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The Warsaw Voice » Society » July 29, 2009
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Mazuria Makes Finals
July 29, 2009   
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Poland's Mazurian Lake District has made it to the finals of a global online poll that aims to pick out the "new seven wonders of nature."

Alongside 76 other sites around the world, Mazuria first made it to the semifinals following a global poll by the Swiss-based New7Wonders Foundation. After the semifinals closed July 7, a panel of judges selected 28 finalists July 21. A second global poll will now begin and continue until 2011, when the "new seven wonders of nature" will be announced. Mazuria is competing in the Landscape and Ice Formation category.

The second Polish semifinalist, the Białowieża Forest, which competed in the Forests and National Parks category, failed to make it to the finals and is now on a reserve list.

Polish people have never been in any doubt about Mazuria being a national treasure. The region has been a magnet for people wanting to unwind or just get back to nature, whatever the time of year, for generations.

The lake district is in the northeast of Poland, wedged between the Baltic coast and the country's borders with Russia, Lithuania and Belarus. Some 2,700 lakes each with a surface area of more than a hectare cover this post-glacial terrain of 13,000 square kilometers. And this only accounts for 7 percent of a landscape otherwise dominated by virgin forests, swamps and peat bogs.

The Mazurian Landscape Park, which accounts for a significant portion of the area, tempts visitors with its undisturbed tranquillity. While accessible to tourists, Mazuria resists the sort of rampant commercialization that would denude it of its rustic charm. Health resorts and five-star hotels are only to be found in the larger centers. The rest of the region is a place to get away from civilization. People come here to walk through the forest and pick mushrooms, to go kayaking down the Krutynia River and bump into an otter (now a highly protected species), or try their hand at fishing for catfish, pike or eels.

Sailing, windsurfing and kayaking enthusiasts make up the greater part of the hundreds of visitors who come here. Mazuria offers yachtsmen infrastructure from old, makeshift landings to private marinas, right on to the large jetties found in the towns of Mikołajki and Ruciane-Nida. As many as 60,000 people flock to the lakes during the tourist season.

Mazuria offers a slew of cultural activities as well. The Festiwal Szantowy (Shanty Festival), where you can come and hear old sea dogs belt out authentic sailors' songs, is one example. The festival is held in Mikołajki in late July and early August. The main Mazurian musical event, though, is dedicated to a genre of music completely unconnected with the region. Mr±gowo plays host to the Country Picnic, a world-famous country music festival, every year in late July.

The region's complicated political and ethnic heritage makes it no less a mecca for history buffs. The Order of the Teutonic Knights, who arrived on the wave of the medieval crusades, made an indelible mark. The knights conquered the region we now know as Warmia-Mazuria province and ruled it for the next few hundred years. The combined forces of Poland and Lithuania waged an unrelenting campaign against the knights at the start of the 15th century, finally emerging victorious at the 1410 battle of Grunwald. The battlefield is now a popular tourist attraction, as are the many fortresses the knights left behind. Impressive as those in Barciany, Giżycko and Kętrzyn are, the most stunning of them all is located a short distance to the west in Malbork.

Kętrzyn is not far from Wilczy Szaniec (Wolf's Lair), Hitler's eastern front headquarters during World War II and the scene of an unsuccessful attempt on the dictator's life in 1944.

The New7Wonders Foundation came to wider attention with a spectacular campaign during which in July 2007 it named seven contemporary wonders of architecture. It holds numerous online polls such as The Kings of Music of All Times, The 7 Best Movies of All Times, and The Most Influential Artists of All Times.

New7Wonders Finalists
Angel Falls (border of Venezuela and Brazil)
Bay of Fundy (North America)
Bu Tinah Shoal (tiny archipelago
on the coast of United Arab Emirates)
Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
Dead Sea (Israel)
El Yunque forest (Puerto Rico)
Galapagos islands
Grand Canyon (US)
Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
Halong Bay (Vietnam)
Iguazu Falls
(border of Argentina and Brazil)
Jeita Grotto (Lebanon)
Jeju Island (Korea)
Kilimanjaro mountain (Tanzania)
Komodo island (Indonesia)
Mazurian Lake District
Matterhorn/Cervino peak (border of Italy and Switzerland)
Milford Sound rocks (New Zealand)
Mud Volcanoes (Azerbaijan)
Puerta Princesa Underground River (Philippines)
Schwarzwald forest (Germany)
Sundarbans delta (India)
Table Mountain (South Africa)
Uluru rock (Australia)
Vesuvius (Italy)
Yushan mountain (Taipei)

Witold Żygulski and Marta Działoszyńska
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