The Museum of Folk Architecture in Sanok

The Museum of Folk Architecture in Sanok

The Museum of Folk Architecture in Sanok, also known as the Ethnographic Park, is one of the largest open-air museums in Poland. On display here are examples of architecture from the Russo-Polish borderland, that is the south-eastern regions of today’s Poland: Bieszczady Mountains, Low Beskids, the Jasło and Sanok Dales, Ciężkowice and Dynów Foothills, as well as parts of the Przemyśl and Strzyżów Foothills.

The Ethnographic Park is located on a picturesque hill by the San River. The museum grounds are vast and topographically varied. Forested slopes crisscrossed with gorges and winding paths that lead to old Orthodox churches give way to fields and broad roads running between whitewashed houses and flowery gardens. Sometimes a turn of the road reveals a vista towards the far bank of the river and the distant city. Such spatial arrangement creates the perfect environment for photography or filming. The Park was used as scenery for many movies, e.g. “How Far, How Near” by Tadeusz Konwicki and the film adaptation of Wiesław Myśliwski’s “The Palace”. Walking through the park, visitors will find shrines and apiaries, wells carved out of tree trunks and enclosures full of farm animals, all enveloped in lush, vibrant greenery. There is a sightseeing route winding round the park, yet it is worthwhile to venture a less conventional walk, to turn away from the main path, wander among the buildings, sit on a cottage doorstep or on a bench in a courtyard. The trees and bushes shelter the visitors from everyday life, modernity and noise, tempting them to stray away. The way back is easy to find, but does one really want to?

Today the museum boasts around 150 wooden structures, all dating from between the 17th and 20th century. They include houses, animal sheds and cottages divided into residential and utility spaces, as well as public buildings (e.g. a school) and industrial structures (e.g. a smithy and petroleum extraction machinery). Particularly interesting are the examples of ecclesiastical architecture – the 17th-century Roman Catholic church of St. Nicholas from Bączal Dolny, as well as three Greek Catholic churches: the church of the Birth of the Virgin, originally from Grąziowa, and the church of St. Onuphrius the Hermit from Rosolin, both built in the 18th century, and the 19th-century church of the Birth of the Virgin from Ropki. It is also worthwhile to visit a subdivision of the museum, the Orthodox church of the Ascension dating from 1659, located in the village of Ulucz c. 20 km away from Sanok.

The buildings are placed in separate sectors, each of them dedicated to a different ethnographic (Dolinians and Pogorzans) or ethnic (Lemko and Boyko) group. Such division creates an illusion of actually visiting a village inhabited by a particular group. Natural topography was also used to this purpose; the Lemko and Boyko sectors are placed in the forested and hilly parts of the museum’s grounds, while the sectors devoted to Dolinianse (i.e. Dalemen in Polish) and Pogorzans (Uplanders) lie below. Three other sectors, a gentry manor, a small town and a petroleum extraction plant, are now under construction. That last is devoted to an industry which was actually born in the Sub-Carpathian region and, having spread in the villages, soon found its place in the local identity. In this region of Poland, petroleum mining is still perceived as an important part of tradition.

The Museum of Folk Architecture was founded in 1958 as an endeavour of Jerzy Tur, the then-Monument Conservator for the Voivodeship, and Aleksander Rybicki, its first director. The contribution of the members of its Scientific Council: Roman Reinfuss, Ksawery Piwocki, Gerard Ciołek, Ignacy Tłoczek, Adam Fastnacht and others was invaluable. Together, they created an ethnographic park which was then the largest in Poland and was to become a model for other Polish open-air museums.

Today, the museum has an extensive archive and a specialist library. Since the very beginning it has been publishing scientific and science-popularisation texts. Two of its periodicals, “Materiały Muzeum Budownictwa Ludowego w Sanoku” and „Acta Scansenologica”, are still in print, and numerous publications have appeared. The museum takes particular interest in the Ruthenian ethnic groups of the Lemkos and Boykos, and the Polish Pogorzans and Rutheno-Polish Dolinians groups, which inhabit the region of south-eastern Poland. For centuries this area has been a geographic, national, ethnic and religious borderland. Its culture is rich, varied and eclectic (witness the style of religious imagery), for the history of these lands has been a turbulent one. Members of those ethnic groups, together with the Jews and the Romani (the Gypsies), suffered much during both World Wars. Forced deportations carried out after the war (e.g. the Operation Vistula in 1947 and the “stopping of the wagons”, that is delegalisation of the Romani nomadism in 1964) lead to permanent changes in the population structure. Due to the commitment of the museum staff, abandoned houses were saved from ruin and movables secured, including the priceless Orthodox churches, their icons and liturgical paraphernalia. The museum has thus gathered more than 31,000 artefacts illustrating the folk, townsfolk, manorial, Jewish and religious cultures, which are currently on show at temporary exhibitions.

A collection of icons dating from 15th to 20th centuries, acquired by the Sanok museum in the 1960’s, is also noteworthy. It comprises more than 220 items, presented at a permanent exhibition “The Carpathian Icon” in a brick house from Nowosiółki near Baligród, found in the Dolinians sector of the museum grounds. The display of icons, which is among the largest in Poland, illustrates stylistic and iconographic changes in the religious art of the Orthodox church in the Sanok region.

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