Painted, colourful, full of flowers – that’s how Zalipie is described. It is a small village in the south of Poland (about 70km north of Cracow) with the tradition of painting flowers inside and outside the houses. The tradition goes back to the 19th century when women tried to mask and cover blackened walls, the result of using traditional stoves inside. It’s not the only village of this kind in the neighbourhood, but it is definitely the most famous thanks to a talented Felicja Curylowa (1904-1974), a local folk artist.
Have you ever tried to paint or draw on the walls of your rooms? I did it as a kid and my parents were very angry with me. So were the parents of ten-year-old Felicja when they went to the market in a horse-drawn carriage and returned many hours later to see a painted ceiling. They were mostly angry because painting a ceiling was not the safest activity for a kind – that’s what Wanda Racia, a granddaughter of Felicja Curylowa who now looks after the museum, told me.
First flower patterns – the painted ceiling in the hall of the hut.
Zalipie was on my way. Well, almost. A little detour was needed, but I wanted to go there because of the photos I saw and the reviews I read. Strangely, I was most encouraged by two negative opinions that I read – the visitors complained that only some buildings are adorned with flowers, and beautiful pictures presented on the Internet a especially selected, but don’t show the real picture of the villages.
So, it was on the way, I wasn’t in a hurry and decided to go and check it out for myself who is right.
The house of Felicja Curylowa
I started my visit at the house-museum as I was eager to learn more about the artist herself. Even when she was still alive this place was visited by many tourists, and after she died her house was turned into a museum. And here the first surprise: the house itself is not very bright and attention-drawing.
It’s this mustard orange hut with blue windows on the left. Not what you’d expect, right? Well, I guess some people might be even disappointed. But don’t be misled by this appearance, the inside is totally different: colourful and fairly-tale like. However, before you see how the artist lived, walk to the pale rose building with blue patterns where you’ll buy the tickets and can learn more about the artist, her life and her art.
And then it’s time to visit the house itself with all the original furniture and paintings.
When you leave the house, go behind the barn to have a look at a small lovely hut – the one that is often used to advertise the village and ecourage you to come here.
Your attention will probably be drawn by a brightly painted colourful house on the other side of the road. You might, just as I did, mistake it for the museum itself. It’s the house of Wanda Racia, the artist granddaughter.
I guess, all those disappointed with the village must have thought that the whole village would be like that: colourful housed, one next to another, along the street that we can walk while taking lots of photos.
Well, it is definitely not like that. It might be a small village, but houses are often far from one another and you need to take a long walk to look for colourful flowery patters.
If you are lazy or have not too muche (my case), you can simply drive through the village stopping when you want to snap a picture.
Whether you are going to walk or drive, remember to take a small leaflet at the museum – there’s a map with painted houses marked on it.
The house of the artists
It’s a local cultural centre – the most colourful cultural centure I’ve seen so far – with painting both inside and outside. Remember to visit a souvenir shop which is inside (if it’s closed, someone will open it for you) – I bought a beautiful painted bowl!
Those who know me well, know that I dislike visiting churches, most of them seem the same to me and I want to leave just after I get in. However, don’t skip the church in Zalipie, it’s decorated like the village: with flowers. If it looks like closed try the door handle anyway – it’s probably open.
When I was leaving I remembered one local church in Guatemala that I really liked – also because of the folk motifs.
The church is probably going to be the last place you visit, but remember to have a look around the village itself looking for the houses marked on the map. Some are easy to spot, others seem to be hidden and sometimes you might even wonder how far you can go if you don’t want to disturb someone’s privacy.
Conclusion: is the village worth the visit?
In my opinion it is definitely worth the visit. Even if it was only to see the house-museum of Felicja Curylowa, it’s worth it. I might not go there from the other corner of the country, but if you are somewhere near, go there to have a quiet, lazy afternoon in search of everyday folk art.
Why are some people disappinted? I can only guess that their expectations are too high after seeing a few pictures on the Internet. Well, my pictures for this article were also carefully selected to show you what I liked most, but there are many more pictures in my file, and there were many more places I could have taken the photos of if I was not trying to limit myself (I always do that).
It’s not an open-air museum, it’s a village where people lead their lives and you need to remember that when you visit the place.
I guess I was also lucky with the weather – Polish villages look best in the middle of a sunny summer!
Anyway, if you’re travelling by car in the south of Poland, and happen to be nearby, just go and check the place for yourself!