The Centre of Folk Architecture in Szymbark near Gorlice

The Centre of Folk Architecture in Szymbark near Gorlice

Visitors to the village of Szymbark situated in Lesser Poland will find there a true open-air museum (as opposed to the one found in that Szymbark which lies in Kashubia): a hut with a smoke-hole, a smithy, a small manor house and a splendid Renaissance fortified residence, beautifully sited in a hilly landscape along the banks of the Ropa River. To discover the difference between the Pogorzan and Lemko ethnic groups, or the characteristic features of a castellum residence, a visit to Szymbark is a must.

Very few have heard of the Ropa State, yet this is no joke: the “Dominium Ropae” really did exist. In the 15th century, Jan Gładysz of the Gryf coat of arms received, in recognition of his father Paweł’s knightly valour, an obligation to establish new towns and villages. He established Ropa, Zdynia, Hańczowa and Wysowa, settling them with Polish and Wallachian population, and thus he created the “Dominium Ropae”. His sons: Mikołaj, Paweł and Piotr Gładysz chose Szymbark for their seat and founded the castellum, the family’s fortified residence. The Gładysz dominion existed until the 17th century, when Szymbark was ceded first to the Stroński, and later to the Siedlecki and Bronikowski families. In the year 1802, Father Jan Bochniewicz, the then-owner of the Szymbark estate, in his last will divided the property into four bequests; hence, in the 19th-century village there were no less than four manor houses. Three are still extant: the Łęgi one, the small one known as Folwark, and the manor house by the castellum, where the original building was replaced with a burgher residence moved from the nearby Gorlice, today housing the Centre of Folk Architecture. The fourth manor, Bystrzyca, is no longer extant. The names of particular parts of Szymbark, which is some kilometers long, refer to the former manorial estates and attest to the unusual history of the village.

The Museum of Karwacjan and Gładysz Family Manors was established in Gorlice in April 2008. Its aim is to protect the heritage of those two Lesser Poland families. Under the Museum’s protection are the Greek Catholic church in Bartne and the Centre of Folk Architecture in Szymbark: an open-air museum presenting the culture of the Pogorzan ethnic group.

The Centre of Folk Architecture, however, was established much earlier. In the 1970’s a subdivision in Szymbark was established by the Nowy Sącz Ethnographic Park, itself a branch of the Nowy Sącz District Museum. The idea dated from the early 1960’s, in fact, and its initiator was Jerzy Tur, the then-Monument Conservator for Rzeszów Voivodeship. Other distinguished supporters of the Szymbark museum were Wanda Kłapkowska from the Department of Culture of the National Council Presidium in Gorlice, Weronika Homa, the Gorlice District Monument Conservator, as well as Dr Ryszard Brykowski and Wojciech Jankowski M. Sc. Arch. Eng., the planners who designed the location of historic buildings in the Museum grounds. Prof. Roman Reinfuss, who wished to create an institution that would present the Pogorzan culture in all its richness and originality, was not only the Museum’s consultant, but also its guardian angel.

The Pogorzans are not the Eastern Cracovians, nor are they the Lemkos. As a result of their situation between these two exceptionally colourful and interesting ethnic groups, their culture was for a long time much undervalued. It is, however, a brilliant example of a frontier culture. Among the Pogorzans of the Gorlice region, to be more precise, the men wore magierka caps and white linen shirts typical for the lowlands, but also felt trousers and leather shoes typical for the mountain regions. The Pogorzan male costume could be easily recognized by a distinctive jacket. If the jacket, called the tsuva by the Pogorzans and tschuha by the Lemkos, had tassels and three horizontal white stripes on its back, it was a Lemko one, whereas the Pogorzan one was plain.

Typical architectural forms of the Pogorzan and Lemko groups also differ. The Pogorzans built the barn and byre as outbuildings, separate from the house, while the Lemkos had everything under one roof – the animals were kept in a special pen in the kitchen space. The Pogorzans usually covered their roofs with thatch, while the Lemkos preferred wooden shingles.

The Centre of Folk Architecture in Szymbark presents various elements of the Pogorzan culture. Within its large grounds (2.71 ha) visitors will find the burgher residence moved from Gorlice, housing the offices of the Centre as well as an exhibition on manorial traditions, the Renaissance fortified residence (currently in conservation), and the skansen. At present, the open-air exhibition encompasses fourteen buildings, including four cottages (from Gródek, Moszczenica, Siary and Szymbark), three outbuildings: the barn and byre from Stróżna and the freestanding barn from the Zagórzany vicarage, as well as an oil press from Gródek, a smithy from Turza, two windmills (from Kryg and Ropa), and examples of small-scale architectural features of a village: beehives and shrines.

Two cottages: from Siary and from Moszczenica, are especially interesting. The first one is a pauper’s hut which once belonged to a poor weaver. It does not have a chimney, only a smoke-hole. In such huts smoke from the hearth filled the entire room, filtered to the attic, and escaped either through cracks or through openings left deliberately under the roof beam. Whitewashed walls still show the level to which the smoke once reached: from that line upwards the wall is sooty. The owner of the Moszczenica cottage was more affluent and could afford flooring (in paupers’ huts there was only packed earth on the floor), but it is still a cottage with smoke-holes, if of a slightly more advanced construction: the smoke rose from the hearth to the ceiling, then through a special hole, to which the fire did not reach, was sucked into the attic and escaped through smoke-holes in the roofing or under the roof beam. The interior and furnishings of those two cottages clearly demonstrate the differences in affluence and status of their owners: a peasant of moderate means, owner of a few acres of land and a few heads of cattle, in comparison with a poor weaver, whose single cow dwelt under one roof with him.

The 16th-century fortified residence (castellum), a beautiful example of Polish Renaissance architecture, is yet another must-see edifice in Szymbark. Situated on the high bank of the Ropa River, it was as much a residential as a defensive structure. It has two barrel-vaulted cellars, a vestibule and two chambers on the ground floor, and a ceremonial hall, a smaller chamber and four tiny rooms in the alcoves (which could also serve as defensive towers) on the first floor. The castellum is currently undergoing repairs and is closed to visitors; according to plans, in a few years it will be a museum and educational centre, with a restaurant and hotel for tourists wishing to explore the charming Gorlice region.

The Greek Catholic church of St. Cosmas and Damian in the nearby Bartne is under the care of the Centre of Folk Architecture as part of the Museum of Karwacjan and Gładysz Family Manors in Gorlice. Its architectural form, typical for Lemko churches, and its interior with a baroque iconostasis are exceptionally beautiful.

In October 2009, in addition to the Bartne church, the Museum of Karwacjan and Gładysz Family Manors acquired another in situ building (which means it has never been moved and is still in its original location): a tar-maker hut located in the Lemko village of Łosie. Inhabitants of this village traded in petroleum and wood tar, so they were rich and owned large houses and vast tar kilns.

While in the region of Nowy Sącz and the Sącz Beskids, it is worth your time to pay a visit in Szymbark and its Centre of Folk Architecture – a small but true skansen. Unlike the Kashubian Szymbark and its display, this exhibition presents genuine monuments of timber architecture, while the Centre protects and promotes Polish cultural heritage.

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