Unia Europejska
Pogórze Highlanders

Pogórze Highlanders

Among the ethnographic groups of the Polish Subcarpathia, Pogórze Highlanders (in Polish referred to as ‘Pogórzanie’) used to inhabit the most extensive area (today only a peripheral, western part of their original lands is located within the Małopolska Province). The name “Pogórzanie” was never used as an ethnonym (a proper name of a regional community). It is an artificial creation (derived from a geographical term Pogórzanie, meaning “Pogórze” /foothills/ dwellers) originated in the 1930s by Adam Wójcik, a regional studies enthusiast and teacher from the village of Bieśnik near Gorlice.

The Pogórze villages stretched in a broad belt parallel to the Low Beskides, between the left-bank edge of the Biała Dunajcowa river valley in the west (in the Nowy Sącz county) and the central San river reaches (near the village of Dynów) in the east. In the south, the region would stretch down to the foot of the northern slopes of the Low Beskids; in the north, the border was delineated by the eastern part of the Rożnów Pogórze and the central parts of the Ciężkowice Pogórze, the Strzyżów Pogórze and the Dynów Pogórze.

In the west, the Pogórze Highlanders bordered on the Sącz Lachs (the borderline delineated by the villages of Jastrzębia, Lipnica Wielka, Korzenna, Posadowa and Cieniawa); in the north – the peripheral areas of the Krakowiaks “of Tarnów and the Rzeszów district dwellers. In the east, their neighours were the Dolinianie, an ethnically mixed, Polish-Ukrainian people from the valley of the central San river, and Ukrainian people inhabiting Pogórze Przemyskie (Przemyśl Foothills). The northern border ran along the line of the northernmost reach of the Lemkos – the Ruthenian (Ukrainian) Carpathian highlanders living in the Low Beskids. As an ethnic borderline, that was the only precisely delineated (with pinpoint accuracy to the village) border, and it did not change until the enforced displacement of the Ukrainian population right after the Second World War (1945-1947). The other Pogórze Highlanders’ borders, while not that obvious, were differently delineated by different researchers. On account of the distinct cultural differences, ethnographers point to two parts of the region: western Pogórze and eastern Pogórze. The border that runs between them, more or less along the Wisłok river, is close to the old, historical border between Poland and Kiev Ruthenia. Only a part of the western Pogórze Highlanders’ lands – in the Nowy Sącz and Gorlice counties – lies within the Małopolska Province.


The early stage of the settlement in western Pogórze took place between the 11th and the beginning of the 14th century. It involved mainly Polish agricultural population from the Vistula region and the Sandomierz district, who settled the river valleys (on the Dunajec, Biała, Ropa and Wisłoka rivers) and did not move further into the Beskids. The oldest villages in western Pogórze are the early medieval, fortified settlements in the basin of the Biała river, such as Gródek, Stróżna and Stróże, as well as the town of Biecz on Ropa – a former castellany seat and the capital of the Biecz district (the 12th c.). A number of villages were founded in the 13th century as well. A major settlement wave (partially involving German settlers), mounted chiefly by affluent gentle families, came in the 14th century, during the reign of Casimir the Great. It was then that on the Ropa river and its tributaries the biggest number of settlements were established (e.g. Gorlice, founded by the Karwacjan family, and Szymbark, the Gładysz family’ seat). The settlement that lasted as of the 15th century in the areas adjacent to the Low Beskids, and involving Orthodox, Wallachian-Ruthenian people exerted crucial influence on the character of the Pogórze Highlanders’ culture. This gave rise to the Ruthenian, highland group of the Lemkos.

Together with the Lach groups in the west, the Pogórze Higlanders constituted, in Subcarpathia, a broad belt of settlements characterised by a transitional and mixed culture formed at the interface between the Carpathian highland culture and groups in central Małopolska – mainly the Krakowiaks. In the culture of the Pogórze Highlanders, who over the centuries forged relations with the people living across the Carpathians, one could also discern distinct influence of the Transcarpathian areas (Hungarian, Slovakian) – especially with regard to costume and folklore. The relatively quick disappearance of some elements of the traditional Pogórze culture (e.g. rural garments) was significantly affected by the development of the petroleum industry, which began in the mid-19th century in Subcarpathia and the Low Beskids, and was particularly intensive in the Gorlice region.


At least until the beginning of the 20th century, a traditional Pogórze village development was completely wooden. Western Pogórze Highlanders had predominantly double-building homesteads composed of a residential cottage with a stable, and a detached barn. The buildings were of a framework construction; rafter roofs were most often hipped and typically covered with straw. More contemporary roofs were gable ones with gable walls covered in clapboards. External walls of Pogórze cottages were limewashed entirely or only in the residential part. The most austere, old cottages comprised one room and an entrance hall. Cows used to be kept all year round in cooking (piekarnia) rooms. In more affluent cottages behind the entrance hall there was a stable, or a larder/granary. Behind the baking room, rich farmsteaders sometimes had another room, called alkierz (a bedchamber). Weavers, so common in Pogórze, would typically fit the room out as their workshops. Until the end of the 19th century chimneyless cottages (kurne chaty) were predominant in the region.


On account of quite fertile soils and a milder, submontane climate, agriculture served as the basis of livelihood for the Pogórze dwellers. Bread crops were most commonly grown, including rye, wheat, but also oats and barley. As regards bulb and root plants, the once popular turnip began, at the beginning of the 19th century, to be superseded by potatoes, which soon became the staple diet for poorer families. As for vegetables, there was a long-standing tradition of growing cabbage, but also broad beans, peas and old cultivars of beans were popular; flax and fibrous hemp were commonly sown. For a long time, the Pogórze agriculture made use of ancient, traditional farming methods (a three-field system with land fallowing – until the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries). Ancient, hand tools (e.g. a wooden plough, a spike tooth harrow, a sickle for reaping corns, threshing flails, winnowing shovels) survived at least until the beginning of the 20th century, and manual sowing with the aid of a sowing sheet – even until the 1950s. In traditional farmsteads, draught force was provided mainly by oxen (more often than horses), and at poorer farmers’ homesteads – cows. Manure was the basic fertilizer. Owing to this, agriculture was closely related to backyard animal husbandry. Rich farmstead owners used to keep even a dozen or so cattle in total, but as a rule, oxen were not wintered, but rather sold at fairs in autumn.

Among crafts, linen weaving was the most popular with the Pogórze Highlanders, its tradition going back to the 15th-16th centuries. Among the old urban weaving centres, Gorlice and Biecz were the most famous. Numerous workshops of knapowie (weavers) were also to be found in Pogórze villages, and peasants were also involved in the profitable business of linen selling, which used to be pursued both in Congress Poland and Transcarpathia. Weaving in Pogórze fell into decline in the second half of the 19th century, as it could not withstand competition of the textile mill manufacturing. Of the rural weaving workshops that survived until the 20th century were the ones in Sękowa, Łużna and Gródek, providing rural population with their products. An important role was also played by cloth making. Quality cloth used to be sold both at fairs in nearby towns and on the Hungarian side of the Carpathians. Thread processing was connected with bobbin lace making, which had been developing in the town of Bobowa at least since the mid-19th century, in time spreading to neighbouring villages (e.g. Brzana, Łużna, Siedliska, Stróżna, Zborowice). At the end of the 19th century a National Female School of Lacemaking was established in Bobowa; during the period of the Polish People’s Republic, the traditions of handicraft were continued by the Cepelia-affiliated Cooperative “Koronka,” which brought together nearly 500 female lace makers living in the vicinity. Currently, this role is performed by the Community Centre in Bobowa, which has been organizing the International Festival of Bobbin Lace since 2000; the event affords the local female lace makers an opportunity to become familiar with the European trade milieu.

Pottery was a traditional craft commonly pursued by the Pogórze Highlanders. In the second half of the 19th century, in just the Gorlice county, in a dozen or so places, there were numerous potter’s workshops, e.g. in Biecz and Gorlice. At the beginning of the 20th century the workshops in Bystra, Stróżna, Rzepiennik Biskupi and Stróżówka were still in operation, while until the second half of the previous century potters worked only in the last two villages. Apart from items of functional ceramics, such as milk pots, dwojaki (twin pots joined by a handle), jugs or bowls, also decorative ceramic implements were made: little stoups, little vases, money boxes, toys (bird- and animal-shaped whistles, miniature dishes, etc.).



Pogórze Highlanders’ festive attire belonged to the group of the Polish Carpathian transitional outfits, which combined features of highland and Małpolska lowland garments (especially the Cracow one). In the western part of the region, its ancient, traditional form disappeared actually as early as the beginning of the 20th century, which was related to the fact that the inhabitants of many villages in the Gorlice district were employed in the petroleum industry. The old type of attire, white in colour, was primarily made of home-made linen and homespun cloth. It showed Transcarpathian influence, mostly of Hungarian (e.g. the cut and ornamentation of cuwa) and Cracow origin (e.g. magierka caps, płótniaki trousers, women’s melizonka overcoats).

Men’s festive, linen shirts were long and worn „na wypust” (outside the trousers), sometimes modestly decorated with whitework embroidery. In summer, they were complemented by płócionki linen trousers with straight, wide legs tucked into the boot uppers; rich farmstead owners also wore trousers of shop grey-blue, navy or black cloth. In winter (especially in the south of the region) thick, white, cloth gunioki (chołośnie) trousers in the highland style were worn. Belts were either long, narrow, wrapped at least twice around the waist, or broader ones (trzosy) magnificently embellished. The waistcoat of factory-made cloth, in the Gorlice region was typically grey, with long, broad flaps fastened with two rows of metal buttons. A white, linen płótnianka (górnica) served as an outer garment; it was a kind of long, linen overcoat (sukmana) with sleeves.

The most important highlight in Pogórze men’s dress was a white, cloth cuwa, that is a long, loose-fitting sukmana overcoat, with a rectangular collar trailing down the back. In the Gorlice region its edges were decorated with red trimmings and colourful appliqués of pieces of cloth in the collar corners. In the west, cuwas were not worn across the Biała river, where white or brown, cloth gurmanas after the Sącz style were worn; they were modestly trimmed with wool string.

A white, woollen magierka cap, popular with the Krakowiaks, was a typical kind of headwear among the Pogórze Highlanders. Besides, black, felt hats used to be worn, while hats worn in summer were made of straw. In winter, sheepskin caps were the preferred headgear, e.g. the ancient, tall wścieklica with a cloth bottom, and later on – a black, cupolaed baranica. Kierpce in the highland style (kurpiele) were the most common footwear, and wealthy farmstead owners used to wear calf-length boots, most often the so-called Hungarian ones.

Women’s ancient, festive attire included white, linen blouses with a nadołek – a piece of thicker fabric sewn onto the blouse from the waist down and performing the function of underwear. Blouses were sometimes decorated with whitework embroidery. A white, linen skirt, almost ankle-length, very wide (5-7 szerzyn – ‘widths,’ units of fabric measurement corresponding to the width of the loom), richly gathered at the waist, was called fartuch. It was decorated with white broderie anglaise. Underneath, several other skirts of poorer quality were put on; in winter – a warm, hemp and woollen burka cape. Later on, fartuch skirts were superseded by wybijanka skirts made of home-made linen imprinted with dainty patterns on a navy background. They were manufactured by rural, linen-imprinting workshops, of which there was a big number in the Slovakian foothills. At the end of the 19th century, a fashion for skirts of factory-made percale, batiste and various wool fabrics, including flowery tybet fabrics, set in. The zapaska aprons that were worn were mainly white, linen and decorated with whitework embroidery, and later on trimmed with lace (bobbin lace in the Bobowa region).

In the western Pogórze region, brocade or damask bodices used to be worn only by wealthy women. Later on, bodices became more widespread; they were made of cloth, plain tybet fabrics and velvet, most often in navy, cherry-red, dark green, black. Older ones had semicircular kaletki – tooh-like flaps at the bottom; at the front they were laced up with a ribbon. They were modestly decorated with shop tape. Bead embroidery appeared on the borderland with the Sącz district.

The outer garment, popularly worn by Pogórze women, called melizonka or przyjaciółka, resembling a żupan (a cloth overcoat), made of blue cloth in the western part, sometimes lined with fur, was in time superseded by a cloth katanka (a cropped jacket). It was made do figury (made to fit closely), covered the hips, had long sleeves, was fastened with button, and trimmed with ornamental haberdashery items. The old-fashioned, white, linen rańtuch sheet was worn over the shoulders like a shawl on festive occasions. At the end of the 19th century, it began to be replaced with a variety of colourful, factory-made chusty do przyodziewku (large shoulder shawls worn as an outer garment). On holidays, married women used to cover their heads with white, linen or tulle mob-cap scarves decorated with white embroidery. They were draped in various manners, usually with decorative, prominent knots over the forehead called czuby, kotki, etc. The mob cap was sometimes wrapped around with a colourful headscarf. In winter, warm, woollen headscarves were worn; they were tied under the chin. In summer, unmarried women used to have their heads bare; na parade (on very special occasions), they would stick fresh flowers into their hair, and plait their hair with colourful ribbons, which were also tied to the blouse, underneath the coral beads. To complement the festive outfit, wealthy women used to wear genuine coral beads, which were very expensive; poorer women used imitation coral or glass beads.

Maria Brylak-Załuska



Maria Brylak-Załuska, Zarys tradycyjnej kultury materialnej [An Outline of Traditional Material Culture]; Tradycyjny strój ludowy Pogórzan [Traditional Folk Costume of the Pogórze Highlanders], in: Tańce i pieśni Pogórzan [Pogórze Dances and Songs], a collective work, ed. Henryk Kuś, Bobowa 2014; Elżbieta Piskorz-Branekova, Polskie stroje ludowe [Polish Folk Costume], part 3, Warszawa 2007; Adam Wójcik, Strój Pogórzan [Pogórze Costume], w: Nad rzeką Ropą. Zarys kultury ludowej powiatu gorlickiego [On the Ropa River. An Outline of the Folk Culture of the Gorlice County], a collective work, ed. Roman Reinfuss, Kraków 1965