he current system was introduced pursuant to a series of acts passed by the Polish parliament in 1998, and came into effect on 1 January 1999.
Previously (in the period from 1975 to 1998) there had been 49 smaller voivodeships, and no powiats (see Administrative division of the People's Republic of Poland).
The reform created 16 larger voivodeships (largely based on and named after historical regions) and reintroduced powiats.
The boundaries of the voivodeships do not always reflect the historical borders of Polish regions.
Around half of the Silesian Voivodeship belongs to the historical province of Lesser Poland. Similarly the area around Radom, which historically is part of Lesser Poland, is located in the Masovian Voivodeship.
Also, the Pomeranian Voivodeship includes only the eastern extreme of historical Pomerania, as well as areas outside it.
Poland is currently divided into 16 provinces known as voivodeships (Polish: województwa, singular województwo).
Administrative authority at voivodeship level is shared between a government-appointed governor, called the voivode (usually a political appointee), an elected assembly called the sejmik, and an executive chosen by that assembly. The leader of that executive is called the marszałek.
Each voivodeship is divided into a number of smaller entities known as powiats (counties).
The number of powiats per voivodeship ranges from 12 (Opole Voivodeship) to 42 (Masovian Voivodeship). This includes both powiats proper (known as land counties, Polish powiaty ziemskie), and cities with powiat status (city counties, Polish powiaty grodzkie or more formally miasta na prawach powiatu).
Land counties have an elected council (rada powiatu), which elects an executive headed by the starosta. In city counties the functions of these institutions are performed by the city's own council and executive.
The third level of administrative division is the gmina (also called commune or municipality). A powiat is typically divided into a number of gminas (between three and 19), although the city counties constitute single gminas.
A gmina may be classed as urban (consisting of a town or city), urban-rural (consisting of a town together with its surrounding villages and countryside), or rural (not containing a town).
A gmina has an elected council as well as a directly elected mayor (known as prezydent in large towns, burmistrz in most urban and urban-rural gminas, and wójt in rural gminas).
Gminas are generally sub-divided into smaller units, called osiedle or dzielnica in towns, and sołectwo in rural areas. However these units are of lesser importance and are subordinate in status to the gmina.