Living history – learning about regional architecture
The most beautiful and valuable objects can be found on the Wooden Architecture Route. They include four wooden churches, treasures precious on the global scale, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. But off the trail, too, you can see charming buildings which hark back to the old times, when in the villages of the Małopolska region people worked in the fields with a horse, loaves of bread were baked from dough kneaded in a wooden bowl, and in the evening, you sat in front of the house on a wooden bench hand-made by the farmer.
Not all the houses were lucky and not all have been preserved in good condition. This heritage is surprisingly fragile. Without a human presence, without life going on inside them, the wooden cottages collapse and disappear. Unfortunately, many of them are no longer part of the landscape of the Małopolska region.
One of the ways to protect them is to create open-air museums, which are another of the sites that you can encounter on the Wooden Architecture Route. However, there are also places where history is intertwined with the present and where life still goes on in the wooden chambers that keep alive the memory of the old stories.
One of great examples for that is Agroturystyka Przytulia pension in the village of Stryszawa, in the Maków Beskids mountains, only about sixty kilometres from Kraków. Przytulia is a wooden house over a century old, covered with shingles, a bit hidden outside the village, on the outskirts where the road ends. It is immersed in the surrounding landscape and fits beautifully into it, which is, by the way, one of the characteristics of wooden architecture. Natural materials, processed by human hands and not by machines, fit in perfectly with nature...
What is it like to live in an old wooden house? You can experience it on your own! The hosts take great care of the atmosphere of the place –there are clay pots hanging on the fence, and in the summer, mallows bloom in front of the house, just like they did a hundred years ago. In the garden you will find old country equipment; the hosts will surely be happy to tell you about them. Sometimes the telephone network drops, so you can feel like in the old days... although, of course, agritourism provides a modern standard, the rooms have bathrooms, the house has electricity and all the necessary equipment (although there is no TV set, because with such views outside the window, it is useless...). Wooden birds from Stryszawa are another charming element of the house; wooden toy-making is a local tradition.
And so the cultural heritage lives on, among the people, it continues to develop, and new stories are born in the old house.
Listening to stories told by the residents, sometimes by neighbours, is probably the best way to study architecture – through people's emotions, involvement, experiences.
People and their stories, the community in which the cultural heritage functioned, are essential for the idea of eco-museums. Have you heard of them? No, they are not at all places dedicated to ecology... Eco-museums are living collections, usually intimate places where you can not only see particular items, but also experience tradition and culture, for example learn local embroidery or taste regional delicacies. Eco-museums are created from the bottom up by passionate people, inhabitants who want to preserve the culture and tradition they know from their own lives and from the stories the local people share with one another.
One of such developing eco-museums, which is also a place where one can learn about regional architecture, is the Krzonka Eco-museum. You can find it in the village of Zawoja, in the Krzonka hamlet, at number 294. It has been created by Jadwiga and Janusz Zaręba – enthusiasts of the Babia Góra region and its wooden architecture. The restoration of the building that houses the eco-museum has therefore been carried out with great attention to detail. The house is an example of the traditional architecture of Zawoja, its characteristic feature is that the living and the utility rooms are covered with one common roof. The house was built just after the Second World War. The outer walls are covered with clay and painted blue, and the gaps between the beams have been sealed with moss. The roof is covered with shingles. Inside you will find old tools and farm equipment. If you are unable to tell what they were used for, your hosts will be happy to explain it to you.
When travelling in the Małopolska region, look around carefully and keep an eye out for wooden farmsteads and picturesque cottages surrounded by fruit trees... some of them may no longer be inhabited, but you can still read a lot of history from them. And if you get the chance, ask the locals, they will certainly tell you a lot about the old construction techniques.