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Old and New Warsaw
Old Warsaw

According to a legend, Warsaw started as a riverside settlement built by fisherman Wars and his wife Sawa - thus the Polish name Warszawa. The first fortified settlement was erected here in the 9th century, the seat of the Masovian Dukes in the 1300s, and in 1526 it became part of the Polish Crown.

Because of its location between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's capitals of Krakow and Vilnius, Warsaw was made the capital of the Commonwealth in 1596. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the city suffered sieges, pillaging, and occupation by the Swedish, Brandenburgian, Russian, Transylvanian and Saxon forces. But by the late 1700s, Warsaw bloomed again amid the progressive ideas of the Enlightenment and the atmosphere of political and economic changes. New residences, parks and palaces were erected, and the middle class built its own impressive houses. In 1920, Warsaw became the capital of the newly independent Poland.

Nothing compares to the suffering and destruction of the city during World War II. In the 1939 Invasion of Poland, much of the city was badly damaged by the German Luftwaffe, which targeted the city's residential areas and historic landmarks in a campaign of terror bombing. After the Warsaw Rising in 1944, what had been left standing was systematically blown up by the German Army. What was once a bustling city became a ghost town.

After World War II, the Old Town was meticulously rebuilt. As many of the original bricks were reused as possible. The rubble was sifted for reusable decorative elements to be returned their original places. Bernardo Bellotto's 18th-century city paintings and pre-World-War II architecture students' drawings were used as essential sources in the reconstruction effort. 

New Warsaw

The past has not been kind to Warsaw, and Poland's capital's focus is on the future. One of the fastest growing European cities, Warsaw is taking full advantage of the unique opportunities presented to it: the investment boom is visible everywhere: the glass, futuristic office buildings house hundreds of businesses, research institutions and international organizations, with scores of new ones are going up.

A European Dubai? Not exactly. While there is a similar excitement about the future, the Polish government is extremely concerned about the environment, and each expansion plan undergoes a scrupulous environmental study. Daniel Libeskind, who designed Berlin's landmark Jewish Museum and the master plan for New York's Ground Zero, Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid and Chicago-based Helmut Jahn have all designed soaring glass towers that aim to reshape the Warsaw skyline long dominated by the Stalinist- era Palace of Culture. This wedding cake-like skyscraper, an unwanted "gift" from Soviet leader Josef Stalin was a constant reminder to Poles of their country's satellite status toward Moscow during the Cold War.

Warsaw's potential to build up in the heart of the city - an option denied most European capitals packed with gothic churches, baroque palaces and townhouses - stems from the capital's tragic history. After crushing the 1944 Warsaw Rising, the Germans systematically dynamited most of the remaining buildings and shipped the surviving residents to concentration camps. That painful episode now allows Warsaw to develop its downtown in ways Paris, Vienna, or Prague cannot. 

Warsaw Mermaid

The symbol of Warsaw, the city straddling the Vistula River and far from the sea, is a mermaid. It adorns many statues throughout the city and the city's coat of arms. This imagery has been in use since at least 1390, when it consisted of a crude form of a sea monster with a female upper body holding a sword in its claws.

The origin of the legendary figure, according to the well-known legend, it that a long time ago two of Triton's daughters set out on a journey through the depths of the oceans and seas. One of them decided to stay on the coast of Denmark and ever since has been sitting at the entrance to the port of Copenhagen. The second mermaid reached the mouth of the Vistula River and plunged into its waters. She stopped to rest on a sandy beach by the village of Warszawa, where local fishermen came to admire her and listen to her beautiful voice. It turned out that the mermaid swam to Warsaw from the Baltic Sea for the love of Griffin, the ancient defender of the city. The Mermaid, wishing to avenge his death, took the position of the defender of Warsaw, becoming the symbol of the city.

Every member of the Queen's Royal Hussars of the United Kingdom light cavalry and members of 651 Squadron Army Air Corps of the United Kingdom wears the Maid of Warsaw, the crest of the City of Warsaw, on the left sleeve of their No. 2 Dress.