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Cityscape of Kraków, Poland's former capital
Cityscape of Kraków, Poland's former capital
Coat of arms of Poland
Coat of arms of Poland

Map Poland is a country in Central Europe, bordered by Germany to the west, the Czech Republic to the southwest, Slovakia to the south, Ukraine and Belarus to the east, Lithuania to the northeast, and the Baltic Sea and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast to the north. It is an ancient nation whose history as a state began near the middle of the 10th century. Its golden age occurred in the 16th century when it united with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to form the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the following century, the strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation. In a series of agreements in the late 18th century, Russia, Prussia and Austria partitioned Poland amongst themselves. It regained independence as the Second Polish Republic in the aftermath of World War I only to lose it again when it was occupied by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. The nation lost over six million citizens in the war, following which it emerged as the communist Polish People's Republic under strong Soviet influence within the Eastern Bloc. A westward border shift followed by forced population transfers after the war turned a once multiethnic country into a mostly homogeneous nation state. Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union called Solidarity (Solidarność) that over time became a political force which by 1990 had swept parliamentary elections and the presidency. A shock therapy program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. With its transformation to a democratic, market-oriented country completed, Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004, but has experienced a constitutional crisis and democratic backsliding since 2015.

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The Battle of Grunwald as depicted by Diebold Schilling ca. 1515
The Battle of Grunwald as depicted by Diebold Schilling ca. 1515
The Battle of Grunwald, fought on 15 July 1410, was one of the largest battles of Medieval Europe and is regarded as the most important victory in the history of Poland and Lithuania. The alliance of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, led respectively by King Vladislaus II (Jogaila, Jagiełło) and Grand Duke Vytautas, decisively defeated the Teutonic Knights, led by Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen. Although the defeated Teutonic Knights withstood the siege on their fortress in Marienburg (Malbork) and suffered only minimal territorial losses at the Peace of Thorn (Toruń), they never recovered their former power, and the financial burden of war reparations caused internal conflicts and an economic downturn in their lands. The battle shifted the balance of power in Eastern Europe and marked the rise of the Polish–Lithuanian union as the dominant political and military force in the region. Surrounded by romantic legends and nationalist propaganda, Grunwald became a symbol of struggle against invaders and a source of national pride, also used in Nazi and Soviet propaganda campaigns. Only in recent decades have historians made progress towards a dispassionate, scholarly assessment of the battle reconciling the previous narratives, which differed widely by nation. (Full article...)
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Coat of arms of the Trzaska clan
Coat of arms of the Trzaska clan
The coat of arms of the Trzaska nobility clan shows a golden crescent between two broken silver swords in a blue field. According to a legend, the arms were granted by the 11th-century King Boleslaus the Brave to one of his knights who had fought so valiantly that he broke two swords during a single battle. In fact, Polish heraldry developed long after Boleslaus's reign. The earliest historical sources to mention the Trzaska coat of arms date back to the 14th century.

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Frédéric Chopin as portrayed by Eugène Delacroix
Frédéric Chopin as portrayed by Eugène Delacroix
Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849), was a Romantic-era composer born in what was then the Duchy of Warsaw of a Polish mother and a French father. A child prodigy, he grew up in Warsaw, where he completed his musical education and composed many of his works before leaving Poland less than a month before the outbreak of the November 1830 Uprising. At the age of 21 he settled in Paris, where he gained renown as a leading piano virtuoso of his generation despite giving only some 30 public performances during the remaining 18 years of his sickly life. Chopin was a good friend of the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt and maintained an often troubled relationship with the French writer George Sand. All of Chopin's compositions include the piano; most are for solo piano, although he also wrote two piano concertos, a few chamber pieces, and some songs to Polish lyrics. His keyboard style, which is highly individual, is often technically demanding; his own performances were noted for their nuance and sensitivity. Chopin invented the concept of instrumental ballade; his major piano works also include sonatas, mazurkas, waltzes, nocturnes, polonaises, études, impromptus, scherzos, and preludes. His innovations in style, musical form, and harmony, as well as association of his music, often blending Polish folk tunes and classical tradition, with nationalism, were influential throughout and after the late Romantic period. (Full article...)
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Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Masovia in Płock
Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Masovia in Płock
Płock is a town on the Vistula River in the western part of the Masovian Voivodeship. During the reigns of Vladislaus Herman and Boleslaus the Wrymouth in the 10th–11th centuries, Płock was briefly Poland's capital city, and later served as one of the seats of the dukes of Masovia. The town has two cathedrals: the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Masovia (pictured) where Vladislaus and Boleslaus are buried, and the Temple of Mercy and Charity, the principal seat of the Mariavite Church, a native Polish branch of Christianity. Płock is home to Poland's largest oil refinery, owned by PKN Orlen and served by the Druzhba ("Friendship") pipeline linking Russia with Germany. (Full article...)
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Portrait of Józef Feldman by Stanisław Wyspiański (1905)

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