Unia Europejska


Lemkos (Ruthenian highlanders, a separate ethnic group) used to live in the villages on either side of the Jaworzyna Krynicka mountain range in the Sącz Beskids, and in the Low Beskids valleys nestled between the Poprad river in the west and the Osława river in the east. Together with the Boykos and Hutsuls – their neighbours to the east – they used to constitute a compact wedge of Ruthenian (Ukrainian) highlanders’ settlement on the territory of the Republic of Poland. The Ruthenian people, related to the Lemkos, also used to inhabit the northern parts of Spiš, Šariš and Zemplín on the southern, Slovakian side of the Carpathians, where their descendants have been living to this day. After the Second World War, in Poland, as a result of a complicated political situation, in 1947 the Ukrainian population (including Lemkos) were displaced to western and northern Poland (as part of the so-called Operation Vistula), and the historical continuity of the region was drastically broken.

The proper name of Lemkos - Lemky (in use only on the northern part of the Carpathians) is relatively young. It is a local nickname originated in the Boyko borderland, which the Boykos gave to their neighbours, as they chafed at numerous Slovakian borrowings in the idiom of their western fellow Slavs, e.g. the commonly used word lem (‘only,’ ‘but’). Introduced around the mid-19th century by authors of scientific and regional studies publications, the name was accepted by and popularized among the Ruthenians only at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Earlier on, the Ruthenians living in this part of the Carpathians (on either side) would refer to themselves as Rusnaks.

In the north, Lemkos bordered on the Pogórze Highlanders; in the east – the Dolinians and Boykos; in the south – the culturally related Slovakian Rusnaks (with whom they had strong relations, especially in the period of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, when there was no national border in the Carpathians); in the west – the Poprad Highlanders and the villages in the Lach-Highland borderland. On account of their ethnic, religious (they were Eastern Christians) and linguistic distinctness, the boundaries with the Polish were clear-cut and durable. Covering the area approximately one hundred kilometres long, Lemkivshchyna was culturally diverse, breaking up into three subregions: the western one (between the Poprad river and more or less the Ropa valley); the central one (between Ropa and the Jasiołka river); and the eastern one (Jasiołka – Osława). The borders of the present Małopolska Province encompass the western part of the former Lemkivshchyna – sometimes termed “Sącz” or “Poprad” Lemkivshchyna. It is noteworthy that within Sącz Lemkivshchyna, to the south of Muszyna, right on the Slovakian border, there are two villages: Leluchów and Dubne – in the past, the inhabitants of these villages used to be called Wengrini. The villages constituted a separate subregion, culturally (especially in attire) more related to the Ruthenian villages in the Slovakian Spiš, than to the inhabitants of the Krynica Lemkivshchyna. This resulted from a special geographical location of the Wengrini – isolation from the north by the Leluchów Range and easier communication with the south.


Throughout the region of Lemkivshchyna, onto the early, 13th- and 14th-century Polish settlement, which was not too dense in the Carpathians, during the whole of the 16th century, the Wallachian-Ruthenian settlement was superimposed; its economy was highly shepherdly and agricultural, and was characterised by variable proportions of ethnically Balkan (Wallachians) and Ruthenian populations, with the predominance of the latter ones in the subsequent colonization stages. In the areas of the future Sącz Lemkivshchyna, next to the newly-emergent settlements, some formerly Polish villages were re-founded under the Wallachian law, with the involvement of the new settlers. Sometimes, this gave rise to conflicts, e.g. in the village of Królowa, where ultimately there was a split resulting in the establishment of two separate villages: Królowa Polska and Królowa Ruska (now renamed Królowa Górna).

In the First Republic of Poland, most of the western Lemkivshchyna lands belonged to the Cracow bishops, constituting the so-called Muszyna State, the capital being one of the oldest settlements in the region – the 13th-century town of Muszyna (once a knight’s watchtower on the Hungarian border). To the east of the bishops’ demesne stretched the estate belonging to the notable knightly family of Gładysz from the village of Szymbark on the Ropa river, and the valley of the upper Kamienica river was developed with the smaller Nawojowa demesne, owned successively by the Nawojowski, Lubomirski and Stadnicki families. In the north of the region, between the Biała and Kamienica rivers, lay the royal villages: Florynka, Binczarowa and Bogusza, composing the non-town starosty of Grybów.

From the beginning of the 19th century, when the interest in the therapeutic properties of the Carpathian mineral springs was rising, several places in the Poprad Lemkivhschyna got a special chance to succeed as spa towns. The leading one was Krynica, discovered as early as the end of the 18th century, now one of the best-known and highly valued health resorts both in Poland and all over the world.


Most settlements in western Lemkivhschyna, perched in mountain valleys, are the co-called łańcuchówka villages. Their buildings used to stretch in a chain-like (łańcuchowy) manner along streams, with narrow belts of arable land (łany), running across the valley up to the forest (e.g. Krynica Wieś, Wierchomla Wielka). Wielodrożnica (a multi-road housing development) was a rarer occurrence (e.g. Uście Gorlickie), and so was a dense, linear ulicówka development (e.g. Florynka). Traditional Lemko buildings were wooden, with a predominance of homesteads comprising at least two buildings, with a separate chyża (a house) and an outbuilding (including stables, a threshing floor and a barn in the attic), sometimes with a detached granary. There were also homesteads arranged in a quadrangle, enclosed with a sturdy fence. Long, single-building homesteads, housing under one roof a residential and a farming section – quite a rarity in Poprad villages – were a predominant form eastwards of the Ropa valley. A chyża was typically composed of a connecting entrance hall and two rooms at either side: a cooking room with a stove (with no chimney for a long time) and an unheated świtłycia (a living room). In rich homesteads, apart from the cold świtłycia, there was another living room behind the kitchen, heated with a common stove. In the northern part of the region there were also broader, two-section houses with an additional bedchamber and a larder.

Buildings had framework constructions, originally of huge logs, later on – of half-logs. Quite steep rafter roofs were originally hipped, but later there were also gable ones with gable eaves. In the northern part of the region, they were usually covered with straw or straw and shingle, in the Beskids interior – with just shingle. In the southern part of the region a semi-conical gontowy koszyczek (an ornamental, convex, fan-shaped element made of shingle) at the gable end was a popular thing; it was common in the nearby region of Spiš.

A small, detached granary called sypanec was an original element in the homesteads of Poprad Lemkos and Rusnaks living on the other side of the Carpathians; it testified to the closeness of their cultures. Its framework walls were crowned with a barrel vault resembling an archaic slega construction. The shingled gable roof could in case of fire be easily thrown off the framework, and the walls were fitted with fireproofing made of a thick layer of clay mounted on dowels densely nailed in the beams. It was also known in the Polish Spiš.

Greek Catholic churches in the Sącz and Gorlice Lemkivhschyna were a testimony to the greatest craftsmanship of Lemko carpenters. These buildings were distinguished by their tapering silhouettes of characteristic proportions, and as such singled out by Carpathian architecture experts as a separate, western-Lemko type of an Orthodox church. The oldest and most treasured extant churches of this type include the Orthodox church in Powroźnik (1604), Owczary (1653) and Kwiatoń (the 17th-18th century).


The sources of livelihood for Lemko families in the Sącz district were provided by many branches of economy: agriculture, animal husbandry, herding (particularly developed at the foot the Jaworzyna Krynicka) as well as all manner of forest exploitation and woodworking crafts. Dependent on the difficult natural conditions, agriculture was traditional, conservative and not too productive. Cereal crops commonly included oats, barley and rye. Large quantities of swede and turnip were grown; from the beginning of the 19th century potatoes, cabbage, broad beans and peas were widespread. Among industrial crops, the most important one was flax, on account of both fibre and seeds which were used to press cooking oil. The local farming (like in many other Carpathian regions) traditional tools were used for a long time: wooden ploughs and harrows, sickles, threshing flails, winnowing shovels. In many Lemko villages with a lea field arrangement, almost until the Second World War the old system of the so-called caryna i tołoka was in use, whereby farmers would agree on an annual rhythm of arable land fallowing and sowing in higher areas of lower-quality soil, on both sides of the settlement valley. In tołoka, that is fallow land, in a given year everyone pastured their animals, thus fertilizing the pastureland, while caryna was sown. In the next year, the lands were swapped. In some villages, tołoka lands were also used for collective sheep grazing entrusted to a senior shepherd. Still in the 1930s, in Wierchomla Wielka such grazing was managed by six senior shepherds. Fresh milk was brought down to the village (to the senior shepherd’s house), where klagany (rennet-curdled) cheese was made (bundz and bryndza).

The shepherd chalet-style of mountain herding, with seasonal, collective sheep pasturing in mountain pastureland under the supervision of a senior shepherd, and with chalet-based cheese making, was pursued in the Sącz Lemkivshchyna only in the Jaworzyna Krynicka range, which offered suitable, extensive ridge pastureland and clearings, where small, wooden, single-room buildings were erected for shepherds’ use. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, sheep from the Muszyna State villages were consigned to the care of the Lemko baczowie (senior shepherds) who were carrying out the pasturing in, inter alia, Łabowska, Krajna, Uhryńska, Jaworzynka, Bukowa and Jaworzyna mountain pastures. As late as the beginning of the 20th century, in just one Średnia mountain pasture, a senior shepherd from Barnowiec would graze up to 300 sheep. In the 1930s, in the region, there was only one shepherd chalet – the one near Dubne.

Cattle, cows, calves and oxen, of which in affluent homesteads there were up to a dozen or so head, were grazed in meadows in tołoka lands near home, or in own forest clearings, where in the summer season also hay meadows and small fields of oats or potatoes were farmed. Simple, framework-construction chyżka buildings for men, and sheds for animals and hay were built there. Work in the clearing was performed with help from family members, especially the elderly and the children. Some of the cattle (mainly draught oxen) was sold before the winter to economize on the feed.

From their own forests Lemkos obtained construction timber and firewood for sale; they made shingle, earned their living in “lordly” forests logging, transporting and processing timber, in sawmills, shingle-making workshops, potash processing plants and glassworks belonging to manor estates and village leaders (e.g. in Powroźnik, Muszynka, Stawisza). In mountain villages located in the Ropa river basin, it was traditional to manufacture wooden spindles and small kitchen utensils (e.g. spoons, mashers and rolling pins); chemical processing of wood into wood tar and pitch, which were sold door-to-door. In the tar-manufacturing village of Łosie on the Ropa river, long-distance, door-to-door selling of tar, and especially petroleum products purchased at refineries in the environs of Gorlice developed on a large scale, covering a considerable part of Europe. It markedly contributed to the rising wealth of the villages.

Major branches of production in Lemkivshchyna also included flax and wool threads, rural weaving, which provided linen of various grades and wool fabric, as well as fulling of wool fabrics into garment cloth.


Until the beginning of the 20th century, the festive attire worn in western Lemkivshchyna was primarily based on homespun linen and cloth of natural colours. Its style showed Slovakian as well as Spiš influence, and in the northwestern part also the Sącz influence.

Men’s clothing was characterised by thick, cloth chołośnie trousers, originally mainly white, and as of the beginning of the 20th century, they more and more often in brown, with a traditional highland cut, buttock seams and two slits at the front, but with quite wide legs with slits at the bottom. They were modestly trimmed with wool string around the slits, and cloth insets along the leg seams. Their colours were subject to local fashions (e.g. in the Poprad river villages, they were red, in the Biała river basin – blue, etc.). In summer, linen nohałky trousers were worn; they had one slit on the right, and wide legs. Unmarried men used to support their trousers with long belts wrapped around the waist at least two times, whereas richer farmstead owners used to wear broad czeres belts (trzosy), fastened with 4 buckles, crafted from double leather, with an inside pocket, and embossed embellishments.

On special occasions, over linen shirts, which used to be very short, navy bruślik waistcoats of factory-made cloth were worn; they were short and had two rows of convex, metal buttons at the front, and modest, red-yellow chain stitch embroidery. White, cloth hunia jackets were used as outer garments; there were two varieties of hunia – an archaic, longer one, gusset-flared at the hips, and a more contemporary, shorter one with three kłaputy (tacki – loose flaps) at the back, and a loopy fastening of wool string.

A special role in the Lemko attire was played by the formal czucha jacket, which was a required garment at, say, a wedding ceremony; it was long, loose-fitting and made of dark, homespun cloth, with a large, rectangular collar trailing down the back. It was often flung over the shoulders, with sleeves dangling loosely. The shape of the czucha collar and its ornamentation were the telltale signs of where the wearer came from. In western Lemkivshchyna, the collar featured three, white, embroidered stripes, and the bottom edge was trimmed with white, narrow strings called toroki. In addition, toroki and one strip embellished the sleeve ends. A czucha variant with brown, zigzag ornamentation on two white stripes was worn in the Szczawnik region. The Slovakian halena or a cuwa worn by Pogórze highlanders, both of which were somewhat differently decorated, were a similar garment.

The oldest type of headwear was the so-called uherski hat; it was black, had a cupolaed dome and quite a tall, turned-up brim. It used to be manufactured in northern Slovakian towns, e.g. Michalovce. In winter, sheepskin caps were worn. Leather kyrpci (kierpce shoes) were a common type of footwear. Rich farmstead owners also wore high, leather skirni boots with hard uppers.

On holidays, women used to wear white, linen blouses with ruffles at the neck and cuffs; sometimes, blouses featured modest whitework embroidery, and were complemented by long, wide and gathered skirts (kabaty), which used to be made of white linen as well. Later on, they were superseded by the so-called farbanky of fabrics manually imprinted with dainty, bright-coloured patterns on a navy background. They were manufactured in a number of workshops in Slovakian towns, but also in Muszyna, at the Buszek family’s fabric-imprinting workshop. In the east of the region, in the villages on the Ropa river, skirts were finely pleated, just like in central and eastern Lemkivshchyna. Apart from fabranky, skirts of factory-made fabrics, e.g. percale or wool fabric, were worn; for instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, debetowe (made of tybet – a fabric originally made of wool of Tibetan sheep or goats, hence the name) kabaty skirts featuring dainty flowers. Pleated, loose-fitting zapaska aprons, which were slightly shorter than skirts, in the north of the region were often made of white, fine linen and decorated with white large floral embroidery (just like in the Pogórze highland region). In the Ropa river valley, imprinted farbanky aprons with wider pleats than the ones featuring on skirts were worn. In the 1920s and 1930s, Lemko housewives took to wearing dark, woollen, flounced aprons decorated with coloured, flowery borders embroidered in flatlock stitch.

Festive lajbik bodices with an oval neckline and small flaps (kaletki) at the bottom, fastened with buttons, were made of dark cloth or tybet (plain or flowery), and – in the 20th century – most often of black or navy velvet. They were modestly decorated with wool or tape trimmings; and the velvet ones were decorated with silver siutaź (soutache) and spangles. Bead embroidery and spangles appeared in the north of the region in the 1920s and 1930s. In the east of the region, flowery, tybet lajbik bodices were worn; they were decorated with coloured backstitch. Over the blouse, elderly or poorer women would put on a zahortka cropped jacket with sleeves, made of various shop fabrics. Zahortka jackets were close-fitting around the waist, flared at the hips, with a narrow standing collar, fastened with buttons. They were decorated with appliqué, or trimmed with haberdashery items. In winter, rich farm women used to wear white-tanned sheepskin jackets decorated with colourful saffian leather. Under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they were bought across the Carpathians.

A long, linen sheet called obrus or port, worn over the shoulders like a shawl, was an important part of the traditional, festive attire. It was made of homespun drill or shop damask. As of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, obrus shoulder shawls began to be superseded by a variety of factory-made shoulder shawls.

Married women always used to cover their heads. They pinned up their hair around a hymla (a wooden or wire disc), and covered it with a linen bonnet shaped like a low cap. On top of that, they put on linen, percale or woollen headscarves, which on major holidays were flowery and trimmed with tassels. The headscarves were tied under the chin. Even though unmarried women were allowed to have their heads bare, they readily wore colourful headscarves. They wore their hair in plaits. Genuine coral beads used to be the most valuable decorative element of women’s attire; only the richest could afford them. Glass beads and brittle dętki (little baubles of blown glass), threaded on several strings, were also worn.

In the interwar period, through the agency of the writings published by Proświta Education Society, stylized, Ukrainian, cross-stitch embroidery became fashionable among the Lemkos who considered themselves Ukrainians; this type of embroidery was used to decorate costume parts, especially men’s shirts and women’s blouses, as well as women’s narrow aprons (zapaski) with tassels at the bottom.

Maria Brylak-Załuska



Maria Brylak-Załuska: Dawna Sądecczyzna – Łemkowie (wybrane zagadnienia z kultury materialnej) [The Old Sącz District – the Lemkos (A Selection of Material Culture Issues], Nowy Sącz 2010; Do cerkwi, do miasta, na tańce – tradycyjny strój Łemków, rusińskich górali karpackich [For Orthodox Church, For a Visit to the Town, For Dancing – Traditional Attire of Lemkos, Ruthenian Carpathian Highlanders], Nowy Sącz 2002; Maziarska wieś Łosie [The Tar-Making Village of Łosie], Kraków 1984; Roman Reinfuss: Śladami Łemków [The Lemko Traces], Warszawa 1990; Łemkowie jako grupa etnograficzna [The Lemkos As an Ethnographic Group], Sanok 1998; Zarys kultury materialnej ludności łemkowskiej dawnego „kresu muszyńskiego” [An Outline of the Material Culture of the Lemko People in on the Former “Muszyna Edge”], Materiały Muzeum Budownictwa Ludowego w Sanoku [Materials of the Museum of Folk Architecture in Sanok], no. 34, Sanok 1998