Cultural heritageJune 25, 2017
Both pre-partition and pre-war Poland could be described as a true melting pot of cultures.
Both pre-partition and pre-war Poland could be described as a true melting pot of cultures. Many prominent members of Polish community belonged to other, non-Polish parts of our society. In old Poland there were towns, like Przemyśl and Włodawa, where we could meet four people having a conversation at a market square and notice that each of them was of different ethnic roots and religion (Catholic, Jew, Greek Catholic, Orthodox or members of the Armenian Church).
The Second World War and the changes it brought caused that multicultural Poland almost disappeared. However, its traces can still be found, and the journey along the Green Velo trail is a wonderful opportunity to look for them. And so, Żuławy reminds us about the Dutchmen when we think about still existing, repeatedly modified drainage systems. Warmińsko-Mazurskie amaze with their orderly cities, towns and villages dominated by brick tenements and houses, beautiful churches and awe-inspiring castles – the remnants of Germans who once lived here.
In the Suwałki region – in Suwałki town, Wodziłki and Gabowe Grądy – we can find wooden molennas, which are old believers’ prayer houses. They constituted a splinter group of the Orthodox Church and came here from the hinterlands of Russia, fleeing from persecution. A little further, to the east of the trail, lies Puńsk – a hub of the Lithuanian minority and a thriving centre of folk art. The nearby Sejny is an example of an old borderland town, where a large part of the population was Jewish.
Białystok and the vicinity of Hajnówka and Białowieża are important locations on the trail. The area is characterised by large numbers of orthodox believers. The municipalities where they constitute a majority are still in the area. Orthodox worship centres, however, are located somewhere else – in Siemiatycze and Drohiczyn that are further to the south. The “Orthodox Jasna Góra” is located in the tiny village of Grabarka and is visited by pilgrims, not only from Poland, but also from beyond our eastern border. To the east of Białystok, in Kruszyniany, only 20 kilometres from the main Green Velo trail, is one of the centres of Polish Tartars. On the part of the trail in Podlasie we can find the traces of Jewish residents who used to live in these areas (the town of Tykocin is unmatched in this respect).
The central part of Green Velo East Cycle Trail is a continuation of this unique “multicultural festival”. The areas surrounding the Bug River in the Lublin region reveal true gems: an Orthodox monastery in Jabłeczna, which is picturesquely situated right by the Bug River, the world’s only Neo-Uniate parish of Byzantine-Slavonic rite under the name of St. Nikita in Kostomłoty, or the magnificent Marian Sanctuary in Kodeń. And finally, three extraordinary multicultural cities – Włodawa, Chełm and Szczebrzeszyn. For centuries the flavour of social life was seasoned in Polish, Jewish and Rusyn styles. The multicultural picture of the trail in Lublin is completed by Armenian tenement houses in Zamość and a Tatar Mizar (cemetery) in Zastawek.
In the Podkarpackie Voivodeship the trail runs through areas adorned by dozens of wooden Orthodox churches, which for hundreds of years were considered village and town centres. We can find them in the lowlands of the Lubaczów and Horyniec regions, as well as among the Przemyśl Foothills. However, the city of Przemyśl is the true jewel of this multicultural region. The slender towers of its churches rise into the sky, shielding the prayers that are still said in Polish and Church Slavonic.
And finally, the trail reaches the Świętokrzyski Region, which also has a lot to say in the matter of multiculturalism. It is sufficient to visit the places like Klimontów, Szydłów or Chmielnik to feel how the old synagogues retain the memories of Jews living here in the past. In turn, visiting Raków allows you to learn the history of Polish Arians and witness a few memorabilia they left. We should also mention Catholic monuments, such as the famous sanctuary of the Holy Cross, a gothic cathedral with its magnificent Byzantine-Ruthenian polychrome in Sandomierz, a post-Cisterian monastery in Koprzywnica, a Baroque collegiate Church of St. Joseph in Klimontów or a cathedral in Kielce, which dates back to the 12th century.