There are no mountains or impassable wetlands, no natural barrier that would protect the Bialowieza Forest. So how did it survive when the settlers chopped up other forests in Podlasie to turn them into farmland? This sanctuary of nature has been saved by princes, kings and tsars.
Władysław Jagiełło, king of Poland, a great lover of hunting, hunted bison and elk here in 1409. The salted meat was stored in barrels and then floated down the Narewka, Narew, and Vistula rivers to Płock as supplies for the army. As the ruler of Lithuania, Jagiełło, had free will of the landed property in the Grand Duchy, he decided that such a large wildlife-rich area should be protected.
The forest became a private property of successive rulers, and the guards were settled around it. Their duties included guarding the animals against poachers and the aged trees against lumberjacks. They were also supposed to mow the grass on the glades and keep the hay, so that during particularly cold winters the bison would not starve.
The next generations of Jagiellon dynasty have been frequent visitors in the forest.
Sigismund August was the first to use firearms here on hunting. A few bills from purchases in Vilnius before the trip to Bialowieza have been preserved. 10 kg of powder and lead for casting bullets. A foxtail duvet for the king's favourite dog was also a luxury purchase. Thanks to protection, the Bialowieza Forest turned out to be the only place in the lowlands of Europe where the bison survived.
At the beginning of the 19th century Tsar Alexander I issued a decree on the protection of these animals, and the forest was considered a private hunting area of the Russian rulers.
When the Tsar and his court came to Bialowieza, this small village became the center of the dawn of the empire, because in Russia no important decision could be made without the will of the Tsar. A special telegraph with direct connections to St. Petersburg was installed here.
During the tsarist hunt, it was not allowed to shoot young bisons, for which there was a high penalty.
In the 19th century, a palace with 120 luxurious apartments was built over Narewka. Each tsarist hunt meant mobilizing the local population for various jobs.
WW1 and the Polish-Bolshevik fights brought disaster to the forest. Soldiers and poachers killed all free living bison. The Germans also felled historic trees.
Beautiful oaks and spruces remembering the royal times were felled also in the late 1920s. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of naturalists, a reserved area was created. The surviving bison in the zoological gardens were brought to the forest and their reproduction began.
The tradition of famous huntings was revived by Polish President Ignacy Mościcki, but then only boars, deer, lynxes and wolves were hunted.
In Bialowieza, the Reich Minister of Aviation persuaded Polish politicians to conclude a pact against the USSR, but no agreement was reached.
Herman Goering didn't shoot any wolf either, but somebody said he might have shot a growing bassinet that ran through the hunting line. Hunters were sent to look for an animal, but it turned out that Goering didn't even scratch a wolf.
Without telling him the truth, the most beautiful wolf that flew to Berlin was chosen for him.
It was the big predators that attracted Herman Goering here again.
At that time, hardly anyone expected that the consequences of this visit would be disastrous for Bialowieza.
Goering, delighted with the forest, decided to create a hunting reserve during the occupation of Poland. He was obsessed with breeding a Germanic tur by crossbreeding cattle breeds that showed primary gens. The surrounding villages were pacified in order to extend the borders of the reserve.
After the war, Polish naturalists decided to experiment. Several bison were released into the forest from the closed zoological gardens. It wasn't even sure if the animals would be able to cope in the wild. It turned out that they can do without human help.
Currently, there are about 600 bison living in Białowieża on the area of about 200ths hectares. Some bison, foresters give the number about 250, like to take a walk outside the forest and then you can even see them on the roads and near human houses. It's a real adventure to see this giant up close.
The primeval forest is worth visiting all year round, but in spring it is probably the most pleasant when all nature awakens to life and the forest smells unimaginable.
Currently, you can enter the Forest with a licensed guide who will tell you the secrets of wild life.
You can spend in Bialowieza or the area one day? We will organize a trip to the Pushcha in one day - Bialowieza Forest in a nutshell!
Are you staying for two or three days? Great! With a licensed guide you will visit Bialowieza National Park, Bialowieza and other attractions in the area!
You're an organized group? With a guide you will visit not only the Bialowieza Forest, but also the whole Podlasie region!
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