. Another literary treasure of the Polish language dating from the same time is the Psałterz Dawida (David's Psalter), a translation of a Bible book made to the request of Princess Kinga. Perhaps the most famous text in medieval Polish is the hymn of the Bogurodzica (God's Mother) whose origins are shrouded in mystery. It was written down in the 15th century, but its archaic vocabulary and the fact that it had been known "from times immemorial" seem to prove that it must have been composed centuries earlier, possibly a few decades after Mieszko I's baptism.
In the 13th century the first secular texts began to appear slowly. The earliest writings were just two sentences: one said by a peasant and the other by a ruler. Around 1200 Abbot Peter, the author of the Księga Henrykowska (Book of Henrykow), decided to quote some Boguchwal, who, on seeing his wife tired of querning for a long time, made her a generous offer, "Day ut ia pobrusa, a ti pocziwai", which may be translated as: "Let me work now and you have some rest". Whether the spouse's reply was "Thank you my thoughtful husband" or "At last you've come to help me, you lazy wretch", Abbot Peter did not tell us. The other historical sentence was uttered by Prince Henry the Pious on 9 April 1241, soon before his death at the Battle of Legnica, which he lost to the Mongols: Gorze się nam stało! (Misfortune befell us).
The first attempt to codify the rules of the Polish language was made around 1440 by Jakub Parkoszowic of Zurawica who wrote a Latin treatise on Polish spelling. At the same time Polish started to be used in legal documents and court books. A bit earlier, about 1400, the first secular poem in Polish, devoted to the pleasures of feasting, was written. The first Polish dictionary was compiled only four centuries later. The six-volume work by Samuel Bogumil Linde, printed in 1200 copies, was published in Warsaw between 1807 and 1814. The six hundred pages of 23 x 30cm size contained the definitions of 60,000 Polish words.
Polish is an inflected language with seven cases, two numbers, three genders in singular and two in plural. Verbs are conjugated by person, tense, mood, voice and aspect. There are nasal vowels, which is unique among Slavonic languages. Another singularity is the regular stress on the penultimate syllable - in other Slavonic languages it is shifting (Russian) or falls on the first syllable (Czech, Slovak). The so-called Polish vowel mutation is the change of e into o or a before hard front consonants. Characteristic of Polish are also word stems with several variants.
In spelling, one major difficulty for both foreigners and natives alike is the words with ż vs. rz, u vs. ó, and h vs. ch, since the pairs of sounds these letters or combinations of letters represent have identical or almost identical pronunciation. Polish grammar and punctuation abound in rules and twice as many exceptions to them. Predictably, Polish is said to be a rather difficult language to learn.
Polish has five major dialects, spoken in Silesia, Malopolska, Mazovia, Wielkopolska and Kashubia. This is a hangover from the times when every Slavonic tribe used its own language which slowly developed and changed over centuries. This process took place largely outside big urban centres, among small-town gentry and peasants. Each dialect has several varieties with characteristic and consistent linguistic phenomena. These varieties differ from standard Polish in vocabulary, syntax, pronunciation and morphology. For example, Poles from Mazovia and Malopolska tend to substitute dental stops and affricates with alveolar stops and affricates, so they pronounce syja instead of szyja (neck) and cysty instead of czysty (clean). In some areas nasal consonants are pronounced without nasal resonance (deby instead of dęby [oaks]), while in others the sound y may be nasalized (dymby instead of dęby). Inflection differences include using the zrobim form instead of zrobimy (we'll do) or choćta instead of chod?my (let's go). Inflection endings used in dialects have preserved some features of archaic Polish, like the -e ending in the genitive of some nouns (do piwnice instead of do piwnicy [to the cellar]). Another characteristic trait is inflection simplifications, that is reducing the number of endings (chałupów instead of chałup [of huts], polów instead of pól [of fields]). Other dialectal differences are local abundances of diminutive forms and words connected with farming which are no longer or have never been used in standard Polish.
Some dialects, like Kashubian, are considered to be separate languages.
An interesting phenomenon that started after 1954 is the emergence of new, mixed dialects in the north and west of the country where thousands of people moved after the war.
Polish also has many borrowings from other languages, notably from English, French, German, Latin and Russian. These influences have been caused by various factors ranging from fascination with other cultures (borrowings from French) to historical processes such as the partitions (borrowings from German and Russian) or accepting Christianity (borrowings from Latin).
Latin started to influence Polish in the Middle Ages. When Polish statehood and Christian order were established, the language incorporated religious and liturgical vocabulary, often via Czech and German (e.g. anioł [angel], msza [mass]). Today this influence is limited mainly to scientific jargon.
Words of German origin were borrowed particularly in the 19th century as a result of the policy of Germanization. It would be difficult to imagine modern Polish without such obvious lexical calques as czasopismo (magazine, after the German Zeitschrift), dworzec kolejowy (railway station, after Bahnhof) and owiatopoglšd (world view, after Weltanschauung).
At the same time and for the same reasons Polish borrowed many words from Russian. Another great wave of Russian borrowings, such as kolektyw (collective body), kołchoz (kolkhoz) and gułag (gulag), came after the Second World War when Poland became the so-called people's democracy, vassalized by the Soviet Union.
For French, the period of the greatest impact was the 18th century when it was spoken by virtually everyone who wanted to be regarded as educated and world-travelled - at that time French was in Europe what English is today. Gallicisms can be found in all spheres of life: makijaż (make up), mansarda (mansard), koniak (cognac), apaszka (neckerchief).
The post-war decades have been dominated by English. Since the late 1960s the number of borrowings from that language has increased steadily and in 1990s Polish became virtually flooded by loanwords from English.


The biggest number of words of English origin have made their way to Polish computer jargon (serwer, skaner, host, bajt), sports (windsurfing, kick boxing), music (didżej, stereo, rock, rap) and economy (biznes, diler, holding, menedżer). English also has an increasing influence on everyday-life vocabulary (telefon, tost, grill, drink-bar, sex shop, fast food, hamburger).

Poles abroad
Fourteen to seventeen million Poles are estimated to live abroad, mainly in the USA (6-10 million), Germany (about 1.5 million), Brasil (about 1 million), France (about 1 million), Canada (about 600,000), Belarus (400,000-1 million), Ukraine (300,000-500,000), Lithuania (250,00-300,000), the United Kingdom (about 150,000), Australia (130,000-180,000), Argentina (100,000-170,000), Russia (about 100,000), the Czech Republic (70,000-100,000) and Kazakhstan (60,000-100,000).
This immense number of Polish expatriates and foreigners who declare themselves of Polish descent (17 million is equivalent to about 40 percent of Poland's current population) is a result of complex historical processes which started in the late 18th century when Poland disappeared from Europe's maps, partitioned by its three powerful neighbours: Russia, Austria and Prussia. Poles, who never accepted the loss of their statehood, staged numerous but unsuccessful uprisings. Those led to the first great wave of emigration, mainly for political reasons. The ex-confederates of Bar (1768-1772), followed by the participants of the successive uprisings in 1794 (Kosciuszko Uprising), 1830-1831 (November Uprising) and 1863-1864 (January Uprising), fled to France, Belgium, Britain, Germany and America to seek refuge from the regimes they fought against. In their new homelands, they often continued political activity or even joined the local freedom fighters, as did Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Kazimierz Pulaski who became heroes of the American War of Independence. Tens of thousands of other Poles were forcibly deported by Russians to Siberia.
The second great wave of emigration, started in the second half of the 19th century, was largely caused by economic backwardness and poverty. People left the partitioned country for Germany, America and Brazil to seek work and a better life. The United States alone had admitted as many as 944,000 Poles by 1910. When the second generation was born, they totalled 1.7 million. By 1914, 63,000 Poles had emigrated to Brazil, while 600,000 lived in Siberia, either deported or attracted by job opportunities in the region's mines and factories.
The next two emigration waves were due to the First and Second World War. In 1914 some 800,000 people fled from Galicia before the advancing Russian army and another 600,000 fled from the Russian partition before the German army. Between 1939 and 1941 about two million citizens of Poland were resettled deep in the Soviet Union, while by 1944 a further 2.5 million had been deported to Germany for forced labour. Out of five million Poles who were outside the country in 1945, 4.5 million decided to return, while 500,000 chose to live as expatriates. Immediately after the lost campaign in September 1939, tens of thousands of people got through Hungary, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia to West Europe and the Middle East. Many of them were soldiers who did not want to surrender and continued their fight against the Nazis in the allied countries' armies on all fronts of the war. Polish government in exile was constituted in France and then, after the country's defeat, evacuated to Britain. It continued to function until 1991, never recognizing the communist governments of the Polish People's Republic.
The last great wave of emigration hit Poland after the Second World War, when the country became ruled by Moscow-backed communists. Despite limited contacts with the free world, deliberately hindered by the authorities through such measures as restrictions in issuing passports, between 1956 and 1980 about 800,000 people left for the USA and West European countries. Some of them emigrated for political reasons, opposing the communist regime; others simply sought a better life. In the 1980s, some 270,000 Poles left the country. The first group comprised mainly Solidarity emigrants: independent trade unionists and social activists who were expelled when the martial law was imposed in 1981; the second group was those who emigrated of their own will when, following the suspension of the martial law, the country sank into deep economic crisis.


The first Pole to
-travel in Asia was a Franciscan monk known as Benedictus Polonus who in 1246 visited the capital of the Mongol empire as a member of a mission sent by pope Innocent IV;
- travel in Africa was Jan Laski, king's secretary, who in 1500, on his way to the Holy Land, visited Egypt;
- reach North America was an unknown wood distiller who in 1585, with five other Poles of the same trade, enlisted on an English ship that sailed to Virginia;
- reach South America was Krzysztof Arciszewski from Rogalin near Poznan, captain of the Dutch West Indies Company, who in 1629 visited Brasil;
- reach Australia was the whaler Ksawery Karnicki who in 1790 left a Chilean ship in order to set up a whaling station;
- reach Antarctica was Henryk Arctowski who in 1898, accompanied by Antoni Dobrowolski, sailed to the White Continent aboard the "Belgica";
- see the Earth from space was Miroslaw Hermaszewski who in 1978 orbited our planet in Soyuz 30.

Ethnic structure

Ethnically, modern Poland is almost homogenous. According to the 2002 Census, the minorities account for about 3-4 percent of the population, which is equivalent to some 1.5 million people. In the inter-war period (1918-1939) the Second Republic of Poland had 11.3 million citizens of non-Polish nationality, who constituted 35 percent of the entire population (as surveyed in 1931). This dramatic change in ethnic structure was due to the atrocities of the Second World War and the post-war policy of Poland's communist authorities. About 6 million lives were lost as a result of military operations and mass extermination; another 6.5 million found themselves outside the changed Poland's borders, and 1.7 million people were deported or forced to emigrate.
The biggest minority in today's Poland is the Germans. Their number is estimated as about 150,000 (800,000 in 1931) and they live mainly in Silesia. The second biggest Tgroup is the Belorussians, who number about 49,000 (1.9 million in 1931) and live mainly in the east. The third largest minority is the Ukrainians, who after the war were forced to resettle in the new territories in the west and north part of the country. Their number is about 31,000 (5 million in 1931).
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Poles are seen as a nation of fun lovers who enjoy festivities, traditions and centuries-old customs. The most ancient rituals, especially those dating back to pagan times, have long lost their magical character, becoming a colourful vestige of the past and a form of amusement. Links with tradition are felt the strongest during the greatest religious feasts, such as Christmas, Easter, Corpus Christi processions and All Saints' Day. Pilgrimages to holy sites are very popular; these include the Monastery of Jasna Góra in Częstochowa for Catholics; the tomb of Rabbi Elimelech in Lezajsk for Jews, the Grabarka Sanctuary for Orthodox Christians.

The two main national holidays are the anniversary of the restoration of independence in 1918, celebrated on 11 November, and the anniversary of the passing of Poland's first Constitution on 3 May 1791. These are official holidays with ceremonies, marches, concerts and other festivities.
Other holidays, quite different in character, include Women's Day (8 March; today much less popular than under Communism), Mother's Day (26 May), Granny's Day (21 January) and Children's Day (1 June), all less public and celebrated first and foremost at home.

A well-established Polish tradition is the celebration of Andrzejki (St. Andrew's Day) - the last festive day before Advent, with fortune-telling to check what the new year will bring. The best-known method is by pouring hot wax into cold water and "reading" its shapes.
Christmas is a very festive holiday in Poland. Many customs, ceremonies and beliefs centre around Christmas Eve, a special day in Polish homes. An important element contributing to its dignified atmosphere are the Christmas decorations, notably a beautifully adorned Christmas tree. Today it would be difficult to imagine Christmas without it, although it's one of the newest traditions: the first trees appeared in Poland in the 19th century, mainly in cities, introduced by Germans and Protestants of German origin. Gradually the custom gained popularity all across Poland. Before that, Polish houses used to be decorated with green branches of fir, spruce or pine.

Another element of the traditional Christmas decorations were sheaves of wheat and rye, hay and straw. They were supposed to bring good crops and remind everyone of the poverty in which Jesus was born. The custom has survived in the form of a small bunch of hay put under the tablecloth. In some houses this is accompanied today by money, a fish scale or bone put into a wallet - all to ensure affluence in the new year. An extra set of plates and cutlery is laid on the table for an unexpected guest. Sometimes an empty plate is a reminder of those who have passed away.
Christmas Eve was believed to affect the entire new year. For this reason, it had to be spent in harmony and peace, with everyone showing the utmost kindness to one another. Today it is still devoted to long preparations for Christmas Eve dinner, all the work having to be done before dusk. Then the whole family sit down to dine together, in the most important event on that day.

Traditionally, Christmas Eve dinner begins when the first star has appears in the sky. First, there is a prayer, sometimes with a passage from scripture about Jesus' birth being read out. Then the family wish one another all the best for the new year and, as a sign of reconciliation, love, friendship and peace, share opłatek Christmas wafers that symbolise holy bread. Orthodox Christians do the same before their Christmas Eve meal by sharing proskura or prosfera, which is unleavened bread.

The dinner consists only of meatless dishes. Traditionally, there should be twelve courses - reflecting the number of months in the year or, in different interpretation, Christ's apostles.
In practice, hardly anybody bothers to count them; the more food is on the table, the more auspicious the next year will be. You at least have to taste everything. This custom derives from the ancient tradition of respect for the fruits of the earth. After dinner, Christmas carols are sung. Many people end the day by attending the Midnight Mass known as Pasterka (the Shepherds' Mass).

Christmas Eve dinner past and present

Today Christmas Eve dinner is sumptuous and diversified. Typical dishes include barszcz beetroot soup with mushrooms or uszka (dumplings stuffed with mushrooms), mushroom soup, a cabbage dish (usually plain cabbage with mushrooms or pierogi with cabbage and mushrooms), sweet dumplings with poppy seeds, pastries, cakes, fruit, nuts, sweets and a compote drink made from stewed prunes, dried pears and apples. The main treat, though, is fish. The Polish cuisine is noted for a variety of fish dishes: soups, herring salads, fish with sauce, cream or jelly, fish in aspic, baked, fried or boiled fish. A traditional Christmas delicacy is carp or pike in grey sauce with vegetables, almonds, raisins, spices, wine or beer. The obligatory pastries and cakes include poppy-seed twists, honey gingerbreads and a dessert made of sweet poppyseeds with honey, raisins and nuts, served with crisp tarts once known as łamańce or kruchalce. One of the oldest Christmas Eve dishes is kutia, which is made of poppy seeds and boiled wheat with honey. This tradition derives from ancient funerary rituals held on the winter solstice.

A popular event during the period after Christmas is the jasełka, a Nativity play staged by amateurs. In the country, you can still see carollers who go from house to house with a star or Nativity crib. Traditionally, they expect to be tipped for the visit; once the payment was in Christmas delicacies, but today these have been largely replaced by small change. The carollers are often dressed up and improvise scenes that loosely draw upon biblical motifs. Typically, the characters are King Herod, Angel, Devil, Death, sometimes Gypsy and a bear or goat.
The New Year's Day and its eve, known in Poland as Sylwester (St. Silvester's Day), begins the carnival - a period of balls and parties. One traditional form of having fun was kulig (sleigh rides), for centuries favoured by the Polish gentry and still extremely popular. A cavalcade of horse-pulled sleighs and sledges went from one manor house to another, entertained everywhere with hearty meals followed by dances. Today the rides are less spectacular, usually ending with a bonfire and sausages or the traditional bigos.
The last Thursday of the carnival is a day on which Poles stuff themselves with pączki (doughnuts) and deep-fried narrow strips of pastry known as chrust or faworki.
The carnival ends with revelry on Shrove Tuesday known as śledzik or śledziówka - the "herring feast", after the herrings eaten on that day as a herald of the coming Lent.
One pagan tradition still popular today is the drowning of the marzanna ("frost maiden"), held on the fourth Sunday of Lent. For our ancestors, the custom was associated with the everlasting rhythm of life. It expressed their joy at the coming of spring, which meant a rebirth of nature, promising crops and abundance, the marzanna was a representation of winter, a straw female effigy, dressed in white and adorned with coral beads and ribbons. In Silesia, she was clad in a beautiful wedding dress with a wreath on her head. Villagers carried the marzanna from house to house, then stripped her and scattered the clothes over the fields. Eventually she was drowned in a river, pond, lake or simply in a big puddle. Sometimes before throwing her into the water the effigy was set on fire. As the marzanna was carried out of the village one way, on the opposite side the villagers carried in the maik - green branches adorned with ribbons, coral beads and flowers. Over centuries this ceremony evolved into a form of amusement. Today drowning the marzanna is mainly done by children on 21 March, which is the first day of spring and an unofficial truants' day.
The most colourful religious feast before Easter is Palm Sunday, celebrated in churches across the country to commemorate Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The main attribute associated with that day are the palms. Despite the name, they hardly resemble the real palm branches with which Jesus was greeted in the Holy City. Typically, they are bouquets of common box, dried flowers and willow twigs. Some regions are noted for particularly impressive palms, several metres high and decorated with coloured ribbons, dyed grasses, dried or artificial flowers. In the past it was believed that a palm blessed at a mass has special properties; for example, it can prevent disease. After the mass, people would hit one another with their palms, exchanging wishes of health, wealth and bumper crops.
On Holy Saturday people bring baskets of their Easter fare to church for a special blessing for all the different Easter foods. This typically Polish tradition dates back to the 14th century. Originally, only a baked lamb made of bread was blessed, but today the basket should contain at least seven kinds of food, each with its own symbolism. Bread, ensuring good fortune, is in Christianity first and foremost a symbol of Christ's body. Eggs stands for re-birth, life's victory over death. Salt is a life-giving mineral, once believed to keep away all evil. Smoked meat ensures health, fertility and abundance. Cheese represents friendship between man and nature. Horseradish is a symbol of strength and physical fitness. Cake (usually an Easter pound cake, round wheat cake and mazurek) was the last item to appear in the Easter basket and it symbolises skills and perfection. Tradition has it that the cake should be home-made. Nowadays some people also have chocolate and tropical fruits in their Easter baskets. This custom developed during the Communist period, when chocolate and imported fruit were rarities.

Easter eggs

Another Easter custom is the tradition of decorating eggs. The oldest Polish Easter egg comes from the 10th century and was found at an excavation site in Ostrów. Interestingly, it was made in a technique very much like those used today.
Decorating Easter eggs has become an element of folk culture, with distinct regional differences. Traditionally, before they are dyed the eggs are painted over (using a funnel-like tool) with a pattern in molten wax, which, when dry, will not adsorb the dye and is later scraped away to leave a traced decoration on the painted egg. In some regions, white bulrush cores and coloured wool or miniature paper cut-outs are glued to the egg shell. A Pomeranian variety is an egg in one colour only, obtained by using natural dyes from leaves, tree bark, onion scales, cones, mallow flowers, camomile, reed, nut shells, nettle leaves, larch needles and many other plants. In Silesia, dyed eggs are decorated with elaborate patterns scraped off the dyed shell with a sharp stylus.
Decorating eggs was once women's handicraft. Dyed or painted eggs were first presented to family members and godchildren, and then, during the week following Easter, to friends. Offering an Easter egg to a boy or girl was seen as a token of affection.

As tradition requires, the blessed food products are eaten at a ceremonial breakfast after the Resurrection Mass on Easter Sunday. The whole family sits down to a table lavishly laid with hams, sausages, pates, roulades, roast pork loins, a variety of poultry dishes, eggs, pound cakes, mazureks, round wheat cakes, cheesecakes, etc., etc. Hot dishes include żur with white sausage or smoked bacon, horseradish soup with a hard-boiled egg and white sausage, or barszcz consommé, also served with an egg. The table is covered with a snow-white cloth and decorated with Easter eggs, spring flowers, catkins, green cress compositions and the essential Easter lamb made of cake or sugar.
Easter Monday, Śmigus-dyngus, is a day on which boys sprinkle girls with water. The original meaning of this ancient custom, which remains extremely popular today, has faded into oblivion. Perhaps it was a rite of purification to ensure fertility. In many places not only women were sprinkled, but the earth and cows as well - for better crops and more milk.
There are also many local Easter customs. Cracow has its long-established Emaus, a folk festivity commemorating the two disciples' meeting the Risen Jesus on the road to Emaus. Hucksters put up their stalls laden with trinkets, pipes and sweets. Apprentices and farmhands from nearby villages would court girls by hitting them with willow twigs and fighting with sticks to show off. Crowds would gather at churches to see a procession of religious brotherhoods in full outfit, with drums, standards and holy pictures. Today, sadly, traditional toys and crafts on the stalls are being replaced by modern plastic gadgets, but despite that, Emaus is still great fun for both children and adults alike.

You can see a country from the window of a coach or hotel, and be happy with what you learn from a guided tour. But if that's all you get, after some time you'll be feeling like a walking encyclopaedia - knowing just the facts, dates, numbers and individual images of a place. You can't get an emotional feel for the place unless you have direct contact with its people, because their customs, culture and traditions leave a mark in your memory of that special corner of the world.

Polish people enjoy greeting each other. If you find the word "cześć" (Hi!) too difficult to pronounce, you can use "Hello" instead and you'll certainly be understood. When arriving at a meeting, Polish people shake hands. When the company is larger it's right to shake hands with all those present. As a rule the first few minutes of any gathering are taken up with everyone greeting everyone else. This breaks the ice and makes life easier for the shy. Don't be surprised if some people exchange embraces or even a kiss during a greeting. This indicates familiarity rather than love. In the fervour of greetings someone may even lean over to kiss visitors from abroad. If that happens, don't panic, just return the gesture. But with moderation, a kissed greeting is in fact a delicate touch of cheeks.

Words and gestures
When the greetings are over the talking starts. In any group there is bound to be someone who speaks English - the most popular foreign language in Poland. The rest will wholeheartedly take it upon themselves to teach the foreigner some Polish. Someone will almost certainly suggest you repeat the tongue twister: "W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie" (say: Vuh Shchebsheshinyeh kshanshch bshmee vuh tshchynyeh), which is difficult even for Poles to say properly. The foreigner can but try - and in so doing amuse all those assembled. After this the conversation may continue in the form of unconjugated verbs and gestures.

First names, surnames and...
Bruderszaft is something like a fraternal toast. In no circumstances may you decline it, as this could be taken as an offence. Relations between people who have taken part in this ceremony turn from official to personal. From then on first names can be used, in Polish "przejść na ty" ("ty" being the informal "you" -being on first-name terms). Bruderszaft is accomplished in the following way: two people simultaneously raise a toast, after which they interlock arms and down their drinks. The last part is an exchange of kisses and a "Call me Marek," - "Call me John".
If you don't get on to such familiarities, call your Polish interlocutor Pan (Mr) or Pani (Ms). Dropping the Mr or Ms and using only such titles as Director, President, or professions (Waiter, Driver, Cashier) is taken as impolite behaviour. Even worse is to call someone only by their surname. Saying "Kowalski, pass me that teaspoon", you may expose yourself to the suspicion that you are treating Kowalski no better than a servant. "Panie Kowalski" (Mr Kowalski) is low-brow (and in some circles downright rude); the socially accepted habit of preceding a first name with Pan or Pani is the most prevalent custom. If you say "Pani Beato" (Ms Beata), "Panie Jacku" (Mr Jacek) you can be sure that neither a hotel receptionist nor a company director will take offence. This is the polite form of address to little-known peers, people you have just met, and inferiors; superiors should be addressed "proszę pana" or "proszę pani", or by their title: "panie doktorze", "pani doktor", "panie dyrektorze" etc.

Remember name-days
Moving to the informal "ty" makes life much easier, but it also brings certain obligations. The most important is to remember name-days (a patron saint's day - rather than birthdays). This anniversary is important for Poles and in no other culture is it celebrated in such a special way. In order to avoid awkward situations, it is worthwhile checking the calendar and marking the appropriate date. Poles celebrate their name-day at home, sometimes in restaurants, occasionally at work - but these days only after hours. If you see someone on their name-day, offer him or her your best wishes. Small presents are also welcome - flowers, a little toy, a book. Sticking to good wishes only is not a faux pas. The most important thing is not to forget this important date. If you don't see the person on the name-day, a telephone call, text message or email will do. The recipient will definitely remember this gesture, which will make mutual relations that much warmer. If you miss the actual day, you can "make up" for the omission within the "octave" (viz. the next few days).

Family above all else
Public opinion poll results have for years consistently shown that Polish people find a successful family life is the most important value. Poland has one of the lowest divorce rates in Europe. This is certainly in part due to the significance of religion in Polish lives, but not only. Agnostics and "lapsed Catholics" as well value the family more than money and professional status. Talking to Poles you may easily get the impression that Polish families are unusually large. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. You should realise that in everyday language "sister" and "brother" can mean "cousin", and "'aunties" and "uncles" may be just family friends. The most popular family model is the 2 + 2 formula (mother, father, and two children), and according to precise statistics it is now nearer 2 + 1.5.

Free time
Walking the dog is one of Polish peoples' most popular forms of spending free time. Poles are also going in for more and more sports activities. Cycling, going to fitness centres, bowling and roller skating are the sports recently in fashion. Only watching television enjoys greater popularity - Poles watch an average of 4 hours a day. In recent years visiting shopping malls has grown to be one of the most popular pastimes. Worth recommending is a night out at the theatre or a concert. But take note - Poles attending such events treat them as special occasions and dress elegantly for them (unless it's an avant-garde or student theatre). So, if you don't want to cause a minor sensation, for a visit the Polish theatre don't sport a T-shirt and worn jeans, though it would of course be all right for an outing to the countryside.

On the road
There are fewer cars in Poland than in the West, though enough of them to create traffic jams in all the major cities. If you're planning a trip into the heart of the countryside, be patient. Especially as the main routes are also becoming increasingly congested. This is due both to Poles' fascination with cars as well as the country's transit status. Almost every lorry which crosses Europe, from East to West and back, passes through Poland. It is necessary therefore to get used to the large number of lorries on the not very wide roads. For your own safety it is better not to race them and to expect average speeds lower than on roads in the EU. Apart from that, drivers who break the speed limit risk a roadside encounter with the numerous highway patrol police. Fines are heavy and can significantly raise the cost of visiting Poland.
Intercity and Eurocity trains link all the main towns and cities in Poland. It is therefore worth weighing up the pros and cons of buying a train ticket and getting to your destination in half the time a car journey would take. This is especially true of weekend journeys, when traffic both inward-bound as well as out of town can get really heavy. If you get hungry en route, you can stop off at one of the numerous roadside restaurants. Though nothing beats a Polish meal at home.

The groaning table
If in France one cannot count all the types of cheese, in Poland the same applies to sausages and cold cuts. Recently barbecues have become highly fashionable with the meat-eating Poles. Special occasions, such as the visit of a guest from abroad, however, demand the preparation of more complicated and rarer dishes. To stay in Poland and not try bigos made of cabbage is like being in Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. Bigos was once a special hunters' dish, served at the end of a long day. Traditionalists who do not eat anything except the specialities of their own cuisine need have no worries about visiting Poland. It is easy to find restaurants serving Japanese sushi, Mexican tacos, American steaks or Greek salads. The one exception is sea food, of which most Poles are not overly fond. On a visit to the mountains you simply must try oscypek - ewe's-milk cheese. It is not found in any other place in the world and is in the shape of a roll with pointed ends. Because the mountain people themselves make it, apart from its quality, care is also taken with its aesthetics - they are imprinted with attractive designs.

To the guests' health
The claim that as a nation the Poles can't put their drinking glasses down is wrong. Alcohol consumption is systematically falling and beer is enjoying greater popularity these days than vodka. At parties wine and cocktails are the in thing. However, if you decide on a tipple, it is worthwhile to prepare for toasts. The first toast is usually raised by the host "to the guests' health." It is easy to guess that the guests will reciprocate by drinking to the health of the hosts.
Surprisingly, the Polish national drinks are not alcoholic, but - coffee and tea. Guests are ambushed with the question which of these beverages they would prefer more or less immediately after they cross the threshold of a Polish home.

Guest in the home, God in the home
When sitting down to the dinner table it is always a good idea to congratulate the host on the wonderful reception. Poles are convinced that they are an exceptionally hospitable nation and like to be reassured of this. And not without reason. In the past their forefathers often said: "A guest in the home, God in the home," which meant that a guest had to be offered all the best things available. When the best was not forthcoming they would resort to the following expression: "Get into debt, but do it in style." In fact it sometimes happened that the cost of a reception or party would be financed by a loan which then took years to repay. The desire to please guests is still prevalent in Poland today.

What you have to know about Poland?

Climate - temperate. Four distinct seasons of the year. Spring - full of surprises, in March and April it can just as easily be warm and sunny as cold and rainy, even snowy. Summer - warm (temperatures can go up to the thirties Centigrade), occasionally rainy, the best time of year for visiting the country. Autumn - very colourful, sunny, rainy towards the end, a good time for lovers of forest walks. Winter - temperatures hover around zero (and are often well below zero), with snow guaranteed only in the mountains. Due to the capricious nature of the weather Poles regularly watch the TV weather forecast.

Health services - better to buy insurance cover, as private treatment is expensive. There is a full range of drugs in the pharmacies. Some countries have reciprocal contracts with Poland for free treatment on the national health service for their citizens.

Churches - it is not advised to plan visits on Sundays or religious holidays. Poles are a religious nation and during masses churches are crowded. No piictures may be taken during a service. Going into a church scantily dressed (e.g. in beachwear) is frowned upon.

Telephones - the whole country is within range for mobile telephones. Fixed-line calls, especially international ones are among the most expensive in Europe.

E-mail - you can use email in Internet cafes found in all the larger towns and cities. Most companies have email and private use is becoming more and more widespread.

Safety - crime rates are among the lowest in Europe. Better, however, not to go in the evening to places tour guides and friends have warned you about. Purse-snatching doesn't really figure large, though it is necessary to be on the look-out for pick-pockets, especially in crowded trams, buses and trains. It is not advisable to leave radios or other valuables in your car.

Religious holidays
Movable feasts - Easter and Corpus Christi
August 15th - Assumption of the Virgin Mary
November 1st - All Saints' Day (the commemoration of the dead)
December 25th and 26th - Christmas

Secular holidays
January 1st - New Year's Day
May 1st - May Day (Labour Day)
May 3rd - Constitution Day (a national holiday celebrating the May 3rd 1791 Constitution)
November 11th - Independence Day (a national holiday celebrating the restoration of independence in 1918).
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old Nov 20th, 2006, 11:39 PM
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Re: Information about Poland?

Originally Posted by gocanadago View Post
Thanks you!

As I see, Polish doesn't have a only 2 minutes for peoples who would like to know them
yes, we have
more info about Poland you find there:

Last edited by Niunia; Nov 21st, 2006 at 12:09 AM.
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old Nov 21st, 2006, 11:33 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Information about Poland?

Thanks Niunia! I LOVE YOU
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