The Commune of Kościelisko
is the home of many eminent highlander families in the Podhale Region. Visitors may encounter here traces of centuries-old history, authentic folk art, ancient crafts, as well as historic examples of sheep-grazing economy and highlander architecture. Its spiritual culture is the composite result of the achievements of well-known regionalists and a number of painters, sculptors, story-tellers, musicians, dancers, singers and folk craftsmen.
The tourist potential of the place is defined first of all by the outstanding beauty of the landscape, the variety of landscape sculpture and its rich and specific flora and fauna, as well as by the many mountain footpaths which begin here, easily available accommodation and the well-developed sports infrastructure. The Commune of Kocielisko is famous as a recreation centre, particularly in summer, owing to a wealth of guesthouses, cosy hotels and rooms let by local people.
The place is known in Europe and the world for its biathlon centre and as the home of many good skiers competitors in the Olympic Games. It has hosted a number of important sports events, including World Championships.
The commune of Kościelisko, which consists of three villages: Kościelisko, Witów and Dzianisz, formed as early as 1867, is one of the most beautiful areas situated at mountain foothills in Poland. A number of great highlander families have their roots and homes here. The several centuries old history is still very much alive here, as well as local traditions, authentic folk art, the relics of old agricultural system and a number of old crafts which have disappeared elsewhere. It is clear that the poor, rocky soil has produced outstanding people who have become crucial for the history of the Podhale Region.
What makes the Kościelisko area so attractive to tourists are the captivating beauty and variety of the topographic profile, the large number of tourist footpaths, good tourist and hotel facilities and sports infrastructure. Another important aspect are the rich skiing traditions.
Kościelisko became open to mass tourism in 1902, when on the southern slope of Gubałówka the largest then and most modern health institution in the Tatra Foothills was built - the sanatorium for the patients suffering from tuberculosis, run by Kazimierz and Bronisława Dłuski. The venture was organized by a joint stock company, with the governing board which consisted of such celebrities as Marie Curie-Skłodowska (sister of Bronisława), Henryk Sienkiewicz and Ignacy Paderewski. Marie Curie, the first woman Nobel Prize winner and the only person to be awarded this prize twice, considerably contributed to the construction of the sanatorium, and she visited it in the second decade of the twentieth century. The family of Marie Curie, whose achievements became crucial to the development of chemistry and medicine, was very closely connected with the Podhale Region, and particularly with Kościelisko. The memory of Dr Kazimierz and Bronisława Dłuski was honored when their name was given to the People's House in Kościelisko, which is owned by the Kościelisko Section of the Podhale Highlanders Association. Now it serves as the Commune Centre of Regional Culture.
In 1928 the sanatorium became the army sanatorium, and it has remained since the most impressive building in the commune. Next to the main block of the present Army Recreation Complex, stands the house of the Dłuskis, built of larch wood, called the Larch Villa or the President's Manor. It is a lovely place which served as recreation house for the Polish Presidents before World War II as well as the most recent Presidents In the spacious building of the Army Complex many important national and international meetings and conferences have taken place, attended by important figures in politics and public life. The Army Complex also provides accommodation and catering to many important sports events on the European or world scale. The village serves as a summer holiday venue, and large hotels started to be built there after World War II.
The Kościeliska Valley
It is the largest and the most beautiful valley in the Polish part of the Tatras. For two centuries its beauty has captivated poets, writers, painters, filmmakers and ever increasing numbers of tourists. It is justified by the fantastic variety of the landscape and its specific fauna and flora. Here sheer rocks lean to form narrow passages or open up towards picturesque dales and meadows. At the bottom of limestone crags yawn the dark mouths of numerous caves.
At the edge of the meadow known as Stare Kościeliska, the miners, who worked silver and iron ore in the mines in the valley from the sixteenth century, built a shrine known later as the highlander robbers' shrine. It stands on the site of an old small church. It was here, near the ironworks, and later the forge, that the life in the valley was focused. There is no trace now of the ironworks, the forge, the church, the inn, the sawmill or the ore grinder, yet the Ice Spring, which once moved the hammer in the forge, still gushes in three directions. The working model of that hammer can be seen on the square at the hotel at the entrance to the Kościeliska Valley.
From the Kościeliska Valley a track leads to the Lejowa Valley, and further on to the Pisana Meadow and to the most beautiful gorge in the Polish Tatras, which winds among overhanging rocks. Because it seems to resemble the narrow streets of the ancient Capital of Poland and conceals a cave (like the Dragon's Den), the highlanders named it Cracow. An interesting feature in the Pisana Meadow is the soft limestone rock, known as Pisana (Written), on which early travelers in the Tatras carved their names.
The only large mountain shelter is on the Ornak meadow. That area is often visited by bears. In the autumn one can hear there deer mating, and many tourist take the sound to be that of an angry bear.
The Chochołowska Valley
Those who want to taste the pastoral tradition of the Tatras and to quietly admire the vast rocky mountains, will certainly love the Chochołowska Valley. It t is situated at the western edge of the Polish Tatras, and its area is over 35 square kilometers. Its lower section, four kilometers long, is a deep ravine, with eight small valleys forking off it. The round tops of rocks are accompanied by white limestone crags which glitter against the background of spruce forests.
The Chochołowska Valley is known as the largest centre of grazing, with its old pastoral infrastructure, such as clusters of shepherds' huts, sheds and stables. Limited sheep grazing has been allowed here for cultural reasons.
Nine and a half kilometers from the entrance to the valley is the shelter run by the Polish Tourist Association. In August 1983 it was visited by Pope John Paul II, after he had walked to the Jarząbczy Stream. Since then the path between the shelter and the Jarząbcza Valley has been known as the Papal Route, and a shrine was placed there to commemorate the event.
The Lejowa Valley
The Lejowa Valley, one of the longest Polish valleys, stretches for five kilometers. As late as the nineteenth century metal ores were mined here. Today, its specific character depends on the relics of pastoral culture and on the systematic grazing of sheep and cattle.
The route to the Lejowa Valley leads through a small limestone gate. At the bottom of the gently ascending area runs a stream. Once there were ore mines here and a small ironworks. A kilometer before the end of the valley a picturesque meadow opens up, with clusters of sheds and cabins. It used to be the very heart of the meadow, which resembled a small village. Apart from a large number of cattle which was grazed here, head shepherds kept pigs and geese in the sheds.
The area is rich in fauna. On the upper slopes and meadows live the chamois and marmots, while on the lower slopes and meadows live deer and roe-deer, and hares. One can also find the mountain shrew, the mole, forest mice, as well as predators: badgers, martens, weasels, even ermines. Much more rare are wolves, lynx and the brown bear. Streams and meadows are the seat of salamanders, frogs, lizards and vipers. In the streams are trout, and huchen, and at the top of a mountain range the eagle has its nest.
It spreads on gentle hills and along a stream, on the northern slopes of the Gubałówka Range. The four-hundred-years-old village has now about two thousand residents and stretches for eleven kilometers. Its beginnings go back to settlements on the glades cleared in the woods. It received its charter from the Starost of Nowy Targ in 1619, granted to the first village Leader. It included permission to build a flour mill, a fulling mill and an inn, as well as a site on which a church was to be built.
Until the late nineteenth century the office of the Village Leader kept changing hands, yet it always remained in the hands of the local gentry. The remains of those times are the stone figure of St. Barbara of 1772, and the stone cellars and stone foundation of the old manor house.
From the mid-nineteenth century the lands of the gentry began to pass into the hands of highlanders. The foundation, the cellars and the wall around the manor lands were of the local limestone. It was dismantled and used in the underpinning stonework of village houses. Now, on the manor foundation and the arched cellars, stands a sumptuous timber house. Among the fine highlander houses from the early twentieth century, dark and slender timber church towers can be seen.
Dzianisz has largely preserved its agricultural character, but tourists will always find accommodation in the houses of nearby hamlets.
There was an elementary school in Dzianisz already in 1876, but the charming little timber church was built only before World War II.
The terrain of the village is conducive to the development of winter sports, and many members of the sports club at the local school achieve very good results, particularly in cross-country skiing and the Nordic combination. There is also a ski jump in the village.
Once an agricultural village, Dzianisz is now known for carpenters and construction workers. Many teams work in the USA, Austria and Germany. The nearby forests abound in timber, from which carpenters construct houses which are taken in pieces to various places in Poland and abroad, and assembled on the spot.
Men also work felling trees, in young trees nurseries, in sawmills, make traditional highlander costumes and shoes, carve in wood, work in a variety of crafts, make folk instruments. Women make finely embroidered shirts, corsets and other elements of the folk costumes, which all villagers wear at weddings, christenings, and church feasts.
The traditions of music, dance, as well as old customs, are cultivated by several bands, as the village is also famous for its musicians. The local shepherds and head shepherds, who in summer take sheep to graze in the Chochołowska Valley, or even in the Bieszczady Mountains, have become experts in producing cheese from ew's milk according to the centuries old recipe. While in the village all the year round delicious cheese from the cow's milk is available.
The tourist value of Witów has been rising, which is evident in the growing number of rooms to let, of increasingly higher standards, and with catering offered as well. The village is situated at the road from Cracow to Zakopane, and it includes also several glades with buildings constructed there, as well as grassland and pastures.
What is characteristic of the village is that the farming plots owned by one person stretch in narrow belts, like a string, from the bottom to the top of hill slopes. The valley of the Czarny Dunajec Stream is particularly picturesque in spring, with the fields of crocuses. The stream, cutting into the banks, reveals layers of limestone and slate, which together make up the Podhale flysch.
In the nineteenth century Witów became famous for long court litigation, which took forty years, for the legal title to the woods on its territory, against various other claimants. The court procedure concerning the legal title to the Czarny Dunajec estates, both farmland and woodland, finally recognized the highlanders as the rightful owners of those estates. This specific form of ownership has survived until today, as the Forest Community of the Eight Entitled villages, with its seat in Witów. It is the largest forest community in Poland, which administers over three thousand hectares. Each year it obtains about six thousand cubic metres of timber and apportions it between all individual owners. It also regenerates woodlands, runs trees nurseries and protects the environment.
Local highlanders once used to work in the ironworks run by the Austrians still in the nineteenth century, felled trees, took to various crafts, or left their homeland to work in Spisz, Orawa, Hungary, and later in the United States. Now the village has over sixteen hundred residents. They farm the land, work in timber (also make furniture in the regional style), keep cattle and work in the tourist industry in Zakopane and Kościelisko. The old shepherd traditions are very much alive, including cheese making.
The local church of Our Lady of the Scapular is a fine example of a timber structure. It was built in the years 1010-1912, with the permission and financial contribution of the Austrian Emperor, Francis Joseph. A narrow pass cleared in the wood leads up the steep slope to a settlement built there, and to the nineteenth-century St. Anne's Chapel. It is made of timber and beautifully decorated with fine carvings. From the place where the road ends, the view of the Tatras is fabulous.
The people of Witów are proud of their regional tradition, which can be seen in the large number of old houses made of rough boards, with a shingle roof, and on the underpinning stonework of limestone or boulders. There are also more recent houses which continue the tradition of highland architecture.
There are many musicians who play the violin and the bass, many dedicated dancers and many women with fine voices.
Talent and passion
The commune of Kościelisko is a large and respected centre of folk artists who work in a wide variety of arts and crafts. Manual agility goes together with respect for tradition, but also with original talent, aesthetic imagination and sensitivity. Many residents of Kościelisko, who have been trained in construction works, are famous in the whole Podhale region for their traditional skill to build the framework, fit boards and put up rafter framing of timber houses. They are also very competent in carving all decorative details. Those who work as furniture makers use traditional motifs in decorating chests, tables, beds and shelves, spoon racks and scoops.
All the ancient crafts of Podhale are represented here, yet some of them, like the skill of making slippers of leather and thick woolen cloth, die with the last craftsmen. But local corset makers still embroider on velvet and other colourful fabrics ingenuous designs, often of their own making, inspired by mountain flora. In the Kościelisko area also shirts to traditional costumes are made, from those made of sackcloth and minimal embroidery to lace-decorated blouses of fine cotton and batiste. Local highlanders are also tailors who make and decorate traditional trousers of thick white woolen cloth and short overcoats of brown woolen cloth, as well as lighter, intricately embroidered overcoats and chasubles for the Podhale priests. Folk craftsmen make traditional shoes (kierpce) of calf leather, as well as various bags and bands for male costumes.
They also practice the bell foundry art, as in many homes impressive collections of bells can be found, from big ones for cows to small ones for sheep, to 'ringing horse-collars' with small brass bells shaped as balls of various sizes.
Yet musical talents have been most abundant in this area, and local people can play all music instruments, even the pipe, which is known here as the goat.
The old tradition of neighbours meeting in their homes is still very much alive, when everybody joins in music, singing, dancing and story-telling.
The building of the People's House in Kościelisko started in the 1930s. Since 1997 it has been the seat of the local branch of the Podhale Highlanders Association, and since 2003 it has housed the Commune Centre of Regional Culture. Local children can learn here to play the violin and practice folk crafts. Its theatre hall can accommodate 150 persons, and particularly on feast days and school holidays, it is very busy - it hosts authentic folk presentations, exhibitions of the works of folk artists, that is, highlander culture in all its forms.
The most interesting events to be seen in Kościelisko: Early May - the beginning of the agricultural season in mountain areas - food tasting, dancing and singing at the shepherds cabins on the route of the colourful festive procession of the local people through the village, and music competition for family groups and soloists.
Corpus Cristi - processions of local people in fine traditional costumes in all villages in the commune.
Autumn - an open-air spectacle which revives old pastoral traditions and celebrates the end to grazing sheep on mountain meadows, when shepherds and sheep pass through the village; it is accompanied with dancing, singing and tasting food made of ewe's milk.
All the year round the Centre presents exhibitions of photography, painting, sculpture, embroidery, as well as organizes meetings with interesting people, poetry evenings, concerts of regional music and dancing parties.
The Polaniorze Song and Dance Ensemble has been performing since 1977 in Poland and abroad. It consists of dancers and musicians from Kościelisko and its neighbour area. It has been highly regarded for its fine singing and dancing, as well as for its spontaneity and authentic presentation of old customs and scenes from the life of the highland village.
Apart from this ensemble there are also several other younger regional groups. In some places, for instance in Dzianisz, the tradition of visiting homes and carol singing in the Christmas period s still alive. It means that authentic folklore lives nor only on the stage.
Winter in the commune of Kościelisko
Kościelisko produced thirty eight Winter Olympics competitors, which is unique in Poland, and proves that Kościelisko is one of the birthplaces in the history of Polish skiing. It is here that Polish biathlon began. In Kościelisko-Kiry there is a biathlon stadium where in 1969 the World Championships in biathlon took place, as well as European Championships in Zakopane and Kościelisko in 2000, in which Polish competitors won seven medals. It is the most important sports facility in Kościelisko and a major one in the Podhale area. Tourists scan use ski-lifts on the open slopes and in the lower parts of the hills. Ski runs vary as far as difficulty is concerned, but they are mostly for beginners. The Kościelisko area is ideal for cross-country and track skiing as well as for ski-alpinism.
Recently, paths have been made for mountain bikes, of the total length of 50 kilometres and of varied difficulty scale. They run along the ridges of the hills which surround the villages, through woods and fields. They offer fantastic views. In winter, these paths can be used for cross-country and track skiing.
The Podhale Highlanders' Association
is an association of the local people of the Podhale Region; since 1919 it has continued and developed regional traditions which go back to the ancient sheep-grazing culture of the Carpathian peoples - in building, art, costume, dance, music, local dialect and natural environment protection.
The Association has been active in Kościelisko since 1925. In the 1930s the People's House was built. After World War II it was renovated, and since 1997 it has been serving as the seat of the Association and as the regional cultural centre. It provides facilities for a well-known regional music ensemble and offers a variety of activities for children, such as violin lessons, courses in the local dialect and instruction in local culture.
The building includes a theatre hall to accommodate 150 persons. During summer and winter vacations and at Christmas and Easter, the centre presents the local culture to visitors, in the form of folklore presentations, exhibitions of the works by folk artists such as sculptors and painters, photograph exhibitions, and meetings promoting folk culture and folk artists.
Located in the basement of the House is inn an inn which may accommodate up to 120 persons; it invites visitors to try its traditional regional food.