What’s so refreshing about a visit to The Tatra Museum in Zakopane, in the southern Tatra Mountains in Poland, is that the artefacts on display don’t belong to some long-past culture or dying traditions. Rather, the exhibits in this splendid building explain a rich local culture that is very much alive on the streets outside.

An hour to wander through the Museum is all that’s needed to understand that Zakopane is no ‘highlander’ theme park. The costumes, textiles, leather goods, folk art and crafts, musical instruments, and carved wooden furniture, cooking, and domestic utensils, that you see in the exhibits are the same ones that you see around the town.

Zakopane’s locals don’t dress in their traditional costumes for tourists, they don’t decorate their homes and restaurants in a rustic style to charm visitors, and the new gabled wooden houses going up all over Zakopane with their carved decorative turrets, doors and balconies, aren’t intended to create a highlander Disneyworld. The locals are simply very proud of their rich culture and are determined to keep it alive.

Unfortunately most of the explanatory signs in the museum are in Polish or the local dialect, however, I found it was still possible to piece together the stories behind the cultural traditions from the dates, the thematic arrangement of the objects, and the knowledge I’d already gained from just being in the town. I was especially smitten with recreation of rooms for a typical 19th century highlander house.

The museum itself is in a handsome building, which was the last building designed by architect Stanislaw Witkiewicz, who was famous for establishing the Zakopane Style of architecture you see around the town that became synonymous with the Tatra highlander house. Built predominantly from wood, perhaps with stone on the ground level, the houses boast sloped roofs, and decorative balconies, windows, and doors, with pretty carved or cut out motifs that are the same as those you see on the costumes and textiles.

A brochure you can pick up at the ticket office will direct you to several other branches of the museum, including The Museum of the Zakopane Style (Droga do Rojów 6), dating to 1830, which inspired Witkiewicz to create the Zakopane Style; Oksza Villa, also designed by Witkiewicz, and now the Gallery of 20th Century Art (Zamoyskiego 25); and the Władysław Hasior Gallery (Jagiellonska 18b).

The Tatra Museum
Krupówki 10, Zakopane
(behind the folk market in the centre of town)

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