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Called Warszawa by Poles, Warsaw was named for Warsz, a 12th/13th century nobleman who owned a village on the site.
Situated on the Vistula River, about 160 miles from the Baltic Sea, the city proper covers an area of about 200 square miles (metropolitan area ~2,355 sq mi), and has a population of 1,716,855 (metropolitan, 2,631,900), making it the largest and most populous city in Poland.
The site on which Warsaw now sits has been occupied since ancient times, but the city itself was founded ~1300 by Prince Boleshaw II of Masovia. It became the capital of Masovia in 1413.
When Warsaw became part of the Kingdom of Poland in 1596, King Sigismund III Vasa moved his capital from Krakow to Warsaw because it was more centrally located. Swedish forces invaded Poland in the mid-1600's and destroyed much of Warsaw in 1656, but the city remained the capital of Poland until 1795. That year, Austria, Prussia and Russia divided Poland among themselves, and Warsaw became the capital of the Prussian province of South Prussia.
From 1807 to 1813, Warsaw was the capital of the Duchy of Warsaw, a state created by French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. After Napoleon's defeat, Russia gained control of Warsaw. World War I brought an end to Russian rule, and Germany controlled the city from 1915 to 1918, when Poland again became independent.
World War II brought the almost total destruction of Warsaw. In 1939, the Germans held the city in a three-week siege that caused great damage. Warsaw surrendered to the Germans, but it became the heart of the Polish underground. During the German occupation, about 500,000 Polish Jews were confined to the Warsaw Ghetto. Thousands of Jews died of hunger and disease, and the Germans executed thousands more. In April 1943, the 60,000 or so remaining Jews revolted, but the Germans quickly suppressed the revolt and executed almost all of the survivors.
By the summer of 1944, the Russian Army had advanced to the outskirts of Warsaw, and on August 1st the people of Warsaw rose up against the German Army. Unfortunately, the Soviet Army chose to wait outside the city while the residents fought against the Germans. Despite some initial gains, Warsaw was finally forced to surrender once again to the Germans on October 3. The Germans then evacuated almost the entire population and systematically destroyed virtually every building that still stood. The Soviet Army finally liberated the city on January 17, 1945, and Warsaw became the capital of the Polish People's Republic. The Warsaw Pact was signed in the city in 1955. Warsaw remained the capital of the Republic of Poland, which was established in 1989.
The federal government is the principal employer in Warsaw, but financial services, manufacturing, electronics, and high-tech industries are also important. The city has a modern street/highway system, as well as a public transportation system that connects most of the city. The city is also served by Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport, which handles both domestic and international flights.
Warsaw is divided into eighteen administrative districts, each of which has its own elected Mayor and Council to handle district affairs. The City of Warsaw as a whole is governed by a City Council, which establishes laws, budgets, etc, and a Mayor, who handles day-to-day affairs. All city government leaders are elected by popular vote.
Warsaw is home to the Polish National Opera, the National Theatre, the International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition, and other internationally recognized performing arts programs. The Warsaw Film Festival is held in the city every October.
Despite being a major metropolitan area, a number of magnificent gardens and parks, thirteen nature reserves, and the Warsaw Zoo are all located within the city's boundaries.
Museums in Warsaw include: National Museum, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Centre for Contemporary Art, MUSEUM of Modern Art, Museum of the Polish army, Royal Castle, Frederic Chopin Museum, Historical Museum of Warsaw, Polish History Museum, Museum of Independence, Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Museum of Sports and Tourism, Museum of Communism, Museum of Caricature, Motorisation Museum, and Erotic Museum.
The University of Warsaw (1816) is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in Poland. Other major educational institutions include: Warsaw University of Technology (1826), Warsaw School of Economics (1906), Warsaw University of Life Sciences (1818), Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University (1999), Medical University of Warsaw (1950), Academy of Fine Arts (1844), Academy of National Defence (1947), University of Physical Education in Warsaw (1929), Frederic Chopin Music Academy (1810), and Aleksander Zelwerowicz State Theatre Academy (1946).
Warsaw's Old Town section was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
Notable persons born in Warsaw include: Marie Curie, discoverer of radium; author Isaac Bashevis Singer; Casimir Pulaski, hero of the American Revolution; artist Tamara de Lempicka; and, composers Frederic Chopin and Moshe Vilenski.
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This page was last updated on April 12, 2017.