The Upper Sillesian Ethnographic Park in Chorzów

The Upper Silesian Ethnographic Park in Chorzów

There is only one Ethnographic Park in Poland where on a certain summer day some visitors were lucky to encounter… a seal. Rabbits, goats, horses, cows, hens and geese – yes, those are often part of the Polish skansen landscape. But why a seal? Well, the Upper Silesian Ethnographic Park and the zoo lie side by side, so it just wandered in to pay a visit. The seal was not alone, though: pheasants, hares and even deer come to the skansen from their favourite Culture and Leisure Park, which offers them over 600 hectares of greenery.

The Upper Silesian open-air museum is located in the picturesque landscape of the city park stretching between Katowice, Siemianowice and Chorzów. The original location of the museum, as planned in the 1930’s, was the Kościuszko Park in Katowice. Unfortunately, the efforts to create the Upper Silesian open-air museum were interrupted, although the first buildings had already been moved there: the 15th-century church from Syrynia and the 17th-century manorial granary from Gołkowice. The idea was revived only in 1952, during the Congress of the Polish Ethnological Society, when not only the necessity to create such institution in Silesia was emphasised, but the Culture and Leisure Park was elected for its site. The initiative was enthusiastically supported by Col. Jerzy Ziętek, the then-deputy chairman of the voivodeship division of the National Council, and Mieczysław Romański, the Voivodeship Monument Conservator. The final decision to create the Upper Silesian Ethnographic Park in Chorzów was taken in 1959. Before its opening in 1975, the plot allocated to the museum underwent extensive landscaping: the land was levelled, new greenery was planted and ponds were dug. The new museum was designed by Maria Bytnar-Suboczowa and Anzelm Gorywoda.

In the structure of the open-air museum’s collection, two regions have been singled out: Zagłębie Dąbrowskie (which literally means Dąbrowa Coal Fields) and Upper Silesia, the latter further subdivided into Silesian Beskids, the Foothills, the Pszczyna and Rybnik region, the Industrial region and the Lubliniec region. In the skansen, visitors can admire over a hundred large and small buildings, including fourteen cottages, some freestanding granaries, shrines, smithies, kilns, wells, fences, small bridges and beehives.

The first edifices to stand in the museum grounds were the 18th-century vicarage granary from Warszowice and the Grzawa windmill, built in 1813 and considered to have been the last windmill in Silesia. Its mixed construction is noteworthy, since it is partly a post mill, partly a paltrak: it is supported by a wooden vertical shaft surrounded with a masonry plinth (the paltrak construction), but it used to be turned into the wind by means of a wooden tailpole. Recently the windmill was featured in Lech Majewski’s film Młyn i krzyż [The Mill and the Cross], inspired by the painting The Procession to Calvary by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

One of the museum’s most interesting buildings is the cottage of an affluent peasant from Istebna in Silesian Beskids. It is a smoke-hole cottage, so it has no chimney, but it is mounted on a stone foundation. The beautiful 18th-century church of St. Joseph the Labourer is also worth a look. It was moved from the village of Nieboczowy, whose inhabitants were resettled, and the village itself covered by reservoir waters. Today, the church is the last material reminder of its existence. Inside, the remarkable Stations of the Cross are inscribed in the Moravian dialect of Czech.

The outstanding set of buildings connected with sheep herding, originally from the village of Brenna, consists of a mountain-meadow cottage, a shepherd hut, and a sheepfold, the inhabitants of which, a flock of sheep, are grazed in the museum grounds. The skansen’s collection of granaries is interesting because it includes examples of manorial, vicarage and peasant granaries. A small cupola-shaped granary from Bojanów is particularly interesting due to the archaic construction of its roof, which is built of horizontal planks spaced parallel to the ridge. Ends of those planks are supported by triangular gables, which are a continuation of the walls built of logs joined in dovetail technique.

The museum exhibition focuses on the interesting phenomenon of interpenetration between the village and city cultures, which is typical for the regions of Upper Silesia and Zagłębie Dąbrowskie. An overwhelming majority of buildings belongs to traditional folk architecture, typical for villages and small towns, where the differences are not only regional, but also reflect the social status and profession of former owners. Visitors to the Upper Silesian Ethnographic Park can discover the differences between the dwellings of rich, moderately affluent and landless peasants, find out how the shepherds, millers, woodcutters or potters used to live, or participate in numerous workshops, demonstrations and open-air events. Annual events are particularly recommendable, e.g. the Silesian Easter Festival, Crafts Day, WICI – the Voivodeship Folklore Convention, Honey Day, Harvest Thanksgiving, Traditional Produce Fair, Christmas Eve and many others.

A broad spectrum of educational events offered by the Ethnographic Park includes museum lessons, workshops and holiday sessions, all focusing on folk crafts or old rituals, beliefs and customs. The events and exhibitions, which are held mostly in the granaries, are closely connected with the research interests of the staff. Among their research topics are the carnival practice of bear-walking, the phenomenon of St. Claus, the spring ritual of drowning Marzanna (a personification of winter), folk architecture (e.g. the Racibórz storage buildings, the Silesian water mills, wooden church architecture, masonry building in village setting), Hassidic pilgrimages to Lelów and Leżajsk, and many others.

Visitors can walk round the skansen on their own, with a guide or with an audio-guide. The Upper Silesian Ethnographic Park is proud to have been the first open-air museum in Poland to introduce this increasingly popular device. Audio-guides enable the visitors to listen to information on the skansen’s monuments while taking a leisurely stroll through its grounds.

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