The Białowieża National Park is one of the most beautiful and extensive forest territories in Europe. High, densely growing trees help to imagine the past, and unique animal species make these territories an ideal place to relax and gain unforgettable experiences.
Białowieża National Park, which is the oldest one in Poland, is only a part of Puszcza Białowieska (Białowieża Forest), which spreads over Polish and Belarus territories. In 1977 this national park gained a status of World Biosphere Reserve, and two years later (as the only Polish nature site) was enlisted on the UNESCO List. Białowieża Forest is the last remaining natural forest ecosystem in Europe with preserved fragments of natural broadleaf forests, which formerly covered the whole continent.
The territory of Białowieża Forest amounts to circa 150,000 hectares, with 62,500 hectares located in Poland. The Forest was for centuries a valuable hunting territory; in the beginning, it was a hunting place of Lithuanian princes, then it belonged to Polish kings, and after the partition of Poland it was a Russian tsars’ territory. Thanks to this, the priceless Forest survived clearing the trees and avoided transforming into a farmland.
The average age of the trees in the Forest is 126 years. More than 2,500 of them are so-called monument trees. The most impressive ones are oaks – about 150 specimens have a trunk perimeter up to 5 metres. The most famous one, 500-years-old Jagiełło oak, was wind-felled in 1974. The trees reach such huge sizes because of very fertile ground.
Forest fauna includes over 12,000 animal species. Among 58 mammal species the most famous one is bison, the biggest free-living animal in Europe, the symbol of wildlife conservation and an emblem of Białowieża National Park. European bison, formerly common in Białowieża Forest, became extinct in 1919. However, in 1929, they were imported from zoological gardens. Nowadays, there are about 300 bison living free in the Polish part of the Forest, and other bison live in breeding farms and show reserves.
The Forest is also inhabited by other hoofed animals: boar, deer and elks. Other species, for example foxes, badgers, beavers, muskrats, raccoon dogs and polecats live together with bats, squirrels, dormice, toads and newts. In the Białowieża Forest many rare species find their home. Typical for primary forests are also birds (for instance: Eurasian Pygmy Owl – the smallest owl in Europe).
Białowieża is an interesting place not only because of the Forest. Worth visiting are also Museum of Białowieża National Park; Public Ethnographic Museum presenting culture of Belarus; hunting manor house and an Orthodox church dating back to 1890. The surroundings of Białowieża – Hajnówka, Siemiotycze, Narew or Grabarka – are rich in Eastern Orthodox Churches and Orthodox tradition. Each May Hajnówka attracts tourists to International Festivals of Orthodox Music in modern Council of the Holy Trinity. Moreover, Grabarka is the most frequently worshipped Orthodox place in Poland. Another attraction of the region is a narrow-gauge railway between Hajnówka and Topił – forest settlement with a pond and a bathing resort. The route leading through the backwoods is 11 kilometres long.