Bialystok is not a “must” for tourists visiting Poland, however intriguing it may be. Unlike most cities in Poland, Bialystok is settled by various nationalities (Poles, Russians, Belorussians and Tartars) and religious groups (Catholic and Orthodox) who coexist there peacefully. The most attractive sight in Bialystok is a palace dubbed the “small Versailles”. The whole region is dotted with Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish temples, attracting both pilgrims and tourists, but it also has unrivalled natural features, including wild woods and meandering rivers.First accounts of Jewish settlement in Bialystok date from 1658 to 1661. In 1692 there was a branch of the kahal of the Tykocin community operating in Bialystok to serve the needs of local Jews. Tradition has it that the Jews came to Bialystok in 1749 by invitation from Count Branitzky, who built houses and stores for them as well as a wooden synagogue. Throughout its history, the city remained predominately Jewish. An industrial city 52 miles southwest of Grodno, Bialystok (also known as Byelostok) prospered from its two major products—cloth and tobacco.Located in the Białystok Uplands (Polish: Wysoczyzna Białostocka) of the Podlaskie Plain (Polish: Nizina Północnopodlaska) on the banks of the Biała River, Białystok ranks second in terms of population density, eleventh in population, and thirteenth in area, of the cities of Poland. It has historically attracted migrants from elsewhere in Poland and beyond, particularly from Central and Eastern Europe. This is facilitated by the fact that the nearby border with Belarus is also the eastern border of the European Union, as well as the Schengen Area. The city and its adjacent municipalities constitute Metropolitan Białystok. The city has a Warm Summer Continental climate, characterized by warm summers and long frosty winters. Forests are an important part of Białystok’s character, and occupy around 1,756 ha (4,340 acres) (17.2% of the administrative area of the city) which places it as the fifth most forested city in Poland.
The first settlers arrived in the 14th century. A town grew up and received its municipal charter in 1692.
Białystok has traditionally been one of the leading centers of academic, cultural, and artistic life in Podlaskie and the most important economic center in northeastern Poland. In the nineteenth century Białystok was an important center for light industry, which was the reason for the substantial growth of the city’s population. But after the fall of communism in 1989 many of these factories faced severe problems and subsequently closed down. Through the infusion of EU investment funds, the city continues to work to reshape itself into a modern metropolis. Białystok in 2010, was on the short-list, but ultimately lost the competition to become a finalist for European Capital of Culture in 2016. Over the centuries Białystok has produced a number of people who have provided unique contributions to the fields of science, language, politics, religion, sports, visual arts and performing arts. This environment was created in the mid-eighteenth century by the patronage of Jan Klemens Branicki for the arts and sciences. These include Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last émigré President of the Republic of Poland; L. L. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto; and Albert Sabin, the co-developer of the polio vaccine.
Bialystok, with a population of almost 300,000 people, ranks among the larger Polish cities. As the capital of the Podlachia province, Bialystok is in fact the main industrial centre of north-eastern Poland and an important academic city.
Despite the high rate of unemployment in the region, Bialystok is gradually developing thanks to its convenient location within close proximity of the Belarusian, Lithuanian and Russian borders. Besides, it takes advantage of the nearby main overland routes, including the railway line (Berlin-St. Petersburg-Moscow) and the Via Baltica highway. Thus, Bialystok maintains strong economic and cultural relations with the countries of Eastern Europe.
Only a small part of the old architecture survived in Bialystok, but there are several places that are certainly worth a visit. Besides, the Podlachia region is known for its uniquely clean environment, protected in several national parks and reserves. Exploring the rich cultural heritage of the neighbourhood may provide visitors with many surprises, including discovering the traces of a Muslim and Jewish presence.
Considering that the city has been a melting pot of diverse nations, cultures and traditions, it is easy to understand why it was in Bialystok that the artificial language of Esperanto emerged. Its inventor, Ludwik Zamenhof, wanted to find a simple way of communication between nations. Although Esperanto did not become a commonly-used international language, it has spread all over the world, gaining many supporters (with around 2 million users world-wide).