Polish Wooden Heritage

There are over 30 open-air museums in Poland (the total area of the country is comparable to the area of the Vologda region) which preserve not only wooden monuments, but also the historic landscape and ethnographic colour. Museum collections are constantly replenished. Public organizations and private persons carry out this work along with the state. In her speech at the opening ceremony, Romana Cielątkowska pointed out the problems which impeded preservation of the architectural heritage painfully familiar to us: lack of state financing, shortage of skilled restorers, bureaucratic acrimony. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the monuments in Poland are in good technical and restoration state in general.

Following the European tradition stylistically, the Polish wooden heritage has its own interpretation and stylistic diversity. Traditions of wooden architecture in Poland cover the period of more than 2000 years of the history of the country. Austrian, German and Russian architectural traditions influenced them.

Rural-type settlements constructed near water bodies and surrounded with ramparts made of earth or wood and earth have come down to us in the western part of Poland. One of them located on an island in the middle of the lake is Biskupin discovered in 1933. At present it has been partly reconstructed and is open for visitors. Timber used to build it dates back to 747-722 B.C.

The population of the town was up to 1000 people. The island was surrounded with a breakwater made of several dozens of thousands pointed piles driven at an angle into the bottom of the lake. It was also surrounded with a rampart which was 3,5 metres wide and 6 metres high and consisted of three rows of boxes without bottom filled with earth. They were coated with clay for fireproof. A 250 metres long bridge on piles led from the shore to the island. The gate at the end of the bridge was the only entrance to the settlement. A large square was situated behind the gate and 11 parallel streets went along the walls from it. Houses connected with pointed gables formed the streets. Every house with the total area of about 70-90 square metres consisted of an inner porch and a dwelling room with a common bed and a stove. Food was kept in the attic. 7 to 10 people lived in one house. The settlement fell to desolation after a sudden rise of water which conserved the unusual relics.

After conversion to Christianity (in 966), economic stability came to Poland from the West and it resulted in the construction of numerous settlements and trading quarters.

Complicated structures of walls and bridges were introduced at that time. Piles which could be up to 436 metres long were driven into the bottom of the lake and served as supports.

Settlers introduced their own tradition in the period of intensive construction of western settlements connected with systematic occupation of the empty space. One of them was a framed building which could be seen in many European countries. It consisted of wooden poles fixed with lateral cross-bars and reinforced with inclined gibs. The space of the frame was filled with clay, later – with bricks.

An interesting episode of the Norwegian medieval architecture in Poland is the Vang stave church of the 12th-13th centuries in Karpacz. It is located in the Karkonosze Mountains thanks to the Norwegian artist J.C. Dali who transferred the church to Poland in 1841 to preserve it. The layout of the church consists of four internal posts or staves. The wall is filled with stakes made of massive lathes. A high gable roof is covered with shingles and decorated with dragon heads. In spite of the restorers’ faults and undesirable changes, original details and lion motives have come down to us in the church interior.

Besides, the exhibition presented the extant churches of the 16th century in Lesser Poland (the southern part of Poland) included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The wooden buildings have typical pointed gable or three-pitch roofs. At present they are covered with shingles (earlier they were covered with thatch or straw). They were made by very skillful carpenters. Beams and logs were bearded; there were secret grooves in the joints; the presbytery is oriented to the east. The church consisted of two parts: a smaller one – the presbytery and a larger one – the nave which can be square or triangular. The interior was dark, small windows were made on the south and east sides. No windows were made on the north side which was considered to be a place of evil forces. It was used for murals representing the scene of death and hell. Floors in the churches were made of stone, bricks, boards or rammed clay depending on the prosperity of those who built them.

Protestant churches were constructed in Poland after the church reform of the 16th century. They were to meet rather specific requirements: to be spacious and light and to have instructive depictions from the lives of saints and martyrs. The Peace of Westphalia signed in 1648 ensured the right of Lutherans to build three churches, but on certain conditions. They were to be erected at the expense of the congregation during one year starting from the commencement of the work. They could be constructed using non-durable materials – wood and clay. It resulted in the appearance of framed buildings with corresponding filling. Two Protestants churches in Jawor and Świdnica have survived. The Churches of Peace amaze with their sizes: there is enough room for 6-7 thousand people. They are the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Both churches were designed by Albrecht von Saebisch, military engineer of Wroclaw.

The centre of the city was a market with a one-storeyed or two-storeyed town hall with plastered walls. The only example of such a town hall has come down to us in Sulmierzyce. It was constructed in 1743. Archives and a small storehouse were located on the ground floor and halls of the city council and a flat of the burgomaster – on the first floor.

A special type of buildings was a tavern – a place of meetings and entertainments. The standard complex included a snack bar, flats, guest rooms, a stable and a coach-house in the separate building.

Village houses were different in their type, had simple and complicated layout. Large houses with arcades have come down to us in Żuławy (north of Poland). The most interesting among them date back to the late 18th – early 19 centuries.

Residences of the Polish gentry which were not used for defence purposes any more were called manor-houses. They included a number of auxiliary structures. They were extraordinary various: differed in size (depending on the financial standing of their owners), could be one- or two-storeyed.

The most stable extant type is the manor-house in baroque: one-storeyed, rectangular, with the axis emphasized by the porch and corner bay windows. There was a hall of stately proportions with wooden stairs placed in the forefront. It gave place to a dining hall or a drawing-room on the side facing the garden. Walls were made of natural wood or plastered. The building had a high, often gambrel (Polish) roof. Bedrooms were located in the attic. Light went through the windows over the porch.

The Old Believers found shelter in the north-west of Poland in the second half of the 17th century, after the schism in the Russian Orthodox Church, and established a lot of communities there. They regarded chapels as sacred places. Only a few of them have come down to us. At first the chapels were simple structures in the form of houses made of semicircular logs which were not hewn out. The east wall served as an iconostasis. It differed from others because of a barrier and higher floors. It was decorated with towels and icons placed on the shelves.

The extant Uniate churches date back to the 19th and 20th centuries and most of them were converted to Catholic churches or churches.

Synagogues were rather typical for the architectural landscape of the cities. They belonged to the Jews who lived densely either in separate towns or special quarters. The synagogues had amazing cradle roofs with floral and geometric motives combining purple, blue, green and yellow tones.

In conclusion, I would like to mention the Kashubian Ethnographic Park in Wdzydze Kiszewskie presented at the exhibition. It is situated several dozens of kilometers from Gdansk – the city which the author of this text visited in March 2010.

This first open-air museum of Poland was founded in 1906 by Theodora and Isidor Gulgovsky. It was organized in a peasant house of the 18th century bought from the local resident. They displayed domestic and farm utensils typical for that epoch, and a valuable collection of caps embroidered in gold, pictures created on glass and ceramics there.

Scientific and public activity of the museum founders made it possible to get acquainted with the beauty of Kaszubian folk art represented with the articles skillfully woven of bast and multi-coloured embroidery.

At present the area of the museum is 22 hectares, it is located in the pine forest on the high shore of Lake Golun. There are monuments of regional architecture: houses, manor houses, a school, a smithy, windmills, a wooden church of 1700, service structures and workshops of craftsmen. 45 sites from Kaszuby bear witness to richness and diversity of the village construction in the 17th – 20th centuries. Reconstructed interiors with original household articles are displayed in operation from time to time. Domestic and industrial mechanisms give exceptional atmosphere to this place which is emphasized with the picturesque location of the museum and beauty of the surrounding nature.

Along with scientific and restoration work, the museum popularizes folk culture of the region with the help of different forms of educational activity.

Services are performed in the church all the year round on Sundays and on festive days; occasional religious rites connected with everyday life (for instance, wedding ceremony) are also conducted there. Besides, the main traditional holidays of Poland are solemnly celebrated in the museum. The church interior is changed in accordance with the rites of Easter, Whitsunday, the Feast of Corpus Christi, Assumption and Christmas.

It is only a small part of the exhibited materials.

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