A small ancient village in South-Eastern Poland, Zalipie, is definitely one of the country’s top tourist attractions. Not because it has five-stars hotels or massive glass buildings, but on the contrary, due to its small wooden cottages, which are painted in the most vibrant colors.
This lovely tradition started with more than a century ago, when every single female resident in Zalipie begun to paint her home with floral motives, as she wanted to cover up some particular faults. And since the women didn’t have professionally made equipment, they manufactured the brushes themselves, using hair from the tails of their cows. As or the paint itself, women used fat from the dumplings they made. Very important is that each year, all the women had to repaint their charming drawings. And they did so, after the Feast of Corpus Christi, when they weren’t so busy with their farm work.
In time, this joyfully and unique habit was passed on from one generation to another. Moreover, women found inspiration in nature and local folklore, so their paintings became both larger and more colorful.
Although no one is completely sure how and when this tradition began, it dates from when the smoke from stoves escaped through little more than a hole in the ceiling of the house. Women would paint over the spots of soot with whitewash. Yet the spots would still be partially visible and it is believed that the women, in order for their house to appear immaculate for religious festivals, took to covering the remnants of soot stains with paintings of flowers. Once modern cooking and better ventilation came in to practice, these cover-ups were no longer necessary. Yet instead the flower patterns became gradually more and more sophisticated.
Of course, when this tradition started the women of the village would not have had access to professionally made equipment. They made the brushes used to paint the walls with the tail hair of the local cows. The different pigments would be sourced locally with fat from the dumplings the women made added to give the paint body. Each year the flowers would be repainted after Corpus Christi when there was not as much important farm work to be done.
One woman in particular became really obsessed with this tradition. Her name was Felicja Curylowa (1904 – 1974) and she decorated every surface of her three-bedroomed cottage, no matter how small or large. After her death, the beautiful house was turned into a museum. And it is quite a source of attraction among tourists!
Currently, Zalipie is considered one of the most picturesque villages in Poland. But, despite its beauty and unique tradition, Zalipie is not invaded by tourists.
In fact, to this day, the village hosts an annual competition around the feast of Corpus Christi. Local painters (a few men now, but still predominantly women) create their own intricate floral arrangements on the walls of the houses as well as touching up patterns from previous years. The practice has spread beyond the walls of the cottages too – it seems in Zalipie any immovable object is potentially the site for a florescent flourish.
Going there is not only a perfect way to escape the busy life found in large cities or towns, but also a good, relaxing manner to simply enjoy life and art.
In other words, Zalipie can be seen as a massive painting, full of color, life and history. The whole village is painted. Even the dog’s cages or old fountains, not to mention fences, windows and interior walls. It’s a real delight!
And the perfect time to visit Zalipie is spring, as during this season, since 1948, the village hosts an important contest: the Painted Cottage competition or “Malowana Chata”. It started after the World War II ended, in the local authorities attempt to cover up the damage done the war. Official data shows that more than 17% of Poland’s population died in the war.