The communications network is on the whole quite efficient, but still has strong imbalances between the various parts of the country, resulting in the central-southern regions being clearly privileged, which are at the same time highly industrialized areas as well as transit and connection areas with neighboring states. The railway network retains its importance: the maximum communication hub is Warsaw, to which almost all the major railway lines belong; Wroclaw and Poznań follow in importance. Particular attention, also for the increased motorization, was also dedicated to the strengthening of the road network which extends for a total of 364,697 km, of which 68% is asphalted. Finally, the country can count on almost 4000 km of inland waterways: the main river port is that of Koźle, on the Oder, a river widely used, like the railways, for the transport of heavy goods. After the last war, the acquisition of a vast outlet on the Baltic led Poland to increase its merchant fleet: the major ports are those of Gdynia, Gdansk and Szczecin, where major infrastructure upgrading works were carried out and which they dispose of almost all of the maritime trade. Finally, air communications are active, managed by the company Polskie Linie Lotnicze (LOT): the main airports are those of Warsaw (international), Krakow, Wroclaw and Łódz. According to ebizdir.net, Poland has implemented a significant structural evolution and a net strengthening of its foreign trade, constantly increasing the export share of industrial goods, although the trade balance registers a constant passive. Alongside the traditional exports of raw materials (especially mining, followed by agricultural and livestock products), those of machinery, naval equipment, rolling stock and chemical products are constantly increasing. Imports mainly consist of petroleum and its derivatives, means of transport, precision and advanced technology instruments, textile products and light industry products in general, but also agricultural products (cereals). With regard to the main trading partners, it should be noted that, starting from the 1990s, relations with EU countries (in particular Germany) have intensified, especially to the detriment of Russia. Since 1992 Poland is part of the CEFTA (Central Europe Free Trade), an agreement between the countries of Central Europe for the abolition of customs tariffs and the free movement of people and goods. The Polish monetary unit is the new złoty, introduced into the international currency market in May 1995 and issued by Narodowy Bank Polski, the Polish national bank. The banking system shows considerable dynamism: the numerous reforms, the new privatization trend and the interest shown by foreign investors have contributed to the consolidation of the banking structure. Tourism to historic cities and religious centers also plays a moderate role in the national economy. Among the favorite destinations is the capital Warsaw, a cultural and sophisticated Central European center until it became the most devastated city during the Second World War. Meticulously rebuilt, the city continues to represent an important center of Baroque and Neoclassicism. Other cities with a tourist vocation are Krakow, Poznań, Toruń, Gdansk and Wroclaw, to be admired for the presence of medieval historical monuments, Romanesque churches, Gothic cathedrals and splendid municipal buildings. From a landscape point of view, the Masurian lakes area, in north-eastern Poland on the border with Russia, and the Tatra National Park are a source of attraction. Religious tourism is also noteworthy, especially in Częstochowa, where an icon of the Madonna believed to be miraculous is venerated.
ECONOMY: MINERAL RESOURCES AND INDUSTRY
It is largely from the coal mining activity, with a production of 102 million tons (2003), that Poland largely derives the possibility of carrying out its production programs or not. In fact, the country has one of the largest coalfields in Europe, that of Silesia, from which coal is extracted with a very high calorific value and thanks to which Poland has doubled its production of electricity. Other fields are located in Lublin, Wałbrzych, Nowa Huta. Poland is also one of the world’s leading producers of anthracite and sulfur, as well as having numerous deposits of lead, lignite and rock salt (Wieliczka is particularly famous., where an ancient mine has been transformed into an evocative museum). Instead, the production of oil and natural gas is rather modest. Other mineral resources include nickel, natural phosphates, magnesite, silver, potash and iron. The industry sector participates for over 30% in the formation of national income, employing 31% of the workforce: therefore its pivotal role in the country’s economy is evident. It should also be noted that industrialization, thanks to government policies aimed at the economic rebalancing of the territory, has also affected the northern regions, which for a long time remained marginalized from the production cycle. Among the main sectors of Polish industry is the steel industry (cast iron and ferroalloys), mainly concentrated in Silesia or on the edge of the coal basin (such as the colossal complex of Nowa Huta, near Krakow). Other important plants are those of Czestochowa, located in the iron basin of the same name (the iron used, however, is mostly imported). Metallurgy is also well represented, using both local mineral resources (especially zinc, copper and lead), and bauxite import. Another very important item in the national economy is the mechanical industry, present above all in large cities such as Krakow, Warsaw, Poznań, Szczecin and Wroclaw, which mainly produces railway equipment, agricultural and mining machinery, cars, commercial vehicles and bicycles. In shipbuilding, hit by a deep crisis in the 1980s, Poland can boast a good place on a European scale thanks to the shipyards in Szczecin, Gdansk and Gdynia. Great development has had the textile industry, which was born at the beginning of the century. XIX: the cotton sector is concentrated in Łódz and affects a large area up to Warsaw, while the wool is traditionally located in Southern Poland is also working jute, hemp, linen and, in increasing quantities, artificial and synthetic textile fibers. The recent industry, but which is gaining importance, is the chemical one (located mainly in Silesia and along the Vistula valley), which produces plastics, resins, dyes, drugs (the pharmaceutical industry is centralized in Warsaw), superphosphates, caustic soda., nitrogen fertilizers, sulfuric acid, of which Poland is the third largest producer in Europe. Numerous oil refineries (in Gorlice, Jedlicze, etc.) process both domestic crude and that imported essentially from Russia. Another major basic industry is that of cement and building materials, with numerous plants. Also noteworthy is the food industry (sugar refineries, breweries and alcohol distilleries), which exploits the large production of potatoes. The vast panorama of Polish industry is completed by tobacco factories, glass and porcelain factories, both of ancient fame, the various complexes linked to forest exploitation (paper mills, furniture factories, etc.) as well as the rubber, leather and footwear.