Unia Europejska
Poprad Highlanders

Poprad Highlanders

This group of Highlanders dwelling in the eastern part of the Sącz Beskids includes, apart from the town of Piwniczna with its numerous hamlets, villages on the right bank of the Poprad river: Łomnica, Kokuszka, Głębokie and Sucha Struga, situated on the western slopes of the Jaworzyna Krynicka mountain range, as well as the ones on the left bank, at the foot of Radziejowa: Rytro, Obłazy Ryterskie, Roztoka Ryterska and Młodów (with development on both river banks). Some researchers also include Przysietnica (see M. Cholewa) in this group.

In the north, the Poprad Highlanders used to border on the Sącz Lachs (with the transitional belt of Highland-Lach borderland villages); in the east and southeast – Lemkos (until 1947); in the south, across the national border – Ruthenians living in the Slovakian region of Spiš; in the southwest, across the Radziejowa range – Shlakhtov Ruthenia villages (until 1947); in the west – the Jazowsko and Obidza subregion of the Łącko Highlanders.


The once-royal town of Piwniczna serves as the centre of the region; it was founded by Casimir the Great in 1348 in the Poprad valley, in a spot where the river bends distinctively (called Piwniczna Neck), nestled quite deeply in the Beskids (at the foot of Mount Kicarz, at an altitude of 704 metres), by an old and major trade route leading from Hungary through Stary Sącz and Nowy Sącz to Cracow. The town’s endowment was projected to include future “urban villages,” for which an extraordinarily large and diverse area was earmarked. That was the manner in which this small town in the Poprad valley came into existence, along with a multitude (60) of scattered hamlets of a rural character, situated within its administrative borders, at an altitude ranging from 400 to 1182 metres. The inhabitants of these mountain settlements have always had a sense of belonging to the municipal estate. Piwniczna was also the seat of the oldest parish in the region, founded in 1350-1370. Apart from the “greater” Piwniczna, it comprised the villages of Łomnica, Kokuszka, Młodów and Głębokie, and before the Tarnów Diocese was established (until 1786) five neighbouring Spiš villages (presently belonging to Slovakia) as well. The turn of the 19th and 20th centuries saw a growing interest in the so-called “sour waters” found in Piwniczna. However, it was not until 1932 that the town of Piwniczna earned the official appellation of Piwniczna-Zdrój (Piwniczna-Spa). It was in that year that bath houses and the pump room were opened in the Zawodzie Quarter. The influx of spa clients and the growing tourist and holidaymaking traffic have ever since been instrumental in the town’s development.

Rytro on the Poprad River, which is located in the land bordering the Sącz Lachs, is another popular and major holiday town in the region; despite the dialect features typical of the Lachs, the majority of researchers find the area to be culturally of a Highland character. On a hill located within the Rytro region stand strengthened ruins of a medieval knightly castle, which was mentioned in historical sources already at the beginning of the 14th century, and which renowned historian Jan Długosz associated with Sącz Starost Piotr Wydżga.


In the villages of the Poprad Highlanders one can find traces of ancient arable land arrangements typical of the Carparhian Highland culture, together with their characteristic forms of village development. These include: a medieval layout of forest łany (units of land measurement), with widely-spaced, chain-like village development stretching along a valley bed (Łomnica); the so-called lea village, with dense street development in the settlement part (Kokuszka), and the multi-road arrangement associated with the same layout (Rytro); the mountain hamlets of Piwniczna include settlements with scattered, single-manor development and irregular land divisions. In its oldest part, the town of Piwniczna itself has preserved its medieval urban layout, with its regular multi-road development and a centrally placed, square market, surrounded by dense frontage of houses (originally wooden ones).

On account of the sufficient amount of quality construction timber, the Poprad Highland region was a place of thriving wooden development. Stone was used chiefly for underpinning and cellars (both detached ones and en suite ones, e.g. connected with granaries). Multi-building homesteads, comprising at least a residential farmhouse and an outbuilding located parallel to each other, were typical here. In affluent farmsteads, next to a detached stable, a barn, a woodshed, etc., buildings were situated in the form of a densely built-up square. In hamlets with single-manor development, homesteads were frequently of an irregular shape accommodatin the direction and steepness of the slopes. Similarly situated were the so-called chałupiny (poor peasant cottages) and farm sheds (sopy) in forest clearings, which were used seasonally, and which were plentiful in the Łomnica area.

Homesteads were constructed of spruce or fir timber, originally of huge logs, later on of logs cut lengthwise in half (the so-called płazy). Framework construction was the dominant one, roofs were hipped and of a rafter or gablet type, with quite steep sweeps. They were typically covered with shingle or roughly-hewn boards called dranice (used for roofing outbuildings); in the north of the region (the environs of Rytro), thatch or mixed roofing material combining straw and shingle were more common. At the beginning of the 20th century, gable roofs with gable eaves became popular. The framework construction of farmhouses was usually left unseasoned and unwhitewashed. Sometimes wall parts were covered with shingle for insulation. In the villages located in the Poprad valley there were chimneyless farmhouses for quite a long time. More often than not, old residential buildings (constructed in the second half of the 19th century) had a centrally placed connecting entrance hall, and two rooms at either side: a kitchen baking room and a living chamber. Sometimes there was a komora (a larder) behind the baking room. Less affluent houses had only one room with a stove; and at the other end of the entrance hall there was a stable. There were also houses with entrance halls at the gable wall and two rooms in enfilade. Peasant cottages in forest clearings usually had one little room with a sionka (a little entrance hall), or a room, an entrance hall and a utility shed all under one roof.


Even though it was regarded as the main occupation in the Poprad valley villages, agriculture was not able to afford peasant families a livelihood. Hence, it was supported with various kinds of animal husbandry (above all, sheep farming), forest exploitation and crafts. There were two forms of farming: cultivation of more fertile fields in permanent use, located in the lower parts of the valley, closer to the main village development; seasonal farming in high, mountain forest clearings, situated remotely from the village and once obtained through forest thinning. There were both arable fields, hay meadows and grazing lands. Some farmers had more land “in the mountains” than in the “lower” village.

The greatest area of the arable land was taken up, in order of importance, by oats, barley and its variety – spelt, and rye. Meadows used to be mainly sown with krzyca (secale), a two-year variety of rye resistant to harsh climate. The bulb and root crops included swede, turnip, and as of the 19th century – potatoes. Garden crops included cabbage, onion, broad beans, carrot. A lot of flax was grown as well. Traditional farming methods were in use for a long time in the Poprad valled villages; these included fallowing of fields (which was related to the three-field system) and ancient tools: wooden ploughs and harrows, threshing flails, winnowing shovels, etc. Until the beginning of the 20th century the sickle was used in harvesting crops for bread grains. For field work oxen were used as draught animals, while poorer farmers used cows. Cow farming was the main source of manure – for a long time the only fertilizer and hence so highly valued by farmers; therefore, all attempts were made to keep the largest possible number of cattle. They were grazed individually, in fallow land and wasteland, or seasonally in own forest clearings (Łomnica), or in a communal grazing land (Kokuszka). An important role was played by sheep farming; sheep were often grazed collectively in fallow land (in lea villages called tłoki) throughout the summer season – this involved penning in the animals (that is fertilizing the pasture) and cheese making in the village, in the house of the man in charge of the pasture (the so-called sheep chaser). This was referred to as agricultural herding, and it was common in Łomnica. In some of the Poprad valley villages (Rytro, Roztoka Ryterska, Piwniczna hamlets in the Radziejowa mountain range, as well as Homrzyska, Sucha Struga, Łomnica – in the Jaworzyna mountain range) the traditional mountain herding was popular. For the duration of the summer season sheep were consigned to the care of professional senior shepherds for joint grazing in remote mountain ridge pastures and extensive mountain clearings; sheep would fertilize the mountain pastureland by being penned in, and cheese making took place on the spot, at shepherd chalets. At the beginning of the 20th century instrumental in maintaining the tradition of mountain herding was the forest policy pursued by Count Adam Stadnicki of Nawojowa, an owner of an extensive estate in the Sącz Beskids (he set up a large senior shepherd’s lodge in Łabowa Mountain Pasture, where a Podhale-style herding model was promoted).

An important role in the Poprad valley villages was played by forest exploitation and related woodworking crafts. In the lord’s estate and urban forests (Piwniczna) peasants were hired mainly as woodcutters and hauliers employed for log transportation. Procurement of timber was connected with the ancient trade of log driving, that is rafting of timber (the so-called dłużyca, of up to 30 metres in length, which was in a special manner tied up to form rafts) down mountain brooks to Poprad, then Dunajec and Wisła. In Piwniczna, there were several rafting families with many generations’ experience. An end was put to timber rafting on the Dunajec river when the Rożnów Dam was erected in 1938. Timber processing was connected with a number of woodworking crafts: shingle making, carpentry, cabinetmaking, cooperage, wheelwrighting, which in the region in question were commonly pursued. Popular was also flax and wool processing as well as yarn spinning, which were engaged by women at every household; this also involved weaving and fulling, which served to provide garment fabrics. The region abounded in weavers, who formed a guild in Piwniczna, but there were also autodidacts. In Kosarzyska, there was a fuller’s workshop which served the whole region, and which was in operation until 1934.


The Poprad Highlanders’ festive costume, which was derived from the common stock of ancient Carpathian attire, was in many ways related to Poprad Lemkivshchyna, the Slovak region of Spiš and Shlakhtov Ruthenia. As of the beginning of the 20th century, the costume had been slowly falling into disuse, especially in the centre of the region (Piwniczna and the surrounding hamlets), due to the development of the town as a health and holiday resort. The remote, mountain hamlets of Piwniczna, and such villages as Łomnica or Kokuszka, preserved the “old ways” of fashion for slightly longer.

Men used to wear white, homespun linen shirts with trimming or turndown collars tied with a piece of red tape. Sometimes they were decorated with modest, whitework embroidery at the front and on the collars. The shirt was tucked into cloth trousers, the so-called chołośnie (a Lemko name), which were made of dark, homespun cloth. In Łomnica, the tradition of wearing white chołośnie was a long-lived one. Chołośnie had a highland cut, two przypory (flies) at the front and quite wide legs unsewn at the very bottom (slits). They were modestly decorated with red, cloth insets in the leg seams, a pompom over the slit and red edging around the slits. In summertime, white, homespun linen trousers were worn; the bottom of the wide legs was decorated with cyrka ze strząpkami (hemstitch and tassels). A sleeveless waistcoat of machine-made navy blue, black and originally also red cloth was worn over the shirt. Shiny, metal buttons at either side of the slit were the only ornamentation here. A relatively short, mid-thigh-length gunia (a gurmana jacket) of white (later on, brown) homespun cloth, flared at the waist with gores, and with a low standing collar was a traditional outer garment. At the edges, it was trimmed with red string, and at the waist, on the right, it featured a little, red, horizontal appliqué – the so-called kogutek in the shape of stylised smreczek (a little spruce) (just like in Shlakhtov Ruthenia). It was also fashionable to wear a very similar, but somewhat longer gurmana of dark sheep cloth, also with a red kogutek. The interwar period saw an introduction of differently-cut outer garments, the so-called gurmankas, reportedly patterned on military uniforms. They were made of dark cloth, with turndown collars and lapels, four sewn-on pockets with flaps, decorated with appliqués of coloured cloth and modest machine-made embroidery. Older farmstead owners would gird black, felt hats with a black tape, while younger ones were more inclined to buy hats similar to the Podhale-style ones – girded with thick, red, woollen string. In winter, men would wear caps made of sheepskin fur or navy blue, cloth ones with a sheepskin border. Commonly worn footwear included leather kurpiele (kierpce-type shoes) with long nawłoki (strings) wrapped up above the ankle and over chołośnie. Rich farmsteaders used to wear polskie (Polish-style) boots with high uppers and one seam at the back.

Women’s festive blouses were made of thin linen; at the neck and on the cuffs they had gathered ruffs; sometimes they were decorated with modest embroidery. Ancient blouses were short and had a band of mediocre-quality linen sewn in at the bottom (reaching down to the knees) – the so-called nadołek which served as underwear. The most popular skirts, which enjoyed long-lived popularity, were the so-called błąkiciory (farbanice) made of homespun linen manually imprinted and dyed intense blue or navy, featuring dainty white or white-blue patterns. They were made, inter alia, at the linen imprinting shop in Muszyna, or at a number of companies across the Carpathians. They were long and reached almost down to the ankles, very wide (5-7 widths of fabric), richly gathered at the waist, worn over several bottom, typically linen skirts. Older women also used to wear plain, cotton or woollen skirts. Aprons, most often white, linen, wide and pleated, featuring whitework embroidery or lace worn were over skirts. On festive occasions, unmarried women and young married women used to wear dark, close-fitting bodices made of linen, thin cloth, and later on also velvet. They were moderately ornamented with tabs of tape or colourful ribbons enhancing the edges and the cut of the bodice. Later on, bands embroidered with thread and beads were added. Older women wore katanki (cropped jackets) over blouses, tight-fitting, long-sleeved, button-up tunics decorated with horizontal tucks and trimmed with haberdashery tapes. In winter, women used to wear waist-covering, long-sleeved sheepskin jackets trimmed with black fur edgings, or modest embroidery featuring janina stitch. As an outer garment, women would fling over their shoulders white linen sheets (łoktuse), which at the end of the 19th century were supplanted by all manner of machine-made shoulder shawls. They also used headscarves tied under the chin; unmarried women were not obliged to cover their heads, and so they were usually bareheaded, with hair tied in plaits. Genuine red or dark pink coral beads threaded on a few strings were a valuable ornamental element of women’s outfit.

Maria Brylak-Załuska



Kolory Nadpopradzia. Regionalizm w Piwnicznej [The Colours of the Poprad Valley Region. Regional Studies in Piwniczna], a collective work, ed. Aleksandra Szurmiak-Bogucka and Michalina Wojtas, Piwniczna –Zdrój, 2011. Articles in this work: Maria Brylak-Załuska, Z etnografii Górali Piwniczańskich. Wybrane zagadnienia z kultury materialnej [On Ethnography of the Piwniczna Highlanders. Selected Issues Concerning Material Culture], Edward Grucela, Maria Brylak-Załuska, Strój Górali Piwniczańskich [The Costume of the Piwniczna Highlanders]. Anna Kowalska-Lewicka, Hodowla i pasterstwo w Beskidzie Sądeckim [Animal Husbandry and Herding in the Sącz Beskids], Wrocław 1980; Edward Grucela, Zajęcia ludności w XIX i XX w. [Popular Occupations in the 19th and 20 centuries], in: Piwniczna-Zdrój 1348-1998 [Piwniczna-Zdrój 1348-1998], a collective work, Piwniczna-Zdrój 1998.