Vistula Ethnographic Park in Wygiełzów

Vistula Ethnographic Park in Wygiełzów

Between Cracow and Oświęcim (Auschwitz), at the foot of the medieval castle in Lipowiec lies the Vistula Ethnographic Park which presents the culture of the Western Cracovians. One of the most famous elements of their culture is the hat called “krakuska”, worn, among others, by Tadeusz Kościuszko. However, the museum does not only display garments, but mainly architecture and has some exhibitions connected to everyday life. All these elements are set in reproduced landscapes of the countryside, a town and a manor house.

Thanks to Hanna Pieńkowska PhD, a conservation officer from Cracow, Little Poland (Małopolska) has become the region with one of the largest concentration of open air museums in Poland. This admirer of Little Poland wooden architecture spent 26 years of her life – since 1951 to her death in 1976 – in the position of voivodship conservation officer. She helped in saving the village of Chochołów, was one of the initiators of the founding of the Vistula Ethnographic Park in Wygiełzów and Orawski Ethnographic Park in Zubrzyca Górna, and contributed to the restoration of the renaissance gardens in Mogilany. As a conservation officer she was involved in saving historical chalets of the Tatra region which she and her husband, Tadeusz Staich, admired during their hikes in the Tatra mountains. The protection of the exceptional small-town wooden architecture around the marketplace in Lanckorona is also among her merits. One should also add that most of the features which were restored by Hanna Pieńkowska still fulfil their original function and are in use.

The Vistula Ethnographic Park in Wygiełzów was opened to visitors on the 15th of October 1973 (the project was done in 1965 and the works started in 1968). It presents the culture of Western Cracovians. Western Cracovians are the group whose traditional attire was popularized by Tadeusz Kościuszko during the famous Insurrection of 1794. This regional dress soon became synonymous of a national costume. Elżbieta Piskorz-Brenekova described it in the following words: a white russet overcoat edged with red cloth – along half of the russet coat, the collarband, and also as revers of the sleeves’ cuffs; the russet coat was also decorated with red fringes sewn at the waist and near the collarband. Seweryn Udziela, on the other hand, wrote that the russet overcoats called chrzanówki were „russet coats of a poorer quality, cheaper and made by russet coat maker – sukmaniarze – from Chrzanów without taking measurements and made according to a pattern, that they would sell at fairs”. He also explained that superior quality russet coats were called: meseńskie or dobczyckie..

The culture of Western Cracovians was not only limited to the dress, a good example of which is the Vistula Ethnographic Park where we can see how Cracovians used to live in the past. The museum is divided into thematic sectors: small-town, village, sacral buildings and manor house. Homesteads composed of many buildings with framework barns were characteristic of this part of the Little Poland region: penta-, hexa- and octagons which are also presented in the museum. The Vistula Ethnographic Park is part of the Wooden Architecture Trail of Little Poland which is one thousand five hundred kilometres long, the museum constitutes one of its major attractions. Visitors to this region should keep this in mind.

The museum lies at the foot of the Lipowiec castle hill, in a picturesque landscape of rolling hills, with gardens and orchards which gently descends towards the village of Wygiełzów. A visit to the ethnographic park starts in the small-town sector. The confined, cosy marketplace with a 19th century well from Aleksandrowice, a tavern called “Zagroda” (from the mid-19th century) and residential buildings surrounds us with the charm of a small town (interestingly enough all buildings are wooden). We can taste regional cuisine in the tavern, sit by the old well, or buy some souvenirs in the museum store located in the house from 1825 relocated from Alwernia with a beautiful arcade facade. One of the frontages of the market belongs to a suburban house transferred here from Chrzanów (from 1804). In one of the rooms there is an exhibition showing the life of a potter. Pottery was one of the most important occupations of the inhabitants of the Cracow region. Nowadays every one can try their hand at working clay and a potter’s wheel during the lessons and workshops organised by the museum.

To visit the next sector, the village, one must turn to the left and go gently uphill. We pass a lavish larch cottage which belonged to the village head – the sołtys – from Przeginia Duchowa dated to 1862 on a high underpinning, as well as a granary and an oil mill. Further on we see a cottage from Przeciszów from 1837 which you simply must visit, if only to see the weaving workshop and the exhibition showing which tools were used to process flax. Interestingly enough in this region weaving was a man's and not a woman's occupation. The whole production process of linen is shown at the exhibition – from the cultivation of the plants to a ready piece of fabric. With some luck and of course depending on the season we can see a small field of flax next to the cottage. We finish our climb next to the smallest but also the most picturesque cottage from Płazy (from the end of the 19th century). Its interior is typical of a home belonging to poor peasants. From the threshold of the cottage you can enjoy a beautiful view on the whole area of the Park and the neighbourhood. Not far and slightly downhill we find a cottage from Rozkochów from 1813. Under one roof there is a residential part and the livestock building – a small stable. Inside, you can see, among other things, a workshop to produce candles with a board on which wax was shaped.

We go down next to a newly built presbytery with still fresh radiant wood, and arrive to a 17th century church from Ryczów. This building deserves a longer stop in order to carefully watch the rich polychrome decorations. Going uphill once again, we pass the mill and come to a prominent homestead from Staniątki, dated to 1855. Built on a rectangular plan, this structure is composed of a residential home, small pigsties, a stable and a coach house. This type of homestead was called okół and is characteristic, among others, of the Cracow region, but similar features are also found near Łowicz.

When visiting the museum, you simply must have a closer look at the barns. The barn from Kaszów from the mid-19th century is especially remarkable. It has eight walls and its thatched roof reaches to the ground. This vision of the lifestyle of the localities near Cracow is completed by the 18th century brick manor house from Dragonia near Myślenice. You should step inside to see the beautiful reconstructed tile stoves from the beginning of the 19th century and the exhibitions showing the life of a wealthy noble family. The manor house also has some conference rooms and is the seat of the museum administration.

We should keep in mind, however, that the tourist attractions in Wygiełzów are not only limited to the open air museum, but also include the 18th century castle in Lipowiec and the neighbouring natural reserve of the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathian. This is a perfect place to organise a one-day trip, far from the hubbub of a large city.

Maria Piechowska

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