The first fortified settlements on the site of today's Warsaw were Bródno (9th/10th century) and Jazdów (12th/13th century). After Jazdów was raided, a new similar settlement was established on the site of a small fishing village called Warszowa. The Płock prince Bolesław II of Masovia, established this settlement, the modern Warsaw, about 1300. In the beginning of the 14th century it became one of the seats of the Dukes of Masovia, becoming the capital of Masovia in 1413. Fourteenth-century Warsaw's economy rested on crafts and trade. Upon the extinction of the local ducal line, the duchy was reincorporated into the Polish Crown in 1526.
In the following years the town expanded towards the suburbs. Several private independent districts were established, the property of aristocrats and the gentry, which were ruled by their own laws. Three times between 1655–1658 the city was under siege and three times it was taken and pillaged by the Swedish, Brandenburgian and Transylvanian forces.
In 1700, the Great Northern War broke out. The city was besieged several times and was obliged to pay heavy contributions. Warsaw turned into an early-capitalistic principal city.
Stanisław August Poniatowski, who remodelled the interior of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, also made Warsaw a centre of culture and the arts. This earned Warsaw the name of the Paris of the east.
Following the 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 uprising's defeat and in the curtailment of the Kingdom's autonomy. On 27 February 1861 a Warsaw crowd protesting against the Russian rule over Poland was fired upon by the Russian troops. Five people were killed. The Underground Polish National Government resided in Warsaw during January Uprising in 1863–64.
Warsaw flourished in the late 19th century under Mayor Sokrates Starynkiewicz (1875–92), a Russian-born general appointed by Tsar Alexander III. Under Starynkiewicz Warsaw saw its first water and sewer systems designed and built by the English engineer William Lindley and his son, William Heerlein Lindley, as well as the expansion and modernisation of trams, street lighting and gas works.
The Russian Empire Census of 1897 recorded 626,000 people living in Warsaw, making it the third-largest city of the Empire after St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Warsaw became the capital of the newly independent Poland in 1918. In the course of the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920, the huge Battle of Warsaw was fought on the eastern outskirts of the city in which the capital was successfully defended and the Red Army defeated. Poland stopped by itself the full brunt of the Red Army and defeated an idea of the "export of the revolution".
During World War II, central Poland, including Warsaw, came under the rule of the General Government, a German Nazi colonial administration. All higher education institutions were immediately closed and Warsaw's entire Jewish population – several hundred thousand, some 30% of the city – herded into the Warsaw Ghetto. When the order came to annihilate the ghetto as part of Hitler's "Final Solution" on 19 April 1943, Jewish fighters launched the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Despite being heavily outgunned and outnumbered, the Ghetto held out for almost a month. When the fighting ended, almost all survivors were massacred, only few managed to escape or hide.
By July 1944, the Red Army was deep into Polish territory and pursuing the Germans toward Warsaw. Knowing that Stalin was hostile to the idea of an independent Poland, the Polish government-in-exile in London gave orders to the underground Home Army (AK) to try to seize control of Warsaw from the Germans before the Red Army arrived. Thus, on 1 August 1944, as the Red Army was nearing the city, the Warsaw Uprising began. The armed struggle, planned to last 48 hours, went on for 63 days. Stalin gave orders to his troops to wait outside of Warsaw. Eventually the Home Army fighters and civilians assisting them were forced to capitulate. They were transported to PoW camps in Germany, while the entire civilian population was expelled. Polish civilian deaths are estimated at between 150,000 and 200,000.
The Germans then razed Warsaw to the ground. Hitler, ignoring the agreed terms of the capitulation, ordered the entire city to be razed to the ground and the library and museum collections taken to Germany or burned. Monuments and government buildings were blown up by special German troops known as Verbrennungs- und Vernichtungskommando ("Burning and Destruction Detachments"). About 85% of the city had been destroyed, including the historic Old Town and the Royal Castle.
On 17 January 1945 - after the beginning of the Vistula–Oder Offensive of the Red Army - Soviet troops entered the ruins of Warsaw, and liberated Warsaw's suburbs from German occupation. The city was swiftly taken by the Soviet Army, which rapidly advanced towards Łódź, as German forces regrouped at a more westward position.
In 1945, after the bombing, the revolts, the fighting, and the demolition had ended, most of Warsaw lay in ruins.
After the war, under a Communist regime set up by the conquering Soviets, large prefabricated housing projects were erected in Warsaw to address the housing shortage, along with other typical buildings of an Eastern Bloc city, such as the Palace of Culture and Science. The city resumed its role as the capital of Poland and the country's centre of political and economic life. Many of the historic streets, buildings, and churches were restored to their original form. In 1980, Warsaw's historic Old Town was inscribed onto UNESCO's World Heritage list.
John Paul II's visits to his native country in 1979 and 1983 brought support to the budding solidarity movement and encouraged the growing anti-communist fervor there. In 1979, less than a year after becoming pope, John Paul celebrated Mass in Victory Square in Warsaw and ended his sermon with a call to "renew the face" of Poland: Let Thy Spirit descend! Let Thy Spirit descend and renew the face of the land! This land! These words were very meaningful for the Polish citizens who understood them as the incentive for the democratic changes.
In 1995, the Warsaw Metro opened. With the entry of Poland into the European Union in 2004, Warsaw is currently experiencing the biggest economic boom of its history. The opening match of UEFA Euro 2012 is scheduled to take place in Warsaw.
Warsaw is located on two main geomorphologic forms: the plain moraine plateau and the Vistula Valley with its asymmetrical pattern of different terraces. The Vistula River is the specific axis of Warsaw, which divides the city into two parts, left and right. The left one is situated both on the moraine plateau (10 to 25 m (32.81 to 82.02 ft) above Vistula level) and on the Vistula terraces (max. 6.5 m (21.33 ft) above Vistula level). The significant element of the relief, in this part of Warsaw, is the edge of moraine plateau called Warsaw Escarpment. It is 20 to 25 m (65.62 to 82.02 ft) high in the Old Town and Central district and about 10 m (32.81 ft) in the north and south of Warsaw. It goes through the city and plays an important role as a landmark.
The plain moraine plateau has only a few natural and artificial ponds and also groups of clay pits. The pattern of the Vistula terraces is asymmetrical. The left side consist mainly of two levels: the highest one contains former flooded terraces and the lowest one the flood plain terrace. The contemporary flooded terrace still has visible valleys and ground depressions with water systems coming from the Vistula old - riverbed. They consist of still quite natural streams and lakes as well as the pattern of drainage ditches. The right side of Warsaw has a different pattern of geomorfological forms. There are several levels of the plain Vistula terraces (flooded as well as former flooded once) and only small part and not so visible moraine escarpment. Aeolian sand with a number of dunes parted by peat swamps or small ponds cover the highest terrace. These are mainly forested areas (pine forest).
Gothic architecture is represented in the majestic churches but also at the burgher houses and fortifications. The most significant buildings are St. John's Cathedral (14th century), the temple is a typical example of the so-called Masovian gothic style, St. Mary's Church (1411), a town house of Burbach family (14th century), Gunpowder Tower (after 1379) and the Royal Castle Curia Maior (1407–1410). The most notable examples of Renaissance architecture in the city are the house of Baryczko merchant family (1562), building called "The Negro" (early 17th century) and Salwator tenement (1632). The most interesting examples of mannerist architecture are the Royal Castle (1596–1619) and the Jesuit Church (1609–1626) at Old Town. Among the first structures of the early baroque the most important are St. Hyacinth's Church (1603–1639) and Zygmunt's Column (1644).
Building activity occurred in numerous noble palaces and churches during the later decades of the 17th century. One of the best examples of this architecture are Krasiński Palace (1677–1683), Wilanów Palace (1677–1696) and St. Kazimierz Church (1688–1692). The most impressive examples of rococo architecture are Czapski Palace (1712–1721), Palace of the Four Winds (1730s) and Visitationist Church (façade 1728–1761). The neoclassical architecture in Warsaw can be described by the simplicity of the geometrical forms teamed with a great inspiration from the Roman period. Some of the best examples of the neoclassical style are the Palace on the Water (rebuilt 1775–1795), Królikarnia (1782–1786), Carmelite Church (façade 1761–1783) and Evangelical Holy Trinity Church (1777–1782). The economic growth during the first years of Congress Poland caused a rapid rise architecture. The Neoclassical revival affected all aspects of architecture, the most notable are the Great Theater (1825–1833) and buildings located at Bank Square (1825–1828).
Exceptional examples of the bourgeois architecture of the later periods were not restored by the communist authorities after the war (like mentioned Kronenberg Palace and Insurance Company Rosja building) or they were rebuilt in socialist realism style (like Warsaw Philharmony edifice originally inspired by Palais Garnier in Paris). Despite that the Warsaw University of Technology building (1899–1902) is the most interesting of the late 19th century architecture. Lot of the 19th century buildings is restored in Praga (Vistula’s right bank), though they are in a pretty bad condition. Warsaw’s municipal government authorities have decided to rebuild the Saxon Palace and the Brühl Palace, the most distinctive buildings in prewar Warsaw.
After the Warsaw area enlargement in 1916, an occasion was aroused to build new estates. Yet in 20's and 30's new workers' and villas' estates came into existence. The workers' estates were Ochota and Rakowiec, Koło (north-western part of Wola), Grochów (the centre of Praga Południe), Żoliborz. The villas' estates – Higher Mokotów (there lived President Starzyński), Czerniaków (north of Wilanów), Saska Kępa (between Poniatowski and Łazienkowski bridges) as well as Żoliborz. The Żoliborz estate (more accurately – the Old Żoliborz, i.e. the part of district around the Wilson Square) is an interesting example of an estate, where four groups of society lived next to each other: workers (Żoliborz Spółdzielczy, i.e. collective – the workers' part was a housing association), writers and periodists (Żoliborz Dziennikarski – periodical), state clerks (Żoliborz Urzędniczy – clerical) and army officers (Żoliborz Oficerski).
Notable examples of contemporary architecture include the Palace of Culture and Science (1952–1955), a Soc-realist skyscraper located in the city centre, and the Constitution Square with its monumental Socialist realism architecture (MDM estate). The central part of the right-bank (east) Praga borough it is a place where very run-down houses stand right next to modern apartment buildings and shopping malls.
Like in all former communist countries, there are also several blockhouse estates in Warsaw. They were built between 1960 and 1985, mainly in the areas incorporated in 1951. The greatest are: Ursynów-Natolin, Bródno, Wawrzyszew (close to the Steel Industry), Bemowo, Gocław (at the right bank, between Łazienkowski and Siekierkowski bridges), Stegny (north-west of Wilanów), Tarchomin (north of Toruńska Road).
Modern architecture in Warsaw is represented by the Metropolitan Office Building at Pilsudski Square by Lord Foster, Warsaw University Library (BUW) by Marek Budzyński and Zbigniew Badowski, featuring a garden on its roof and view of the Vistula River, Rondo 1 office building by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and Golden Terraces, consisting of seven overlapping domes retail and business centre.
There are as many as 82 parks in the city which cover 8 % of its area. The oldest ones, once parts of representative palaces, are Saxon Garden, the Krasiński Palace Garden, the Royal Baths Park, the Wilanów Palace Park and the Królikarnia Palace Park (See also: Greenery in the city).
The Saxon Garden, covering the area of 15.5 ha, was formally a royal garden. There are over 100 different species of trees and the avenues are a place to sit and relax. At the east end of the park, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is situated. In the 19th century the Krasiński Palace Garden was remodelled by Franciszek Szanior. Within the central area of the park one can still find old trees dating from that period: maidenhair tree, black walnut, Turkish hazel and Caucasian wingnut trees. With its benches, flower carpets, a pond with ducks on and a playground for kids, the Krasiński Palace Garden is a popular strolling destination for the Varsovians. The Monument of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is also situated here. The Royal Baths Park covers the area of 76 ha. The unique character and history of the park is reflected in its landscape architecture (pavilions, sculptures, bridges, cascades, ponds) and vegetation (domestic and foreign species of trees and bushes). What makes this park different from other green spaces in Warsaw is the presence of peacocks and pheasants, which can be seen here walking around freely, and royal carps in the pond. The Wilanów Palace Park, dates back to the second half of the 17th century. It covers the area of 43 ha. Its central French-styled area corresponds to the ancient, baroque forms of the palace. The eastern section of the park, closest to the Palace, is the two-level garden with a terrace facing the pond. The park around the Królikarnia Palace is situated on the old escarpment of the Vistula. The park has lanes running on a few levels deep into the ravines on both sides of the palace.
Other green spaces in the city include the Botanic Garden and the University Library garden. They have extensive botanical collection of rare domestic and foreign plants, while a palm house in the New Orangery displays plants of subtropics from all over the world. Besides, within the city borders, there are also: Pole Mokotowskie (a big park in the northern Mokotów, where was the first horse racetrack and then the airport), Park Ujazdowski (close to the Sejm and John Lennon street), Park of Culture and Rest in Powsin, by the southern city border, Park Skaryszewski by the right Vistula bank, in Praga.
The flora of the city may be considered very rich in species. The species richness is mainly due to the location of Warsaw within the border region of several big floral regions comprising substantial proportions of close-to-wilderness areas (natural forests, wetlands along the Vistula) as well as arable land, meadows and forests. Bielany Forest, located within the borders of Warsaw, is the remaining part of the Masovian Primeval Forest. Bielany Forest nature reserve is connected with Kampinos Forest. It is home to rich fauna and flora. Within the forest there are three cycling and walking trails. Other big forest area is Kabaty Forest by the southern city border. Warsaw has also two botanic gardens: by the Łazienki park (a didactic-research unit of the University of Warsaw) as well as by the Park of Culture and Rest in Powsin (a unit of the Polish Academy of Science).
About 15 km from Warsaw, the Vistula river's environment changes strikingly and features a perfectly preserved ecosystem, with a habitat of animals that includes the otter, beaver and hundreds of bird species. There is also several lakes in Warsaw – mainly the oxbow lakes, like Czerniaków Lake, the lakes in the Łazienki or Wilanów Parks, Kamionek Lake. There are lot of small lakes in the parks, but only part of them is permanent – the most of them is being emptied before winter to clean them of plants and sediments.
The Warsaw Zoo covers an area of 40 hectares (100 acres). There are about 5,000 animals representing nearly 500 species. Although officially created in 1928, it traces back its roots to 17th century private menageries, often open to the public.
There is 13 nature reserves in Warsaw – among others, Bielany Forest, Kabaty Woods, Czerniaków Lake.
Praga Park was established in 1865-71 and designed by Jan Dobrowolski. In 1927 a zoological garden (Ogród Zoologiczny) was established on the park grounds, and in 1952 a bear run, still open today.
Historically, Warsaw has been a destination for internal and foreign immigration, especially from Central and Eastern Europe. For nearly 300 years it was known as the "Old Paris" or "Second Paris". It was always a centre of European culture, existed as a major European city, and was a destination for many Europeans. Demographically it was the most diverse city in Poland, with a significant numbers of foreign-born inhabitants. In addition to the Polish majority, there was a significant Jewish minority in Warsaw. According to Russian census of 1897, out of the total population of 638,000, Jews constituted 219,000 (around 34% percent). Warsaw's prewar Jewish population of more than 350,000 constituted about 30 percent of the city's total population. World War II changed all of this, and to this day there is much less ethnic diversity than in the previous 300 years of the city's history. Most of the modern day population growth is based on internal migration and urbanisation.
In 1939, ca. 1,300,000 person lived in Warsaw, but in 1945 – only 420,000. During the first years after the war, the population growth was ca. 6%, so shortly the city started to suffer from the lack of flats and of areas for new houses. The first remedial measure was the Warsaw area enlargement (1951) – but the city authorities were still forced to introduce registration limitations: only the spouses and children of permanent residents as well as some exceptional persons (like good and famous specialists) were allowed to get registration. These limitations caused that the population growth decreased ca. twofold, but aroused among other Poles some kind of belief that the Varsovians feel themselves as somebody better than others only because they live in the capital. This belief unfortunately still lives in Poland (in much lower intensity) – even though there are not registration limitations anymore (since 1990).
The basic unit of territorial division in Poland is a commune (gmina). A city is also a commune – but with the city charter. Both cities and communes are being governed by a mayor – but in the communes the mayor is vogt (wójt in Polish), however in the cities – burmistrz. Some bigger cities obtain the entitlements, i.e. tasks and privileges, which are possessed by the units of the second level of the territorial division – counties or powiats. An example of such entitlement is a car registration: a gmina cannot register cars, this is a powiat's task (i.e. a registration number depends on what powiat a car had been registered, not gmina). In this case we say about city county or powiat grodzki. Such cities are for example Kraków, Gdańsk, Poznań. In Warsaw, its districts additionally have some of powiat's entitlements – like already mentioned car registration. For example, the district Wola has its own evidence and the district Ursynów – its own (and the cars from Wola have another type of registration number than these from Ursynów). But for instance the districts in Kraków do not have entitlements of powiat, so the registration numbers in Kraków are of the same type for all districts.
Legislative power in Warsaw is vested in a unicameral Warsaw City Council (Rada Miasta), which comprises 60 members. Council members are elected directly every four years. Like most legislative bodies, the City Council divides itself into committees which have the oversight of various functions of the city government. Bills passed by a simple majority are sent to the mayor (the President of Warsaw), who may sign them into law. If the mayor vetoes a 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 mayor of Warsaw is called President. Generally, in Poland, the mayors of bigger cities are called presidents – i.e. such cities, which have over 100,000 people or these, where already was president before 1990. The first Warsaw President was Jan Andrzej Menich (1695–1696). Between 1975 and 1990 the Warsaw Presidents was simultaneously the Warsaw Voivode. Since 1990 the President of Warsaw had been elected by the City council. In the years of 1994-1999 the mayor of the district Centrum automatically was designed as the President of Warsaw: the mayor of Centrum was elected by the district council of Centrum and the council was elected only by the Centrum residents. Since 2002 the President of Warsaw is elected by all of the citizens of Warsaw.
The current President of Warsaw is Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz (since 2006-12-02) – the former president of the National Bank of Poland. The first president elected according these rules was Lech Kaczyński. When he was elected on the President of Polish Republic (December 2005), there was not an additional election in Warsaw, hence formally he was simultaneously the President of Poland and the President of Warsaw.
As the capital of Poland, Warsaw is the political centre of the country. All state agencies are located there, including the Polish Parliament, the Presidential Office and the Supreme Court. In the Polish parliament the city and the area are represented by 31 MPs (out of 460). Additionally, Warsaw elects two MEPs.
The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish (literally 'Envoy'). It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm (Marszałek Sejmu).
Warsaw has seen major infrastructural changes over the past few years amidst increased foreign investment and economic growth. The city has a much improved infrastructure with new roads, flyovers, bridges, etc.
Warsaw lacks a good circular road system and most traffic goes directly through the city centre. Warsaw ring road has been planned consisting of three express roads: S2, S8 and S17. Currently parts of S2 and S8 are under construction and to be completed up to 2012. The city has one international airport, Warsaw Frédéric Chopin Airport, located just 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the city centre. With around 100 international and domestic flights a day and with over 9,268,551 passengers served in 2007, it is by far the biggest airport in Poland.
Public transport in Warsaw includes buses, trams (streetcars), Metro, light rail Warszawska Kolej Dojazdowa line, urban railway Szybka Kolej Miejska and regional rail Koleje Mazowieckie (Mazovian Railroads). The buses, trams, urban railway and Metro are managed by Zarząd Transportu Miejskiego (ZTM, the Warsaw Transport Authority).
The regional rail and light rail is operated by Polish State Railways (PKP). There are also some suburban bus lines run by private operators. Bus service covers the entire city, with approximately 170 routes totalling about 2,603 kilometres (1,617 mi) long, and with some 1,600 vehicles.
Currently, the Tramwaje Warszawskie (Warsaw Trams) company runs 863 cars on over 240 kilometres (150 mi) of tracks. Twenty-odd lines run across the city with additional lines opened on special occasions (such as All Saints' Day).
The first section of the Warsaw Metro was opened in 1995 initially with a total of 11 stations. It now has 21 stations running a distance of approximately 23 kilometres. Initially, all of the trains were Russian built. In 1998, 108 new carriages were ordered from Alstom. The second line running east-west will be about 31 kilometres. The central section is now in the bidding stage and will be 6 km. long with seven stations. The main railway station is Warszawa Centralna serving both domestic traffic to almost every major city in Poland, and international connections. There are also five other major railway stations and a number of smaller suburban stations.
Warsaw has seen major infrastructural changes over the past few years amidst increased foreign investment and economic growth. The city has a much improved infrastructure with new healthcare facilities, sanitation, etc.
Warsaw ranks among the best in medical facilities in Poland. The city is home to the Children's Memorial Health Institute (CMHI), the highest-reference hospital for all of Poland, as well as an active research and education center. While the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology it is one of the largest and most modern oncological institutions in Europe. The clinical section is located in a 10-floor building with 700 beds, 10 operating theatres, an intensive care unit, several diagnostic departments, and an outpatient clinic.
Throughout its existence, Warsaw has been a multi-cultural city. This led to construction of hundreds of places of religious worship in all parts of the town. Most of them were destroyed in the aftermath of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. After the war the new communist authorities of Poland discouraged church construction and only a small part of them were rebuilt.
Several commemorative events take place every year. Gatherings of thousands of people on the banks of the Vistula on Midsummer’s Night for a festival called Wianki (Polish for Wreaths) have become a tradition and a yearly event in the programme of cultural events in Warsaw. The festival traces its roots to a peaceful pagan ritual where maidens would float their wreaths of herbs on the water to predict when they would be married, and to whom. By the 19th century this tradition had become a festive event, and it continues today. The city council organize concerts and other events. Each Midsummer’s Eve, apart from the official floating of wreaths, jumping over fires, looking for the fern flower, there are musical performances, dignitaries' speeches, fairs and fireworks by the river bank.
The Warsaw Film Festival, an annual festival that takes place every October. Films are usually screened in their original language with Polish subtitles and participating cinemas include Kinoteka (Palace of Science and Culture), Multikino at Golden Terraces and Kultura. Over 100 films are shown throughout the festival, and awards are given to the best and most popular films.
On 9 April 2008 the President of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, obtained from the mayor of Stuttgart Wolfgang Schuster a challenge award – a commemorative plaque awarded to Warsaw as the European capital of Sport in 2008.
The National Stadium, a planned 56,000 seat football (soccer) stadium, is currently under construction on the site of Warsaw's recently demolished 10th-Anniversary Stadium. The national stadium is due to host the opening match (a group match), remaining 2 group matches, a quarterfinal, and a semifinal of the UEFA Euro 2012 hosted jointly by Poland and Ukraine.
There are many sports centres in the city as well. Most of these facilities are swimming pools and sports halls, many of them built by the municipality in the past several years. The main indoor venue is Hala Torwar, used for all kinds of indoor sports (mainly, indoor skating rink). There is also open-air skating rink (Stegny) and the horse racetrack (Służewiec).
The best of the city's swimming centres is at Wodny Park Warszawianka, 4 km south of the centre at Merliniego Street, where there's an Olympic-sized pool as well as water slides and children's areas.
From the Warsovian football teams, the most famous is Legia Warszawa - the army club with a nationwide following play at Polish Army Stadium, just southeast of the centre at Łazienkowska Street. Established in 1916, they have won the country’s championship 8 times (most recently in 2006) and won the Polish Cup 14 times. They have never been relegated divisions. In the Champions League season 1995/96 they reached the quarter-finals, where they lost to Panathinaikos Athens.
Their local rivals, Polonia Warsaw, have significantly fewer supporters, yet they managed to win Ekstraklasa Championship in 2000. They also won the country’s championship in 1946, and won the cup twice as well. Polonia's home venue is located at Konwiktorska Street, a ten-minute walk north from the Old Town.
From 1833 to the outbreak of World War II, Plac Teatralny (Theatre Square) was the country's cultural hub and home to the various theatres.
The main building housed the Great Theatre from 1833 to 1834, the Rozmaitości Theatre from 1836 to 1924 and then the National Theatre, the Reduta Theatre from 1919 to 1924, and from 1928 to 1939 – the Nowy Theatre, which staged productions of contemporary poetical drama, including those directed by Leon Schiller.
Nearby, in Ogród Saski (the Saxon Garden), the Summer Theatre was in operation from 1870 to 1939, and in the inter-war period, the theatre complex also included Momus, Warsaw's first literary cabaret, and Leon Schiller's musical theatre Melodram. The Wojciech Bogusławski Theatre (1922–26), was the best example of "Polish monumental theatre". From the mid-1930s, the Great Theatre building housed the Upati Institute of Dramatic Arts – the first state-run academy of dramatic art, with an acting department and a stage directing department.
Plac Teatralny and its environs was the venue for numerous parades, celebrations of state holidays, carnival balls and concerts.
Warsaw also attracts many young and off-stream directors and performers who add to the city's theatrical culture. Their productions may be viewed mostly in smaller theatres and Houses of Culture (Domy Kultury), mostly outside Śródmieście (Central Warsaw). Warsaw hosts the International Theatrical Meetings.
The levelling of Warsaw during the war has left gaping holes in the city's historic collections. And although a considerable amount of treasures were spirited away to safety as the storm clouds gathered in 1939, it is also true that a great number of collections from palaces and museums in the countryside were brought to Warsaw at that time as the capital was considered a safer place than some remote castle in the borderlands. Thus losses were heavy.
Yet in spite of this, Warsaw still boasts some wonderful museums. As interesting examples of expositions the most notable are: the world’s first Museum of Posters boasting one of the largest collections of art posters in the world, Museum of Hunting and Riding and the Railway Museum. From among Warsaw’s 60 museums, the most prestigious ones are National Museum with a wide collection of works whose origin ranges in time from antiquity till the present epoch as well as one of the best collections of paintings in the country and Museum of the Polish Army whose set portrays the history of arms.
The collections of Łazienki and Wilanów palaces (both buildings came through the war in good shape) are a delight, as are those of the Royal Castle. The Palace in Natolin – a former rural residence of Duke Czartoryski. Its interiors and park are accessible to tourists.
Holding Poland's largest private collection of art, the Carroll Porczyński Collection Museum displays works from such varied artists as Rubens, Goya, Constable, Renoir, van Gogh and Dalí, and countless others.
A fine tribute to the fall of Warsaw and history of Poland can be found in the Warsaw Uprising Museum and in the Katyń Museum which preserves the memory of the crime. Museum of Independence host of sentimental and patriotic paraphernalia connected with these fateful epochs, as well as some invaluable art collections. Dating back to 1936 Warsaw Historical Museum contains 60 rooms which host a permanent exhibition of the history of Warsaw from its origins until today.
The 17th century Royal Ujazdów Castle currently houses Centre for Contemporary Art, with some permanent and temporary exhibitions, concerts, shows and creative workshops. The centre also develops unique art programs that correlated with the reconstruction and organization of the Ujazdów Castle architectural spaces. The Centre of Contemporary Art currently realizes about 500 projects a year.
Zachęta National Gallery of Art is the oldest exhibition site in Warsaw, with a tradition stretching back to the mid 19th century. The gallery organises exhibitions of modern art by Polish and international artists and promotes art in many other ways.
The city also possesses some marvellous oddities such as the Museum of Caricature (the only one of its kind in the world) and a magnificent Motorisation Museum, which has everything from 1930s classics to cars that were owned by Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.
Warsaw is the media centre of Poland, and the location of the main headquarters of TVP and other numerous local and national TV and radio stations, such as TVN, Polsat, TV4, TV Puls, Canal+ Poland, Cyfra+ and MTV Poland.
Since May 1661 the first Polish newspaper, Polish Ordinary Mercury, was printed in Warsaw. The city is also the printing capital of Poland with a wide variety of domestic and foreign periodicals expressing diverse views, and domestic newspapers are extremely competitive. Rzeczpospolita, Gazeta Wyborcza, Dziennik Polska-Europa-Świat Poland's large nationwide daily newspapers have their headquarters in Warsaw.
Warsaw also has a sizable movie and television industry. The city houses several movie companies and studios. Among the movie campanies are TOR, Czołówka, Zebra and Kadr who is behind several international movie productions.
Over the next few years the new Film City in Nowe Miasto, located a mere 80 km from Warsaw, will become the centre of Polish film production and international co-production. It is to be the largest high-tech film studio in Europe. The first projects filmed in the new Film City will be two films about the Warsaw Uprising. Two backlots will be constructed for these projects - a lot of pre-WWII Warsaw and city ruins.
Since World War II, Warsaw has been the most important centre of film production in Poland. It has also been featured in numerous movies, both Polish and foreign, for example: Kanał and Korczak by Andrzej Wajda, The Decalogue by Krzysztof Kieślowski, also including Oscar winner The Pianist by Roman Polański.
Warsaw has numerous libraries, many of which contain vast collections of historic documents. The most important library in terms of historic document collections include the National Library of Poland. Library holds 8.2 million volumes in its collection. Formed in 1928 sees itself as a successor to the Załuski Library, the biggest in Poland and one of the first and biggest libraries in the world.
Another important library - the University Library, founded in 1816, is home to over two million items. The building was designed by architects Marek Budzyński and Zbigniew Badowski and opened on the 15 December 1999. It is surrounded by green. The University Library garden, designed by Irena Bajerska, was opened on 12 June 2002. It is one of the largest and most beautiful roof gardens in Europe with an area of more than 10,000 m (107,639.10 sq ft), and plants covering 5,111 m (55,014.35 sq ft). As the university garden it is open to the public every day.
Warsaw, especially its city centre (Śródmieście), is home not only to many national institutions and government agencies, but also to many domestic and international companies. In 2006, 304,016 companies were registered in the city. Warsaw's ever-growing business community has been noticed globally, regionally, and nationally. Mastercard Emerging Market Index has noted Warsaw's economic strength and commercial center. Moreover, Warsaw was ranked as the 7th greatest emerging market. Foreign investors' financial participation in the city's development was estimated in 2002 at over 650 million euro. Warsaw produces 12% of Poland's national income, which in 2008 was 305.1% of the Polish average, per capita (or 160% of the European Union average). The GDP per capita in Warsaw amounted to PLN 94 000 in 2008 (ca. EUR 23 800, USD 33 000). Warsaw leads the region of Central Europe in foreign investment and in 2006, GDP growth met expectations with a level of 6.1%. It also has one of the fastest growing economies, with GDP growth at 6.5 percent in 2007 and 6.1 percent in the first quarter of 2008.
At the same time the unemployment rate is one of the lowest in Poland, not exceeding 3%, according to the official figures. The city itself collects around 8,740,882,000 złotys in taxes and direct government grants.
Warsaw's first stock exchange was established in 1817 and continued trading until World War II. It was re-established in April 1991, following the end of the post-war communist control of the country and the reintroduction of a free-market economy. Today, the Warsaw Stock Exchange (WSE) is, according to many indicators, the largest market in the region, with 374 companies listed and total capitalization of 162 584 mln EUR as of 31 August 2009. From 1991 until 2000, the stock exchange was, ironically, located in the building previously used as the headquarters of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR). The city is considered to be one of the most attractive business locations in Europe.
The mermaid (syrenka) is Warsaw's symbol and can be found on statues throughout the city and on the city's coat of arms. This imagery has been in use since at least the mid-14th century. The oldest existing armed seal of Warsaw is from the year 1390, consisting of a round seal bordered with the Latin inscription Sigilium Civitatis Varsoviensis (Seal of the city of Warsaw). City records as far back as 1609 document the use of a crude form of a sea monster with a female upper body and holding a sword in its claws. In 1653 the poet Zygmunt Laukowski asks the question:
The origin of the legendary figure is not fully known. The best-known legend, by Artur Oppman, is that long ago two of Triton's daughters set out on a journey through the depths of the oceans and seas. One of them decided to stay on the coast of Denmark and can be seen sitting at the entrance to the port of Copenhagen. The second mermaid reached the mouth of the Vistula River and plunged into its waters. She stopped to rest on a sandy beach by the village of Warszowa, where fishermen came to admire her beauty and listen to her beautiful voice. A greedy merchant also heard her songs; he followed the fishermen and captured the mermaid.
Another legend says that a mermaid once swam to Warsaw from the Baltic Sea for the love of the Griffin, the ancient defender of the city, who was killed in a struggle against the Swedish invasions of the 17th century. The mermaid, wishing to avenge his death, took the position of defender of Warsaw, becoming the symbol of the city.
Every member of the Queen's Royal Hussars of the United Kingdom light cavalry wears the Maid of Warsaw, the crest of the City of Warsaw, on the left sleeve of his No. 2 (Service) Dress. Members of 651 Squadron Army Air Corps of the United Kingdom also wear the Maid of Warsaw on the left sleeve of their No. 2 (Service) Dress.
One of the most famous people born in Warsaw was Maria Skłodowska-Curie, who achieved international recognition for her scientific discovery of radiation. Famous musicians include Władysław Szpilman and Frédéric Chopin. Chopin was born in the village of Żelazowa Wola, about sixty kilometers from Warsaw, but moved to the city with his family when he was seven months old. Kazimierz Pulaski, a hero of the American Revolutionary War, was born here in 1745.
Tamara de Lempicka was a famous artist born in Warsaw. She was born Maria Górska in Warsaw to wealthy parents and in 1916 married a Polish lawyer Tadeusz Łempicki. Better than anyone else she represents the Art Deco style in painting. Warsaw was the beloved city of Isaac Bashevis Singer, which he described in many of his novels.