Białystok – the capital of Podlasie

Białystok is the largest city in the north-east part of Poland (294,000 citizens) and the capital of the Podlasie region. Due to historical conditions Białystok has become a place where people representing different cultures, religions and nationalities have lived together for ages. This situation shaped the specific character of the city. In Białystok we can find the largest concentration of Orthodox and Islam believers in Poland; it is also the center of Belarusian and Tatar communities. The coat of arms of Białystok itself depicts the Polish eagle and the Lithuanian Pogoń.

The history of Białystok is strongly connected with the history of one of the most affluent families in the Republic of Poland, the Branicki family. A Turkish envoy who visited Białystok w in 1755 testified after he came back to his motherland that in „Lechistan“ he had seen two kings – a greater and a smaller one [apparently he thought of Branicki], „but the smaller one emanates more authority and significance“. Indeed, the baroque residence of Jan Klemens Branicki arouses respect even today. One has to remember that in 1754, when the envoy visited Poland, the magnate established a private „Military School of Construction and Engineering“. At that time Polish kings, August II, August III and Stanislaw August as well as the emperor Joseph II Habsburg stayed at the court. Afterwards, when the last descendant of the Branicki family with the Griffin coat of arms died, and before the revolution, the future king of France, Louis XVIII, found shelter in the "Versailles of Podlasie". In Białystok we can also find several other historic buildings from the baroque period, for example the Orthodox Mary Magdalene church, tenement houses in the old town or palaces and abbeys. The 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was a period of dynamic development of industry in Zamość. Many factories, bourgeoisie residences and nobility residences were constructed until World War I broke out.

The heritage of Białystok is also the world’s heritage. In 1859 Eliezer Lewi Samenhof was born in this city. He was famous as Ludwik Zamenhof, a brilliant eye doctor and the creator of the universal Esperanto language. The Jewish community of Podlasie brought forth many outstanding personalities, including one of the Prime Ministers of Israel - Icchak Szamir. The Jewish community of Białystok was killed in World War II.

Around 15% of the inhabitants are Orthodox. Several religious organisations work here, such as the Centre for Orthodox Culture and the Orthodoxia radio station. Numerous Orthodox festivals are organised here, including the International Festival of Hajnowka Days Orthodox Church Music and the Białystok Orthodox Church Music Days “Dni Muzyki Cerkiewnej”.

The capital of the province is inhabited by over 2,000 Muslims. There is a Muslim Centre, House of Prayer, and the Muslim Association of Cultural Education. The Centre of Muslim Culture and a mosque are being built at the moment. The Muslims of Podlasie have been living here since the 17th century when the Tatar warriors were settled here by Polish kings Jana Kazimierz and Jan III Sobieski. Around 1800 Tatars live in Białystok. In the neighbouring villages of Kruszyniany and Bohoniki we can still visit small mosques.

Białystok is a recognized centre of professional doll theatres and an important academic center – it has over 50,000 students. The city also has several museums of regional and specialty art as well as at least 19 private and state owned art galleries. In Supraśl which lies in the vicinity of Białystok, a modern museum of icons was recently opened.

Białystok is situated in an area called the Green Lungs region of Poland, bordering crystal clean mineral springs of the Knyszyna Primeval Forest, and part of the Narwia National Park is also situated within the agglomeration. The Białowieża National Park and the Biebrza National Park are situated not far from here. Białystok was the first city in Poland to be included in the international network of Healthy Towns organized by the World Health Organization. See you in Białystok... !

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