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Warsaw city guide

Venue for the opening match at UEFA EURO 2012, Warsaw is known as the Phoenix City as spirited survival runs rich through its veins. Today it is once again a thriving capital.

Warsaw city guide
Warsaw city guide ©UEFA.com

Province: Mazovia
Population: 1,711,000
Area: 517km²
Altitude: 106m above sea level
Motto: Contemnit Procellas (It Defies the Storms)

Known as the Phoenix City, Warsaw's mixture of architectural styles reflects its turbulent history. By the end of World War Two it lay destroyed, the result of random bombing and planned destruction that left nearly one million dead. Yet spirited survival runs rich through Warsaw's veins and today it is once again a thriving city; politically, educationally, culturally and economically Poland's capital.

Warsaw tends to confound expectations. Despite lying 300km from the sea its symbol is a mermaid. The origins are unknown, though legend has it that long ago two of the Greek god Triton's daughters set out on a journey through the depths of the oceans and seas. One decided to stay on the coast of Denmark and has been in Copenhagen ever since. The second headed up the Vistula river, past Gdansk, before resting on a beach by the village of Warszowa. Fishermen came to admire her beauty and voice, but a greedy merchant also heard the songs and captured the mermaid.

Battles have razed and raised Warsaw for much of its history. In 1596, Warsaw became the capital of Poland (before that it used to be Cracow). The 1795 annexation by Prussia reduced Warsaw's status to provincial capital.

By 1815 it was under Russian rule, where it remained until World War One. For 21 years Warsaw was capital of independent Poland, and had blossomed into a city of 1.3m when, on 1 September 1939, the first German bombs rained down. Within a month Warsaw fell. Six years later, as Soviet tanks rolled in to liberate the city they met the harshest of desolation. Warsaw had twice rebelled, first in the ghetto and then throughout the city and the response was brutal – over the course of their occupation 800,000 perished. After liberation, Warsaw resumed its role as Polish capital and some of the historic buildings were reconstructed.

During Warsaw's reconstruction after World War II, the communist authorities designated the city a major industrial centre. Large factories were built in and around the city and bellowed smoke until the communist economy deteriorated – all but one steel mill went bankrupt after 1989. Yet foreign capital has since flooded in, and the city centre (Śródmieście) is home to national institutions and a wealth of domestic and international businesses, hidden away in a glut of skyscrapers that makes Warsaw, behind Paris, Frankfurt and London, the fourth-tallest city in Europe.

• Marie Skłodowska-Curie, chemist and physicist (1867-1934) – the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in 1903 for physics, receiving another for chemistry in 1911.

• Fryderyk Chopin, pianist and composer (1810-1849) – the grand master of Romantic music; immortalised in bronze in Łazienki Park, his heart is encased in a pillar at the Warsaw Holy Cross Church.

• Tamara de Łempicka, artist (1898-1980) – an art deco painter whose work is collected by Madonna and Jack Nicholson.

• Mordechaj Anielewicz (1919-1943), was the commander of the Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB), and the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising  – known as Little Angel (Aniołek).

• Krzysztof Kieślowski, film director (1941-1996) - co-wrote and directed the Three Colours trilogy and Decalogue, a series of ten short films set in a Warsaw tower block.

In 1980 the Old Town was put on UNESCO's World Heritage list and with good reason – this square kilometre is home to many of Warsaw's historical monuments. The Royal Castle dominates. Blown up in World War Two, it has been painstakingly rebuilt and once home to dukes, tsars and – between 1918 and 1939 the polish president – its doors now open to a steady stream of tourists.

Like the Royal Castle, much of the Old Town has been restored over the past 60 years and it is telling that of the stylish houses lining the stunning Rynek Starego Miasta (Old Town Square), only two are originals – Nos 34 and 36. On the northern side of the square is the National Museum of Warsaw, one of around 60 museums in the city with other highlights in honour of the Chopin, Hunting and Riding, Motorisation, Caricatures and Posters.

On a more solemn note, there are Warsaw Rising and Historical Museums. Little evidence of Jewish Warsaw remains but there are constant reminders with memorials to Ghetto Heroes and Mordechaj Anielewicz, leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. To the south is the tranquil Łazienki Park, centred on the former royal residence, the Palace on the Water. On Midsummer's Night water is again the focus as thousands gather on the Vistula for the festival of the Wianki (Wreaths), formerly a pagan ritual where maidens would float wreaths to predict when they would be married.

Fan zone: Plac Defilad (Parade Square)
Donetsk's enormous 120,000m² fan zone, located next to the train station, will accommodate up to 100,000 people and feature six giant screens. It opens on the eve of the tournament and thereafter it will welcome fans from 10.00 to 01.00 until 2 July. It is free to enter and will broadcast all 31 matches live, though at other times there will be plenty of entertainment such as football skill tests, five-a-side pitches, live concerts and DJ sets, as well as offer a full range of food and beverages.

To and from
Warsaw-Fryderyk Chopin Airport is 8km south of the city centre. There are several train stations, but most travellers need only concern themselves with Warszawa Centralna in the heart of the city – but please note it is not always the final destination. There are direct daily services to Wroclaw (five hours), Gdansk (4.5 hours), Poznan (3-4 hours), Lviv (14 hours, though quicker if you change) and Kyiv (15 hours). There are two bus terminals: Warszawa Stadion serves east-bound destinations while Warszawa Zachodnia handles all other routes, including to Gdansk and Wroclaw (both take 5-7 hours).

Distances to other UEFA EURO 2012 venues
Poznan – 320km
Wroclaw – 350km
Gdansk – 345km
Lviv – 385km
Kyiv – 820km
Kharkiv – 1,250km
Donetsk – 1,465km

In and around
Warsaw's integrated public transport system includes buses, trams and the metro. The main routes run from 5.00 to 23.00 every day, thereafter night buses link Emilii Plater Street in the centre to major suburbs though on Friday and Saturday the metro runs until 2.00. It is best to buy tickets before boarding – look out for signs saying 'Sprzedaż Biletów ZTM'. Single journeys cost 2.40zł and there are also tickets for 90 minutes/one day/three days/week (6/9.60/14.40/32zł).

The Polish capital's oldest club KSP Polonia Warszawa celebrated their centenary in 2011 but, not for the first time, neighbours Legia Warszawa hogged the limelight.

Unable to make an impression in a disappointing league campaign, knockout specialists Legia stormed to their 14th Polish Cup – no other side has managed more than six. It continued their dominance of the football scene in Warsaw, stretching back to the mid-1950s when they went from being also-rans to back-to-back double winners.

Legia trace their origins to a World War One Polish Legion based in Volyn, Ukraine, and were linked to the army until 1990 as they stole a march on their city rivals. A side based around Kazimierz Deyna (whose No10 shirt has been retired by the club) seized titles in 1969 and 1970, and that tally has doubled since the mid-1990s making Legia Poland's fourth most successful league side.

Polonia, Warsaw's oldest club, are ninth in that list. They were runners-up in the first nationwide competition in 1921, joint champions five years later, then cemented their place as the capital's most popular side by taking the first post-war title. The final took place at Legia's stadium because Polonia's ground, close to the Jewish ghetto, was reduced to rubble.

Linked with the railway workers during the Soviet era, Polonia won the 1952 Polish Cup but were relegated that same year and spent the next four decades out of the top flight. The Black Shirts stepped out of Legia's shadow at the turn of the century, winning their second league title in 2000 and then the cup the following year. They have since retreated, narrowly escaping relegation in 2009/10 thanks to their first home derby win in ten years.

WKS Gwardia Warszawa, the 1954 Polish Cup winners, have slipped further since their heyday but enjoy the distinction of being the first side to represent Poland in continental competition, in the inaugural European Champion Clubs' Cup.

Footballing alumni
Dariusz Dziekanowski
and Dariusz Wdowczyk share the rare distinction of representing Polonia, Gwardia and Legia (not to mention Celtic FC). Both won over half a century of caps, too, though Michał Żewłakow stands alone in Poland's 100 club. Twin brother Marcin managed 25 internationals in a career that took him to Belgium, France and Cyprus while striker Robert Lewandowski is now in Germany with Borussia Dortmund. Polonia club favourite Władysław Szczepaniak was a Poland regular either side of World War Two.

Did you know?
Legia became the first Polish team to participate in the UEFA Champions League in 1995/96, reaching the quarter-finals. It was not their first memorable run in Europe, having reached the last four of the 1970 European Champion Clubs' Cup and 1991 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

European Capital of Sport in 2008, Warsaw has been at the heart of the nation's sporting success since 1932 when athlete Janusz Kusociński won Poland's first ever Olympic gold in the 10,000m. The city has subsequently provided individual gold medallists in long jump, high jump, judo, sailing, hammer, rowing, modern pentathlon, fencing and boxing. Having produced so many stars, events have snowballed in Warsaw over the past decade. It hosted the 2002 World Weightlifting Championship, 2006 Women's European Amateur Boxing Championship, 2007 European Figure Skating Championship and was one of seven venues for EuroBasket 2009, won by Spain.