Zalipie, Poland’s Prettiest Painted Village

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The best part about Zalipie isn’t that all the houses are covered in painted flowers. It’s that the town is engaged in an ongoing painted-flower-house contest.

About an hour and a half by car from Poland’s second-largest city, Krakow, you can follow the ornate floral-arrow signs to the vivid little village of Zalipie, where just about every home is festooned in flowers. The practice isn’t relegated to just private homes, though: You’ll also find barns, bridges, chicken coops, garbage cans, and even dog houses garnished with garlands. The town’s school and church are embellished with blooms as well.

Simon Astor

The story goes that the trend started over a century ago, as part of the preparations for religious festivals. Village women would commonly whitewash the area around their chimneys and wood-burning stoves to hide soot marks and make their homes look beautiful for the holiday, but even after the whitewash, dark soot was sometimes still visible. Eventually, thanks to some unknown genius, it became fashionable to paint flowers on the fresh whitewash to disguise the soot even further. And the flowers began to travel, from the insides of the houses to the outside, and across town. As the designs sprawled and spread across the houses, they became increasingly elaborate.

Even though Zalipie’s old-timey furnaces have long since been updated and concealing soot marks is no longer necessary, the flower-painting tradition has endured. It’s even become a friendly town-wide competition. Every year following Corpus Christi, in late May or early June, the town’s women—men only occasionally participate—face off in a house-flower-painting contest. (The time of year is said to have been chosen because it’s when the farm work lets up a little.) The Zalipians also touch up the flowers painted the year before, another holdover from olden times, when their paint was made with cooking fat and needed to be repainted almost from scratch annually. Although the painting tradition started informally, the contest itself was introduced by the Polish government to cheer up its citizenry after World War II. Known as Malowana Chata (Painted Cottage) competition, it became an annual event in 1965.

Simon Astor

Felicja Curyłowa is largely credited for taking the flower fad to its current height. Although she didn’t come up with the idea originally, the Zalipie resident was such an enthusiastic posy-painter that she adorned almost every surface of her three-bedroom cottage with flowers. After she died in 1974, her home was turned into a museum, where her designs can be seen today. Curyłowa pretty much went all out with it, painting everything from her spoons to her light bulbs, and her house is perhaps the most charming among the impressive contenders—if not, then certainly the most thoroughly saturated with blossoms.

Zalipie museum. Image credit: mksfca, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It should be said that Zalipie is a bit of a chore to get to on the bus, and the homes themselves are somewhat scattered apart, so it’s no good for travelers on foot, but it’s worth it to drive out there if you have a car. Fortunately, you’ve probably got some time, as the delightful folk-art tradition is still in full swing and shows no sign of stopping. With any luck, this florescent little Polish community will stick around intact for many more years to come.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

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The U.S.-Canada Border Runs Directly Through This Library

Though the Haskell Free Library and Opera House might not be as well known as the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty, it's undoubtedly one of America's most unique tourist attractions. Completed in 1904, the building is stationed directly between Stanstead, Quebec, and Derby Line, Vermont, with the official U.S.-Canada borderline running right across the library's floor.

Martha Stewart Haskell and her son, Colonel Horace Stewart Haskell, both Canadians, built the building as a tribute to Mrs. Haskell’s late husband, Carlos. The family hoped that citizens from both countries would use it as a “center for learning and cultural enrichment,” according to the official Haskell Free Library website.

The Haskell is divided between the two countries. While the library’s official entrance is on the U.S. side of the building, most of the books are on the Canadian side. The opera house is similarly split, with most of its seats in the U.S. and its stage in Canada. As Atlas Obscura reported, it is often said that the Haskell is the only library in the U.S. with no books, and the only opera house in the country with no stage.

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Andrew Mayer speaks to Nancy Rumery as he stands on the Canadian side of a line on the floor of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House that marks the border between the U.S. March 22, 2006 in Derby Line, Vermon
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Passports and other forms of identification aren’t required to cross from country to country in the library, though the Haskell’s website notes that the border inside the "building is real and it is enforced.” Visitors are expected to return to their side of the border after a visit; if they don’t, they risk possible detention and fines.

Even beyond the building's unique position, library director Nancy Rumery told CTV News that Haskell staffers—Canadian and American alike—consider the institution to be like any other library in the world.

"We're just trying to be the best library we can, and our community is made up of people from two different countries," she said. "We don't think of it in that big symbolic way that I think a lot of people do. These are all our neighbors and we do our very best to help them on their life-long learning journey."

This article originally ran in 2016.

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