When planning our road trip around Poland this summer I did a great deal of research on Pinterest, pinning pretty photos of interesting places to visit, and it was here that I first came across the tiny village of Zalipie. It only came up once but that was enough, I was intrigued and set about to find out more about it. Zalipie, in the Malopolska region not far from Kraków, is a village where almost all the houses and plenty of other buildings are painted with flowers in a naïve folk art style. It struck me as fascinating, utterly unique and a must-see destination.
Wasting no time, on day 2 of our Polish adventure we set off for a day trip to visit Zalipie thinking we could also combine it with some of the ancient UNESCO world heritage wooden churches of southern Poland. We packed a picnic and decided to take what looked like the scenic route rather than direct via Tarnow. It appeared perfectly straight forward both on the GPS and paper map and it started off easy, passing seller upon seller of fine looking pumpkins!.
However what neither mentioned was that there was no bridge across the river, and the road into the village was closed. The lack of bridge added to the fun of the journey, necessitating in a little ferry ride, but the road closure was more challenging. Seeing as Zalipie was too small for its exact location to feature on either the GPS or map, finding an alternative route ended up being by trial and error. Scenic indeed but time consuming; what should have been about a 90 minute journey took two and a half hours.
We arrived ravenous and were very happy we’d taken a picnic as Zalipie doesn’t have any cafés or shops, just a series of spread out cottages, farm buildings, church and community centre. We started our visit at the community centre “Dom Malarek”, the painters’ centre. In this extremely odd building (angled doors opening into the same room every couple of metres, painted with flowers of course) we met some local women painting wooden and pottery crafts for sale and got a map of the village detailing the painted houses. Then we set off to explore.
Not every house is painted, but the vast majority are, and not only buildings, but dog kennels, beehives, wells, fences, a sundial, kitch garden ornaments, tyres, buckets, chicken coops and so on.
From thatched wooden cottages to modern brick and corrugated iron barns, everywhere featured flower paintings in varying degrees of prettiness, artistic ability and upkeep. Whether it was because it was lunchtime or just because it really is a very sleepy place we only saw one other car (visiting and taking photos like us) and no residents at all other than the women in the painting hall and the manager of the museum. It was a beautiful sunny day in August and yet the place was deserted.
We popped into the church to find it too was decorated with flowers – on the walls, up the columns, around the altar and embroidered on the cassocks and other clothing. Then we found the museum, formerly the house of Zalipie’s most famous artist Felicja Curyłowa where we learnt all about this unusual tradition.
In the past the small cottages in Zalipie were built without chimneys and the interior walls became black with soot from the smoky ovens. House-proud women tried to cover up the black walls with lime whitewash but dark patches still showed through, so they began painting flowers over the marks.
No one is really sure exactly when this unusual form of decoration began but it was sometime over a century ago and the tradition continues to this day. An annual competition for the prettiest painted buildings started in 1948 with entrants from just about every household competing each spring. There are around 30 buildings with floral decorations in Zalipie today.
Getting back to Felicja Curyłowa (1904-1974), most definitely the most prolific and well known of Zalipie’s artists, she was commissioned to decorate a restaurant in Kraków and even decorated her own grave! The inside of her farm cottage is almost completely covered with flower decorations, not only paintings on the walls, furniture, cushions, oven, crockery and ceiling (photo below of the ceiling in original soot and lime done when she was 10 years old in 1914, her first work of art), but also paper cutouts on the windows and bunches of crepe paper flowers.
After her death in 1974 the Cepelia Foundation, Poland’s organization for the preservation and promotion of folk art, bought her house and turned it into a museum. It’s tiny, very reasonably priced, looked after by relatives and absolutely charming.
I could have spent much longer searching for, and admiring, every painted building/object in the village but it was boiling hot and the boys had had their fill of flowery houses – they wanted to find a river and cool off. We had also planned to visit some of the wooden UNESCO heritage churches in the area so unfortunately for me, outnumbered, we didn’t see all the painted houses, but we saw a great many and loved our trip to Zalipie.
If you’re ever in Kraków do try and visit Zalipie, it’s such a wonderful, off-the-beaten-track, authentic place to go, created and maintained purely for local folkloric traditions, with barely a tourist in sight. You can’t help but be charmed.
I’ve written enough so I won’t tell you about the UNESCO wooden churches now, I’ll leave it for another post. However, while on the subject of UNESCO I think this village should be on the world heritage list, it’s such a unique and fascinating place on a tangible human level. Who knows, maybe it will be one day.
Have you been to Zalipie, or anywhere like it?
Read more about our Polish road trip: Holiday Snapshots – Road Trip 2015
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