Poland is without a doubt one of the most interesting and unique countries in the world. From the medieval streets of Krakow to the modern architecture of Warsaw, Poland is a country of great historical importance in both ancient times and the modern day.
Below we’ll introduce some of the more intriguing and unusual facts about ancient and modern Poland.
Table of Contents
General Poland Facts
1. Poland is a Central European (or Eastern European, depending on who you ask) country surrounded by 7 others. It shares a border with the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Lithuania.
2. The official language in Poland is Polish. Almost 97% of the population declare Polish as their first language. Other languages spoken in Poland include English, German, and Belarusian.
3. Church attendance in Poland is falling off a cliff. Although 87% of the population is Roman Catholic, just over a quarter of them are going to church these days. However, this trend is similar or even more extreme in several other European countries.
4. Poland is commonly referred to as “The Land of Fields.” This is because the Polish name for Poland, Polska, literally translates to “the land of fields.” The word “Pole” means field, plain, or open area.
5. Poland has been settled for 10,000 years. The first settlers in Poland date back to the Mesolithic Age (8,000 to 5,500 BC). The first settlements were established by migrants from the Danubian Basin Culture. Since then, it has been a tribal land, kingdom, and republic (three times), with the most recent one being democratic and starting in 1989.
6. Poland boasts 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – 15 cultural and two natural. These include the historic centers of Krakow and Warsaw, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Interesting Facts about Polish History
7. According to Polish legend, three brothers founded the Poles, Czechs, and Russians. Their names were Lech, Czech, and Rus’. The story of their adventures is a part of Polish folklore.
8. In 2021, a 5,000-year-old cemetery and fortress was discovered near the town of Dębiany. Seven Neolithic tombs, a Bronze Age horse burial site, old tools, and pottery amongst other things were found. This discovery is one of the largest of its kind in Europe.
9. Historical records suggest that in ancient Slavic cultures, human sacrifices were occasionally offered to appease gods or ensure good harvests. Sacrificial sites dating back more than 2,500 years have been found across Poland.
10. The Wawel Dragon, a famous Krakow legend, tells of a dragon that terrorized the city. Legend has it that a clever cobbler lured the dragon with a sheep stuffed with sulfur, causing the dragon to explode when it drank from the river.
11. Underneath Lake Lednica in Poland, archaeological excavations have uncovered traces of ancient settlements. These include wooden structures and artifacts from the 10th and 11th centuries that have been submerged over time.
12. In ancient Poland, European bison (wisent) were domesticated and used as draft animals. Similar to oxen, bison were used to help with plowing and other agricultural tasks.
13. Piwnica Swidnicka in Wrocław is the oldest restaurant in Europe. Opened in 1275, you can still eat in the restaurant today.
14. Poland is home to the biggest castle in the world by land area. Malbork Castle is a 13th-century castle and fortress. Unsurprisingly, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
15. While hotly debated by the Russians, it is widely believed that vodka was first created in Poland. The first mention of the spirit was found in Poland in 1405. It was originally served as a medicine.
16. One of the most significant battles in medieval Europe took place in Poland. The Battle of Grunwald in 1410, saw the combined forces of Poland and Lithuania defeat the Teutonic Knights from Germany.
17. In medieval Poland, it wasn’t uncommon for human leg bones to be used as instruments. Human leg bones would have two or three holes cut in them to create different tones. These instruments are typically referred to as ‘bone pipes.’
18. A traditional method of punishment in ancient Poland was the “Stool of Repentance.” This church punishment required a person to sit on a special stool in front of the congregation, admitting their sins.
19. Poland’s constitution was the second fundamental law in the world. The Polish Constitution was adopted in 1791, just four years after the American Constitution.
20. Polish pianist and inventor Józef Hofmann is credited with inventing the paperclip in the early 1900s. It is thought he took inspiration for its shape from the treble clef. Hofmann also invented one of the earliest mechanical windscreen wipers.
21. In some Polish households, it used to be a tradition to bury a child’s baby teeth under the doorstep. It was believed that doing so would ensure strong, healthy adult teeth.
22. For centuries, Polish men and women have worn national costumes to celebrate folk weddings, folk festivals, harvest festivals, and religious holidays. Costumes would vary depending on where the people are from and their religion, but they would always be extremely vibrant.
23. Before the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939, 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland, which was more than in any other country. By the end of the war, less than 400,000 were left alive. Today, Poland once again has one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the world.
24. The city of Warsaw was almost completely destroyed by the Nazis during WWII. Most of the city had to be rebuilt, so the Old Town tourists can see today isn’t the original.
Unusual Facts about Modern Poland
25. Poland is the 8th most populated country in Europe, with a population of approximately 40 million (that’s almost the same as Canada or California). Warsaw is the capital and most populated city in Poland, with a population somewhere in the region of 1.8 million (similar to Phoenix, Arizona).
26. By land area, Poland is the 9th biggest country in Europe. It covers a total area of 313,931 square kilometers (120,733 square miles). It is just larger than Italy by smaller than Finland.
27. University is completely free in Poland. Poland ranks 23rd in the world for education. In Europe, the nation currently sits 16th.
28. Polish cities are some of the most congested in the world for their size. Wrocław, Łódź, and Kraków have worse traffic than any other cities in the world classified as “small.”
29. Poland has a special holiday for everybody’s name. All Polish names are given a specific date of the year. If you look at the Polish calendar, you’ll find that each date has female and male names associated with it. These dates are celebrated like birthdays.
30. Every year, Poland hosts one of the largest open-air music festivals in the world. Pol’and’Rock. Previously called the Woodstock Festival Poland, it has seen audiences of up to 750,000 and is free to attend.
31. The first upside-down house in the world was built in Poland in 2007. Found in Szymbark village, the house has a Communist Poland style and tourists have to enter through the attic windows.
32. On the first day of spring, it is a tradition in Poland to celebrate the departure of winter. This is done by the ‘Drowning of Marzanna,’ the goddess of winter. On this day, Polish people recreate the goddess using straw and old clothes. They then throw her into a river or lake.
33. In Poland, Christians celebrate a tradition called Fat Thursday on the Thursday before Lent. Lent is a time of fasting, so Fat Thursday gives people the chance to gorge on food one last time. Pączki (doughnuts) are a popular item on this day.
34. Varso Tower in Warsaw is the tallest building in the European Union. The tower stands 310 meters (1017 ft). It is 40 centimeters taller than The Shard in London. However, Russia has five buildings that are taller, and Burj Khalifa in Dubai is more than 2.5 times taller than Varso Tower.