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Podlaskie Voivodeship is one of the 16 voivodeships contributing to the Poland territory. The province is located in the north-eastern corner of Poland, constituting part of the state border with Belarus and Lithuania. Podlaskie borders the Lubelskie Voivodeship to the south, Mazowieckie to the southwest, and Warmińsko-Mazurskie to the northwest. Podlaskie province stretches over an area of 20,180 square kilometers, which approximately 1,179,430 people inhabit. The density of the population is 58 people per square kilometer. The province belongs to the least populated areas of Poland. Podlaskie is known for its considerable ethnic diversity. The area of the Podlaskie region is mainly characterized as being flat and having lowlands. Four national parks protect old forests covering one-third of the voivodeship's territory. The region's forests belong among the natural attractions, Białowieża Forest in particular, as it is one of the last primeval forests in Europe. The forest is home to several protected plant and animal species. Podlaskie Voivodeship is also visited for its culturally diverse historical monuments and sites.
One of the predominant touristic attractions of the Podlaskie Voivodeship is its natural wealth. Białowieża Forest is the largest surviving primeval forest in Europe and home to the biggest bison population in Poland. Another natural point of interest is Suwałki Landscape Park, located in the northern part of the region. The landscape was created by a glacier 10,000 years ago. Nowadays, the area features hills with various trails and Hańcza, the deepest lake in Poland. The Podlaskie Voivodeship also contains the largest national park in Poland, Biebrza National Park, mainly covering marshes and peat bogs. The park features various hiking, cycling, and kayaking trails.
Podlaskie Voivodeship is known for its diversity in the population. The province is a meeting point for various cultures, nationalities, and traditions. Białystok, as the capital city, embodies the diversity of the region. The main square, Rynek Kościuszki, offers local cuisine specialties, mirroring the city's multiculturality. Branicki Palace, situated in the city of Białystok, is often regarded as the "Polish Versailles."
Near the Polish-Belarusian border are located the villages Bohoniki and Kruszyniany, where the Muslim Tatar community lives in current times. The mosques in these villages were built in the 19th century and are one of the unique sites in Poland. Another element of the Tatar legacy in the villages are the Tatar cemeteries, also known as mizars. The cemetery in Bohoniki is the largest Muslim cemetery in Poland.
The villages Trześcianka, Soce, and Puchły, are other examples of the historical multiculturalism of the Podlaskie Voivodeship. The villages are part of what is known as "The Land of Open Shutters," a group of approximately 15 villages, mostly inhabited by Orthodox Belarusians. The traditional cabin-like houses, decorated with various ornaments, have been preserved in most of the villages. Open shutters can be found on the exterior of the village's cabins, hence the name. The shutters are usually open to showcase rich traditional ornaments.
Podlaskie Voivodeship is a low-lying area with varied relief structures. The territory features postglacial lakes, marshland, and peat bogs. The North Podlasian Lowland stretches over the southern and central parts of the Podlaskie territory. The northern part is composed of the Masurian Lakeland, where the largest lake in the region, Lake Wigry, is located. Lake Hańcza, also located in the Masurian Lakeland, is the deepest lake in Poland. Some of the most prominent rivers flowing through the region are Bug, Narew, and Biebrza.
About one-third of the Podlaskie province is forested. Four national parks can be found in its territory, the Biebrza, Białowieża, Wigry, and Narew National Parks. Białowieża National Park, established in 1932, is the oldest national park in Poland. This national park was established with the primary objective of protecting the Białowieża Forest, located between Belarus and Poland. Białowieża Forest, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, is one of the last and largest remaining parts of the primeval forest that once stretched across the European Plain. The forest is also home to approximately 800 bison, which belong to the protected endangered species in Europe. The Podlaskie Voivodeship is often regarded as the "the Green Lungs of Poland" for the well-preserved forests and ecologically clean areas.
Podlaskie territory is situated in a warm summer continental or hemiboreal climatic area. The province is characterized by warm summers and long-frosty winters. Podlaskie Voivodeship is the coldest province of Poland. The warmest month in the region is August, with an average daily temperature of 22°C. January is the coldest month, with an average temperature of -2°C. February is known for being the driest month, with an average of 26 mm of rainfall. The most precipitation falls during July, with an average of 80 mm. The area gets the most sunshine in June, with an average of 236 hours of sunshine.
The area of Bialystok, the capital city of the Podlaskie Voivodeship, has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Archeological discoveries show that the first settlements on the site can be dated back to the Stone Age. Later, Prussians, Yotvingians, and the population of Wielbark culture inhabited the territory. The city is located at the crossroads of different cultures and trade routes connecting the Baltic and the Black Sea.
Since the ninth century, various tribes, such as Lechitic, Baltic, and Ruthenians, inhabited the Podlaskie territory. Later, the area became a part of the Medieval Slavic cities union and part of the pro-Kyivan Ruthenian states. The location was then annexed and became part of the Great Duchy of Lithuania. Finally, in 1569, the western part of the Podlaskie territory became part of the Kingdom of Poland.
Plague and wars with Sweden during the 17th century slowed the economy and development while also decreasing the Podlaskie Province's population. The three Partitions of Poland, which took place in 1772, 1793, and 1795, shrank the Polish territory until, eventually, Poland as an autonomic country ceased to exist. The area was divided between Russia, Prussia, and Habsburg Monarchy. In the third partition, the Podlaskie territory fell under the rule of Prussia, and in 1815, it was annexed to Russia.
In 1918, the Bialystok province was established, with a population consisting mainly of Poles, Belarusians, and Jews. Battle of Wizna, which took place in the Podlaskie territory, marks the beginning of the Second World War. The battle is also known as the "Polish Thermopylae," as between 350 and 720 Poles defended a fortified line for three days against more than 40,000 Germans.
The Podlaskie Voivodeship is considered the most culturally diverse of all Polish voivodships. The area has been inhabited throughout history by numerous different nations, such as Poles, Jews, Belarusians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Rusyns, Romani, Lipka Tatars, and Philippians. Due to this, a relatively wide diversity in the population is typical for the province to this day. The most represented minorities are Belarusians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Jews, and Tatars. Mostly Polish and Ruthenian languages are spoken in the territory. However, in some parts, the Lithuanian language is also preserved and used.
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