There’s no denying it, Warsaw has had a troubled history. Positioned at the crossroads of Central Europe, the city has been shuffled between empires and dynasties like a pawn on a chessboard. It’s been a roller coaster ride ever since King Sigismund III Vasa moved his court here from Kraków in 1569. Pillaged by the Swedes in the 17th century, and occupied by the Russians for most of the 19th century, Poland was finally freed from the shackles of oppression in 1918. The period signalled a golden age for Warsaw, and saw the city develop on a par with Europe’s other great capitals.
The outbreak of WWII brought with it new suffering, however. Occupied by Nazi Germany, Warsaw saw the majority of its 350,000-strong Jewish population die in the ghetto or killed in the gas chambers of Treblinka. With liberation in sight the Polish population rose against occupying German forces in the 1944 Uprising. Expected help from the West never materialised, and Soviet tanks looked on from the other side of the Wisła as the full weight of the Nazi army crushed the rebellion. The Uprising cost the lives of 150,000 civilians, and what remained of the city was systematically dynamited. The darkest chapter of Warsaw’s history had been written. Peace brought with it a new challenge: communism. Falling under the Soviet sphere of influence Warsaw was rebuilt in stagnant, socialist fashion, and its reputation as a gloomy, concrete city was born.