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Patrick Bureau

Wooden Architecture Trail   
In the heart of green valleys, picturesque hills and high mountain peaks, the Malopolska Valley, located in the south of Poland, offers a 1,500 km Trail of Wooden Architecture.

It should be noted that it is in precisely this region where historic wooden architecture, a major element of the Polish landscape, has been best preserved over the centuries.

Charming churches, charming manor houses, elegant villas and small rows of modest houses mark out this path that must be explored.

In fact, Poland has twenty-eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, of which fourteen are located in the Malopolska region, making it a region with almost unique cultural heritage.


 Photo: Church of all Saints, Poland

This route includes better-known sites, such as the old capital city of Krakow, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and those that are less well-known such as the Wieliczka salt mine and some pretty Gothic churches that bear witness to religious architecture of the Middle Ages and whose interior reveals valuable works of art.


It is at the foot of Wawel Hill, on the Vistula River, that the historic city reveals its 1000-year-old past. Not having been the victim of any destruction since that of the Tatars in the Middle Ages, its palaces, churches and mansions proudly display the richness of their architecture and ornamentation.

On this hill of Wawel, one must see the cathedral erected shortly after the year 1000 as well as its fortress with Romanesque and Gothic styles, which served as residence to the sovereigns from the middle of the eleventh century until the beginning of the seventeenth century.

Strolling the Market place, admiring its Town Hall and the Notre-Dame Basilica, it’s easy to see that the architectural wealth of this city is also due to the fact that since the early 2000s all new constructions have had to integrate harmoniously into the architectural landscape. That’s a harmony that I can appreciate!


The sky was gray, a fine rain was falling continuously. The stage was set for our visit to the largest extermination camp of the Third Reich where more than one million people, mainly Jewish and Gypsy, were murdered. Today transformed into a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this symbol of the Holocaust is now a place of commemoration and reflection.

Rows of similar brick barracks house dormitories, some with floors covered only with thin blankets, undocking rooms where shoes and boots are piled up, small cells reserved for guards and other spaces revive atrocities committed in these spaces. We did not come out unscathed! I admit I could not even visit some of the rooms!


World famous for its salt mine, Wieliczka has been mining its rock salt deposits since the 13th century. Dug out over 9 levels and with 300 km of corridors, we have to descend 810 steps to appreciate the oldest salt mine in Europe, which is still in use to this day! Rest assured, the tour is done in steps, leading to tunnels and huge well- ventilated galleries. This is practically just a walk through salt-covered walls and galleries lit by impressive salt fixtures. Then, return in an elevator!

The wooden churches

The wooden churches of Maloposlka are Gothic buildings that have survived the centuries, preserving their historical form.

As UNESCO stresses in its criteria for recognizing the exceptional character of these churches:

Criterion (iii): The wooden churches of southern Malopolska bear witness to the strong medieval religious architectural traditions associated with the liturgy and religious practice of the Roman Catholic Church in a relatively isolated region of Central Europe.

Criterion (iv): These churches are the most representative examples still observable of Gothic churches built according to the technique of horizontally arranged log logs. Their artistic and technical execution is remarkable. They were built by families of nobles and lords as symbols of their social and political prestige. "

The Church of St. John the Baptist, Orawka

It is the small church of Orawka, the first Catholic parish church and the oldest monument of the region preserved today, that we will visit next.

The presbytery and the nave, the oldest elements of the church, were built in the years 1651-1656. In 1728, the stone chapel was added and the bell tower was joined to the nave in 1901.

Rich ornamentation

The walls and ceiling of the church are literally covered with polychrome made over a few phases in the years 1657-1711 according to the pictorial technique of tempera on wood by unknown artists.

The most important cycle tells the story of Saint John the Baptist.The second cycle includes 49 representations of saints related to the history of the Hungarian Kingdom: kings, bishops, martyrs, monks and holy women of the Arpad royal family. They were made according to the copper engravings of Gabriel Hevenes entitled "Ungaricae Sanctitatis Indicia" published in 1692The next cycle painted on the choir's balcony represents the Ten Commandments. They are images of peasant life, bourgeois, nobility and lords in the eighteenth century. Polychrome is precious because it is the first illustration of the traditional clothes of the Orawa.

Political influence

The coat of arms of Habsburg is visible in the church. Without their support, this Catholic church could not have been built on land inhabited by Lutherans.

The still-active Baroque organ is one of the oldest in Poland, donated to the church by the House of Habsburg in 1670.

On the north side of the church, there is the stone bell tower with its bell, again given by the Habsburg family in 1641.

In the square around the church rises one of the few columns of plague in Poland. Made in 1758, it represents the Virgin Mary surrounded by patrons who offer protection from different disasters: epidemics, fires and lightning.

It is real gem to admire!

When to go

All of the sites of the Wooden Architecture Trail are well marked, so it is easy to follow. But from May to October, some churches are open to visitors, whereas usually they are only accessible during religious services that are held there. It is a great opportunity to see what else might otherwise be inaccessible.

And believe me, it's worth taking a look!

Christiane Théberge

Source and other site to consult for more information :http://whc.unesco.org/fr/list/1053/


 Krakow's cathedral

Market Place and Notre-Dame Basilica 


  Wieliczka salt mine 

 The Church of St.John the Baptist, Orawka

Inside Orawka church