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The Orava Ethnographic Park Museum in Zburzyca Górna

The Orava Ethnographic Park Museum in Zubrzyca Górna

The Orava Ethnographic Park Museum in Zubrzyca Górna, set in a picturesque location at the foot of Babia Góra, showcases the architecture and culture of the relatively little-known Orava region. Scattered in a large park, the buildings illustrate everyday life of peasants of varying material status, and of the local gentry. Some buildings related to village industries: a felting mill, smithy, oil press and sawmill, are displayed beside the farmhouses. Mountain streams running through the grounds of the open-air museum enhance its charm.

There are places which, once visited, return in our dreams for years. There are places, the memory of which warms the heart and brings a smile of happiness even on a dullest rainy day. These are the places we just need to return to. The Orava Ethnographic Park Museum is one of those magical spots. Its very name, “park”, evokes its charm: lovely glades crossed by swift streams, flowering meadows, huge trees lending their shadow even on hottest summer days, and set among all this beauty, the delightful Oravian architecture.

The Museum is located in the upper neighbourhood of Zubrzyca Górna by the road to Krowiarki Pass. Its history goes back to 1937, when the last heirs of a long line of soltys (village administrators), the Moniak family, bequeathed their estate to either the 2nd Commonwealth, or the State Treasury, stipulating that a museum be established on their land. Thus, the venerable soltys manor, with its oldest wing dating from the 17th century and later repeatedly extended, and the surrounding park became the core of the Museum. The grounds opened to the public only as late as 1955, following the death of Joanna Wilczkowa, the inheritrix of the Moniak Manor and the family’s last descendant to live there. She and Hanna Pieńkowska, the then-Monument Conservator for Cracow Voivodeship, are the most distinguished benefactresses of the Orava Ethnographic Park Museum, as recalled by a stone monument, shadowed by old trees beside the manor, devoted to the memory of Ms Pieńkowska. From 1955 onward, adjacent plots of land were gradually incorporated into the Park Museum grounds. One of those earliest acquired was the Misiniec family plot with its farmhouse, which thus became an in situ exposition (“on the spot”, which in this case indicates that the building still stands in its original location). Once no more than a traditional Oravian cottage on the land neighbouring the Park Museum, today it is an important point on the footpath trail around it. The museum is constantly developing: the most recent endeavours include moving the shepherd hut and the lovely little church of the Virgin Mary of the Snows from the village of Tokarnia to the Museum grounds, but new ones are already in planning.

Orava is not among the largest regions of Poland, yet regarding both its culture and its landscape, it is an exceptionally interesting one. Stretching between the Podhale and Liptov historical regions, on the frontier of Poland and Slovakia, it was settled by both nationalities, and hence became the object of political contention. At present, a part of Upper Orava lies within the borders of Poland, on the picturesque slopes of the High Beskid range. The distinctive local timber-building tradition includes the “Oravian vyzhka cottage”, that is a residential building with an upper storey used as utility space (usually a granary). A gallery, often used for drying flax, runs along the building’s wall at the upper level. It can be climbed by stairs attached on the outside of the building. In some cottages, the gallery’s balustrade is particularly worth noting as a masterpiece of woodcarving.

The majority of residential buildings houses theme exhibitions. The visitors can admire a hand loom in the cottage of Paś-Filipek from Jabłonka, or experience the atmosphere of an Oravian wedding feast in the cottage of Dziubek from the Orava-Nowy Targ Basin. The furnishings of particular cottages differ, reflecting the affluence of their former owners. The pauper’s hut, where the living quarters and utility space are under one roof, is especially worthy of attention.

The Orava Ethnographic Park Museum in Zubrzyca is not only a place where the visitors can unleash their imagination and go back in time – it is also a research facility. The Museum has a library with on-line catalogue (www.orawa.eu/Biblioteka.html) and publishes the Rocznik Orawski annual and other materials relating to Orava. Knowledge of the region and the Park Museum is popularised also through museum lessons, educational workshops, theme evenings and temporary exhibitions. One of the most interesting yearly events is the “Święto Borówki” (“Blueberry Day”), organised on the last Sunday of July, featuring competitions, food tasting, presentations of folk crafts and artistic techniques, concerts, and folk song and dance ensemble shows.

There are places to which we return again and again. Zubrzyca is worth returning to not only for its fascinating programme of annual events, but also for the simple pleasures of spending a spring day amid freshly flowering meadows, resting in the shadows of the park’s giant trees on a hot summer afternoon, gathering colourful autumn leaves, or wandering, lost in a reverie, among snow-covered cottages in the profound silence of winter.

Maria Piechowska

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