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Encyclopedia > Warsaw, Poland
For other uses, see Warsaw (disambiguation).

Warsaw (Polish: Image:ltspkr.png Warszawa, see also other names, in full The Capital City of Warsaw, Polish: Miasto Stołeczne Warszawa) is the capital of Poland and its largest city. It is located on the Vistula river roughly 350 km from both the Baltic Sea coast and the Carpathian Mountains. Its population as of 2004 was estimated at 1,676,600, with an urban agglomeration of approximately 2,400,000.

The city, also the capital of Masovian Voivodship, is home to many industries (manufacturing, steel, electrical engineering, automotive industry), comprises 66 higher learning institutions incl. (Warsaw University, Warsaw University of Technology, Higher School of Business and Medical Academy) and over 30 Theatres including the National Theatre and Opera and the Philharmonic National Orchestra.

Flag of Warsaw Coat of Arms of Warsaw
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
Motto: Contemnit procellas (It defies the storms)
Semper invicta (Always invincible)
Voivodship Masovian
Municipal government Rada miasta st. Warszawy
Mayor Lech Kaczyński
Area 494,28 km˛
 - city
 - urban
 - density

City rights
13th century
52°13' N
21°02' E
Area code +48 22
Car plates WA to WZ
Twin towns Astana, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hague, Hamamatsu, Hanoi, Kyiv, Moscow, Paris, Riga, Seoul, St.Petersburg, Taipei, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Vienna, Vilnius
Municipal Website (http://www.um.warszawa.pl/)

1 See also
2 External links


Warsaw is located on both sides of the Vistula river, approximately 350 kilometres from both the Carpathian mountains and the Baltic Sea. It is located in the heartland of the Masovian Plain. Average altitude is 100 m above sea level, although there are some hills (mostly artificial) located within the confines of the city.


Warsaw's climate is continental humid. The average temperature is 8 degrees Celsius (–3 °C in January and 19 °C in July). Yearly rainfall averages 680 mm, the most rainy month being July.


Old Town Market
Old Town Market

Warsaw was a small fishing village in the 13th century. In time, it became one of the seats of the Dukes of Masovia. Upon the extinction of the ducal line, the duchy was incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland in 1526. In 1572, Warsaw gave its name to the Warsaw Confederacy, an agreement by the Polish Gentry to tolerate different religious faiths in the Kingdom of Poland. Due to its central location in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Warsaw became the capital of Poland in 1596, when King Sigismund III (Vasa) moved the capital from Krakow. Warsaw remained the capital of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1795, when it was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia, to become the capital of the Province New East Prussia. Liberated by Napoleon's army in 1807, it was made the capital of the newly created Duchy of Warsaw. Following the decisions of the Congress of Vienna 1815, Warsaw became the center of the Polish Kingdom, a constitutional monarchy under a personal union with Imperial Russia.

Following repeated violations of the Polish constitution by the Russians, the 1830 November Uprising broke out. However, the Polish-Russian war of 1831 ended in the defeat of the uprising and the curtailment of the autonomy of the Kingdom.

On February 27, 1861 a crowd in Warsaw protesting Russian rule over Poland was fired upon by Russian troops killing five protesters. Warsaw become the capital of newly independent Poland again in 1918.

Warsaw flourished in the late nineteenth century under Mayor Sokrates Starynkiewicz (1875 - 1892), a Russian-born General appointed by Tsar Alexander III. Under Starynkiewicz, Warsaw saw its first water and sewerage system designed and built (by English engineer William Lindley and his son, William Heerlein Lindley), as well as expansion or modernization of trams, street lighting and gas works.

Aerial view of Warsaw in 1915

In the course of the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920 there was a huge Battle of Warsaw fought on the eastern outskirts of the city in which the capital of Poland was defended and the Red Army defeated.

Warsaw is notable among Europe's capital cities not for its size, its age, or its beauty but for its indestructibility. It is a phoenix that has risen repeatedly from the ashes. Having suffered dreadful damage during the Swedish and Prussian wars of 1655-1656, it was again assaulted in 1794, when the Russian army massacred the population of the right-bank suburb of Praga. Its most remarkable act of survival, though, was its rebirth following almost complete destruction during the Second World War.

The Second World War began when Germany invaded western Poland on 1st September 1939. On 17th September, eastern Poland was invaded by the USSR. Poland capitulated after 6 weeks of fighting. Western Poland was incorporated into the German Reich, eastern Poland into the USSR while central Poland, including Warsaw, became part of a German-occupied military zone, the General Government. In the course of the September Campaign Warsaw was severely bombed and in the course of the Siege of Warsaw approximately 10 to 15% of all the buildings were destroyed.

Warsaw became an occupied city under the control of the Nazi SS. All higher education institutions were immediately closed and Warsaw's entire Jewish population—several hundred thousand, some 40% of the city—herded into the Warsaw ghetto. When the order came to liquidate the Ghetto as part of Hitler's "final solution", Jewish fighters launched the Ghetto Uprising. Despite being heavily outgunned and outnumbered, the Ghetto held out for almost a month. When it ended, the survivors were massacred.

During 1943 and 1944 the tide of the war changed as the USSR, which had been at war with Germany since 1941, inflicted several severe defeats on the German army. By July 1944 the Soviets were deep into Polish territory and pursuing the Germans towards Warsaw. Knowing that Stalin was hostile to the idea of an independent Poland, the Polish government-in-exile (based in London) gave orders to the underground Home Army (AK) to try to seize control of Warsaw from the Nazis just before the Soviets arrive. Thus on August 1, 1944, as the Soviet army was moving towards the city very fast, the Home Army and the general population started the Warsaw Uprising.

Old Town Market
Old Town Market

Despite Stalin's hostility towards Poland, they had expected that Soviet troops would assist them against their common German enemy. Polish nationalists contend that the Soviet army sat and watched as the Germans ruthlessly suppressed the uprising. Recent studies of both Nazi and Soviet records have convinced many historians that it is unlikely the Red Army could have reached the city. Although the insurgency, planned to last 48 hours, held out for 63 days, eventually the Home Army fighters were forced to capitulate. They were transported to POW camps in Germany while the entire civilian population was expelled. Hitler then ordered the entire city to be razed to the ground. When the Russians entered the city, 85% of the buildings had been destroyed, including the historic Old Town and the Royal Castle. Surviving Home Army fighters were rounded up by the NKVD and either killed or deported to Siberia.

After the war, Boleslaw Bierut's puppet regime, set up by Stalin, made Warsaw the capital of communist People's Republic of Poland, and the city was resettled and rebuilt. A lot of plattenbaus can be found in Warsaw. Few of the inhabitants of pre-war Poland returned: hundreds of thousands were dead, thousands more in exile from the new regime. Nonetheless, the city resumed its role as the capital of Poland and the country's center of political and economic life. Many of the historic streets, buildings, and churches were restored to their original form. In 1980, the historic Old Town of Warsaw was inscribed onto UNESCO's World Heritage list.

In 1995 the Warsaw Metro finally opened and with the entry of Poland into the European Union in 2004 Warsaw is currently experiencing the biggest economic boom in its history.

Famous people

Monument to by

Famous people born, living or working in Warsaw:


Historical population

Warsaw on map of Poland

Municipal Government

Administrative division

Powiat warszawski
Powiat warszawski

Warsaw is a municipal powiat and is further divided into 18 distinct entities, called dzielnica, (map (http://www.e-warsaw.pl/images/mapa_dzielnice.gif)) with their own administrative bodies. Each of the dzielnica is divided into neighbourhoods which are not officially recognized by the city but known by most Varsovians. The best known neighbourhoods are Stare Miasto and Nowe Miasto in the Śródmieście dzielnica.

  • Bemowo
  • Białołęka
  • Bielany
  • Mokotów
  • Ochota
  • Praga Południe
  • Praga Północ
  • Rembertów
  • Śródmieście
  • Targówek
  • Ursus
  • Ursynów
  • Wawer
  • Wesoła (incorporated into the city of Warsaw in 2001, before a separate city)
  • Wilanów
  • Wola
  • Włochy
  • Żoliborz

Notable suburbs include:

German map of Warsaw
German 1888 map of Warsaw


See also: President of Warsaw
Lech Kaczynski, President of Warsaw

Following the Warsaw Act (Ustawa warszawska) of October 27, 2002 President of Warsaw carries over most of the executive duties in the city. His prerogative is, among others, governing the city-owned property that still constitutes a major part of the city. Acting president of Warsaw is Lech Kaczyński.

Municipal government

The Warsaw act abolished all the former counties and formed one city powiat with one municipal government.

Legislative power in Warsaw is vested in a unicameral City Council (Rada Miasta), which contains 60 members. Council members are elected directly every four years. Like most legislative bodies, the City Council divides itself into committees which have oversight of various functions of the city government. Bills passed by a simple majority are sent to the mayor, who may sign it into law. If the mayor vetoes the bill, the Council has 30 days to override the veto by a two-thirds majority vote.

Each of the 18 separate city districts has its own council (Rada dzielnicy). Their duties are focused on aiding the President and the City Council, as well as supervising various municipal companies, city-owned property and schools. The head of each of the District Councils is named the Mayor (Burmistrz) and is elected by the local council from the candidates proposed by the President of Warsaw.


The building of the Sejm
Main article: Members of Sejm from Warsaw constituency

As the capital of Poland, Warsaw is the political centre of the country. All state agencies are located there, including the Polish Parliament, Presidential Office and the Higest Court. In the Polish parliament both the city and the area are represented by 31 MPs (out of 460 altogether). Additional 2 politicians were recently elected MEPs.


Although Warsaw was heavily damaged during World War II and reconstruction in the fifties widened many streets, the city is currently plagued with traffic problems. Public transportation in Warsaw is as efficient as it is ubiquitous, serving the city with buses, tramways and a recently opened metro.

Piwna street in the Old Town
Piwna street in the Old Town


Warsaw lacks a good circular road system and most of the East-West traffic goes directly through the city center. Currently two circular roads are under construction. The first (called OEW, or Obwodnica Etapowa Warszawy) is to lead the traffic approximately 10 kilometres from the city center through the city streets and two newly-built bridges ([1] (http://www.zdm.waw.pl/obwodnica/obwodnica.jpg)). The other is to become a part of both the A-2 (Berlin-Moscow) and the A-7 (Gdańsk-Cracow) motorways and run through a tunnel under the southern area of Ursynów. It is to become available between 2008 and 2010.


Warsaw has one international Airport, Okęcie International Airport, located just 10 km. away from the city center. With over 60 international and domestic flights a day and with over 5 million passengers a year it is by far the biggest airport in Poland.

There are also plans for a second international airport to be built, mostly for aerial connections with other European Union countries. It is to be located either just outside of the city limits on one of the former military airports or in one of the suburbs to the North or to the West.

Monument to king Zygmunt in the Old Town area

Public Transportation

The public transportation system in Warsaw consists of three branches (buses, tramways and metro) united in the ZTM (http://www.ztm.waw.pl/index.php) (Zarząd Transportu Miejskiego or the City Transportation Office). Additional lines are operated by private companies and the state-owned railways.


Bus service covers the entire city, with 176 routes totalling 2,603 kilometres in length, and 1,659 vehicles. The central bus stop is located next to Warszawa Centralna railway station and Centrum Metro station. Between midnight and 5 am the city is served by 14 night lines.


The first tramway line in Warsaw was opened on December 11, 1866. On March 26, 1908, all the lines, previously horse-powered, were electrified. In the interbellum the tramways were nationalized and the net was extended significantly. After the Defence War of 1939 the service was halted for approximately three months due to war losses. Heavy aerial bombardment during the siege of Warsaw and requisition of all modern cars by the new German authorities postponed the reintroduction of service. However, by 1940 the tramways were back on track. In 1941 the present colours of the cars were introduced (yellow and red, in accordance with the Flag of Warsaw colours).

Following the Warsaw Uprising the tramway net was consistently destroyed by the Germans until the liberation of the ruins in January 1945. The streets were filled with rubble, the tramway stations destroyed and the cars either burnt or transported to Germany. However, the first line of tramways was opened again for the public on June 20, 1945.

Following the Second World War the tramway net in Warsaw was in fast development. The track net reached all the principal parts of the city. However, in the Sixties the official policy of both Polish and Soviet authorities promoted usage of Soviet oil and exportation of Polish coal. The availability of coal on the home market was decreased and the tramway net was shortened while more buses were bought. Until 1989 only 28 lines were preserved.

Currently the Tramwaje Warszawskie company runs 863 cars on almost 470 kilometres of track. 29 lines run across the city with additional lines opened on special occasions (such as public holidays or All-Saints Day).

Palace on the Water, Lazienki Park.

After the World War II most of the communication network in Warsaw was destroyed. The streets were filled with rubble, and the tramway infrastructure was either transported to Germany by the Wehrmacht or destroyed.

However, the city entered the path of quick reconstruction and was in need of a transport network both cheap and efficient. In 1946 several dozens of trolleybuses were bought in the Soviet Union and first two lines were soon opened. The trolleybuses were using a reconstructed tramway lines and the lines ran from Union of Lublin sq. (Plac Unii Lubelskiej) to Warszawa Gdańska train station and from Łazienkowska depot to the city center (Piękna street area).

In March 1946 a second line was opened (Plac Saski-Bonifraterska), but was closed and replaced by tramways in December. However, the reconstruction of tramway net was halted, mostly for political reasons, and until 1955 5 new lines were opened, covering most of the city center.

See: trolleybus network map of this period (http://www.przegubowiec.com/t-bus/tbus73hist.gif)

1967 started a period of fast decline in both number of trolleybuses and lines open for public in Warsaw. PZPR policies under Edward Gierek assumed that as much Polish coal as possible be exported while the oil be imported at very low prices from the USSR. It was decided that production of electricity should be lowered in order to spare resources and by July 7, 1973 all trolleybus lines in Warsaw were closed.

The last period of Warsaw trolleybus communication started in 1977, when it was decided that the existing cars could be used as a means of communication between Warsaw and the southern suburb of Piaseczno. Additional line was planned through Wilanów (now a part of the city), Powsin and Konstancin-Jeziorna. However, economical crisis made construction of the latter line impossible and only the earlier was opened on July 1, 1983.

After the system transformation of 1989 it became apparent that the trolleybuses were in dire need of replacement (those used were built in early 1950s) and that maintenance costs of running a single line were very high. On September 1, 1995 the Warsaw City Council decided that all services on the 51 and 651 lines be halted. In July 2000 the trolleybus depot in Piaseczno was closed and the remaining cars sold to Minsk and to various museums.

See: trolleybus line map of this period (http://www.przegubowiec.com/t-bus/tbtr83.htm)


For detailed info on the Warsaw underground railway see: Warsaw Metro.


The first railroad reached Warsaw in 1848 (Warsaw-Vienna line). Nowadays Warsaw is one of the main railway nodes and exchange points in Poland. Cheap and fairly efficient, PKP (Polskie Koleje Państwowe or Polish State-owned Railways) are one of the principal means of transport in Poland.

The main train station is Warszawa Centralna. Both domestic and international connections run from there to almost every city in Poland and Europe. There are also 5 additional major train stations and a number of smaller stations for suburban lines.

The railway crosses the city through a tunnel (Tunel Średnicowy). It is approximately 2.2 km long and runs directly under the city center. It is a part of an east-west line connecting the Warszawa Zachodnia, Warszawa Centralna and Warszawa Wschodnia train stations through the tunnel and a railway bridge over the Vistula river. There are plans of converting this line into a metro.

The principal train stations are:

  • Warszawa Centralna
  • Warszawa Gdańska
  • Warszawa Wileńska
  • Warszawa Zachodnia
  • Warszawa Wschodnia


Main article: Sports in Warsaw

Warsaw is home to 2 major professional football clubs and a number of smaller clubs. Those currently playing in the first division (Pierwsza Liga) are Legia Warszawa and Polonia Warszawa.

Like most of Polish sport clubs, those based in Warsaw have also branches that specialize in other disciplines.



Monument to
Monument to Adam Mickiewicz

Warsaw is home to over 30 major theatres that are spread throughout the city, including the National Theatre (founded in 1765) and the Grand Theatre in Warsaw ([2] (http://www.teatrwielki.pl/index.php?nlang=en)) (established 1778).

Warsaw also attracts many young and off-stream directors and performers who add to the city's theatre culture. Their productions can be seen mostly in the smaller theatres and Houses of Culture (Dom Kultury) located mostly outside of the Śródmieście. Presently, one of the most successful is the TR Warszawa (formerly Teatr Rozmaitości), one of the most notable scenes in Poland.

Museums and art galleries

There are many museums and art galleries in Warsaw, most notable are the Muzeum Narodowe, Zachęta Art Museum, Center for Contemporary Art, Museum of the Polish Army. The biggest of them, the National Museum has numerous divisions located in many parts of Warsaw, most notably in the Royal Castle and the Wilanow Palace.

On August 1, 2004, the Warsaw Uprising Museum is to be opened to the public.


Main article: Films featuring Warsaw

Since World War II Warsaw has been the second most important centre of film production in Poland. As the capital of Poland it has also been featured in countless films, both Polish and foreign. Films such as Kanał and Korczak by Wajda, Eroica by Munk, Miś by Bareja or The Pianist by Polański used Warsaw either as the background - or as the main protagonist.


For a full list of Warsaw-based institutions of higher education see: Education in Warsaw
Main gate of the
Main gate of the Warsaw University

Warsaw is one of the most important education centres of Poland. It is home to four major universities and over 62 smaller schools of higher education. The most important are:

  • University of Warsaw (Uniwersytet Warszawski)
  • Warsaw University of Technology (Politechnika Warszawska)
  • Warsaw School of Economics (Szkoła Główna Handlowa)
  • Warsaw Agricultural University (Szkoła Główna Gospodarstwa Wiejskiego)
  • Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University (Uniwersytet Stefana kardynała Wyszyńskiego)
  • Medical University of Warsaw (Akademia Medyczna w Warszawie)
  • Academy of National Defence (Akademia Obrony Narodowej)
  • Academy of Physical Education in Warsaw (Akademia Wychowania Fizycznego w Warszawie)
  • Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music (Akademia Muzyczna im. Fryderyka Chopina)
  • Theater Academy (Akademia Teatralna im. Aleksandra Zelwerowicza)

See also: List of universities in Poland

The overall number of students of all grades of education in Warsaw is almost 500.000 (29.2% of the cit

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