Poland on the world map. Map of Poland with cities
Map of Poland with cities. Where Poland is on the world map. The main geographical facts about Poland - population, country area, capital, official language, religions, industry and culture.
Poland Fact File
Official name Republic of Poland
Form of government Republic with two legislative bodies (Senate and Parliament or Sejm)
Area 312,685 sq km (120,727 sq miles)
Time zone GMT + 1 hour
Projected population 2015 38,035,000
Population density 123.5 per sq km (319.9 per sq mile)
Life expectancy 73.7
Infant mortality (per 1,000) 9.2
Official language Polish
Literacy rate 99 %
Religions Roman Catholic 95%; others include Eastern Orthodox, Protestant 5%
Ethnic groups Polish 97.6%, German 1.3%, Ukrainian 0.6%, Belarusian 0.5%
Economy Services 55%, industry 38%, agriculture 7%
GNP per capita US$9,500
Climate Temperate, with cold winters and warm, wet summers
Highest point Rysy 2,499 m (8,199 ft) Map reference Page 289
Situated in northern Central Europe, Poland has a northern coastline on the Baltic Sea and shares land borders with seven countries. To the west the Oder River forms part of the border with Germany, while to the southwest the Sudeten Mountains separate it from the Czech Republic. The Carpathian Mountains form a natural boundary with Slovakia in the south. Ukraine and Belarus lie to the east, Lithuania is to the northeast, and a part of the Russian Federation is adjacent to Poland's northern coastline.
In the seventh and eighth centuries ad, Slavic peoples originally from the south of Europe—known as Polanie, or plain-dwellers— occupied most of Poland. In the tenth century their king was converted to Christianity, beginning a strong tradition of Catholicism that has survived to the present, despite attempts by post-war communist governments to suppress it. During the course of the next two centuries, invaders from Prussia divided up the country, which was reunited in the fourteenth century.
Poland retained its independence and at times even extended its power during the following two centuries, but again came under Prussian and Austrian control in the late eighteenth century. The nation regained its independence in 1918 with the defeat of Austria and Germany in the First World War. Early in the Second World War, Poland was attacked and overrun by Germany and then Russia, which divided the country between them until June 1941, when the Germans took full control. After the war Poland's borders shifted to the west, as portions of what was formerly Germany was ceded to Poland, and as the Soviets were granted control of substantial territories in the east. Under these arrangements Poland suffered a net loss of both territory and population. From that point on until 1989 Poland was effectively a vassal state of its much larger neighbor, the Soviet Union.
Growing civil unrest during the 1980s culminated in a series of strikes in a range of industries, organized by the trade union Solidarity. In 1989 the besieged government capitulated and allowed Solidarity to contest the government elections, which Solidarity won decisively. The first entirely free elections were held in 1991 and Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity, became Poland's first president. It is now a democratic republic with a directly elected president and a multi-party system. In 2004 it became a member of the EU.
Except for the mountain ranges in the south and southwest, most of Poland is low-lying, forming part of the North European Plain. The landscape is drained by numerous rivers, the most significant of which is the Vistula, which originates in the Carpathian Mountains and flows through the center of the country, through Warsaw, and on to the Baltic Sea near the industrial city of Gdansk. Most of this plain is fertile land covered with rich loess soil which supports a range of cereal and vegetable crops, in which Poland is almost self-sufficient, and livestock, the most important of which are cattle and pigs. In the northeast the country is more undulating, and much of northern Poland is dotted with extensive lakes. Towards the Baltic coast a range of hills known as the Baltic Heights slope down to a sandy coastal plain.
Agriculture, which once employed more than half of Poland's workforce, still accounts for just over a quarter of it. The post-war years saw a rapid expansion of heavy industries, which now include shipbuilding, based in Gdansk, and steel and cement manufacture based around the mining centers in the south. Many industrial activities are associated with Poland's rich coal reserves, and coal is used to generate more than half the country's electricity. Reliance on this form of fuel has resulted in serious air pollution and acid rain. Other mineral resources include natural gas, iron ore, and salt, on which important chemical industries are based.
Poland has been more successful than many former communist states in converting to a privatized economy. While many Poles have prospered from a growing number of entrepreneurial opportunities, however, others have seen their incomes substantially lowered. Unemployment remains comparatively high.
The rooftops of Gdansk in northern Poland, a major port and birthplace of the trade union Solidarity (below). An oil well in a village in Belarus (right page top). Yalta and the crowded promenade on the Sea of Azov, Ukraine (right page bottom).