The Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska), at the center of Europe, covers an area comparable to that of New Mexico. Although it is characterized primarily by lowland plains, its landscape includes mountain ranges, freshwater lake districts, primeval forests and more than 325 miles of seacoast. The dry continental climate makes for pleasant and rather temperate weather. The population stands at about 40 million. Poland, a parliamentary republic, is integrating its economic system with a flourishing market economy, and has achieved one of Europe's highest gross domestic product growth rates.
Warsaw, the capital, abounds in memorable attractions: the Old Town, the Barbican defense walls, the Royal Castle, the baroque glories of Wilanów and the Ghetto Memorial. The city's splendor was lovingly restored after World War II. Today, Warsaw is the exciting center of the country's economic revitalization.
Kraków was long Poland's capital. Its history, said to have begun at the end of the 10th century, reached a zenith under Casimir the Great in the 14th century. In 1977, the city's spiritual leader, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, was elected Pope John Paul II. A tour is an unforgettable step into the past, from Wawel Hill with its palace and coronation chapel, to the grand Market Square ringed by St. Mary's Church, the Cloth Hall and Jagiellonian University, whose illustrious students include the great astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.
Gdansk is where a series of shipyard strikes in 1980 gave birth to the Solidarity movement. The city has been restored to its medieval grandeur. Among the attractions are the Neptune Fountain, Town Hall, the picturesque waterfront and the Solidarity Monument at the former Lenin Shipyard. Zakopane, a year-round resort center, is surrounded by the snow-capped Tatras, the high peaks of the Carpathian range. Long a mecca for sportsmen, it attracts hikers, campers and skiers.
The Mazurian Lake District is a favorite vacation area. This complex of 1,000 lakes of Ice Age origin is interconnected by canals. The area also abounds in nature preserves.
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Poland FactsArea: 120,727 square miles (about the size of New Mexico).
Population: 38,700,000 (Warsaw, 1,659,400; Lodz, 847,900; Kraków, 740,100).