Unia Europejska


It is very difficult to enclose the extensive and diversified area which used to be inhabited by the ethnographic group termed Krakowiaks within unambiguous and clear-cut borders. Most of the authors dealing with this subject find the historical, economic and cultural ties with the city of Cracow to be the crucial factor uniting this group. Situated on both sides of the Vistula river, the Krakowiak villages reached the Soła and Przemsza rivers in the west; the northern border ran more or less between Myszków, Szczekociny and the upper reaches of the Nida river, to the north of Jędrzejów (more or less along the line: Węgleszyn – Morawica – Raków), covering the most of today’s Świętokrzyskie Province; the eastern border of the region stretched between the Czarna river and the environs of Tarnów; the southern one (moving westward) was approximately delineated by the line of Tarnów, Lipnica Murowana, Myślenice, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Wadowice, Kęty. On the map of the ethnoHOMESTEAD, the southwestern reach of the Krakowiak does not cover the transitional belt of villages regarded by Roman Reinfuss as the Cracow-Highland borderland.

Geographically, the lands inhabited by the Krakowiaks include the edge of the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland in the west, the southern part of the Małopolska Upland with the Nida Basin; and in the east, on both sides of the Vistula river, the western part of the vast and fertile Cracow and Sandomierz Basin.

The northern neighbours of the Krakowiaks were the Kielce and Świętokrzyskie Regions; in the east – Sandomierz people together with the borderlands of the Lasowiaks; in the south (going westward), the Pogórze Dwellers, the Lachs (subdivided into the Sącz, Limanowa and Szczyrzyc Lachs), the Kliszczaks and Dolanie – a subregion of the Żywiec region; in the west – the Silesians.


Historical sources record that permanent settlement in the City of Cracow goes back as far as 6,000 years. In the 8th-9th centuries there was a fortified settlement at the Wawel Hill. In the 10th century Cracow was one of the main economic, political and culture-formative centres in Małopolska. During the reign of Casimir I the Restorer, Cracow rose to the role of the state centre, by around 1040 it was already the capital city of Poland and the rulers’ main seat, and as of 1320 it was the place of the coronation of the Polish kings. In the 14th century it became the most important centre of cultural and scientific life in the country: in 1364 Casimir the Great founded Studium Generale (later on renamed Jagiellonian University, and reformed by Queen Jadwiga). Cracow remained Poland’s capital until 1596.

In the Old Polish times, the Cracow region was part of the ancient Sandomierz district, which had evolved from tribal areas. At the end of the First Polish Republic, the Krakowiaks inhabited the southwestern part of the then Cracow province, which included the following counties: Cracow, Proszowice and Lelów ones; duchies: Oświęcim, Zator, Siewierz; as well as a small area of Sandomierz Province. Already during the First Partition of Poland, the Austrians annexed the Polish territory on the right bank of the Vistula River (along with the Podgórze district of Cracow). Until the end of the Polish enslavement, this territory remained part of a region called Galicia. In the subsequent years, the Duchy of Siewierz and the Częstochowa district were separated from the Cracow Province by Prussia. As a result of the Third Partition of Poland, reaching far north into the interior of the Polish lands, Austria also annexed the rest of the historical Cracow Province. In the Napoleonic era, for a short time (1809-1815), the areas inhabited by the Krakowiaks to the north of the Vistula river were attached to the Duchy of Warsaw, which had been established in 1807. The period when the Republic of Cracow (the Free, Independent, and Strictly Neutral City of Cracow with its Territory) was in existence (1815-1846) was of great significance for the development of the regional culture, as it enjoyed great economic freedoms, covering a total of 224 villages situated in the narrow belt around Cracow, to the north of the Vistula river (e.g. Krzeszowice, Trzebinia, Chrzanów and Jaworzno). That was the very centre of the former Cracow Province. The environs of Olkusz, Ojców, Słomniki and Miechów, as well as the remaining lands of the Krakowiaks situated further north became part of the then established (as of 1815) Kingdom of Poland (the so-called Congress Poland) under the Russian Tsar’s control. After the collapse of the November uprising (1831) and as a result of the complicated political situation in the Polish lands, the Republic of Cracow witnessed a long period of unrest, which ended in 1846 with the so-called Cracow Revolution (Uprising) and the Galician Slaughter, which was escalating at the same time. Consequently, the Republic of Cracow was abolished, and its territory, along with the City of Cracow, was incorporated into the Austrian Monarchy.


The above-outlined history of the Cracow district, especially its division by the partitioning borders, cutting a part of the region off from Cracow, as well as the geographical and natural diversity gave rise to the formation of two major, large, and internally diversified subregions of the group in question, referred to as Western Krakowiaks and Eastern Krakowiaks.

Western Krakowiaks – inhabitants of the closest surroundings of Cracow and the villages in the western part of the former Cracow district, living on both banks of the Vistula and its tributaries. The eastern Krakowiaks inhabit the northeastern subregion located on the left bank of the Vistula river, between the Szreniawa, Nidzica, the lower and middle Nida and Wschodnia rivers (currently this area is outside the Małopolska Province). On the right bank of the Vistula river, eastern Krakowiaks inhabit Powiśle Dąbrowskie and the catchment area of the lower reaches of the Dunajec and Uszwica rivers up to Tarnów and Wojnicz.

The border between the subregions in the northern part of the range of the group runs longitudinally, slightly to the west of Jędrzejów, Mierzawa, Wodzisław, Książ Wielki and Miechów, and then continues along Szreniawa up to the Vistula river. Further on, ancient researchers (using the folk costume as the main regional indicator, e.g. T. Seweryn) would delineate the border, having crossed Vistula, between Szczurowa and Zaborów, through Wola Radłowska up to Lisia Góra (to the north of Tarnów), leaving Tarnów, Wojnicz and the surrounding villages on the side of the western Krakowiaks. Contemporary authors, across the Vistula river, usually take the border south, close to the course of the Uszwica river, more or less along the line of Szczurowa – Brzesko – Gnojnik.


Even though the majority of western Krakowiaks had farmsteads and declared themselves to be farmers, they, as folk people, were characterised by strong economic ties with the region’s capital, which even resulted in a dearth of hands available on their own farms. The wide belt of villages encircling Cracow lived chiefly off crafts and services subservient to the city. Their tradition went back to the Middle Ages, the testimony to which can be found in the names of age-old settlements, e.g. Skotniki (named after cattle herding), Bielany (after linen bleaching; from Polish bielić – ‘to bleach’), Rzeszotary (after the art of making riddles and sieves; from Polish rzeszoto – ‘a riddle’), etc. The group of the villages located around Cracow (which today are its districts) – Łobzów, Krowodrza, Czarna Wieś and Mała Wieś – were referred to as Ogrodniki, because their inhabitants would come to Cracow selling supreme-quality vegetables (from Polish ogród – ‘a garden’). Czerwony Prądnik inhabitants competed with the city bakers, and peasants from Bieżanów – with the city cheesemakers. Men from Płaszów, Zabierzów and Modlnica were cart drivers; Wola Duchacka inhabitants were door-to-door salesmen (called kijaki after the manner of carrying goods suspended from large sticks; from Polish kij – ‘a stick’); włóczkowie, that is bargees, among whom the most famous ones were the ones from Zwierzyniec, would float goods down the Vistula river, etc.

The 19th century witnessed a boom in crafts pursued in Cracow outlying villages which provided work mainly for the peasantry. The village of Świątniki was a locksmithery centre; Skawina – a carpentry and cabinetmaking one; Alwernia – a pottery one. Tyniec was famous for knitwear, magierka caps being the most popular; tailor’s shops in Chrzanów and Dobczyce served custom from a number of villages, sewing the famous, white sukmana coat called chrzanówka and the Dobczyce-style one z krzyżami (with embroidered cross patterns). In the southern part of the region, in the environs of Wadowice, Lanckorona and Myślenice, a major role was played by woodworking crafts, e.g. wheelwrighting, cooperage, shingle-making.

Of quite economic significance for the Cracow-area villages were the nearby industrial centres: Wieliczka, Bochnia, Olkusz, Trzebinia and Jaworzno, which offered employment, especially to young, smallholding and landless peasants. Those who had already been apprenticed in industry would set off to earn their living in the not so remote mines and factories in Silesia.

Agriculture as the main source of livelihood was predominant in the western subregion in the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, as well as in the lands of the western Krakowiaks. The region was remarkably agricultural, with good soil and climate conditions. Bread crops were most common – chiefly rye, wheat, but also barley, millet and buckwheat for groats. Most oats were sown in the southern part of the region. Bulb and root plants popularly grown included potatoes, swede, cabbage, broad beans and peas. Only small quantities of flax and hemp, used to make clothing fabrics, were grown. Rich peasants used to sell their excess agricultural produce in neighbouring towns (Dąbrowa Tarnowska, Tarnów, Brzesko, Bochnia, Kraków). Krakowiaks used the traditional agricultural systems, growing technology and tools for a long time. Until the end of the 19th century many villages preserved the three-field system, and substantial areas of land were fallowed. For ploughing the archaic ard plough was used. Almost until the Second World War, at many farms partially wooden ploughs, wooden harrows and threshing flails were used. Horse-drawn threshers began to be used in the Second Polish Republic. Until the 1920s, in many villages, sickles were used to harvest bread crops. Scythes were used to cut grass, oats and barley.

Backyard husbandry of animals, especially cattle was closely related to the farmstead, providing the soil with manure, which remained the only type of fertilizer for a long time. Cows were the animals most commonly kept, as they were treated as the chief “breadwinners” for the peasant family. Oxen were used as draught animals in feudal times. At the end of the 19th century horses became the animals commonly harnessed (often with some help from the neighbours). Well-groomed horses were the owner’s pride and raised the farmstead’s prestige. Swine were kept both for own use and for sale; and occasionally, several sheep for sheepskin and wool. Goats were kept by the poorest villagers. Every housewife kept a clutch of poultry, mainly hens, ducks and several geese (for feathers).

Construction, ornamentation of architecture. A Cracow-style village, most often with a multi-road or linear development, was of wooden construction until at least the First World War. It was customary for more affluent farmstead owners to have multi-building homesteads, where next to the residential farmhouse stood a detached barn, stables, sometimes a coach house, and rarely – a detached granary. In the southwestern part of the region (more or less between Oświęcim and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska) large, octagonal framework-construction and steeply-roofed barns were typical. Barns with walls made of brushwood plait were also quite common (e.g. in the Bochnia county). Poorer homesteads had a residential part, a stable, a threshing floor and a shed under one roof. In the Miechów county there used to be dense, in-the-round homesteads arranged in a quadrangle with one roof covering all the farm buildings.

Farmhouses were typically of a framework construction, with the logs saddle-notch or dovetail joined at the wall corners. In the more affluent areas surrounding Cracow, where large and wide (two-section) so-called Cracow-style farmhouses were built, heavy, expansive roofs were supported by an Umgebinde construction, the function of which was to free the walls from the weight. Rafter roofs, which typically used to be hipped ones, were commonly covered with smooth straw thatching, sometimes with the striking step-like elements at the corners and two semi-circular smoke holes at the front roof sweep, which let the smoke from the chimneyless stove out. Even though at the beginning of the 20th century no more chimneyless houses were built, many farmhouses of that type were still used. The roofs of the houses in Cracow-district villages were usually wide and tall, the reason being the usability of the attic (used for storage). In the eastern Krakowiaks’ areas, especially in Powiśle Dąbrowskie, farmhouses had different proportions. They were smaller and had lower, straw-covered, gable roofs.

More often than not, Cracow-style houses were broad-fronted, with a centrally located connecting entrance hall, which allowed access to a room and a larder at either side. Behind the room there was sometimes a stable with a separate exterior entrance. Not infrequently, at the sides of the entrance hall there was a cooking room and a festive room which provided access to the larder. At rich farmsteaders’ wide, two-section houses, spacious rooms were separated along the roof ridge, with two windows added at the gable walls. They housed an additional larder and a room, or bedrooms for aged parents or newly-weds.

Farmhouses or residential parts in single-building homesteads were typically limewashed light blue on the outside and inside with an admixture of siwka (grey dye). In affluent Cracow-region villages, the areas above the doorframe arches and room windows featured modest floral ornamentation. In the environs of Oświęcim and Chrzanów lime was used to whitewash only horizontal gaps between the beams. In the eastern and southern parts of the region, unwhitewashed beams on the gable wall, entrance hall or quoins were sometimes splashed with lime. This old and widespread custom to paint the framework was familiar in many areas of southern Małopolska. But only in the Powiśle Dąbrowskie area, Zalipie and several neighbouring villages (e.g. Hubenice, Niwka, Ćwików) in time this custom developed into elaborate, monochromatic or varicoloured wall ornamentation featuring mostly floral motifs. It is at least from the beginning of the 20th century onwards that every year this ornamentation has anew covered the walls of the houses, encircled doors and windows, decorated the barn gates, stables, wells and dog kennels. House interiors were painted too, including stoves, as well as tapestries, tablecloths, objects of everyday use. For several decades, ethnogrpahers and museologists have been helping country artists affiliated with the House of Women Painters in Zalipie continue their traditional creative production. Regular competitions of “painted houses” are held. A family homestead of the late Felicja Curyłowa, one of the most celebrated women painters from Zalipie is now a branch of the District Museum in Tarnów.

In both the subregions, the Krakowiak festive folk costume had many local varieties. Its heyday began in the Republic of Cracow (1815-1846) thanks to availability of various factory-made fabrics and decorative materials. The full bloom of the rural costume came after the enfranchisement of the peasantry.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in the region of the western Krakowiaks, men’s festive outfit worn by affluent peasants comprised a white shirt, sometimes (e.g. at weddings) with whitework embroidery, fastened under the chin with a round, silver or pakfong clasp with a coral or glass stone. A navy blue, cloth, sleeveless tunic was worn over it; it was a kind of a long waistcoat decorated with metal or pearl buttons and red braid, or silk chwasty (tassels) in amaranth (villages to the west of Cracow) or in green (villages to the east of Cracow). The tunic was girded with a broad, richly decorated pouch with an internal pocket, or – less frequently – a white, narrow belt with brzękadła (jingles). This outfit was complemented with percale trousers with narrow, red or blue, woven stripes; the legs were always tucked into high, hobnail, calf-length boots. On chilly days, blue or navy, cloth trousers were worn. A formal, outer garment was a white (or, more seldom, navy), cloth, long-sleeved sukmana coat with a red edging and a standing collar. The so-called chrzanówka coat (manufactured in Chrzanów), decorated with thread chwasty (tassels), amaranth ones in the western part, and black ones to the east of Cracow. In the south and southeast white sukmana coats from Dobczyce used to be worn; they were decorated with black string and embellished with cross motifs. There were also other kinds of outer garments, such as sleeve tunics, linen płótniaki trousers, sheepskin coats. The headwear used in the region of western Krakowiaks included a black, felt hat (called celender) with a tall, tapering dome; a white, cylindrical, woollen cap (called magierka); but on the most important holidays, the white sukmana was complemented with a red rogatywka (a four-cornered hat) with a black sheepskin border. On very special occasions (na paradę), unmarried men used to decorate rogatywka hats with bunches of long peacock feathers tied with coloured ribbons loosely dangling from the shoulder, and a bunch of artificial flowers. This custom was obligatory for the groom and wedding best men.

A women’s festive outfit dating from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries included a white, linen blouse (with or without a collar) embellished with dainty whitework embroidery; a long, loose, richly gathered, almost ankle-length skirt of factory-made linen, batiste, percale, wool fabric, plain or with floral imprints, worn over a linen bottom skirt; a zapaska (an apron) of a thin, white or flowery fabric embellished with embroidery or lace; a dark, cloth or velvet bodice. In the areas to the west of Cracow, a fashion for a black, cloth bodice with trapezoidal, densely arranged kaletki (tooth-like flaps), ornamented with red trimming, red string braid and rows of white nacre buttons, but also with coloured, floral embroidery persisted for a long time. In the immediate surroundings of Cracow widespread were bodices without kaletki at the bottom, densely gathered at the back, and richly embellished almost all over the surface with large, red, convex buttons, spangles, trimmings and gold or silver thread chwasty, and additionally with embroidery in floral motifs. Bodices were worn by unmarried and young, married women. Sedate housewives used to wear above all cropped jackets with sleeves (sometimes worn over bodices), embellished in manner similar to bodices. Long, white linen rańtuch sheets used to be flung over the shoulders; in time, they were superseded by large, woollen, paisley-patterned, floral or check shawls. For chillier seasons of the year rich women used to have made to order quite long, navy cloth żupan overcoats with sleeves, sometimes trimmed with gold braid. A fur-lined sukienka was a more sumptuous version of this attire. In summer unmarried women used to have their heads bare, plaiting their hair with ribbons, sticking fresh flower into it. For weddings, or when acting as bridesmaids they would put on decorative wreaths, which in the central part of the region had the shape of a lavish crown of artificial flowers, high above the forehead, with ribbons fixed and trailing down the back. Married women used to cover their hair with scarves, on festive occasions – floral, percale ones or plain sateen and silk ones; in winter, the scarves were made of wool and tied under the chin or at the back. For major occasions women would put on white, thin mob-cap headscarves with whitework embroidery, tied into an ornamental knot above the forehead. Western Krakowiaks also used to wear percale, pattern-imprinted scarves tied into a mob-cap. In some places they were wrapped around the head like a turban (e.g. in the environs of Ojców). Wealthy housewives used to wear expensive, leather calf-length boots with a concertinaed section at the ankle; unmarried women would typically wear laced boots. Genuine coral beads, sometimes in gold mounts and with a silver cross at the bottom used to be the main ornament of women’s attire. Besides, wealthy women used to fasten their blouses with silver clasps and genuine coral rings.

The outfits worn by eastern Krakowiaks had many varieties as well. The most characteristic thing about men’s costume was a sukmanakierezja (a kersey coat), in the area of the current Małopolska Province, it was made mainly of brown cloth, with a loose-fitting, triangular collar – the so-called suka – and embellished with multi-coloured embroidery with a predominance of red. In the area of Powiśle Dąbrowskie, rich farmers used to wear brown sukmanas with a fluffy collar of coloured silk threads called opierzanki. In addition, white, linen shirts; navy or red striped, percale trousers; or navy, cloth trousers; sleeveless, navy cloth tunics were worn. In the environs of Zaborów, tunics were richly embellished with a broad, coloured trimming, brass buttons, red-yellow-green, silk chwosty and stylized, floral embroidery in bottom corners. The tunic was girded with a white belt with brzękadła (jingles), or a little wider and long, also white belt, richly decorated with saffian plaiting. White płótnianki (linen trousers, also called górnice, kikle), made of double, linen, sometimes decorated with modest embroidery or appliqué were also popularly worn as an outer garment, especially in summer. Festive attire was most often complemented with a woollen magierka or a red rogatywka with a black, sheepskin border. At weddings best men used to embellish it with a low fan of peacock feathers and a bunch of artificial flowers.

Women’s festive attire had a similar composition to that of the western subregion and it was likewise characterised by large variety. For instance, in Powiśle Dąbrowskie, apart from whitework embroidery, women’s blouses were decorated with red or red-black embroidery. Large, lavishly embroidered ruffs were sewn separately and then put on a blouse and a bodice, or a katana (a cropped jacket). More often than not, bodices were made of blue or red wool fabric or floral tybet (a fabric originally made of wool of Tibetan sheep or goats, hence the name). They were decorated with appliqués of black velvet and beads. Women’s cropped jackets were embellished similarly. Later, black, velvet bodices were trimmed with mainly gold spangles. In Powiśle, red-white and blue-white colour combinations were the most favourite ones – e.g. a red bodice was complemented with a white, linen skirt with whitework embroidery and a red apron with whitework embroidery; a blue cropped jacket was complemented with a blue skirt of wool fabric and a white, linen apron with openwork embroidery. Married women’s white, linen mob-cap headscarves had white or red embroidery. A variety of shoulder shawls was worn. Cloth żupan and sukienka overcoats used to be worn as an outer garment as well.

In the period between the Partitions of Poland and the Second Polish Republic, the Cracow-style attire began to play a special role for the Polish – as a patriotic symbol, assuming the status of national costume, not only in Małopolska. This resulted – and especially after the independence had been regained (in the day of vanishing local countryside attire) – in tremendous popularity of the so-called Cracow costume, which was worn chiefly on the occasion of momentous state and religious holidays, but also during family celebrations. Unfortunately, the costume popularly used was usually a highly stylized, patchwork outfit and a far cry from the authentic Cracow attire of any variety, but nevertheless in many regions it was the cause of the complete abandonment of whatever vestiges of traditional, local dress were left there.

Maria Brylak-Załuska



Dziedzictwo Krakowiaków zachodnich i pogranicza krakowsko – śląskiego [The Heritage of Western Krakowiaks and the Cracow-Silesia Borderland], a collective work, Chrzanów 2010. Articles in this publication: Marek Grabski, Budownictwo krakowskie. Z historii badań i ochrony [Cracow Architecture. On the History of the Research and Preservation], Henryka Haduch, Strój ludowy Krakowiaków zachodnich z pogranicza Małopolski ze Śląskiem [The Folk Attire of Western Krakowiaks in the Borderland Between Małopolska and Silesia]; Encyklopedia Popularna PWN, Warszawa 2003; Oskar Kolberg, Krakowskie [The Cracow District], part I, Complete Works, vol. 5, Wrocław 1962; Barbara Kożuch, Elżbieta Pobiegły, Stroje krakowskie [Cracow Costume], Kraków 2004; Krystyna Kwaśniewicz, Charakterystyka etnograficzna regionu krakowskiego [An Ethnographic Description of the Cracow Region], a lecture at the All-Poland Folklore Studies Seminar, Limanowa, 2000, archive of SOKÓŁ Małopolska Cultural Centre in Nowy Sącz; Elżbieta Piskorz-Branekova, Polskie stroje ludowe [Polish Folk Costume], part I, Warszawa 2003; Tadeusz Seweryn, Strój Krakowiaków wschodnich [The Costume of Eastern Krakowiaks], Atlas Polskich Strojów Ludowych [Atlas of the Polish Folk Costumes], Wrocław 1960; Seweryn Udziela, Krakowiacy [The Krakowiaks], Kraków 2012;