Zalipie, the town painted like a fairytale
he village of Zalipie, in south-east Poland, could have come out of the imagination of the Brothers Grimm, but its origins are less fantastic than those of Hansel and Gretel. In the early 19th century, the houses in this village, located 90km from Kraków, were suffering from poor ventilation, and their walls were stained by soot from the chimneys. They would typically cover the stains using lime, until one resident decided to add a little artistic flair to this domestic chore – she drew a flower to cover the dirt created by the smoke.
Other inhabitants of Zalipie imitated this idea, and over the years, they improved their technique and expanded their palette, until Zalipie became ‘the painted village’. This floral art has been passed from generation to generation, particularly between women, and painted wreaths now decorate windows, furniture and household objects.
Other painted towns
From the striped houses of Costa Nova, Portugal, to the Mexican town of Palmitas, restored through graffiti, with a stop-off at the frescoes on the façades of the palaces of southern Bavaria, the tradition of painting buildings knows nothing of periods or fashions.
The process has been refined over the years. The first drawings were simple. Since the villagers didn’t have the appropriate materials, they manufactured their own colours and crude paintbrushes. These were made from wood, using hairs from the tails of their livestock. Nowadays, decades after heating installations in the houses of Zalipie improved, so that there are no soot stains left to hide, the village is still keeping up this tradition. They maintain the custom as an excuse to keep the village presentable, for religious celebrations.
As a way of coping with the tragedy of World War II, a painted-cabin competition was organised in Zalipie, in 1948. Malowana Chata, as the event is called in Polish, is held once a year, following the Corpus Christi celebrations. The 2017 competition will take place on 17 and 18 June. For these dates, the villagers will paint new flowers and restore ones that have lost their original splendour.
While Malowana Chata is the best time to discover this village, with its 1,000 inhabitants, you can go for a wander there during the rest of the year and even visit some of the houses. One of these is the home of Felicja Curylowa, which is among the most colourful of the village. So committed was she to the town’s objective that she left no corner of her farm blank, including the rooms. Following her death in 1974 her home was turned into a museum
The parochial church in the village has also succumbed to its parishioners’ skills with a paintbrush. They have painted the altar and embroidered the liturgical robes with a floral theme. For one further stop, visit the House of Painters, which shows how these women work and examples of their artisanry. Besides exchanging memories, you can attend a painting workshop. This way, the legacy of ‘the painted village’ is no longer passed only from mother to daughter.
While the painted houses may not equal the gingerbread house from the story, their inhabitants are much more agreeable, and they normally open their doors to visitors. Plus, of course, you don’t need to worry about leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way home.