The Opole Open-Air Museum of Rural Architecture
The Opole Village Museum
The Opole Village Museum is the Opole Voivodeship's special attraction. Assembled on a 10-hectare area in Bierkowiece near Opole, grouped into 9 farmsteads in a field planted with trees and lush vegetation, are buildings from the Opole and Olesie Regions. These unique structures in combination with the surrounding flora create an extremely tourist-friendly spot. The area is perfect for family walks in the fresh air, during which visitors can admire relics of the old timber architecture of the Opole Region. The Opole Village Museum was called into being in 1961; its aim was to gather and popularize the relics of the folk culture of the Śląsk Opolski Region. Originally, the Museum was to be located in a designated part of the park on Bolko Island in Opole, but in the end it became situated on the former military training area in Bierkowice Village near Opole. In 1964, guidelines for the Opole Village Museum were drafted, while the Museum gained institutional sovereignty and a status in 1966. Stanisław Bronisz, the Head of the Ethnography Department at the Museum of Śląsk Opolski in Opole, played a very significant role in the creation of the open air museum. He initiated fieldwork which documented relic structures from among which objects were later selected and relocated to Bierkowice. He also became the first director of the Opole Village Museum.
The structures within the Museum have been arranged into groups which form farmsteads characteristic of the particular socio-economical strata of the local population while maintaining larger complex specificity of the Śląsk Opolski Reigon. The Museum was opened to the public on September 23, 1970, during the Polish Scientific Conference of Museums and Ethnographic Parks. Today, the Opole Village Museum is a vibrant and dynamically growing institution, presenting objects which fascinate even to the most demanding of visitors. Cyclical outdoor events organized by the Museum, like market sales and folk and handicraft fairs attract record numbers of visitors. While in Bierkowice, it is worthwhile to see not only the authentic farmsteads with farm buildings and house gardens enclosed with original fences, but also a number of unique structures which always inspire the sympathy of museum guests. Among these is the oldest structure in the Museum – a small wooden church from Gręboszów built in 1613. It was originally used by the Evangelical community and later by the Catholic population, to finally become a cemetery church. After the war, neglected and ruined, it found its way to the Opole Village Museum. Although 66 relic wooden churches survive in the Opole Region, only 4 still preserve the internal layout of a typically Evangelical church. Needless to say, the church from Gręboszów – and currently from the Opole Village Museum – is one of them. The temple’s equipment is a testimony to the religious history of the Opole Region. It contains both Evangelical and Catholic elements. Particularly interesting is the late Renaissance pulpit – the only original element of the church’s inventory. The polychrome, gold- and silver plated Dutch Mannerism style altar was made by an anonymous artist of the Silesian school. Also noteworthy are the gripping Polish language epitaphs dedicated to prematurely departed children.
The water mill is another attraction, nicely incorporated into an artificial watercourse which surrounds the Museum grounds, lending the mill additional charm. It is possible to both tour and admire the building as a construction, but also to observe how the mill’s main mechanism works, which is something uncommon in an ethnographic park. The mill is location on a river which runs from a dischargeable retention pool. By discharging water, the impressive water wheel may be set into motion by the “miller” to the joy of visitors, children in particular. The cottage form Sternalice is also interesting due to various intriguing details. Among them is a plaque form 1742, which draws attention already by the entrance. It is a confirmation of the building’s fire insurance. Two entrances to small cellars are located at the back of the building. The cellars belonged to Franciscan monks who acted as the keepers of the building for a period time. The inside of the cottage was arranged to resemble a country schoolroom and a teacher’s quarters. The furniture and the utensils assembled in the schoolroom represent the typical furnishings of an Opole Region’s village school, while the teacher’s lodging is equipped with furniture manufactured in a town carpentry workshop. A number of original utensils can also be found in the teacher’s kitchen, like the predecessor of the popular microwave – a shapely oil stove.
The Opole Village Museum also contains a very effective-looking inn with advertising boards for the breweries of Silesia, a pub counter and a peculiar table for playing “billiard with a mushroom”. We can learn the rules of the game from the building’s caretaker who is all but too happy to tell different stories from the life of the old inn. Assembled in the neighboring room are shop items used to reconstruct an Inter-war Period shop. Found in it are original cupboards of the dr. Oetker and Knorr brands, and shelves filled with the Persil washing powder and other products of the Henkel company.
Although the Museum predominantly shows the culture of the Śląsk Opolski Region, the Eastern Outskirts of Poland, ever-important for the Region, are also represented. In appreciation of the multicultural character of the Opole Region, the Bierkowice Open Air Museum has arranged an exhibition of a Borderlands cottage inhabited by emigrants from the east, who moved into the so-called Reclamed Territories after the Second World War and settled in the abandoned Silesian houses. Found inside the cottage are items brought from the east, which were oftentimes left unpacked for many years, since their owners were convinced that any day, they would be returning to their homes left in the Borderlands. Upon entering the house, visitors may take a closer look at the holy paintings hanging on the wall, the embroidered linen covering the bed, a wedding dress, and glance at the old photographs in a photo album opened on the table.
The Opole Village Museum also contains a smithy where we can observe a blacksmith’s work, an apiary, located among lush greenery in a fairytale-fashion, two windmills, a baker’s oven used for baking bread during museum lessons and events, a bell tower, a relic swing and many other objects. The amiable and fully competent staff is an undeniable virtue of the Opole ethnographic park. The Museum employees know how to convey knowledge about the objects under their care in an interesting and engaging way. The Museum’s tour guides add flavor to their tales with intriguing stories and many references to the contemporary culture.
The institution is ceaselessly growing and expanding. The latest of the Museum’s undertakings was the construction of a modern administration building which corresponds with the traditional architecture in form. The structure was nominated to the prestigious Mies van de Rohe Award. The Museum has received several other awards, among them the Oskar Kolberg Honorary Award in recognition of contributions to folk culture, five awards in the “Sybilla” contest and a medal “For Contribution to the City of Opole”.
The Museum also has plans for the future. Three relic objects, brought to the Museum 30 years ago, are awaiting renovation and exhibition. Currently, work on the digitalization of the Museum’s photographic collection is underway. Scientific and research activity is also being carried out.
The archive contains 30-40 thousand photographs and around 100 video recordings. Moreover, every Museum department possesses a rich archive. The archive also contains technical documentation of over a thousand objects of timber architecture form the territory of the Opole Voivodeship, and renditions of materials collected during scientific fieldwork conducted by the Museum.
It is excellent to visit the Opole Village Museum during one of the cyclical events: the Easter Market, the Night of the Museums, the Folkloristic Festival, the European Heritage Days, or the Autumn Folk Art Fair. Among the additional attractions of the Museum are pottery, basketry, Easter egg decorating, and porcelain painting workshops. All these elements make the Opole open air museum not only an important tourist attraction, but also an institution which plays a significant role in the spread of knowledge concerning the regional culture of Śląsk Opolski.