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Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region

The Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine comprises 16 wooden churches built by horizontal log construction.

They are located in isolated parts of the Carpathian Mountains. They were built by communities of the Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic faiths in the 16th-19th centuries.

The 16 churches can be divided into four groups of different ethnographic architectural traditions.

Map

Visit July 2015

The Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region are 16 wooden churches in the border region of Poland and Ukraine. There are 8 inscribed churches in each country. During my long weekend in southeastern Poland I focused on the Polish ones. Beforehand I plotted them all on a map, and as you can see in the figure below it will take a long drive to cover them all. Two tserkvas straddle the Ukranian border below Zamosc, and I was tempted to drive even further north to include that WHS also. But it still is a 1.5 hour drive from Radruz. Daytrips to L’viv in Ukraine are also advertised from the larger cities in this region, so this is a true hotspot.

In the end I only had time for the 6 in southern Poland, those that lie near the border with Slovakia. Most of the previous reviewers seem to have visited the cluster of 4 below Gorlice, although John Booth of course made it even to the most remote ones by public transport!

‘Tserkva’ means ‘church’ in the Ukrainian language. Most of these churches were built for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, an Eastern Rite Catholic church (sharing traditions with the orthodox churches but acting in full communion with the Holy See). Since the Ukrainian population left the area after WWII almost all tserkvas in Poland have come into use as Roman Catholic churches. They have retained their traditionial (orthodox) iconostases, and the catholic service is performed in front of those. This mix of the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity is one of the more interesting features of this set of wooden churches.

I drove around in this region on a Sunday, and met many churchgoers on foot. The designated churches certainly aren’t the only interesting wooden churches in this area: some more recent ones are still heavily used, with people even standing outside to attend the service. Only one of the 6 tserkvas on my list was in use for a service, but I encountered visitors at all of them – mostly Polish tourists. The region felt less remote and ‘backward’ than I had imagined . There are villages everywhere, and supermarkets and gas stations were open on Sundays.

My favourites among the 6 churches were the ones in Kwiation and Turzansk. The last one is special because it nowadays is in use as an Orthodox church, not a Roman Catholic one. Unfortunately I couldn’t get in, but with its 5 metallic domes plus a separate bell tower it is picture perfect. It also looks much bigger than the other ones, maybe because it lies in an open field.

The sixth and final church of my tour lies in the extreme southeastern tip of Poland, a few kilometers from the Ukrainian border. I added it to my route because it seemed so remote: the village of Smolnik to which it belongs has only 182 inhabitants. But on arrival it turned out to be the busiest of them all! There were already a few cars in the parking lot, and a couple arrived by bike. The church was open. Here no special murals or glossy iconostasis: the decor consists of deer antlers! They cover the walls and even the chandeliers are made out of them.

Community Reviews


Hubert Scharnagl - February 2015

The tserkvas in the Polish Carpathians were definitely our favourites among the three wooden church WHS and one of the highlights of our trip through Lesser Poland and Slovakia in August 2014. The sites are an amazing mixture of outstanding architecture, beautiful wall paintings and interior decorations, and a picturesque landscape. The WHS consists of sixteen wooden churches, examples of four different architectural styles each representing a specific ethnographic tradition. We visited the five westernmost churches, all of the so-called Lemko type.

The distinctive feature (compared to the other two inscriptions) is the tripartite ground plan - porch, nave and chancel - surmounted by octagonal cupolas, the highest cupola is above the porch, with the roof sloping downward towards the chancel. Inside, I was particularly impressed by the magnificent and colourful Iconostases.

Four of the churches are close together, within a driving distance of about 75 km, near the Slovakian border and not far from the WHS Bardejov in Slovakia. We enjoyed our ride in the hilly countryside, our tom-tom did a good job, only once it suggested an impassable dirt road. All churches were open to visitors and the entrance was free. The people in this region seemed to be very proud of their churches, they willingly showed us everything and were very happy when we appreciated the quality of the art works and the architecture and the good state of preservation.

Some specific comments on the individual sites:

Owczary: a very nice and typical example of the tripartite architecture; the churchyard is surrounded by a stone wall with a massive brick-built gate; inside a beautiful iconostasis in red and blue with decorated pillars and doors in golden colour.

Kwiatori (photo): another fine example with very harmonious proportions; an elaborate roof construction of multiple planes due to the different heights of the domes and their multi-level design.

Brunary: the church has an elongated floor plan due to the extension with a second chancel and the combination of the old chancel with the nave; the black colour of the planks and shingles is striking, a nice contrast to the white bulbous cupolas; the interior with colourful paintings and a beautiful iconostasis, the pillars adorned with motifs of grapevines

Powrodznik: no murals in the church, but don't miss the sacristy, it is entirely decorated with wonderful paintings, the most impressive wall paintings we have seen on our trip

Turzansk: located in the Subcarpathian Province in the south-east of Poland, it was a one hour detour on our route from Blizne to Bardejov, but it was worth it; also in the Lemko style, but with distinct differences: a free-standing tower, all cupolas are of similar height and the roof is covered with a metal cladding; the church was open despite an ongoing renovation, one of the restorers allowed us to climb the scaffolding and showed us how they clean the painted wooden walls

Although I learned a lot about the architecture and the characteristics of different wooden churches, I'm still unsure whether three serial WHS are the best option for their classification. However, the number of WHS is not a major issue for me. But it may be controversial how many individual sites are required to represent the category of wooden churches. But I am glad that we have visited eighteen of them.


Clyde - September 2014

I visited this WHS in September 2014. I only visited the 4 out of the 8 tserkvas of Poland but I think I got the gist of the OUV of this transnational WHS. That said, I'd really love to visit the tserkvas of Ukraine as well as the remaining tserkvas of Poland as their architecture and location make them truly hidden gems. I had put a lot of preparation work prior to visiting this WHS. From the UNESCO website I got the coordinates of the 4 tserkvas I wanted to visit and saved them on my navigator. This turned out to be a very wise decision as sign posts are non-existant while most of them are hidden by tall trees and are quite isolated. The tserkva of St. Michael the Archangel in Brunary Wyzne was closed when I visited so I took some quick pictures knowing that it wasn't the most beautiful tserkva. Next I visited the tserkva of St. Jacob the Younger in Powroznik where I was welcomed by a young priest. Entrance was free and shortly after I went inside the church, the priest showed me the way to the small sacristy with incredibly beautiful paintings on the wooden walls. Of all the tserkvas I visited this one had the best interior by far. The exterior was really beautiful too but it was almost impossible to take photos of it as it hidden behind the tall trees that kept it hidden well and always in the shade. Perhaps visiting on a sunny day in Winter or Autumn would be the best bet for photography as the surrounding trees are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves seasonally, revealing the lovely tserkva behind. Before leaving I went back inside for one last quick peek and luckily I noticed a frame on the dark church wall. Upon closer inspection I realised it was the UNESCO WHS certificate! Next I visited the small tserkva of St. Paraskevi in Kwiaton. Its architecture is harmonious and really photogenic but its best feature is the iconostasis inside. The last tserkva I visited was the Tserkva of Our Lady's Protection in Owczary. It has a smaller iconostasis inside which is still worth visiting. Again entrance is free so I felt compelled to buy a small souvenir. I bought an interesting booklet on The Wooden Architecture Route in the Malapolska Region for only 10 zloty with detailed information and pictures of several wooden churches, most of which are not inscribed on the WH list. My favourite tserkva exterior is the one in Kwiaton although it's quite hard to take good pictures because of the tall trees. The tserkva in Owczary isn't surrounded by trees which makes it the ideal tserkva for photography in summer especially at sunset (picture).


John Booth - January 2014

In October I visited 5 of the wooden Tserkvas in Poland:

Radruz : reached by bus from Jaroslaw and Zamosc changing at Lubaczow. This church was open for visits. The altar screen was elaborately decorated.

Chotyniec : reached by bus from Jaroslaw. A very dusty, noisy village with fleets of trucks roaring through. The wooden church was hidden in trees behind a newer one but was closed. It hat an unusual external balcony.

Brunary : reached by bus from Krosno, changing at Gorlice. Closed at the time of my visit.

Powroznik : reached by bus or train from Krakow, changing at Nowy Sacz. Closed at the time of my visit.

Smolnik (pictured) : reached by bus from Krosno, changing at Sanok. Located in the Bieczczady, a scenic part of the Carpathian mountains, with the church sited on a hill overlooking the village. Closed at the time of my visit, but a grille door allowed the interior to be viewed.


Philipp Peterer - October 2013

4 of the churches are located close to the Slovak WHS Bardejov, so visiting them can easily be combined with the visit of the town and even 2 other wooden church WHS: the Malopolska churches and the churches of the Slovak Carpathians. The churches are located in rather remote villages and at least in October you have to be lucky to find a church to be open outside the mess. A very nice man in Kwiaton saw that I was taking pictures of the outside of the church from every angle and let me in. The inside was richly painted. My highlight was the fake marvel walls.

I think the churches deserve their spot on the list, but I personally did not see the difference between these churches and the churches in the Slovak Carpathians. Further, almost every tiny village in this region has its wooden church. You could spend weeks there, visiting churches.

To reach the churches I strongly suggest a car and a navigation system. The churches I tracked down were visible from the street. Each church has its particular shape, so I recommend visiting more than one.


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Site Info

Full name: Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine

Site History

Locations

The site has 16 locations. Show all

  • 'Brunary Wyzne-Tserkva of Saint Michael the Archangel
  • 'Chotyniec-Tserkva of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • 'Drohobych-Tserkva of Saint George
  • 'Kwiaton-Tserkva of Saint Paraskeva
  • 'Matkiv-Tserkva of the Synaxis of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • 'Nyzhniy Verbizh-Tserkva of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • 'Owczary-Tserkva of Our Lady's Protection
  • 'Potelych-Tserkva of the Descent of the Holy Spirit
  • 'Powroznik-Tserkva of Saint James the Less, the Apostle
  • 'Radruz-Tserkva of Saint Paraskeva
  • 'Rohatyn-Tserkva of the Descent of the Holy Spirit
  • 'Smolnik-Tserkva of Saint Michael the Archangel
  • 'Turzansk-Tserkva of Saint Michael the Archangel
  • 'Uzhok-Tserkva of the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael
  • 'Yasynia-Tserkva of Our Lord's Ascension
  • 'Zhovkva-Tserkva of the Holy Trinity

Connections

The site has 17 connections.

Constructions

Damaged

  • Damaged in World War I Bell Tower of the Tserkva of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Chotyniec, Poland)

Geography

Religion and Belief

Timeline

Trivia

WHS on Other Lists

  • Europa Nostra Award Conservation work of the Greek Catholic Parish Church of the Protection of the Mother of God in Owczary

World Heritage Process