Official name: Republic of Poland
Area: 312,685 square kilometers (120,728 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Rysy (2,499 meters/8,199 feet)
Lowest point on land: Raczki Elblaskie (2 meters/6.6 feet below sea level)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 1 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 689 kilometers (428 miles) from east to west; 649 kilometers (403 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 2,888 kilometers (1,794 miles) total boundary length; Russia 206 kilometers (128 miles); Lithuania 91 kilometers (57 miles); Belarus 605 kilometers (376 miles); Ukraine 428 kilometers (266 miles); Slovakia 444 kilometers (276 miles); Czech Republic 658 kilometers (409 miles); Germany 456 kilometers (283 miles)
Coastline: 491 kilometers (305 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Poland is an unbroken plain in Eastern Europe extending from the shore of the Baltic Sea to the Carpathian Mountains. It covers an area of 312,685 square kilometers (120,728 square miles), or slightly less than the state of New Mexico.
Poland has no territories or dependencies.
Poland's continental climate is modified by westerly winds. Summers are generally cool, with only the southern portions of the country experiencing notable humidity. Winters can be frigid. Average temperatures are –6°C to –1°C (21–30°F) in January and 13°C –24°C (55°F –75°F) in July. Annual average precipitation ranges from 50 centimeters (20 inches) in the lowlands to 135 centimeters (53 inches) in the mountains. For the country as a whole, the average annual precipitation is 64 centimeters (25 inches).
Differences in climate and terrain occur in bands that extend from east to west. The coastal area lacks natural harbors except those at Gdansk-Gdynia and Szczecin. The vast plains south of the coast and its adjoining lake district have more fertile soil, a longer growing season, and a denser population than the northern regions. The southern foothills and mountains contain most of the country's mineral wealth and much of this land has attracted the greatest concentration of industry and people.
Poland is bordered by the Baltic Sea to the north.
The major ocean inlets bordering the Polish coast are the Pomeranian Bay in the west and the Gulf of Gdansk in the east.
Poland's coastline is a narrow lowland dotted with bays, lakes, and promontories (high rocky cliffs).
The lake district of northeast Poland is subdivided into two smaller regions. The Pomeranian district has over four thousand lakes, occupying over 115,000 hectares (290,000 acres); the Masurian district has over twenty-five hundred lakes, which cover almost 142,000 hectares (355,000 acres). Most of the lakes are small and shallow; nearly a dozen, however, including some very small ones, have depths exceeding 50 meters (164 feet).
By far the greatest portion of the country drains northwestward to the Baltic Sea by way of the Vistula (Wisla) and Oder (Odra) Rivers. Most other rivers in Poland join the Vistula and Oder systems. The Vistula and its tributaries drain the country's largest basin, an area that includes practically all of the southeastern and east-central regions and much of the northeast as well. The Vistula rises in the Tatra Mountains in the south, flows northward, and drains into the Baltic Sea at the Gulf of Gdansk (Danzig). One of its tributaries, the Bug, forms about 280 kilometers (174 miles) of Poland's eastern border. The Oder, which together with the Neisse (Nysa) River forms most of the border between Poland and Germany, is fed by several other rivers and streams, including the Warta, which drains a large section of central and western Poland. The Oder reaches the Baltic Sea through the harbors and bays north of Szczecin.
There are no deserts in Poland.
Poland's average elevation is 173 meters (567 feet); more than 90 percent of the country lies below 300 meters (984 feet). The single largest region is the central lowlands area, which accounts for three-fourths of Poland's territory. Extending over the entire country in an east-west band, it is narrow in the west but expands to both the north and the south as it extends eastward. At the eastern border, it includes nearly all the terrain from the northeastern tip of the country to about 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the southeastern corner.
When the most recent glacier receded several millennia ago, it left behind the hills, forests, and lakes north of the central lowlands. The effects of glaciation dominate the terrain for about 200 kilometers (124 miles) inland from the Baltic Sea in the western part of the country, but for a much shorter distance in the east. There are large areas of swampland in the northern lake district because of poor drainage, and land here has been hard to reclaim.
The foothills of the Tatra Mountains and Sudeten Mountains to the south of the central lowlands blend into the other mountains in the extreme south and in the southwestern corner of the country.
Mount Rysy, the country's highest peak at 2,499 meters (8,199 feet), is in the Tatra (Tatry) range of the Carpathian Mountains. Six other peaks in the Polish portion of the Tatras reach 1,900 meters (6,233 feet) or more. The Sudeten Mountains are lower, with only one peak exceeding 1,600 meters (5,249 feet). Most of the more rugged slopes are in the Tatra Mountains; many slopes in the Sudeten range are gentle and have been cultivated or used as meadows and pastures on dairy farms.
Over twenty-five hundred caves have been identified in Poland, most clustering in the south-central part of the country, in the western Tatra Mountains and the Kraków region.
Only 3 percent of Poland's terrain rises above 500 meters (1,640 feet). These small highland areas in the Carpathian and Sudeten (Sudety) Mountains extend across the country parallel to the southern border in a belt roughly 90 to 120 kilometers (55 to 74 miles) wide.
Gdansk is known for its historic gateways, including the landmark sixteenth-century Green Gate and High Gate and the fifteenth-century Crane Gate, which was rebuilt following World War II (1939–45).
In 98 A.D. , the Roman historian Tacitus recorded the name of Poland's longest river, the Vistula. One of the early Germanic tribes who had settled in the region, the Goths, gave the river its name.
McLachlan, Gordon W. Off the Beaten Track: Poland. Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1995.
Salter, Mark. Poland: The Rough Guide. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
Stephenson, Jill, and Alfred Bloch. Poland . New York: Hippocrene Books, 1993.