Poland began to emerge as a country around the time the region adopted Christianity in the late 10th century when the Piast Dynasty emerged as rulers. This family ruled over a sometimes fragmented country for nearly 400 years, in a period that saw the creation of the first universities and the immigration of the Jewish population, mainly because Poland was seen as a shelter for this widely persecuted community at the time.
The Jagellion Dynasty of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania formed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1386 who faught numerous wars with the Teutonic Knights and the Tatars in particular. A feudal system was developing with the rise of nobility amongst a mainly agricultural state. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth fell apart in 1795 which led to the partitioning of the country amongst the Kingdom of Prussia, the Russian Empire and Austria.
Poland became a republic again in 1918 but in 1939 was invaded by Nazi Germany, resulting in the UK declaration of war with Germany. WW2 caused the deaths of 6m Poles, and the Soviet sphere of influence meant that Poland remained in communism until 1989.
Warsaw and Krakow are the biggest tourist destinations in Poland with Gdansk, Szczecin, Poznan and Torun growing in popularity. As the former seat of power in Poland, Krakow has the Wawel Royal Castle, and is close to the former concentration camp, Auschwitz at Oświęcim.
It is Poland’s natural heritage which attracts growing numbers of tourists. The high Tatra mountains offer ski resorts, hiking and camping, while the UNESCO protected Białowieża Forest has animal species rarely found in other parts of mainland Europe, including the European bison. It stretches beyond Poland into Belarus so there is a border crossing inside the national park to cross into Belarus if necessary.