Warsaw is the capital of Poland, and its largest city with almost two million residents. It also happens to be one of the largest cities in the European Union and has existed since the 13th century. It has served as the capital of the various iterations of the Polish state since 1596, when the capital of the Kingdom of Poland was moved from Krakow. Besieged several times, the Kingdom allied with Lithuania by the 18th century, however, by the end of the century, the union of these countries was absorbed into Prussia. Liberated by Napoleon in 1806, the country was, once again, put under another state’s thumb following the defeat of Napoleon, and a puppet state controlled by Imperial Russia was created. Russia would vacate during the first World War, and the German occupiers were subsequently expelled at the end of the war.
Of course, Warsaw’s recent history is also some of its most painful. The Germans invaded in 1939, kicking off World War II, and also plunging Warsaw into darkness. Warsaw’s 30% Jewish population was rounded up in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, however, when the Nazis came to destroy the Ghetto in 1943 an armed resistance held off the attackers for a month. This effort was, sadly, overwhelmed and few of the residents survived. When the Red Army advanced in 1944, Warsaw resisted the Nazis and much of the city was razed by the fleeing occupiers. Warsaw would see another 45 years of occupation, firmly in the hands of the Soviet Union. In this time the city was rebuilt and by the 80s, calls for democratic reform began to occur. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Poland has rapidly joined the European community and has been a member of the EU since 2004.
Warsaw’s painful, multicultural, and multiethnic history defines the city today, and can be seen downtown where many of the great churches and palaces that had been nearly destroyed during the war, now stand, restored. The city is also very fond of one of its most famous residents, the master piano composter Frederic Chopin, and the Chopin Museum is very popular with tourists. The airport is also named after him. Poland is also famous for its bread and sausages, and while in Warsaw the bigos, kotlet schabowy, and pierogis are all recommended. For the history buff, there is also a museum dedicated to the 1944 uprising, and for those interested in Soviet-era buildings, the Palace of Culture and Science is a sight to behold; it also happens to be the eighth tallest building in Europe.
The Warsaw metro first opened in 1995, and today services most of the city. Getting to and from Warsaw is also relatively simple, with many rail options and two airports. The city is also served by many busses and trams, and in recent years Warsaw has even acquired a bike-sharing system.