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The Tatra Museum in Zakopane

The Tatra Museum

Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains are among those places which should be visited by every Pole at least once in a lifetime. Not without reason, is this part of Poland chosen as the right place for school trips or skiing. Walking along Krupówki Street, getting to the top of Kasprowy Wierch by cable car, taking pictures with a fake polar bear or eating roasted bread with oscypek (smoked ewe's milk cheese), these are typical tourist attractions. However, in Zakopane and in the vicinity there are many other very interesting places, where you can see how rich and diverse local culture is. Zakopane is not only the Tatra Mountains, a distinctive architectural style of town and inhabitants of the Podhale region well-known to everyone. It is worth going a few kilometres out of town to see the Tatra Museum’s developments in Czarna Góra and Jurgów and become convinced that not only highlanders of the Podhale region live there.

The more we are convinced of a homogeneous culture of the Podhale region the more we will be surprised after visiting Polish Spisz, which spreads into Slovakia. There are 14 villages on the Polish side, among those Jurgów and Czarna Góra, where residents speak Polish and Slovakian alike. Even Sunday Masses are celebrated in Slovakian in the Jurgów church. Those, who are more inquisitive, will also discern a lot of the Hungarian influences in language.

However, apart from language there are other aspects of the Spisz culture. The Spisz architectural style and costumes also have something special because of the influence of the Slovaks and the Hungarians. The Spisz region also used to belong to the Habsburg Hungary. Houses were built and pointed with a head (the narrow side of the house) to the road. In the same way the Karkosz croft and the Sołtys croft were built. The first croft consists of a cottage and farm buildings such as a sheepfold, a stable, a pigsty, a cart-shed and a stone stable located around a courtyard. The second croft has a row of buildings covered by single roof; a cottage, a woodshed the so-called jata, a sheepfold, a threshing floor, and a stable.

Both crofts were furnished in a way to show the life style dated back to the late 19th century. The Karkosz croft shows a rich farmer’s way of living and the Sołtys croft shows the way of living of the poor one. Contrary to general belief the name Sołtys (in Poland, Sołtys is the name given to the elected head of a rural subdivision, usually a village) doesn't describe the role of the farmer but it is only his surname.

The Spisz costume and its Jurgów variation, wearing also in Czarna Góra, are noteworthy. At first glance, white baize pants look exactly the same as the highlanders’ pants from the Podhale region. But appearances can be deceptive. Black has never appeared on the Spisz pants. Parzenice (heart-shaped pattern embroidered on trousers, characteristic for decorative art of the Polish highlanders) are red or dark-blue. Women’s costume was distinguished by elements of small-woven linen which even after a hundred years give the impression of tulle or lace. People used to buy cretonnes, silk and red baize the so-called janglija, of which festive dresses for the Jurgów women were made. We can see such a complete costume in one of chambers in Jurgów. We can also see a kind of plume which was a typical decoration of best man’s hat. It was made by bridesmaids and consisted of cluster of quills, red baize and straw. During the wedding day the best man had it placed in his hat.

Apart from these two expositions of the Tatra Museum in Spisz region there is also the Museum of the Chochołów Uprising. Since 1978 we can see an exhibition showing the peasant uprising dated back to 1846 and the life style of a highland family dated back to the middle of the 19th century. In the centre of Zakopane it is worth visiting two museums of the Zakopane Style: the Koliba villa, the first building erected to Stanisław Witkiewicz’s design in the Zakopane Style at ul. Kościeliska number 18, and a wooden house of the Gąsienica Sobczak Family at ul. Droga do Rojów number 6, where a permanent exhibition was opened in 2009. The exhibition was named The Zakopane Style – Inspirations and its main goal is to show the roots of the Zakopane Style. There we can see the highlanders' folk architecture and the furnishings of their houses - a source of inspiration to Stanisław Witkiewicz (a Polish painter, architect, writer, and art theoretician 1851-1915).

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