Polish legend tells of three brothers, Lech, Czech and Rus, who travelled Eastern Europe founding countries. Lech is said to be the founder of Poland.
The Jagiellonian University, previously the Krakow Academy, was established in Krakow in 1364.
The Jagiellonian University was named after Queen Jadwiga, wife of Jagiello of Lithuania, who rescued the university from financial difficulties. Jadwiga died when she was 24 and was later declared a saint.
Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) attended the Jagiellonian University at the end of the fifteenth century. Copernicus was an astronomer who published the theory of a sun-centred solar system.
Jan Heweliusz ( 1611-1687) was a Polish astronomer who produced the first accurate maps of the surface of the moon.
In 1683 John III (Jan Sobieski), the Polish King, saved Vienna from a Turkish siege.
Built in the mid seventeenth century the Churches of Peace in Jawor and Swidnica are the largest timber-framed religious buildings in Europe.
Poland's Wieliczka Salt Mine is on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List. The mine, which has been worked since the thirteenth century, displays many beautiful sculptures which have been carved in salt by miners.
Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934) was born in Poland. She moved to Paris where she worked with her husband, Pierre. Marie Curie won Nobel Prizes for Physics (1903) and Chemistry (1911). The awards were for her work on the discovery of radioactivity and radium respectively.
Casimir Funk (1884-1967) was born in Warsaw and migrated to the USA in 1920. He is known for his work on the discovery of vitamins and was the first to use the word "vitamine".
During the Second World War Oskar Schindler ran a factory that saved the lives of over a thousand of his Jewish workers. Schindler drew up a list of his staff and persuaded the Nazis that they were essential workers.
The former concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau is one of Poland's World Heritage sites.
The architect Daniel Libeskind was born in Poland in 1946 and became a US citizen in 1965. Libeskind, designed the famous Jewish Museum in Berlin (opened in 2001) and was chosen in February 2003 as the architect to redevelop the World Trade Centre site in New York.
Pope John Paul II was born in Wadowice (Krakow), Poland in 1920. He became the 265th Pope in 1978.
The icon of the Black Madonna is the most important shrine in Poland. The Black Madonna, in the Paulite Monastery of Jasna Gora (Czestochowa), is visited by millions of pilgrims every year.
Poland was a member of COMECON, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (1949-91) and the Warsaw Treaty Organization.
The Warsaw Pact (1955-1991) allowed Red Army bases in member states. (Warsaw Treaty Organisation member countries were Albania (until 1968), Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic), East Germany (DDR), Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union).
In December 2002 Poland took part in EU accession negotiations with nine other countries (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia). The Accession Treaty was signed on 16 April 2003 with 1 May 2004 the formal entry date.
Poland is one of the Baltic Sea States. Other members of the Council of the Baltic Sea States are Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the European Commission.
The year 2004 marked the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 (not to be confused with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943) celebrated around the world and culminating in Warsaw with the opening of the Warsaw Uprising Museum. This multimedia museum houses the world's largest collection of photographs, movies, artifacts and personal accounts on the subject. Additionally the museum is a research and educational institution.