Once described as Paris of the East, Warsaw was believed to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world until World War II. The German invasion in 1939, the massacre of the Jewish population and deportations to concentration camps led to the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 and to the major and devastating Warsaw Uprising between August and October 1944. Warsaw gained the new title of a Phoenix City because of its extensive history and complete reconstruction after the severe damage it suffered in World War II, which left over 85% of its buildings in ruins. On 9 November 1939, the city was awarded Poland's highest military decoration for heroism, the Virtuti Militari, during the Siege of Warsaw.
Warsaw is one of Europe’s most dynamic metropolitan cities. In 2012 the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Warsaw as the 32nd most liveable city in the world. In 2017 the city came 4th in the “Business-friendly” category and 8th in “Human capital and life style”. It was also ranked as one of the most liveable cities in Central and Eastern Europe.
The city is a significant centre of research and development, BPO, ITO, as well as of the Polish media industry. The Warsaw Stock Exchange is the largest and most important in Central and Eastern Europe. Frontex, the European Union agency for external border security, has its headquarters in Warsaw. Together with Frankfurt, London and Paris, Warsaw is also one of the cities with the highest number of skyscrapers in the European Union.
The city is the seat of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra, University of Warsaw and the Great Theatre—National Opera, the largest of its kind in the world. The picturesque Old Town of Warsaw, which represents examples of nearly every European architectural style and historical period, was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980. Other main architectural attractions include the Castle Square with the Royal Castle and the iconic King Sigismund's Column, St. John's Cathedral, Main Market Square, palaces, churches and mansions all displaying a richness of colour and detail. Warsaw is renowned for its bars, restaurants, art galleries and, most notably, several dozen museums and outspread greenery, with around a quarter of the city's area occupied by parks.
Warsaw's name in the Polish language is Warszawa, approximately / (also formerly spelled Warszewa and Warszowa). Linguist Samuel Bogumił Linde argues that early spellings of the name included Worszewa and Werszewa. According to some sources, the origin of the name is unknown. In Pre-Slavic toponomastic layer of Northern Mazovia: corrections and addenda (the Narew drainage), it is stated that the toponymy of northern Mazovia tends to have unclear etymology (p. 30). Originally, Warszawa was the name of a fishing village. According to one theory Warszawa means "belonging to Warsz", Warsz being a shortened form of the masculine name of Slavic origin Warcisław; see also etymology of Wrocław. However the ending -awa is unusual for a big city; the names of Polish cities derived from personal names usually end in -ow/ew (e.g. Piotrkow, Adamow) while the -av- in the early name of Wroclaw is part of a personal name. Folk etymology attributes the city name to a fisherman, Wars, and his wife, Sawa. According to legend, Sawa was a mermaid living in the Vistula River with whom Wars fell in love. In actuality, Warsz was a 12th/13th-century nobleman who owned a village located at the modern-day site of the Mariensztat neighbourhood. See also the Vršovci family which had escaped to Poland. The official city name in full is miasto stołeczne Warszawa (English: "The Capital City of Warsaw"). A native or resident of Warsaw is known as a Varsovian – in Polish warszawiak, warszawianin (male), warszawianka (female), warszawiacy, and warszawianie (plural).
Other names for Warsaw include Varsovia (Latin, Spanish) and Varsóvia (Portuguese), Varsovie (French), Varsavia (Italian), Warschau (German, Dutch), װאַרשע /Varshe (Yiddish), Варшава /Varšava /Varshava (Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Belarusian, Ukrainian), Varšuva (Lithuanian), and Varsó (Hungarian).
The first fortified settlements on the site of today's Warsaw were located in Bródno (9th/10th century) and Jazdów (12th/13th century). After Jazdów was raided by nearby clans and dukes, a new similar settlement was established on the site of a small fishing village called Warszowa. The Prince of Płock, Bolesław II of Masovia, established this settlement, the modern-day Warsaw, in about 1300. In the beginning of the 14th century it became one of the seats of the Dukes of Masovia, becoming the official capital of the Masovian Duchy in 1413. 14th-century Warsaw's economy rested on mostly crafts and trade. Upon the extinction of the local ducal line, the duchy was reincorporated into the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland in 1526.
In 1529, Warsaw for the first time became the seat of the General Sejm, permanently from 1569. In 1573 the city gave its name to the Warsaw Confederation, formally establishing religious freedom in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Due to its central location between the Commonwealth's capitals of Kraków and Vilnius, Warsaw became the capital of the Commonwealth and the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland when King Sigismund III Vasa moved his court from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596. 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 tribute. Warsaw turned into an early-capitalistic principal city. The reign of Augustus II and Augustus III was a time of development for Warsaw. The Saxon monarchs brought many renowned German architects, who rebuilt the city in a style similar to Dresden. In 1747 the Załuski Library was established, the first Polish public library and the largest at the time.
Stanisław II Augustus, who remodelled the interior of the Royal Castle, also made Warsaw a centre of culture and the arts. He extended the Royal Baths Park and ordered the construction or refurbishment of numerous palaces, mansions and richly-decorated tenements. This earned Warsaw the nickname Paris of the East.
Warsaw remained the capital of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1795, when it was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia in the third and final partition of Poland; it subsequently became the capital of the province of South Prussia.
Liberated by Napoleon's army in 1806, Warsaw was made the capital of the newly created Duchy of Warsaw. Following the Congress of Vienna of 1815, Warsaw became the centre of Congress Poland, a constitutional monarchy under a personal union with Imperial Russia. The Royal University of Warsaw was established in 1816.
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 Russian rule over Poland was fired upon by Russian troops. Five people were killed. The Underground Polish National Government resided in Warsaw during the 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 was occupied by Germany from 4 August 1915 until November 1918. The Allied Armistice terms required in Article 12 that Germany withdraw from areas controlled by Russia in 1914, which included Warsaw. Germany did so, and underground leader Piłsudski returned to Warsaw on 11 November and set up what became the Second Polish Republic, with Warsaw the capital. 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 the full brunt of the Red Army by itself and defeated the idea of the "export of the revolution".
The history of contemporary civilisation knows no event of greater importance than the Battle of Warsaw, 1920, and none of which the significance is less appreciated... yet never had Poland's services been greater, never had the danger been more imminent.
The Średnicowy Bridge was constructed for a railway (1921-1931), connecting both parts of the city. Warszawa Główna railway station (1932-1939) was unfinished and destroyed during WWII.
Stefan Starzyński was Mayor of Warsaw 1934-1939, and he was murdered by the Nazis during the Siege in December 1939.
After the German Invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 started the Second World War, Warsaw was defended until 27 September. 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 – were herded into the Warsaw Ghetto. The city would become the centre of urban resistance to Nazi rule in occupied Europe. 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, with only a few managing 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, was partially successful, however it went on for 63 days. 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 bombings, revolts, fighting, and demolition had ended, most of Warsaw lay in ruins.
After World War II, under a Communist regime set up by the conquering Soviets, the "Bricks for Warsaw" campaign was initiated, and 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, a gift from the Soviet Union. 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 liberal-democratic reforms.
In 1995, the Warsaw Metro opened with a single line. A second line was opened in March 2015. With the entry of Poland into the European Union in 2004, Warsaw is currently experiencing the largest economic boom of its history. The opening fixture of UEFA Euro 2012 took place in Warsaw, a game in which Poland drew 1–1 with Greece. Warsaw was the host city for the 2013 United Nations Climate Change Conference and for the 2016 NATO Summit.
Warsaw lies in east-central Poland about 300 km (190 mi) from the Carpathian Mountains and about 260 km (160 mi) from the Baltic Sea, 523 km (325 mi) east of Berlin, Germany. The city straddles the Vistula River. It is located in the heartland of the Masovian Plain, and its average elevation is 100 metres (330 ft) above sea level. The highest point on the left side of the city lies at a height of 115.7 metres (379.6 ft) ("Redutowa" bus depot, district of Wola), on the right side – 122.1 metres (400.6 ft) ("Groszówka" estate, district of Wesoła, by the eastern border). The lowest point lies at a height 75.6 metres (248.0 ft) (at the right bank of the Vistula, by the eastern border of Warsaw). There are some hills (mostly artificial) located within the confines of the city – e.g. Warsaw Uprising Hill (121 metres (397.0 ft)) and Szczęśliwice hill (138 metres (452.8 ft) – the highest point of Warsaw in general).
Warsaw is located on two main geomorphologic formations: 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 (32.8 to 82.0 ft) above Vistula level) and on the Vistula terraces (max. 6.5 m (21.3 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 (65.6 to 82.0 ft) high in the Old Town and Central district and about 10 m (32.8 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 consists 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 old Vistula – 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 geomorphological forms. There are several levels of the Vistula plain terraces (flooded as well as formerly flooded), and only a small part is a 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).
Warsaw's climate is humid continental (Köppen: Dfb) with cold, snowy, cloudy winters and warm, sunny, stormy summers. Spring and autumn can be unpredictable, highly prone to sudden weather changes; however, temperatures are usually mild and with low humidity, especially around May and September. The average temperature ranges between −1.8 °C (29 °F) in January and 19.2 °C (66.6 °F) in July. The mean year temperature is 8.5 °C (47.3 °F). Temperatures may often reach 30 °C (86 °F) in the summer, although the effects of hot weather are usually offset by relatively low dew points and large diurnal temperature differences. Warsaw is Europe's fourth driest capital, with yearly rainfall averaging 529 millimetres (20.8 in), the wettest month being July.
Warsaw's mixture of architectural styles reflects the turbulent history of the city and country. During the Second World War, Warsaw was razed to the ground by bombing raids and planned destruction. After liberation, rebuilding began as in other cities of the communist-ruled PRL. Most of the historical buildings were thoroughly reconstructed. However, some of the buildings from the 19th century that had been preserved in reasonably reconstructible form were nonetheless eradicated in the 1950s and 1960s (e.g. Kronenberg Palace). Mass residential blocks were erected, with basic design typical of Eastern bloc countries.
Public spaces attract heavy investment, so that the city has gained entirely new squares, parks and monuments. Warsaw's current urban landscape is one of modern and contemporary architecture.
Warsaw's palaces, churches and mansions display a richness of color and architectural details. Buildings are representatives of nearly every European architectural style and historical period. The city has wonderful examples of architecture from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and neoclassical periods, all of which are located within easy walking distance of the town centre.
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), 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 the Baryczko merchant family (1562), a 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 Sigismund's Column (1644).
Building activity occurred in numerous noble palaces and churches during the later decades of the 17th century. Some 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 of architecture. The Neoclassical revival affected all aspects of architecture; the most notable examples 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 the previously 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. Some 19th-century buildings in the Praga district (the Vistula’s right bank) have been restored although many have been poorly maintained. Warsaw’s municipal government authorities have decided to rebuild the Saxon Palace and the Brühl Palace, the most distinctive buildings in prewar Warsaw.
Notable examples of post-war 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).
Contemporary 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 & Merrill, Museum of the History of Polish Jews by Rainer Mahlamäki and Golden Terraces, consisting of seven overlapping domes retail and business centre.
It has been said that Warsaw, together with Frankfurt, London, Paris and Rotterdam, is one of the cities with the highest number of skyscrapers in Europe. Warsaw is ranked as 79th in the list of cities with the most skyscrapers around the world.
Although contemporary Warsaw is a fairly young city, it has numerous tourist attractions. Apart from the Warsaw Old Town quarter, reconstructed after World War II, each borough has something to offer. Among the most notable landmarks of the Old Town are the Royal Castle, King Sigismund's Column, Market Square, and the Barbican.
Further south is the so-called Royal Route, with many classicist palaces, the Presidential Palace and the University of Warsaw campus. Wilanów Palace, the former royal residence of King John III Sobieski, is notable for its Baroque architecture and parks.
Warsaw's oldest public park, the Saxon Garden, is located within 10 minutes' walk from the old town. Warsaw's biggest public park is the Łazienki Park, also called the "Royal Baths Park", established in the 17th century and given its current classical shape in the late 18th century. It is located further south, on the Royal Route, about 3 km (1.9 mi) from the Warsaw Old Town.
Powązki Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Europe, full of sculptures, some of them by the most renowned Polish artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Since it serves the religious communities of Warsaw such as Catholics, Orthodox, Jews, Muslims or Protestants, it is often called a necropolis. Nearby is the Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery, one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe.
In many places in the city the Jewish culture and history resonates down through time. Among them the most notable are the Jewish theater, the Nożyk Synagogue, Janusz Korczak's Orphanage and the picturesque Próżna Street. The tragic pages of Warsaw’s history are commemorated in places such as the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, the Umschlagplatz, fragments of the Ghetto wall on Sienna Street and a mound in memory of the Jewish Combat Organization.
There are also many places commemorating the heroic history of Warsaw. Pawiak, an infamous German Gestapo prison now occupied by a Mausoleum of Memory of Martyrdom and the museum, is only the beginning of a walk in the traces of Heroic City. The Warsaw Citadel, an impressive 19th-century fortification built after the defeat of the November Uprising, was a place of martyrdom for the Poles. Another important monument, the statue of Little Insurrectionist located at the ramparts of the Old Town, commemorates the children who served as messengers and frontline troops in the Warsaw Uprising, while the impressive Warsaw Uprising Monument by Wincenty Kućma was erected in memory of the largest insurrection of World War II.
In Warsaw there are many places connected with the life and work of Frédéric Chopin. The heart of the Polish-born composer is sealed inside Warsaw's Holy Cross Church. During the summer time the Chopin Statue in Łazienki Park is a place where pianists give concerts to the park audience.
Also many references to Marie Curie, her work and her family can be found in Warsaw: Marie's birthplace at the Warsaw New Town, the working places where she did her first scientific works and the Radium Institute at Wawelska Street for the research and the treatment of which she founded in 1925.
Green space covers almost a quarter of the area of Warsaw, including a broad range from small neighborhood parks, green spaces along streets and in courtyards, to avenues of trees and large historic parks, nature conservation areas and the urban forests at the fringe of the city.
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, Łazienki Park (Royal Baths Park), Wilanów Palace Park and Królikarnia Palace Park (See also: Greenery in the city).
The Saxon Garden, covering an 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. Łazienki Park covers an 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. Wilanów Palace Park dates back to the second half of the 17th century. It covers an 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, and Park Skaryszewski by the right Vistula bank, in Praga. The oldest park in Praga, the Praga Park, was established in 1865–1871 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.
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. Another big forest area is Kabaty Forest by the southern city border. Warsaw has also two botanic gardens: by 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).
There are 13 natural reserves in Warsaw – among others, Bielany Forest, Kabaty Woods, and Czerniaków Lake. About 15 kilometres (9 miles) 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 are also several lakes in Warsaw – mainly the oxbow lakes, like Czerniaków Lake, the lakes in Łazienki or Wilanów Parks, and Kamionek Lake. There are a lot of small lakes in the parks, but only a few are permanent – the majority are emptied before winter to clean them of plants and sediments.
The Warsaw Zoo covers an area of 40 hectares (99 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.
Demographically, it was the most diverse city in Poland, with significant numbers of foreign-born inhabitants. In addition to the Polish majority, there was a significant Jewish minority in Warsaw. According to the 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. In 1933, out of 1,178,914 inhabitants 833,500 were of Polish mother tongue. World War II changed the demographics of the city, and to this day there is much less ethnic diversity than in the previous 300 years of Warsaw's history. Most of the modern day population growth is based on internal migration and urbanisation.
In 1939, c. 1,300,000 people lived in Warsaw, but in 1945 – only 420,000. During the first years after the war, the population growth was c. 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 residency registration limitations: only the spouses and children of the permanent residents as well as some persons of public importance (like renowned specialists) were allowed to get the registration, hence halving the population growth in the following years. It also bolstered a stereotype popular among the dwellers of other cities claiming that average Varsovians thought of themselves as better only because they lived in the capital. While all restrictions on residency registration were scrapped in 1990, a negative image of a typical Warsaw inhabitant in some form persists till this day.
Much like most capital cities in Europe, Warsaw boasts a foreign-born population that is significantly larger than in other cities, although not coming close to the figures representing the likes of Madrid or Rome. In 2016, it was estimated that 21,000 people living in Warsaw were foreign born, although some suspect the actual number could be as high as 60,000-150,000, or 1.2~3.4% - 8.5% of all Varsovians. Of those, Ukrainians, Vietnamese, Byelorussians and Russians were the most prominent groups.
Throughout its existence, Warsaw has been a multi-cultural city. According to the 1901 census, out of 711,988 inhabitants 56.2% were Catholics, 35.7% Jews, 5% Greek orthodox Christians and 2.8% Protestants. Eight years later, in 1909, there were 281,754 Jews (36.9%), 18,189 Protestants (2.4%) and 2,818 Mariavites (0.4%). 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 number were rebuilt.
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 (Members of the European Parliament).
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).
The municipal government existed in Warsaw until World War II and was restored in 1990 (during the communist times, the National City Council – Miejska Rada Narodowa – governed in Warsaw). Since 1990, the system of city administration has been changed several times – also as the result of the reform which restored powiats, cancelled in 1975. Finally, according to the Warsaw Act, the city is divided into 18 districts and forms one city powiat with a unified municipal government.
The basic unit of territorial division in Poland is a commune (gmina). A city is also a commune – but with a city charter. Both cities and communes are 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 in, not the gmina). In this case we say "city county" or powiat grodzki. Such cities are for example Lublin, Kraków, Gdańsk, and Poznań. In Warsaw, its districts additionally have some of a powiat's entitlements – like the already mentioned car registration. For example, the Wola district has its own evidence and the Ursynów district – its own (and the cars from Wola have another type of registration number than those from Ursynów). But for instance the districts in Kraków do not have the entitlements of a 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. cities with over 100,000 people or that had a president before 1990. The first Warsaw President was Jan Andrzej Menich (1695–1696). Between 1975 and 1990 the Warsaw Presidents simultaneously led 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 designated 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 as the President of Polish Republic (December 2005) he resigned as mayor on the day before taking office.
Until 1994, there were 7 districts in Warsaw: Śródmieście, Praga Północ, Praga Południe, Żoliborz, Wola, Ochota, and Mokotów. Between 1994 and 2002, there were 11 districts: Centrum, Białołęka, Targówek, Rembertów, Wawer, Wilanów, Ursynów, Włochy, Ursus, Bemowo, and Bielany. In 2002, the town Wesoła was incorporated and the territorial division of Warsaw was established as follows:
Warsaw is a county (powiat), and is further divided into 18 districts (dzielnica), each one with its own administrative body. Each of the districts is customarily subdivided into several neighbourhoods which have no legal or administrative status. Warsaw has two historic neighbourhoods, called Old Town (Stare Miasto) and New Town (Nowe Miasto), in the borough of Śródmieście.
In 2011, Warsaw was ranked the world's 46th most expensive city to live in. It was classified as an alpha world city (also known as a "major global city that links economic regions into the world economy") by the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) Study Group and Network from Loughborough University, placing it on a par with cities such as Sydney, Istanbul, Amsterdam or Seoul.
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 euros. 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 131,000 in 2014 (c. €30,800 or $36,000). Total nominal GDP of the city in 2010 amounted to 191.766 billion PLN, 111,696 PLN per capita, which was 301.1% of the Polish average. Warsaw leads the region of East-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. According to the official figures it was around 4% in February 2015. 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).
During Warsaw's reconstruction after World War II, the communist authorities decided that the city would become a major industrial centre. As a result, numerous large factories were built in and around the city. The largest were the Huta Warszawa Steel Works, the FSO car factory and the "Ursus" tractor factory.
As the communist economy deteriorated, these factories lost significance and most went bankrupt after 1989. Today, the Arcelor Warszawa Steel Mill (formerly Huta Warszawa) is the only major factory remaining.
The FSO Car Factory was established in 1951. A number of vehicles have been assembled there over the decades, including the Warszawa, Syrena, Fiat 125p (under license from Fiat, later renamed FSO 125p when the license expired) and the Polonez. The last two models listed were also sent abroad and assembled in a number of other countries, including Egypt and Colombia. In 1995 the factory was purchased by the South Korean car manufacturer Daewoo, which assembled the Tico, Espero, Nubia, Tacuma, Leganza, Lanos and Matiz there for the European market. In 2005 the factory was sold to AvtoZAZ, a Ukrainian car manufacturer which assembled the Chevrolet Aveo there. The license for the production of the Aveo expired in February 2011 and has not been renewed since. Currently the company is defunct.
The "Ursus" factory opened in 1893 and is still in operation today. Throughout its history various machinery was assembled there, including motorcycles, military vehicles, trucks and buses. However, since World War II only tractors are still being assembled there.
The number of state-owned enterprises continues to decrease while the number of companies operating with foreign capital is on the rise, reflecting the continued shift towards a modern market-based economy. The largest foreign investors are Coca-Cola Amatil and Metro AG. Warsaw has the biggest concentration of electronics and high-tech industry in Poland, while the growing consumer market perfectly fosters the development of the food-processing industry.
Warsaw holds some of the finest institutions of higher education in Poland. It is home to four major universities and over 62 smaller schools of higher education. The overall number of students of all grades of education in Warsaw is almost 500,000 (29.2% of the city population; 2002). The number of university students is over 280,000. Most of the reputable universities are public, but in recent years there has also been an upsurge in the number of private universities.
The University of Warsaw was established in 1816, when the partitions of Poland separated Warsaw from the oldest and most influential Polish academic center, in Kraków. Warsaw University of Technology is the second academic school of technology in the country, and one of the largest in East-Central Europe, employing 2,000 professors. Other institutions for higher education include the Medical University of Warsaw, the largest medical school in Poland and one of the most prestigious; the National Defence University, highest military academic institution in Poland; the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, the oldest and largest music school in Poland and one of the largest in Europe; the Warsaw School of Economics, the oldest and most renowned economic university in the country; the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, the largest agricultural university, founded in 1818; and the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, the first private secular university in the country.
Warsaw has numerous libraries, many of which contain vast collections of historic documents. The most important library in terms of historic document collections is the National Library of Poland. The library holds 8.2 million volumes in its collection. Formed in 1928, it 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 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 m2 (110,000 sq ft), and plants covering 5,111 m2 (55,010 sq ft). As the university garden it is open to the public every day.
Warsaw has seen major infrastructural changes over the past few years amidst increased foreign investment, economic growth and EU funding. The city has a much improved infrastructure with new roads, flyovers, bridges, etc.
Warsaw lacks a good ring road system and most traffic goes directly through the city centre, leading to the third highest level of congestion in continental Europe. The Warsaw ring road has been planned to consist of three express roads: S2, S8 and S17. Currently parts of S2 and S8 are open, with the remaining construction to be finished by 2019.
Thanks to the A2 motorway stretching west from Warsaw, which opened in June 2012, the city now has a direct motorway connection with Łódź, Poznań and ultimately with Berlin.
The city has two international airports: Warsaw Chopin Airport, located just 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the city centre, and Warsaw-Modlin Airport, located 35 kilometres (22 mi) to the north, opened in July 2012. With around 100 international and domestic flights a day and with 11,206,700 passengers served in 2015, Warsaw Frédéric Chopin Airport is by far the biggest airport in Poland and it has also been called "the most important and largest airport in Central Europe".
Public transport in Warsaw includes buses, trams (streetcars), Metro, the light rail Warszawska Kolej Dojazdowa line, urban railway Szybka Kolej Miejska, regional rail Koleje Mazowieckie (Mazovian Railways), and bicycle sharing systems (Veturilo). The buses, trams, urban railway and Metro are managed by Zarząd Transportu Miejskiego (ZTM, the Warsaw Municipal 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), 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 km (14 mi). 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 km (19 mi). The central section is 6 km (4 mi) long with seven stations, opened on 8 March 2015.
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.
Like many cities in Central and Eastern Europe, infrastructure in Warsaw suffered considerably during its time as an Eastern Bloc economy – though it is worth mentioning that the initial Three-Year Plan to rebuild Poland (especially Warsaw) was a major success, but what followed was very much the opposite. However, over the past decade Warsaw has seen many improvements due to solid economic growth, an increase in foreign investment as well as funding from the European Union. In particular, the city's metro, roads, sidewalks, health care facilities and sanitation facilities have improved markedly.
Today, Warsaw has some of the best medical facilities in Poland and East-Central Europe. The city is home to the Children's Memorial Health Institute (CMHI), the highest-reference hospital in all of Poland, as well as an active research and education center. The Maria Skłodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology 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 as well as an outpatient clinic. The infrastructure has developed a lot over the past years.
Thanks to numerous musical venues, including the Teatr Wielki, the Polish National Opera, the Chamber Opera, the National Philharmonic Hall and the National Theatre, as well as the Roma and Buffo music theatres and the Congress Hall in the Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw hosts many events and festivals. Among the events worth particular attention are: the International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition, the International Contemporary Music Festival Warsaw Autumn, the Jazz Jamboree, Warsaw Summer Jazz Days, the International Stanisław Moniuszko Vocal Competition, the Mozart Festival, and the Festival of Old Music.
Warsaw is also considered as one of the European hubs of underground electronic music with a very attractive house and techno music scene.
Warsaw is home to over 30 major theatres spread throughout the city, including the National Theatre (founded in 1765) and the Grand Theatre (established 1778).
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.
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. Plac Teatralny and its environs was the venue for numerous parades, celebrations of state holidays, carnival balls and concerts.
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.
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, and looking for the fern flower, there are musical performances, dignitaries' speeches, fairs and fireworks by the river bank.
Warsaw Multimedia Fountain Park is located in an enchanting place, near the Old Town and the Vistula. The ‘Water – Light – Sound’ multimedia shows take place each Friday and Saturday from May till September at 9.30 pm (May and – 9 October pm). On other weekdays, the shows do not include lasers and sound.
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.
The levelling of Warsaw during the war has left gaping holes in the city's historic collections. Although a considerable number of treasures were spirited away to safety in 1939, 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.
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, the Museum of Hunting and Riding and the Railway Museum. From among Warsaw's 60 museums, the most prestigious ones are the National Museum with a 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 including some paintings from Adolf Hitler's private collection, and the 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) focus on the paintings of the "old masters", as do those of the Royal Castle which displays the Lanckoroński Collection including two paintings by Rembrandt. The Palace in Natolin, a former rural residence of Duke Czartoryski, is another venue with its interiors and park accessible to tourists.
Holding Poland's largest private collection of art, the Carroll Porczyński Collection Museum displays works from such varied artists as Paris Bordone, Cornelis van Haarlem, José de Ribera, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Vincent van Gogh along with some copies of masterpieces of European painting.
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 that crime. The Warsaw Uprising Museum also operates a rare preserved and operating historic stereoscopic theatre, the Warsaw Fotoplastikon. The Museum of Independence preserves patriotic and political objects connected with Poland's struggles for independence. Dating back to 1936 the 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 the Centre for Contemporary Art, with some permanent and temporary exhibitions, concerts, shows and creative workshops. The Centre currently realizes about 500 projects a year. The Zachęta National Gallery of Art, the oldest exhibition site in Warsaw, with a tradition stretching back to the mid-19th century organises exhibitions of modern art by Polish and international artists and promotes art in many other ways.
The city also possesses some oddities such as the Museum of Caricature, the Museum of John Paul II and Primate Wyszyński, and a Motorisation Museum in Otrębusy.
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 Polskie Radio (Polish Radio), TVN, Polsat, TV4, TV Puls, Canal+ Poland, Cyfra+ and MTV Poland.
Since May 1661 the first Polish newspaper, the 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 and 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 companies 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 (50 mi) 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-World War II 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 and The Decalogue by Krzysztof Kieślowski, also including Oscar winner The Pianist by Roman Polański.
It is also home to the National Film Archive, which, since 1955, has been collecting and preserving Polish film culture.
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 58,500 seat capacity football (soccer) stadium, replaced Warsaw's recently demolished 10th-Anniversary Stadium. The national stadium hosted the opening match, 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 (it was a venue for the 2009 EuroBasket but it is also used as an indoor skating rink). There is also an open-air skating rink (Stegny) and a horse racetrack (Służewiec).
The best of the city's swimming centres is at Wodny Park Warszawianka, 4 km (2 mi) 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 Warsaw – 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 11 times (most recently in 2016) and won the Polish Cup 18 times. 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 the country's championship two times (in 1946 and 2000) 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. Polonia was relegated from the country's top flight in 2013 because of their disastrous financial situation. They are now playing in the second league (3rd tier in Poland).
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
The Mermaid Statue stands in the very centre of Old Town Square, surrounded by a fountain. Due to vandalism, the original statue had been moved to the grounds of the Historical Museum of Warsaw – the statue in the square is a copy. This is not the only mermaid in Warsaw. Another is located on the bank of the Vistula River near Świętokrzyski Bridge and another on Karowa Street.
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 research on radioactivity and was the first female recipient of the Nobel Prize. Famous musicians include Władysław Szpilman and Frédéric Chopin. Though Chopin was born in the village of Żelazowa Wola, about 60 km (37 mi) from Warsaw, he moved to the city with his family when he was seven months old. Casimir Pulaski, a Polish general and 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 represented the Art Deco style in painting and art. Nathan Alterman, the Israeli poet, was born in Warsaw, as was Moshe Vilenski, the Israeli composer, lyricist, and pianist, who studied music at the Warsaw Conservatory. Warsaw was the beloved city of Isaac Bashevis Singer, which he described in many of his novels: Warsaw has just now been destroyed. No one will ever see the Warsaw I knew. Let me just write about it. Let this Warsaw not disappear forever, he wrote.