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Old shrine.
Krzna river.
Potocki's Palace in Międzyrzec Podlaski.

Podlachia, Podlesia, or Podlasie is a historical region in the eastern part of Poland and western Belarus. It is located between the Biebrza River in the north and its natural continuation to the south — the Polesie area.



The region is called Podlasie, Podlasko or Podlasze in Polish, Padljašša (Падляшша) in Belarusian, Pidlissja (Підлісся), Pidljasije (Підлясіє), Pidlyashya (Підляшшя) or Pidljakhija (Підляхія) in Ukrainian, Palenkė in Lithuanian, Podljas’e (Подлясье) in Russian, and Podlachia in Latin.

There are two opinions regarding the origin of the name of the region. The first one, albeit popular, has to be called unscholarly. Commonly people derive it from the Slavic word les or las meaning "forest", i.e., it is an "by the wood(s)" or "area of forests", making Podlachia close in meaning to adjacent Polesia. The theory seems false as it does not properly take into consideration the vowel shifts "a" > "e" > "i" in various Slavic languages (in fact, it mixes vowels form different languages). It also seems false because at the time when the name originated (13th century) the area was cultivated and not covered with forests. (It became covered with forests only a century later, as a result of depopulation when the Yotvingian population was subdued (enslaved and deported or exterminated) and the area previously inhabited by them was divided among Lithuania, Teutonic order and Mazovia).

The second opinion, a better justified and documented one, tells that the term comes from the expression pod Lachem, i.e., "under the Poles" (see: Lechia). Some claim it to mean "under Polish rule" which does not seem historically sound, as the area belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania until 1569, and the southern part of it - until 1795. A better variant of this theory holds that the name originates from the period when the territory was within the Trakai Voivodeship of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, along the borderline with the Mazovia province, primarily a fief of the Poland of the Piasts and later on part of the Kingdom of Poland of the Jagiellons. Hence pod Lachem would mean "near the Poles", "along the border with Poland". The historical Lithuanian name of the region, Palenkė, has exactly this meaning.

At present the name of Podlachia is used primarily for the Polish part of the region, which is traditionally divided between the northern (north of Bug River) and southern Podlachia. The northern part of Podlachia is included in the Podlachia Voivodship.


Podlachia - Coat of arms.

Throughout its early history, the Podlachia area was inhabited by various tribes of different ethnic roots. In the 9th and 10th centuries, the area was likely inhabited by Lechitic tribes in the south,Baltic (Yotvingian) tribes in the north, and Ruthenian tribes in the east. Between the 10th and 13th centuries, the area was part of the Ruthenian principalities. The area became a part of the Medieval Slavic cities union of Cherven cities. Until the 14th century the area was part of pro-Kyivan Ruthenian states, and was later annexed by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1569, after the Union of Lublin, the western part of Podlachia was ceded to the Kingdom of Poland. Southern Podlachia belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania until the Third Partition of Poland in 1795.

Podlachia in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1635.

Ethnic situation

Podlachia is the land of the confluence of cultures – Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian and Lithuanian – and is indicative of the ethnic territories limits. Eastward of Podlachia lie ethnically non-Polish lands, while westward ethnically non-West Ruthenian (Ukrainian and Belarusian) and non-Lithuanian lands do. Today, mainly Polish and Ruthenian (Ukrainian and Belarusian) is spoken in Podlachia, while Lithuanian is preserved by the small but compact Lithuanian minority concentrated in the Sejny County.

Until the 19th century, Podlachia was populated by the Polish-speaking gentry, Jews (primarily in towns), and Ruthenian Orthodox and Greek-Catholics speaking a dialect related to modern Ukrainian - the so-called Khakhlak (Chachlak) dialect, which derived its name from a derogatory term for Ukrainians (khakhol or khokhol being the name of the traditional haircut of Ukrainian Cossacks). In the 19th century, the inhabitants of Podlachia were under the rule of the Russian Empire, with southern Podlachia constituting a part of Russian-controlled Congress Poland. After 1831, Russian authorities forbade the Greek-Catholic faith in northern Podlachia and it disappeared from the area. In 1875, Russians forbade this rite in southern Podlachia as well, and all Greek-Catholic inhabitants were forced to accept the Eastern Orthodox faith. However, the resistance of the local people was surprisingly strong and Ruthenian speakers from this area rejected the Orthodox faith. In 1874, Wincenty Lewoniuk and 12 companions were killed by Russian soldiers in Pratulin. In reaction to these measures, the Ruthenians of Podlachia began to identify themselves with the national movement of the Catholic Poles.

In 1912, Russian authorities issued a tolerance edict that made it possible to change confessions from Orthodox to Roman Catholic (but not to Greek-Catholic). A majority of the inhabitants of southern Podlachia changed their faith from Orthodox to Roman Catholic. At present, very few people in Podlachia continue speaking Ruthenian (Ukrainian) and nearly all consider themselves Poles. The counties along the border with Belarus are populated by Belarusians.

Podlasie is also the cultural center of Poland's Tatar minority as well. After the annexation of eastern Poland into the Soviet Union following World War II, Poland was left with only 2 Tatar villages, Bohoniki and Kruszyniany. A significant number of the Tartars in the territories annexed to the USSR repatriated to Poland and clustered in cities, particularly Białystok. In 1925 the Muslim Religion Association - Muzułmański Związek Religijny was formed in Poland in Białystok. 1n 1992, the Organization of Tatars of the Polish Republic (Związek Tatarów Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) with autonomous branches in Białystok and Gdańsk began operating.

A number of Polish Tatars from Podlasie emigrated to the US at the beginning of 20th century and settled mostly in the north eastern states (although there is also an enclave in Florida). A small but active community of these descendants of Lipka Tatars still exists in New York City. "The Islamic Center of Polish Tatars" in New York City until recently had its own mosque in Brooklyn (106 Powers Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211 USA, originally build in 1928).[1]

Major Towns and Cities


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