Warsaw City Hall
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There are countless reasons to fall in love with Warsaw

History of the City

A long time ago, the fisherman Wars and his wife Sawa lived in a small hut on the River Vistula. One day, they offered shelter to prince Ziemomysł who had lost his way and stumbled upon their home. In gratitude to the couple for saving his life, the prince decided that the land would remain Wars and Sawa’s for all eternity. This is how Warsaw was born and named, according to legend. Nobody knows how true that is. The city’s further history is much less of a mystery.

Legend to Capital

Albeit the first traces of human settlement date back to the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries, true development began in the 13th century, when a stronghold of Mazovian dukes was erected within the boundaries of today’s Old Town. As the population grew in numbers, the New Town was established one hundred years later.

In 1596, King Sigismund III Vasa decided to move his court and main royal offices to the Warsaw castle, then under expansion, after a fire at the Wawel royal residence in Cracow. This is how Warsaw became the informal capital of the Polish Kingdom.

Subsequent centuries are a story of intermittent intense development and painful conflict. During the so-called Swedish Deluge and the period of 1655-1658 alone, the city was thrice under siege, conquest, and occupation by Swedish and Transylvanian armies. King John III Sobieski, conqueror of the Turks, restored the capital to its former glory. Under his reign during the last quarter of the 17th century, Warsaw’s economy, politics, and culture were in full bloom. This was when the new royal residence – the Wilanów Palace – was built. Prosperity prevailed through to the end of the Stanislaus era (second half of the 18th century); many of Warsaw’s most beautiful palaces, churches, and gardens were erected and developed at the time, not least the enchanting Łazienki Royal Park.

The Struggle for Independence

The country weakened politically during the second half of the 18th century, with tragic results – Poland was partitioned; in 1772, 1793, and 1795, respectively, Russia, Prussia, and Austria divided Polish lands up between themselves, taking the Polish Republic off the map of Europe for 123 years. This could not be prevented even by the Constitution of 3 May 1791 adopted at the Royal Castle as the first such document on the Old Continent and second worldwide.

A semblance of independence was offered once the Warsaw Duchy was formed in 1807 by virtue of peace treaties signed by Poland’s ally Napoleon Bonaparte, the Russian Empire, and the Kingdom of Prussia. The Kingdom of Poland was established in the wake of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 – yet the Kingdom remained under complete Muscovite influence. Over subsequent decades, the city was the stage for two suppressed uprisings: the November insurrection (1830-1831) and the January insurrection (1863). Poland reclaimed her independence only after World War One, in 1918. As a sovereign state it engaged in war against the Bolsheviks in the years 1919-1921, the Warsaw Battle of 1920 (also referred to as the Miracle at the River Vistula) recognised as a turning point of the conflict. The Poles’ spectacular victory prevented the communists from marching westward.

The city developed rapidly in the years 1918-1939, and was dubbed the “Paris of the North” for a reason. Yet after a brief peaceful interlude, Warsaw was to face its blackest hour.

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