The Sącz Lachs are one of the most culturally distinctive Polish sub-Carpathian groups that have emerged at the meeting points between the Carpathian highland culture and the Krakowiaks. Their villages are located in an extensive, fertile Sącz Basin, Stary Sącz and Nowy Sącz being the two most important towns in the region. Serving as the group centres, they are nestled at the confluences of the region’s main rivers: Dunajec, Poprad and Kamienica Nawojowska.
The precise range of the Sącz Lachs in the versions suggested by many researchers, in different periods of time, is differently delineated. The group used to be expansive and as of the second half of the 19th century its impact on the neighbouring areas has been very strong, radiating in many directions. The ethnoHOMESTEAD map shows the group’s range on the basis of the research done by Seweryn Udziela at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In the north, it extended from Iwkowa (Brzesko county) to Będzieszyna in the west, and to Olszowa in the east. In the east, Seweryn Udziela delineates the Sącz Lach boundary from Olszowa, through Jasienna, Cieniawa, up to Królowa Polska; in the south and southwest, the villages beginning with Królowa Polska, through Popardowa, Barcice, Moszczenica Wyżna, Gołkowice Górne and Kadcza were regarded as representative of the Lach culture; in the west, Udziela delineates the Lach border starting at Sącz, then moving through Szczereż, Młyńczyska, Stara Wieś, Lipowe, Żmiąca, Sechna and up to Iwkowa. In the northwestern part, it overlaps with what some researchers currently recognise as Limanowa Lachs’ range, which serves to prove the ambiguity of cultural boundaries.
It is noteworthy that for a long time, and into the 20th century, many researchers of the Carpathians and the Subcarpathian region (including S. Udziela) regarded Sącz Lachs as a highland group. The beginning of the 20th century witnessed a heated scientific debate about the so-called Lachs. It was only half a century later, in 1946 that Roman Reinfuss published a work entitled The Cracow-Highland Borderland in the Light of the Old and Most Recent Ethnographic Research, in which he delineated the Lach-Highland border along the whole Polish Carpathians, arguing for exclusion of the Sącz Lachs from the Highland Region.
In the north, the Sącz Lachs bordered on the Krakowiaks, in the east – the Pogórze Highlanders, in the south – the Sącz Highlanders (there is here, and especially in the east, a broad belt of villages characterised by a transitional culture, which in the past were considered to be highland villages, but now are regarded as Lach ones). In the west (the borderline being unclear though), the Sącz Lachs border on the Limanowa Lachs.
A dozen or so affluent, agricultural villages located on the left bank of the Dunajec river, to the southwest of Nowy Sącz are regarded as the centre and the “matrix” of the Sącz Lach culture – places where it used to be the most distinctive (especially with regard to the traditional attire). This area more or less covers the reach of one of the oldest parishes in the Sącz district, with its seat in the village of Podegrodzie, which is regarded as the capital of the Sącz Lachs. A belt of villages around Podegrodzie is sometimes, in the ethnographic literature, referred to as Podegrodzie Lachs (the villages are, inter alia, Brzezna, Długołęka, Gostwica, Łukowica, Naszacowice, Niskowa, Olszana, Przyszowa).
The Sącz basin was one of the earliest and most densely settled areas in Subcarpathia. Already in the period of the Piast Dynasty reign the area was subject to intensified settlement wave from the north, the Cracow district, especially from Bochnia and Wojnicz, which was coming in along the Dunajec valley and towards the centre of the basin. In the 13th century, the most important urban centres in the Sącz district were founded – Stary Sącz and Nowy Sącz (successive castellany seats); a number of rural settlements came into being, the oldest regional parishes were established, e.g. in Stary Sącz and Podegrodzie. A significant role in the process of settlement in the Sącz Basin as well as of its economic development was played by the Convent of Poor Clares in Stary Sącz, founded by Duchess Kinga, the wife of Bolesław V the Chaste and owner of the Sącz lands. As a widowed duchess, Kinga endowed the convent with all her landed property. The convent demesne, which for centuries continued to be well administered, owned quite a number of Lach villages, especially the ones located along the Dunajec river and on its left bank. The standing of the peasants living there was relatively good. There was a considerable number of large homesteads owned by wealthy farmsteaders and homestead owners, where until the 18th century the rule of land indivisibility was observed, thanks to which they could last a long time in good condition.
The last settlement incident in the history of the Sącz Lach was the so-called Josephine colonization which took place in Galicia in 1783-1789, under the patronage of Austrian Emperor Joseph II. In the Sącz Basin, mainly in the areas previously belonging to the convent demesne, in twenty-five villages German colonies were established. The biggest number of settlements was in Stadła (21 families, the only evangelical church), Gołkowice (19 families, a street with stonework development has been preserved in good repair till today) and Chełmiec (17 families).
Economywise, the Sącz Lach region is extraordinarily agricultural, with more advanced agrarian culture as well as more fertile and productive soils than in the mountain areas. The bread crops grown here included rye, wheat, barley and millet for groats. Horticulture was highly developed; some villages specialised in specific crops, e.g. onion and garlic (e.g. Zbyszyce and Kurów), bringing very good yields. In time, in the north of the region, fruit farming developed. However, crop cultivation was pursued in a traditional way for a long time, using ancient, hand tools. Cattle breeding, which was closely related to agriculture, provided manure, which for a long time was the only fertilizer available. The Sącz Lachs were leading horse breeders; especially Podegrodzie inhabitants had a particular fondness for horses.
Numerous regional craftsmen thrived. Stary Sącz, which was famous for excellent shoemakers, furriers, leatherworker, potterers, etc. was considered to be the regional crafts capital, and Podegrodzie was the seat of rural craft guilds, which brought together craftsmen of various specializations (also from the adjacent villages): potterers, shoemakers, blacksmiths, butchers, weavers.
The appearance of the Sącz Lach villages – their spatial development and architecture – used to be dominated by elements more related to Cracow-style than Highland groups. Villages used to have a dense linear or multi-road arrangement, with farmhouse fronts facing southwards. Most homesteads were multi-building ones with well-spaced quadrangle development and an ample farmyard. The farmhouse was typically located right by the road, the stables – parallel to it; the barn was further down the homestead. Rich peasants’ homesteads had a separate granary (sołek) and a coach house. In poorer ones – the stables and the threshing floor with the storage crib were housed under one roof. Buildings were constructed only of wood, had a framework construction and a hipped rafter roof covered with rye straw. As from the beginning of the 20th century more and more gable roofs began to appear, as did ornamental rakes on gable walls, and friezes on the bottom edges of clapboards. Farmhouse walls were most often limewashed. Poorer peasants’ houses used to comprise an entrance hall and one room; more affluent peasants had one entrance hall and two rooms (the so-called chałpa with a stove, and an izdebka) in enfilade. Rich peasants would build houses with a large entrance hall in centre, a cooking chałpa and izdebka, and a sectioned-off walkirz (a bedchamber) on one side, and a zimna izba (a cold room) – a spacious room serving a residential and storage purpose on the other side. For a relatively long time – until the 1920s – there were chimneyless houses in Lach villages. Irrespective of the wealth of a given homestead, keeping cows in a chałpa (a kitchen) was a practice typical of the region. This custom was particularly common in chimneyless houses, but housewives who were observant of tradition would not take their cows outside even after a house with a chimney had been built.
The most spectacular aspect of the traditional Sącz Lach culture was men’s festive attire. However, it was not the same throughout the Sącz Basin, but only shared some similarities in character and element composition. Its richest and most ornate form was developed among wealthy Lach peasants in Podegrodzie. As it spread to the region’s adjacent areas, in time it came to be regarded as a representative outfit of the whole group, and even – the whole of the Sącz district. The most advanced form of the paradny (festive) Podegrodzie outfit appeared in the second half of the 19th century, when the enfranchised peasants began growing rich, and a costly outfit became a display of wealth and a sign of affiliation with one’s own group.
The Sącz Lach men’s outfit was extremely beautiful and brilliantly embellished. The most characteristic thing about it was the navy tunic of factory-made cloth, with long sleeves, richly embellished on the chest and around the waist with rows of brass buttons interwoven with silk chwościki (tassels) and multi-coloured embroidery on top of red appliqués. Unmarried men used to wear tunics and navy błokicie trousers with two slits decorated with multi-coloured, embroidered heart-shaped pattern in the style of the highland parzenica, and wide, red, embroidered side stripes on legs. This was complemented by a white, linen shirt with red or white broderie anglaise, around the neck fastened with a semicircular ciosek – a decorative element made of stiffened ribbon with embroidered and spangled ornamentation; a broad, ornamental, old-fashioned belt with four clasps, or a narrower sros; high, Polish-style boots – the so-called karbioki with lavish decorative embossment; as headwear – a small, black Lach-style hat with a cupolaed dome and a narrow brim, wrapped around with red string, or (e.g. while performing the function of a wedding best man) a red rogatywka (a red-cornered hat) with an embroidered border, embellished with peacock feathers or a little bunch of flowers. In addition, homespun, cloth gurmana coats were worn – white ones (earlier) or corne (black) ones decorated much more ornately than the highland ones. In summer, shirts were worn outside the trousers, and girded around with a sros, or a long, narrow, kawalyrski (bachelor-style) belt loosened at the hips; the shirts were complemented by white, linen płócionki trousers, with wide legs tucked into the boot uppers, and navy waistcoats with a row of dainty, metal buttons and lavish, colourful silk embroidery. White, linen górnice (płótnianki), trimmed with red cloth, sometimes decorated with colourful embroidery, were worn in summer as an outer garment. In winter, the wealthiest peasants used to wear – on festive occasions – the famous, Stary Sącz-style, Hungarian-fashion sheepskin coats; they were long, white, pleated from the waist down, with a loose-fitting, semi-circular collar made of black sheepskin, and elaborately embellished with red saffian appliqués and embroidery.
The typical thing about women’s festive attire was the dark, velvet bodices embroidered with characteristic, beaded bunches with twisty twigs and circular flowers; they were put on white blouses densely embroidered in red or white; ankle-length, wide and richly gathered skirts, originally made of white linen with white broderie anglaise (called fartuchy), later on – favourite, percale, patterned różowiaki (pink-coloured percale skirts) or other thin, light-coloured ones made of shop fabrics. Light-coloured, patterned shawls were flung over the shoulders; sometimes, unmarried women would wear headscarves, but they were not obliged to cover their heads. Wealthy, married women used to wear quite loose, cloth or velvet, wizytka cropped jackets with sleeves and buttons, richly embellished with appliqué and beaded embroidery. Around the neck the blouse had an embroidered, turndown collar. On very special holidays, grand, lavishly embellished, cloth tunics with organki (i.e. protruding, stiffened pleats around the hips) and a large, cape-like collar were worn. The skirts worn by housewives were either old-fashioned, linen fartuchy with lavish, whitework embroidery, or ones made of shop wool fabric or percale, worn a few at the same time to visually broaden the figure and to be a bit warmer. White, loose zapaska aprons of thin linen with whitework broderie anglaise, or patterned ones of wool fabric, embellished with embroidery and haberdashery items were put on top of the skirts. For festive occasions married women used to fling over their shoulders long, linen sheets – the so-called rańtuchy, which were later on superseded by various linen, sateen, wool or percale, factory-made shawls tied under the chin. On big holidays, a white, linen mob-cap headscarf was worn; it was decorated with red, plant embroidery and spangles, and tied up “in a mob-cap manner,” with the embroidered corner hanging down the back and a large knot over the forehead. The most valuable ornament of the outfit, for both unmarried and married women, were genuine coral beads, because of their high price worn on short strings around the neck.
Apart from the Podegrodzie district, only inhabitants of a group of villages perched along the Dunajec river, to the north of Nowy Sącz, dressed lavishly and ornately, but somewhat differently. The shirts and blouses here were embroidered only with white thread; men’s tunics and błokicie were less ornate; the outfits used by women from rich peasant families were made of expensive fabrics: brocade, satin, and silk; mob-cap headscarves were mainly made of tulle; mob-caps also happened to be made of cloth of gold. Further north and on the left bank of the Dunajec river, Sącz Lach festive clothing used to be much more modest; men’s attire was (e.g. trousers, waistcoats) only decorated with red trimmings; only tunics had rows of buttons with coloured chwosty, and occasionally unassuming embroidery. Wealthy farmstead owners living on the outskirts of the region would sometimes commission tailors from the Podegrodzie district to make ornate Lach-style outfits (e.g. for their children to be worn at wedding ceremonies).
Maria Brylak-Załuska, O kulturze ludowej Lachów Sądeckich [On the Folk Culture of the Sącz Lachs], Nowy Sącz, 1993; Mieczysław Cholewa, Stroje ludowe Ziemi Sądeckiej [Folk Outfits in the Sącz Region], Lud, vol. XXXVI, Lublin 1946; Jan Flis, Sądecczyzna i jej granice [The Sącz Region and Its Boundaries], Rocznik Sądecki, t. I, Nowy Sącz 1939; Roman Reinfuss, Pogranicze krakowsko-góralskie w świetle dawnych i najnowszych badań etnograficznych [The Cracow-Highland Borderland in the Light of the Old and Most Recent Ethnographic Research], Lud, vol. XXXVI, Lublin 1946; Seweryn Udziela, Kilka słów o strojach, budowlach, sprzętach i naczyniach na Sądecczyźnie [A Few Words About the Outfits, Buildings, Appliances and Dishes Used in the Sącz Region], Kraków, 1905; Jan Wielek, Strój Lachów Limanowskich [The Costume of the Limanowa Lachs], Atlas Polskich Strojów Ludowych [Atlas of the Polish Folk Costumes], bull. 13, Warszawa – Wrocław 1988; Zdzisław Szewczyk, Maria Brylak-Załuska, Strój Lachów Sądeckich [The Costume of the Sącz Lachs], Nowy Sącz 2004.