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The Open Air Museum in Dobczyce

PTTK Regional Museum in Dobczyce – Open-air Museum of Wooden Folk Architecture from the Dobczyce and Myślenice Region

The Open-air Museum of Wooden Folk Architecture from the Dobczyce and Myślenice Region is a part of the Władysław Kowalski Regional Museum in Dobczyce, supervised by the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society (PTTK). It lies on the route of the Lesser Poland Wooden Architecture Trail. Six wooden buildings typical for the region were moved to the museum grounds in 1968, as the Jezioro Dobczyckie reservoir was then under construction and several villages were scheduled to be flooded by its waters.

The Open-air Museum of Wooden Folk Architecture from the Dobczyce and Myślenice Region is a part of the Władysław Kowalski Regional Museum in Dobczyce, supervised by the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society (PTTK). The museum also includes a castle, first constructed in the 13th century. Although tourist traffic tends to concentrate around the latter, the open air exhibition of architecture typical for the Cracow region is also worth a visit. It might be only ancillary to the museum proper, but it is as interesting as the castle.

The Open-air Museum of Wooden Folk Architecture from the Dobczyce and Myślenice Region was founded in the first half of the 1960’s, when Władysław Kowalski, a teacher, philanthropist and enthusiast of tourism, who was a long-standing member of PTTK and the chairman of the PTTK branch in Dobczyce, together with several other activists forming the Committee for Monument Protection in Dobczyce, planed to renovate the local castle. In the late1960’s he also decided to reconstruct a disused and dilapidated inn by the castle. To this end, he purchased in Krzyszkowice a similar wooden building dating from 1830, in order to place it on the foundations of the old inn, and enlisted the help of volunteers: Dobczyce workers and students of the technical college. In the early 1970’s, despite various difficulties, the inn was reopened and thus the museum of folk architecture was born. Its collection has grown, thanks to the enthusiasm of activists and the help of the locals, and today it consists of six buildings and countless movables.

All it takes to see them is a visit to Dobczyce, a little town by the Jezioro Dobczyckie reservoir that provides drinking water for Cracow. The town lies only 35 km to the south-east of the former capital of Poland, so a glimpse of the world that is slowly disappearing is just a 30-minute drive away. Among the buildings is a wooden funerary house, built of logs joined with dovetails, chinked with straw and roofed with shingles. It contains a richly decorated hearse, which is over a century old, a catafalque with a coffin and candlesticks, and many other funerary utensils. An unwary visitor may get frightened by the black bird hung from the ceiling. The exhibits provide much information on funerary ceremonies, the vestiges of which are still practised in the Polish cities, yet the origins of which have long been forgotten by townsfolk and are now understood only in the countryside. The building also houses an exhibition entitled “The ordinary, the exceptional”, which tells the story of meritorious inhabitants of Dobczyce.

Having gained information about customs pertaining to the spiritual, the visitors may extend their knowledge of the material aspect of culture. The museum’s two coach-houses contain various means of transport (e.g. sleighs, carts and wagons), as well as plenty of farming tools dating from different periods. Who wants to know how winnowing machines, threshers or treadmills look like and operate, will certainly learn it there. Many exhibits now in the museum’s collection were contributed by the Agricultural Testing Facility of the Jagiellonian University, located at Gaik, a pre-war estate in Brzezowa. The property now lies beneath the waters of the reservoir, but, fortunately, its wooden structures were saved and moved to the Dobczyce open-air museum. Among those is an extraordinary two-storey hen-house, which earlier used to function as a sernik, an airy space for drying cheese, and only later was turned into a shelter for poultry. Today, instead of cheese or hens, it contains a number of old farming and cooking utensils. The wall is decorated with a beautiful image of St. Isidore the Ploughman, the patron of farmers.

Having looked into the hen-house, the visitors proceed to the inn named “Na Zbóju”, which means “Upon the Brigand”. No need to be frightened, the establishment received its ominous name a long time ago. According to written sources, sometime in the mid-18th century the place was attacked by bandits: seven brigands from the Tatra mountains, led by one Giertuga. One of the rogues was killed in the fight with the town guards and buried on the spot, and thus the inn earned a name. Today only a wooden brigand, seated by the door to politely ask visitors for donations towards the improvement of the Regional Museum, is a reminder of this unpleasant incident.

Prior to entering the inn, the visitors usually take a look at the lovely mallows growing by the entrance and examine the dovetail construction of the walls and the shingled hip roof. The interior is divided into four rooms housing various ethnographic exhibitions. In the main hall there are contemporary works of folk art. The alcove is a fully furnished bourgeois bedroom, while the kitchen contains all the necessary equipment. The fourth room introduces various trade guilds and contains reconstructed workshops of Dobczyce craftsmen: the tailor, weaver, carpenter, turner and shoemaker, complete with tools used in the olden days and finished products. A noteworthy exhibit at the shoemaker’s is a pair of huge felt boots with wooden soles. Such shoes were worn by an artisan to a fair, enabling him to stand at his stall for a whole day, even in the worst of weathers.

Planning a visit to the Open-air Museum of Wooden Folk Architecture in Dobczyce, remember that its collection is continually increasing, new exhibits being donated mostly by the locals, sometimes by institutions. It is, therefore, worthwhile to return here again and again, to see what has changed and what has been added in the meantime. The museum is currently planning to purchase another wooden building, this time one from the slope of the Old Town hill. Its grounds are an ideal place for the architectural masterpiece which would otherwise be lost.

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