The Most Beautiful Village in Poland
#photography & visual arts
#travel in poland
default, The village of Zalipe, 2017, photo: Wojciech Matusik/Forum, zalipie-forum-1.jpg
Just 80 kilometres from Kraków, you can find Zalipie, which is known as the most beautiful village in Poland. Join us as we explore the unique story of how its houses – and more! – came to be covered in painted flowers.
The painted village of Zalipie is located in the south of the country, in the Lesser Poland region. This place is known as beautiful not only for its colourful landscapes, breathtaking waterways or ancient churches. What really makes Zalipie special are the brilliant paintings on the walls of houses and sheds, on wells and even dog houses. Every surface in this unique village is a ‘canvas’ for local artists. First-time tourists visiting this place may feel they’ve found themselves in an ethnographical museum or an extraordinary open-air gallery.
Painting pretty flowers
The Zalipie ornaments have been famous for more than 100 years. The tradition of decorating huts in Zalipie emerged at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, and was mostly done by the women living in this region.
The village residents often didn’t have the money to build a separate barn, so they would share a dwelling with their cows, piglets and chickens. At that time, rural homes did not have chimneys. People cooked food in their fireplaces. The smoke would vent out through a special hole in the roof, and soot and ash would settle on the walls. In such circumstances, it wasn’t easy for housewives to keep everything neat, but they tried their very best to keep their houses looking clean and pretty. They regularly whitewashed the walls and for some extra ornamentation, painted them with circles of different sizes.
With time, the main motif of the paintings became flowers. The women’s paintbrushes were made from stalks of millet, rye or horse hair. Instead of paint, they used soot diluted with milk. With the advent of dry paint substances, the patterns on the houses became more colourful. The women began to paint not only the inside of their homes, but now outsides as well.
8 Most Unusual Polish Folk Instruments
The little town known all over Poland
The village of Zalipie became famous throughout Poland thanks to a local youth, who, at the turn of the last century, left his town to find work. So that he wouldn’t forget his hometown, the young man took with him a napkin decorated with Zalipie designs, drawn by his mother. The bright colours on the white cloth were noticed by a researcher from Kraków, Władysław Hikel. He became the first to study the Zalipie style, and in 1905, he wrote about it in an article for the periodical Lud (Folk).
Since 1948, Zalipie has regularly hosted the Malowana Chata (Painted Hut) Festival, which is attended by thousands of tourists today. During the festival, which traditionally takes place over the first weekend following the Catholic holiday of Corpus Christi, locals vie for who has the most beautiful home. It’s largely thanks to this competition that the custom of painting the houses lives on in the village to this day. For the occasion of this festival, many of the residents open their yards and houses so that everyone can admire the vivid patterns not only on the exteriors, but inside the dwellings as well.
Zalipie style and Iron Felicja
standardowy [760 px]
Zalipe, Zofia Owca at work, photo: Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP
It’s interesting that Zalipie artists, as a rule, never use shades of a single colour – they work with paints in primary colours only. The illustrated poppies, cornflowers, daisies, tulips and roses are outlined with a brown contour, and the leaves in black. Folk artists paint their designs on architectural structures, but also on Easter eggs, tablecloths, dishes and even clothing.
The most famous artist from this region was Felicja Curyłowa. She was born in 1905 and spent her entire life in her home village. She made her first painting at 10 years old. The girl took advantage of the absence of her parents, who had gone to the market in Tarnów, and painted the ceiling. As the legend goes, her father severely scolded Felicja, but this didn’t stop her. She continued to draw, turning her passion into a way of life. Even during the Communist regime in Poland, Curyłowa became a living icon of folk art, the press called her ‘the first lady of the Polish village’.
At the end of the 1940s, excursions began to come to Zalipie, and Curyłowa and other masters were regularly invited to collaborate. Women came up with patterns for products for the Włocławek ceramics factory, painted the walls of cafes and restaurants, and even designed one of the halls at the Ethongraphical Museum. The decision for what and where to paint was made by Pani Felicja. She was decisive, confident, and fearless. Once in Szczecin at the party congress, she addressed the head of the Communist regime in Poland, Józef Cyrankiewicz:
We’re in the dark. We can’t see what we are drawing. I will not leave until you promise to give us electricity.
Thanks to this speech, light came to Zalipie 10 years earlier than to its neighbouring villages. When the Minister of Culture was planning a visit to the village, Curyłowa proposed to her husband that he go meet him in the city. At Felicja’s insistence, the artist’s husband took the minister back to Zalipie in a run-down wagon over the worst roads. Soon after the trip, the authorities saw that the village would be paved with asphalt.
Poland's Most Beautiful Wooden Prayer Houses
Felicja Curyłowa died in 1974. The artist was buried in her hometown. Her grave is decorated with ceramic tiles that Pani Felicja painted with floral ornaments when she was alive. When she was asked why she was preparing tiles for her own grave, the woman answered: ‘I want art to stay with me, even when I’m no longer on this earth.’
After the folk artist’s death, her home was converted into a museum. There, it’s now possible to see the famous designs on the walls, stoves, wells and buckets, as well as antique furniture, icons and everyday objects.
How to get there
The village of Zalipie is located in Powiat Dąbrowski, which is 14 kilometres from the town of Dąbrowa Tarnowska. It’s easiest to get there by car. The closest train station to Zalipie is in the city of Tarnów. Trains come there from Kraków every half hour. It’s possible to go from Tarnów to Zalipie by bus.
If you’d like to spend the night in the village, this can be done at the mini-hotel Gościna u Babci (Stay at Grandma’s). This rustic house for tourists, which can only accommodate five people, is decorated with traditional Zalipie designs.
In the village itself, along with Felicja Curyłowa’s home, it’s worth visiting Dom Malarek (The Women Painters’ House) – an arts centre where exhibits are held and where you can meet artists from all around. You should also see the Church of St Joseph, which is also painted with floral ornaments.
Zalipie is so small that it’s easy to get around on foot. Less than a thousand people are lucky enough to live in this truly beautiful village.
Originally written in Polish by Eugeniusz Klimakin, Jun 2018, translated by Kat Alberti, Jun 2020
Ten Meals from Ten Polish Regions