Polish Culture at Home: 8 Cool Websites for the Quarantine
default, Accessing Polish culture from the couch, photo: Getty Images, center, laptop-sofa-gettyimages-1092323158.jpg
Due to the pandemic, many of us are advised to stay at home. But that doesn’t mean we have to stay away from museums, cinema, or music – it’s still possible to access a variety of cultural offerings online from the comfort of your abode. Here you’ll find a list of 8 cool websites (all with English-language versions) offering some of the best of Polish culture virtually.
Travel from your couch
Staying at home for many days in a row during the pandemic is the responsible thing to do, but nevertheless, it can be a bit bothersome. Fortunately, there’s zabytek.pl/en, a website which lets you visit tens of thousands of places without actually leaving your house.
Thanks to this page, you can browse architectural monuments across Poland, viewing their photos and descriptions. The site presents sites like historic castles and churches but also parks, offering access to marvellous views of both architecture and nature.
Poland's Most Beautiful Castles – Interactive Map
One of the great things about zabytek.pl is that it offers curated collections of monuments. These collections group together places that have something in common, allowing you to easily explore certain architectural phenomena like the castles of the Dukes of Mazovia or landowner estates in the Greater Poland Voivodeship.
Of course, seeing such places through a screen isn’t as fun as visiting it in person – but as far as virtual travelling is concerned, zabytek.pl really makes the grade, with its quality photos and descriptions as well as its extensive database.
Enter a fairy tale
If viewing photos and reading descriptions doesn’t seem like enough, you can try a more immersive experience and go on a virtual tour of a Polish architectural monument. The website http://www.zamek-pszczyna.home.pl/wz/index.html takes you on a magnificently detailed visit to the picturesque castle in Pszczyna.
Over the centuries, this mediaeval castle was reconstructed and remodelled a few times. The last reconstruction – a neo-Baroque one – was carried out in the years 1871-1876 by the eminent French architect Hipolit Aleksander Destailleur (1822-1893).
From pszczyna.pl, trans. MK
A Polish German Fusion: Poznań's Castle District Explored
Aside from having impressive exteriors, the castle, which is home to a museum, also has a lot to offer on the inside. About 80% of its interiors have original furnishings dating back to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The lavish décor of the interiors clearly evokes the aristocratic roots of the castle’s onetime residents, the Hochberg family.
The virtual tour lets you look around the breath-taking interiors freely and can make you feel as if you were inside a fairy tale – which might help ease your mind in these uneasy times.
Discover Polish Jewish history
Another great virtual tour is offered by Polin, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Located in Warsaw, this renowned cultural institution lets you browse its core exhibition online:
The exhibition is made up of eight galleries, spread over an area of 4000 sq.m., presenting the heritage and culture of Polish Jews, which still remains a source of inspiration for Poland and for the world. The galleries portray successive phases of history, beginning with legends of arrival, the beginnings of Jewish settlement in Poland and the development of Jewish culture. We show the social, religious and political diversity of Polish Jews, highlighting dramatic events from the past, the Holocaust, and concluding with contemporary times.
Jewish Theatre in Poland: Fragments of an Illustrious History
Polin’s virtual tour lets you see, amongst other things, a reconstruction of the incredible, hand-painted ceiling of a 17th-century synagogue that once stood in the village of Gwoździec.
Thanks to the online experience, you can also listen to a sound impression of a Jewish street in Interwar Poland or learn the stories of Polish Jewish women. Interesting videos and descriptions provide valuable context to the content on display.
Enjoy picturesque landscapes
Another museum that lets you access its content online in a user-friendly manner is the National Museum in Kraków. Its website may not offer a virtual tour, but it allows you to browse many objects in the museum’s extensive collection:
The core of the collection is Polish art (painting, sculpture, drawing, decorative art), though there are also numerous western European works, a collection of religious art related to the Orthodox Church, and an extremely valuable collection of oriental art, mainly from Japan.
Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Most Famous Sculptures
The National Museum in Kraków owns a great number of works by eminent creators like the painter Leon Wyczółkowski or the sculptor Xawery Dunikowski. The museum’s website lets you view quality photos of such works through interesting, themed collections like ‘Picturesque Landscapes’ or ‘Female Sculptors in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries’. These collections allow you to navigate through the website’s content with ease, aided by informative descriptions from esteemed art experts.
Check out modern video art
If you’re an admirer of modern art, then you may want to check out the website of Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art. There you can stream a large collection of video art by acclaimed 20th- and 21st-century Polish artists.
[…] it is impossible to grasp the development of contemporary art since the 1960s, or to outline reliably the history of art of the last 40 years without mentioning the achievements in the field of film. A wide range of the most outstanding works of Polish art have also been carried out in this very medium. What’s more, film provided the possibility to document countless seminal performances, happenings, interventions, manifestations, spectacles, exhibitions, etc.
Quote from www.artmuseum.pl/en
An Outline History Of Polish Video Art
The clear, functional page lets you scroll through artworks by artist, and includes pieces by such creators as Ewa Partum or Wojciech Zamecznik. Many of the videos don’t require a knowledge of Polish, as they either have English subtitles or a soundtrack devoid of words – and almost every video is accompanied by an informative description written by the museum staff.
Watch classic Polish movies
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Mirosław Baka in 'A Short Film About Killing', photo: TOR Film Studio / National Film Archive
Speaking of audiovisual artworks, you can also access a large collection of classic Polish movies on YouTube. For example, in 2013, the renowned Polish film studio TOR – which produced more than a hundred feature films between the years 1967 and 2019 – decided to share some of its pictures on a dedicated channel on the website. The uploaded films can be streamed free of charge and have English subtitles.
Classic Polish Films on YouTube
Amongst the movies on TOR’s channel, you can find such timeless works as the 1987 crime drama A Short Film About Killing by Krzysztof Kieślowski or the 1985 horror Medium by Jacek Koprowicz.
A Short Film About Killing follows a young criminal in Warsaw who commits murder and is later sentenced to death. The movie is widely considered to be an immensely powerful statement against the death penalty. Derek Malcolm wrote in The Guardian that: ‘Not for a moment does the film let us off the hook, and the atmosphere it sustains is one of the most menacing I've encountered.’
Medium, on the other hand, is a magnificently realized fantastic tale set in Interwar Poland, in which individuals with paranormal powers are at the centre of the plot.
Meet The Whisperers: The Christian Folk Healers of Eastern Poland
These and other films in TOR’s collection are sure to keep you entertained during the long hours spent indoors.
See a portrait of Polish society
Motion pictures are great, but if you enjoy photography, you might want to visit the website www.zofiarydet.com. A project of the Zofia Rydet Foundation, which is dedicated to sharing the work of the acclaimed photographer, this online resource lets you browse thousands of her images. (While the homepage is in Polish, when you click one of the two collections presented there, you can navigate to the English version of the site through the buttons in the upper right-hand corner.)
During her artistic career, which began in the 1950s, she shifted from photography inspired by pictorialism, to reportages […] and later to photomontages, making use of metaphorical and existential references; […] from 1978 she worked on her monumental series Zapis Socjologiczny (Sociological Record), documenting the shape of Polish society, usually in the form of a portrait taken in an interior.
From https://encyklopedia.pwn.pl/haslo/Rydet-Zofia;3970388.html, trans. MK
Wojciech Plewiński's Haunting Portraits
At www.zofiarydet.com, you can view photographs from the various stages of Rydet’s career and also read about the artist and her work. A section of the website is devoted to the Sociological Record, which Rydet finished only in the year 1990. Thanks to its sharp, detailed recording of both rural and urban reality, this massive project remains a stunning photographic record of life in Poland. A functional interface makes it easy to navigate through the website’s immensely rich collection of photographs.
Listen to Polish folk instruments
Whereas thanks to Zofia Rydet, you can enjoy plenty of photos of rural Poland, the website ludowe.instrumenty.edu.pl/en lets you get in touch with the Polish countryside in a different way. A project of the Institute of Music and Dance – produced in honour of the folk-music ethnographer Oskar Kolberg – the page allows you to familiarize yourself with the amazing world of Polish folk instruments. Here you can find photos, descriptions and, most important, sound clips of dozens of different, traditional musical instruments.
A Foreigner's Guide to Polish Folk Art
Some of these items are truly amazing – like the ‘lenten cart cog rattle’, which is basically a kind of wheeled cart! According to the page, it was used in the early 20th century to ‘to make ritual noise […] instead of church bells during the Holy Week.’ Other intriguing finds at the website include the curious flute without finger holes or the lyrical-sounding hurdy-gurdy.
A great feature of the site is that many of the sound clips illustrating the instruments are actually full performances of folk tunes, recorded by eminent Polish folk musicians (some of the performances are also captured on video). Thanks to this, the page is more than just a database of Polish folk instruments, as it lets you truly encounter some great Polish folk music – from anywhere you have internet access.
7 Must-hear Polish Folk Groups
Polish folk music
polish folk instruments
20th century polish photography
polish video art
national museum in kraków
museum of modern art in warsaw
muzeum sztuki in łódź
Polin museum of the history of Polish Jews
With hope, the abovementioned websites will satisfy the needs of all you culture vultures until the quarantine ends, when we’ll once again be able to enjoy Poland’s cultural offerings in person. Until then, keep calm and keep enjoying Polish culture online.
Written by Marek Kępa, Mar 2020