Musical Theme: Rota (lyrics: Maria Konopnicka, original music: Feliks Nowowiejski)
Located along the banks of the Vistula River, the area covered by present-day Warsaw has been inhabited for roughly 14,000 years. The first fortified settlement at the site was the town of Bródno, built in the 9th century AD, followed by the town of Jazdów in the 12th century. Both of these towns were raided and razed, allowing Prince Boleslaw II of Masovia to establish a small fishing village by the name of Warszawa on the site in 1300. The early years of the city were mostly quiet and calm, the majority of the population working as small craftsman or dealing in local trade.
However the 16th and 17th centuries brought drastic changes to the little city. Civil unrest began to develop in Warsaw, as the economic discrepancies between the tradesman and nobility grew to even greater heights, and the occasional peasant revolt broke out in the city. On a happier note, Warsaw became the capital of the Polish Commonwealth in 1596 with the crowning of the new King Sigismund III Vasa. The city grew to over 14,000 people and expanded well past its old, fortified walls. A Swedish invasion ravaged the city in 1655, but this only left more room for the wealthy and nobility to rebuild, establishing new private districts in the wake of the old; many of these magnificent Baroque residences survived until World War II.
In 1700 the city once again took a turn for the worse when the Great Northern War broke out across the countryside. Two years into the war the city was captured by Swedish forces and suffered heavily under their occupation. In 1705 Saxon-Russian troops laid siege to the city for two years, up through the end of the war. Much of Warsaw's economy was destroyed as it was obliged to pay heavy contributions to the war effort, and the city fell under the shadow of the Russians.
Much of Warsaw began to change after this, as it developed into a capitalistic and enlightened city. Museums, libraries, and factories were built, and the middle class of merchants, industrialists, and financiers greatly expanded; by 1750 Warsaw had over 115,000 people living within its borders. These large changes in the makeup of the population also brought about new unrest. In 1794 the Warsaw Uprising broke out, an insurrection supported by the local army to overthrow the Russian control of the city. Russian soldiers reached the capital a few months later and completely squashed the Polish forces in a matter of hours. The exact death toll of the Uprising is unknown, but it is estimated that the Russian troops slaughtered at least 20,000 civilians that day.
Warsaw remained under Russian control for the next 123 years, its citizens revolting two more times in the November and January Uprisings. After World War I, the independent nation of Poland was created and Warsaw was named as its capital. Russian forces however returned for the city in 1920 and the massive Battle of Warsaw was fought along the eastern outskirts of the city. The Polish troops managed to defeat the Red Army and are credited not only with saving the country from the Soviets, but also with saving all of Central Europe from the brunt of Communism (for the time being).
Unfortunately during World War II, the city fell to the Nazis; its Jewish inhabitants - almost 30% of the population - were herded out of the city and exterminated. Faced with various uprisings from the Polish people and the encroaching Red Army, the Nazis sought to completely demolish Warsaw, razing 85% of the buildings to the ground (including the historic old mansions and the royal palace). The ruins of the city were liberated on January 17, 1945. It is here that the city earned its nickname "The Phoenix City" as a grand effort was made to rebuild the city. Many of the original streets and buildings were successfully restored and in 1980 the reclaimed historic center was inscribed onto UNESCO's World Heritage list. In 2004 Poland joined the European Union, and Warsaw has begun to see the biggest economic boom of its history.