Poland: An Overview - Part 2 - Orlando / Florida Guide
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Warsaw, Poland’s largest city by far and its commercial and political capital, is not the bleak grey morass of Communist days. It may still be a little severe on the eyes in places, but it is most certainly beautiful in others, and perhaps best expresses Poland’s current crossroads. A 20-minute walk can take you from the Royal Castle to a monolith of Stalinist architecture to the gleaming headquarters of international companies banking on Poland’s emergence as a major European player.
While Warsaw’s Old Town is an astonishing phoenix-like fable of reconstruction, Gdansk’s historic centre is even more alluring, it’s Royal Way a loving restoration that defies the imagination. No matter how many times you stroll through the medieval layouts of these cities over cobblestoned streets, gazing at stunning examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture created, incredibly, as late as 1953, you cannot help but be amazed. The buildings look genuinely old; it is as though the unfaltering Polish people willed their authenticity.
Smaller towns can be just as impressive. Zamosc is a perfect Renaissance town with one of the most photogenic main squares in the country. Zakopane is an Alpine-style town carved out of wood at the foot of the High Tatras, the highest peaks of the Carpathian Mountains, within easy range of great hiking and skiing. Torun is the home of the great astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, is a sea of red brick Gothic architecture, while Poznan, a determined trade centre, combines commerce with authenticity in its extraordinary Old Market Square.
POPULATION AND RELIGION
Poland is a nation of almost 40 million. Over 90 percent of the population call themselves Catholic however less than 40 percent are practising. They are also more conservative than many of their Western European neighbours. Throughout history, Poland has been incredibly cosmopolitan, with Germans, Jews, Lithuanians, Belarusians, Armenians and Ukrainians living there. During the Second Republic from 1919 to 1939, only two-thirds of the population were ethnic Poles. It has also traditionally been a land of religious tolerance. When medieval Europe was rocked by religious wars, Poland was a safe haven for Jewish, Protestant and Orthodox refugees.
Today, Poland is unusually homogenous in terms of ethnicity: some 98 percent of the people are Poles. The Jewish population was reduced to 250, 000 after World War II, and today there are only a few thousand Jews left living in Poland. The largest minority groups are Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Belarusians.
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Page added on: 22 September 2019
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