Zalipie: The Painted Village

18 Nov 2019
Zalipie is a small secluded Małopolska village some 35km north of Tarnów where you’ll find Polish folk art traditions to be perhaps more alive than anywhere else in the country. Since the late 19th century the women of Zalipie have been painting their homes inside and out with bright, floral patterns making this village one of the most photogenic places you could ever brandish a camera. The custom developed in the days before chimneys when the smoke from the cottage hearths would slowly blacken the interior walls. To prepare the home for important religious holidays, the proud wives of the village would repaint the walls with white lime. By the time progress and its new fan-dangled ‘chimneys’ arrived in Zalipie the tradition had not only stuck, but, with the aid of coloured paints, it had evolved into a unique art form that saw the village cottages adorned inside and out in extraordinary floral folk motifs. By the 1930s, the village had made a bit of a name for itself and in 1948, the first competition to select the most beautifully decorated cottage was held—a tradition that continues annually to this day on the weekend after Corpus Christi.

Though well-known throughout Poland, Zalipie is well enough off the tourist trail that it is not a highly-trafficked destination and your presence there will be met with smiles, welcoming gestures and plenty of inquisitiveness from the villagers themselves. The residents are very open about having guests and will often invite visitors into their homes to see their artwork (and perhaps sell you some). If you're so lucky you'll find not only the interior walls, but the ceilings and ceiling beams are also adorned with painted wreaths and garlands, flowers brighten the stoves, fireplaces, doorframes, tablecloths, pots and pans, vases and most everyday household items with any sort of surface area. Other acts of handicraft you’ll notice are straw spiders hanging from the ceiling and colourful paper bouquets, often beneath or beside religious icons. Few adventures could be more authentic, so if you’ve got some time to plumb around Poland, put this sleepy little marvel on your list.

As Zalipie is a village there’s no centre or high street to gravitate to (or restaurants for that matter - pack a lunch); most of the sights can be accessed by foot, but it is ideal to have a car, bicycle or other mode of transport. The joy of a visit is in wandering around the countryside discovering and admiring the cheerful decorations. In addition to the 20 or so painted homes in the area, you’ll find plenty of other objects that have been livened up with colour, including barns, fences, outhouses, wells, chicken coops, doghouses, roadside crosses, even the town firetruck, and, of course, St. Joseph's - the village church at Zalipie 160 - whose interior is filled with floral flights of fancy. Don’t be surprised if you’re invited into someone’s home for a friendly look around, but if local hospitality fails you can get the full effect by visiting the sites below.


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