A small ancient village in South-Eastern Poland, Zalipie, is home to a charming tradition and definitely one of the country’s top tourist attractions. Not because it has five-stars hotels or massive glass buildings, but on the contrary, due to its small wooden houses, which are painted in the most vibrant colors.
This lovely tradition started with more than a century ago, when every single female resident in Zalipie begun to paint her home with floral motives. Over the years, the flower patterns became gradually more and more sophisticated and the village literally bloomed! Currently, Zalipie is considered one of the most picturesque villages in Poland.
Although no one is completely sure why this tradition began, it seems the reason was the smoke from stoves escaped through little more than a hole in the ceiling of the house. Women would paint over the spots of soot with whitewash. Yet the spots would still be partially visible and it is believed that the women, in order for their house to appear immaculate for religious festivals, took to covering the remnants of soot stains with paintings of flowers. The spreading of this idea may have happened spontaneously throughout the village. Yet I like the idea of a lone woman looking around her kitchen and suddenly having her “Eureka!” moment. And since they didn’t have professionally made equipment, they manufactured the brushes themselves, using hair from the tails of their cows. As or the paint itself, the women used fat from the dumplings they made. Very important is that each year, all the women had to repaint their charming drawings. And they did so, after the Feast of Corpus Christi, when they weren’t so busy with their farm work. Once modern cooking and better ventilation came in to practice, these cover-ups were no longer necessary.
In time, this joyfully and unique habit was passed on from one generation to another. Moreover, women found inspiration in nature and local folklore, so their paintings became both larger and more colorful. Over time, the practice has spread beyond the walls of the cottages too – it seems in Zalipie any immovable object is potentially the site for a florescent flourish. Nothing, it seems, escapes their attention. The chicken coups are painted. The village bridge is painted. The bins are painted. The dog’s cages are painted. Old fountains are painted. Not to mention fences, windows and interior walls. It’s a real delight!
One woman in particular retained and developed the tradition. Felicja Curyłowa (1904 – 1974) became so obsessed with the floral decorations that she covered almost every possible surface of her three-bedroomed cottage with her ornate adornments. Unsurprisingly her beautiful home has been turned into a museum, to be preserved as the epitome of this wonderful folk art. Yet although Curyłowa’s house is beautifully maintained, the art was not created with the aim of attracting visitors. Some of it looks a little worn around the edges – yet these pieces, left to their own devices, are often those which look both the most attractive and authentic.
The perfect time to visit Zalipie is spring, as during this season, since 1948, the village hosts an important contest: the Painted Cottage competition or “Malowana Chata”. Its introduction was part of the movement to help the country psychologically recover from the horrors of the Second World War, in which it saw over 17% of Poland’s population perish.
Zalipie is quite well known to Poles yet tourists from further afield are still something of a novelty for the villagers. They are said to be as curious of their visitors as their guests are about the gorgeous painted cottages of Zalipie. So pay them a visit, maybe? Meanwhile, let’s take a virtual tour.