The Markowa Village Museum

The Markowa Village Museum

Compared to other open-air museums in Poland, the story of how the Markowa skansen was created is quite exceptional. In the year 1979, its inhabitants instituted the Friends of Markowa Society. A year earlier, during a village assembly, all the present agreed that such an extraordinary place as Markowa ought to be preserved for future generations. A general feeling was that with the passing of time certain important traditions were vanishing. It was feared that people would soon stop building cottages with roofs supported on posts – a roof construction characteristic only for Markowa. Thus, in order to preserve traditional cottages, their old furnishings, tools and appliances used in the past, the idea to establish the museum was formed. The founders of the Society reminisce that „the guiding light for the Friends was to document the past of our home village, and this aim was to be attained by preserving the traditional peasant cottage for posterity”. The first chairman of the Friends was Mr Tadeusz Rut from Rzeszów, who practically devoted the rest of his life to the open-air museum at Markowa.

All over the village, attics, cellars and sheds were ransacked for exhibits. Whoever had some old item they no longer used, donated it to the newly-created museum. The Community Council made a gift of land and the first cottage was moved there. It was a cottage of an affluent peasant and, naturally, it had a post roof. The distinguishing feature of this remarkable roof construction is that the rafter framing is supported by a set of wooden posts and purlins, reinforced with angle braces, positioned along the walls on the outside of the building.

The museum-cottage was ceremonially opened in 1985, not without reason: Markowa was founded six hundred years earlier, in the year 1384. The new community was granted Magdeburg Rights and first settlers were brought from Lusatia and Silesia. German was the only language spoken in Markowa until as late as the 18th century, and its inhabitants usually intermarried, as it was difficult for them to communicate with anyone from neighbouring villages. The subsequent settlers, however, were Wallachians, arriving from the south and south-east, mostly from the territories of today’s Romania, so the German language gradually went out of use and was replaced by Polish. Still, even today in Markowa there are some mementoes of the first settlers: several German-sounding surnames and, as one of the villagers remarked, “the extraordinary industriousness, inherited from our German ancestors, which is evident among the Markovians: around the village you will not see any land left fallow, for we truly love farming and would very much like to live by farming alone, although this is getting increasingly difficult”.

The Markowa Village Museum collection has been growing steadily for a quarter of a century. Today, two fully-furnished houses are open to visitors: an affluent peasant’s cottage and a pauper’s hut, as well as a barn and a sty, a post mill and a granary. There is also a small collection of fire-fighting equipment and a place of extreme importance to village life: the smithy. The museum offices and technical facilities are housed in a pre-war wooden building of a school.

The cottage of an affluent peasant, dating from 1874, is the oldest building in the museum grounds. Its large kitchen with a dining space was the focus of family life, and its central point was the large stove used for baking bread and cooking food, and in winter also for sleeping on, as it was large and long retained its warmth. In one of the rooms there is a large collection of breathtakingly colourful, superbly made folk costumes once worn by the Markovians.

The same cottage houses also the “Gallery under the Thatch” with a photographic exhibition entitled “Markowa – the Time and the People”. The photographs document field labours, household chores and family life in the olden days, as well as the history of the local amateur theatre, which has been performing for over a century. A separate display commemorates a local family by the name of Ulma, who during the Second World War sheltered eight Jews from the Szall and Goldman families. Tragically, they have been betrayed, and as the penalty for concealing Jews was death, on 23rd April 1943 all the family: Józef Ulma, his wife Wiktoria and their seven children, and all the Jews to whom they had given shelter, were shot by the Nazis. After the war, the Ulma family have been posthumously awarded the title of the Righteous among the Nations. Józef Ulma was a keen photographer; his photographs, taken in the 1930’s, show all the members of his family.

Viewing the affluent cottage, the “Gallery under the Thatch” and the pauper’s hut takes some time, while there is still much more to see: the barn, the sty and the mill, which could revolve round its central post. In the granary, one sheaf is actually a hundred years old!

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