Sunday, June 8, 2014

Wooden Churches of the Carpathian Mountains # 36 - Bodružal, Slovakia

This Greek Catholic church is found on a small hill above the village of Bodružal among the forest covered mountains in the north-eastern corner of Slovakia. The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas and was built in 1658, making it one of the oldest churches with a Lemko design in the Carpathian region. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 together with seven other wooden churches in present-day Slovakia.

The three-part Lemko design (narthex, nave and sanctuary) are intended to represent the holy trinity. An onion dome projects above each of the three room sections with the highest dome placed above the narthex (entrance room) which is a typical feature of the Lemko style. The tower above the entrance contains three bells, the oldest of which was cast in 1759. The iconostasis wall in the interior is entirely original, dating from the 17th century, and is one of the finest examples of icon painting in this region of the Carpathians. The church grounds are surrounded by a low wooden fence with a main wooden entrance gate with a small shingled roof.

The church is in use at least weekly with regular services held on Sunday morning. The key keeper lives 50 metres down the road from the church and since this is a popular church with tourist visitors it's usually not a problem to find someone willing to come and open the door. They will expect an entrance fee of about two Euros per person to be paid, and donations can be left in front of the icons.

There is no direct transportation to Bodružal, but it is an easy 15 minute walk from the village of Krajná Poľana which is on the main road between Svidník and the Polish border and there are frequent buses throughout the day from Svidník. A walking trail through the forests connects four villages with wooden churches (Bodružal, Príkra, Miroľa and Krajné Čierno) which makes a perfect day hike to experience both the villages and the surrounding countryside.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Wooden Churches of the Carpathian Mountains # 35 - Tarnoszyn, Poland (Now in Lublin Outdoor Museum)

This Greek-Catholic wooden church is dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is now located in the Outdoor Folk Architecture Museum in Lublin, Poland. The church was originally constructed in 1759 in the village of Uhrynów (Uhryniv in Ukrainian) which is now part of Ukraine.

In 1904 the church was moved further west to the village of Tarnoszyn, which today lies in Poland just a few kilometres from the Ukrainian border. Following the expulsion and resettlement of the Greek-Catholic population of the village following World War Two, the church was used for Roman Catholic services until the early 1960's. Over the following decades the church was abandoned and fell into ruin.

In 1994 the church was purchased by the Greek Catholic parish in Lublin, and in 1997 it was transported to its present site in the Lublin Outdoor Museum. Extensive renovations were carried out between 1999 and 2001, and the interior fittings including the iconostasis were completely reconstructed.

The church features a classic Boyko style with a three-part design (nave, narthex and sanctuary) each topped by a dome with the largest dome placed above the nave. The design of the entrance area with a porch and four pillars is very unusual and is likely not an original feature of the building plan. The lowest part of the structure reveals the original horizontal log construction while the upper portions are covered in a modern vertical timber facade. Next to the church there is a large wooden bell tower which was also transported from Tarnoszyn and includes a cone-shaped roof over the bells.

The Lublin Outdoor Museum is located in the north-western suburbs of the city and can be easily reached by city bus from the old town. The museum is very large, you could spend most of a day seeing all of the different building styles and regions which are displayed.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Wooden Churches of the Carpathian Mountains # 34 - Yasinya, Ukraine

This originally Greek Catholic wooden church sits on a small hill above the village of Yasinya and the Chorna Tysa river among the Carpathian mountains of Ukraine. The church is considered to be one of the finest examples of the Hutsul architectural style and few modern alterations have been made to the building, two factors which contributed to its selection as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2013. According to a Hutsul legend the church was built on the site where a flock of sheep miraculously survived through the winter unharmed after being left behind by a shepherd in a snowstorm.

The Church of the Ascension was built in 1824 on the site of an older church, though some accounts suggest the current church is from the late 18th century. It is frequently referred to by locals as the 'Strukivska' church. As a perfect example of the Hutsul style it features a floor plan in the shape of a cross, a large central dome above the nave with an onion dome at the top and four much smaller onion domes at the four corners of the building. A minor addition was added to the structure of the church in 1994 when a wooden entrance room was added onto the side in the same style as the rest of the church.

Unfortunately the interior of the church is not in its original state, and the icons and iconostasis are crudely crafted versions of the originals. The overall effect is warm and welcoming, but without a feeling of true authenticity. There are many brightly coloured icons and paintings on the upper walls and dome of the roof, which intentionally draw your eyes upwards to heaven. Since 1995 the church has been used jointly for Orthodox and Greek Catholic services.

The broad bell tower was built in 1813, supposedly a decade before the current church, and is equally impressive as the church in terms of its architectural significance. The structure has an octagonal upper floor where the bells are kept and a lower floor shaped like a square. If you are lucky enough to find the key keeper in the house below the church you will be able to climb to the bell platform in the tower for views of the church and the village. In return for opening the church and bell tower for visitors they expect that you will make a small donation to the church and perhaps buy one of the postcards they have available.

Yasinya is one of the easiest Hutsul villages to visit by public transport since it is directly on the main road running east to west across the Carpathian mountains in this region and many buses and marshrutkas use this route to travel between cities like Uzhgorod and Mukachevo on the western side of the mountains and Kolomiya, Ivano-Frankivsk and Chernivtsi on the eastern side. The bus and marshrutka station is in the centre of the village on the main road, and to reach the church from there you will need to walk about 1.5 kilometres south through the village and then across the river to the west on a rickety old bridge with wooden slats. From there the church is visible on the hill just to the south, though finding the way there can be confusing through the maze of narrow streets between the houses and fenced pastures.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Wooden Churches of the Carpathian Mountains # 33 - Uzhgorod, Ukraine

This Greek Catholic wooden church stands in the Outdoor Museum of Folk Architecture in Uzhgorod, Ukraine. The church was originally constructed in 1777 in the village of Shelestovo near the city of Mukachevo, and was dedicated to Saint Michael. In 1927 the church was moved to Mukachevo, where it was later neglected during the early Soviet period. The church was transferred to the Uzhgorod museum in the 1970's to form the centrepiece of the museum's collection of Transcarpathian folk buildings.

The church is an outstanding example of the Lemko style of architecture, with its three onion domes arranged with the highest above the narthex (entrance area) a middle dome above the nave and the lowest dome above the sanctuary. There are only a few remaining examples of the Lemko architectural style in Ukraine, since the style is more commonly seen further west in the Carpathians in what today are Slovakia and Poland. Three Lemko churches were moved to what today is the Czech Republic while Transcarpathia was part of Czechoslovakia between the World Wars. Two other Lemko churches which are still in Ukraine have been transferred to the Outdoor Museums in the capital Kiev and in Lviv. A further example of the style is in the town of Svalyava, where the large church of St. Nicholas can be seen.

The tall and slender 22 metre Baroque tower is one of the finest features of the church, and it is topped with a decorative cross above the onion dome. This feature is repeated with crosses featuring intricate metalwork designs found above all three of the onion domes. The square pagoda-style series of roof layers above the nave are wonderfully proportioned in conjunction with the smaller tent roof over the sanctuary. The walls of the church are made of oak beams which are fastened together with dovetail joints in each of the corners.

The carved wooden posts which form a balcony around the entrance door and along the sides of the narthex and the nave are typical of the central Transcarpathian style where northern Lemko and Boyko elements mixed with design features seen further south in areas influenced by Romanian builders. Most of the original icons and the iconostasis wall from the original Shelestovo church have been lost, and the icons displayed in the church today as part of the Outdoor Museum were brought from the church in the village of Kolochava in the Carpathian highlands. These icons date from the 18th century.

The Outdoor Museum of Folk Architecture is a short walk from the centre of Uzhgorod, with the main entrance lying just beyond Uzhgorod castle. Uzhgorod is located at a crossroads of different countries and Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania all lie within easy reach. Buses cross the border to Košice in Slovakia several times daily. Minibuses travel south to Chop near the Hungarian border where international trains depart for Budapest. Buses and minibuses run at least every hour to the neighbouring city of Mukachevo and there are direct trains heading north to Lviv.

Amazing Architecture # 3 - Pustevny, Czech Republic

Pustevny is a hilltop ensemble of gingerbread-style folk buildings in the Valašsko region of the Czech Republic close to the border with Slovakia. The surrounding Beskyd mountains are popular with hikers in the summer and skiers in the winter, and there is a chairlift in operation to carry visitors up the mountain to the village.

The buildings were designed by Slovak architect Dušan Jurkovič and constructed together with local Moravian master builder Michal Urbánek in the 1890's, drawing upon traditional Slavic folk art and building styles of the Valašsko region and the Carpathian Mountains. The final appearance of the buidlings also incorporates elements of the Art Nouveau style which was prominent at that time. Construction began in 1897 and was completed in 1899. Jurkovič also designed several other wooden buildings with a classical Slavic folk style in the present-day Czech Republic, such as the spa buildings in Luhačovice or the covered bridge in the castle gardens in Nové Město nad Metují.

The two most famous buildings in Pustevny are named Libušín and Maměnka, and they sit side by side together on top of the hill. Maměnka houses accommodation and has a wooden interior decorated in a similar style to the exterior, with traditional expressions and sayings painted on the walls.

Libušín is a restaurant serving traditional Wallachian and Moravian dishes. The name of Libušín comes from the legendary Czech princess Libuše. The interior of Libušín is decorated with beautiful frescoes designed by Mikoláš Aleš based on Wallach and Slovak folk legends. Art Nouveau-style chandeliers add a further touch of elegance to the dining room.

Another famous feature of the architectural collection at Pustevny is a small bell tower which stands near the trail head for the climb to the top of Radhošť mountain. The tower was designed by Jurkovič in the same distinctive Wallachian style as the other buildings and is a valuable example of Slavic folk art.

Further up the hill towards the summit of Radhošť there is a stone statue of the Slavic pagan god Radegast, while at the highest point there is a wooden chapel dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodius, the patron saints of Moravia. Several festivals and special events take place in Pustevny each year, with the Snow Sculpture competition held in January among the most popular.

On 3 March 2014 a large fire in Pustevny caused extensive damage to the folk cottage called Libušín. The open air museum in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm declared that it was committed to rebuilding Libušín as faithfully as possible according to the original design. This project was expected to cost tens of millions of Czech Crowns and a fund for public donations was established. Benefit concerts were also held to get the funding campaign started.

There are several ways to get to Pustevny depending on the direction you approach it from. A road up the mountain from the southern side ends with a parking area just below Pustevny, and several buses per day run to the village from the nearby town and regional tourist hub of Rožnov pod Radhoštěm. Hiking trails also lead from the eastern end of Rožnov pod Radhoštěm to the summit of Radhošť mountain and onwards to Pustevny. For those who prefer a relaxed trip to the top there is a chairlift in operation in both winter and summer which connects Pustevny with the village of Trojanovice at the base of the mountain on the north side.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Day Trips From Lviv, Ukraine - The Top 30 Destinations

Lviv is a gorgeous city of cobbled squares and laneways to wander in for a few days. Its crumbling buildings from the days of Austro-Hungary wouldn't look out of place in Krakow or Prague, but the absence of tourists in the old Galician capital lends it an authenticity which neither of those cities can offer nowadays. Beyond the historic centre there are two more worthwhile sights in the outskirts, the Lviv Outdoor Folk Architecture Museum and the highly atmospheric Lychakiv cemetery. There are also many attractive historic towns, monasteries, castles and wooden churches within range of a day trip by public transport. Natural attractions with potential for hiking lie to the south in the forested foothills of the Carpathian mountains. This list includes the top thirty day trips to make in the surrounding countryside of Lviv region, ranked in order of their general tourist appeal. The so-called "Golden Horseshoe" route, with a name which is reminiscent of Moscow's "Golden Ring" of historic towns, includes Olesko castle, Pidhirtsi castle and Zolochiv castle, which are among the most popular day trip destinations for tour groups. All of these destinations can be reached by train, bus or marshrutka with a little effort, so go ahead and try exploring a bit further afield.

1. Pochayiv Monastery - One of the finest monasteries in Ukraine, and the most important monastery of the Orthodox church in the western part of the country. It rivals the Pechersk monastery in Kyiv in size and historical significance. Since the monastery lies more than 100 kilometres east of Lviv this is a fairly long day trip by bus or marshrutka, but is certainly worth the effort to see one of the region's best attractions.

2. Zhovkva - This historic town to the north of Lviv boasts a castle, a historic central square and town centre packed with centuries-old churches, and a UNESCO-listed wooden church at the edge of town. There is also another impressive wooden church to see in the neighbouring village of Stara Skvaryana. This is one of the easiest day trips from Lviv and among the most enjoyable. Arriving by marshrutka is the fastest and easiest method.

3. Olesko Castle - This 14th-century hilltop castle east of Lviv forms part of the "Golden Horseshoe" sightseeing route and is one of the most visited castles in Lviv region.

4. Zolochiv Castle - This 17th-century castle (though it looks more like a palace) lies 60 kilometres east of Lviv. The Chinese Palace within the castle grounds is particularly impressive.

5. Ivano-Frankivsk - This city to the south of Lviv features a collection of architectural gems from its long history, including many buildings from the Austro-Hungarian period. The city's cathedral, Armenian church and unusual town hall are among the most impressive sights.

6. Lutsk - This historic city to the north-east of Lviv has an old town centre with many impressive churches and cathedrals and a large castle complex.

7. Pidhirtsi Castle - This 17th-century castle (though like Zolochiv castle it looks more like a palace) lies to the east of Lviv not far from Olesko castle.

8. Kremenets - A hilltop castle ruin and historic centre with many Orthodox churches and a monastery are the main draws in this town to the north-east of Lviv. Many people try to combine a visit here with Pochayiv monastery, though it would be ambitious to try to see both in a day by public transport.

9. Drohobych - This town south of Lviv features a clutch of Austro-Hungarian buildings, but its main attractions are its two outstanding wooden churches, including one with UNESCO heritage listing.

10. Tustan Rock Fortress - A castle stronghold which was carved out of towering sandstone rock outcrops near the village of Urych, to the south of Lviv near the town of Boryslav. This is one of the best natural attractions near Lviv and offers good hiking in the surrounding forested hills.

11. Univ Monastery - The only Lavra monastery of the Greek Catholic church in Ukraine. Its large white defensive walls surround a church, bell tower and ecclesiastical buildings. It lies in the village of Univ, which is 40 kilometres east of Lviv.

12. Svirzh Castle - A 15th-century fortified residence which is surrounded by a series of lakes which once helped to defend it from attack. This is a relatively easy day trip since the castle lies just 35 kilometres south-east of Lviv near the town of Bibrka.

13. Krekhiv Monastery - A 16th-century fortified Basilian monastery found to the north of Lviv near the town of Zhovkva.

14. Stare Selo castle - The sprawling ruins of this 17th-century castle lie in Stare Selo village, less than 20 kilometres south-east of Lviv. There is also a wooden church to see in the neighbouring village of Cherepyn.

15. Dovbush Rock Fortress - A fortress carved out of the tall sandstone rock outcrops near the village of Bubnyshche, lying to the south of the city of Stryi, near the town of Bolekhiv. Legends claim that this was once the hideout of the Carpathian outlaw Oleksa Dovbush.

16. Rozhirche Cave Monastery - A monastery in caves carved out of the rock of a hillside. Monks dug the series of tunnels and rooms between the 13th and 16th centuries. The village of Rozhirche is south of Lviv close to the Dovbush Rock Fortress, and both can be combined into a single day trip (if travelling by car).

17. Halych - This small town to the south-east of Lviv features a ruined castle, and the neighbouring village of Krylos contains an Outdoor Folk Architecture museum which includes a reconstructed wooden church among other historic farm buildings and cottages.

18. Sambir - A historic small town to the south-west of Lviv near the Polish border, with several beautiful old churches.

19. Rohatyn - This small town to the south-east of Lviv contains a very impressive UNESCO-listed wooden church.

20. Mount Parashka - This is the highest point in the Skole Beskids National Park at 1268 metres. The trail to the top makes for a very scenic day hike through mountain meadows full of wild flowers in the summer.

21. Truskavets - This picturesque spa town to the south of Lviv contains many 19th-century Austro-Hungarian buildings. The many wooden villas surround the source of fourteen mineral water springs.

22. Zymne Monastery - This is a 13th-century fortified Orthodox monastery to the north of Lviv. The thick walls, battlements and towers which surround the complex once provided formidable defensive capabilities.

23. Potelych - A small village with a UNESCO-listed wooden church near the Polish border to the north-west of Lviv.

24. Kuty - One of the finest wooden churches in Lviv region can be seen in the small village of Kuty, just north of Olesko Castle. It was constructed in 1697.

25. Pidkamin Monastery - This 17th-century fortified monastery lies east of Lviv in the village of Pidkamin. The village takes its name ('Pidkamin' means 'Below the Rock') from the huge boulder on the hilltop at the edge of the settlement.

26. Komarno - An 18th-century wooden church in the Boyko style lies in this small town south of Lviv. There is also another impressive wooden church in the neighbouring village of Klitsko, 2 kilometres away from Komarno.

27. Belz - A 17th-century wooden church can be seen in this town to the north-west of Lviv near the Polish border.

28. Cherche - This village to the south-east of Lviv on the road towards Rohatyn contains one of the oldest wooden churches in the region.

29. Berestechko - A collection of historic churches dominate this small town to the north-east from Lviv.

30. Kuhaiv - A very old wooden church stands in this small village 15 kilometres south of Lviv.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Day Trips from Lublin, Poland - The Top 5 Destinations

Lublin is a rare thing in Poland these days, an attractive historical city which has yet to be fully discovered by foreign tourists. The hilly cobbled streets of the old town are full of colourful building facades and outdoor cafes, while medieval gate towers and an unusual castle complex add to the picturesque skyline. On the outskirts of the city are two more tourist draws, the Majdanek WW2 concentration camp to the south and the outdoor folk architecture museum to the west. Both can be easily reached using local city buses. Beyond the city limits lie a number of worthwhile day trip destinations, and with many enjoyable restaurants and pubs Lublin makes a nice place to settle into as a base for several days. These are five of the best options for exploring outside Lublin, featuring a star rating out of five stars. The photos shown here feature, from top to bottom, Lublin, Zamość and Kazimierz Dolny.

**** Zamość - This UNESCO heritage-listed town is a perfect renaissance planned settlement, with walls and fortifications surrounding narrow streets and the showpiece old town square. Buses and minibuses depart from Lublin's main bus station and take 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes. Only a few trains per day go to and from Zamość so it isn't a very convenient way to get there, and they also take longer, 2 hours 10 minutes on average.

**** Kazimierz Dolny - This is one of the prettiest small towns in all of Poland, with a postcard-perfect central square of stone and wood buildings. Castles and churches are placed very picturesquely on the surrounding hilltops, and there are plenty of places to get a proper Polish meal after a lengthy stroll. If you decide to stay overnight here (many people do) don't miss crossing the river to see the castle in the neighbouring village of Janowiec, it makes a nice cycling trip. Bicycles are available for rent from several different businesses in the town. Buses and minibuses run regularly from Lublin's main bus station, taking 1 hour 10 minutes.

*** Kozłówka Palace and Socialist-Realist Art Gallery - The baroque palace is impressive enough, but the real reason to visit is for the gallery of socialist-realist art in the former horse stables. Buses and minibuses depart from Lublin's main bus station and take between 1 hour and 1 hour 15 minutes. Some buses are direct, others will require a change of buses in the small town of Lubartów.

** Chełm - This town near the Ukrainian border has a hilltop basilica and a few other historical buildings of note, but the real attraction is the city's underground chalk tunnels from the middle ages. Guides will lead you through the shafts and chambers by candlelight, and you can expect some chills when the resident ghost makes an appearance. Buses and minibuses depart regularly from Lublin's main bus station and take 1 hour and 15 minutes. Trains depart Lublin main station several times daily and take 1 hour 25 minutes.

** Pułavy Palace - This baroque palace complex to the north-west of Lublin features rooms packed with grand furniture and fittings, and outside there are impressive landscaped gardens. Buses and minibuses from Lublin main bus station take between 50 minutes and 1 hour, and several trains go directly to Puławy daily taking 35 minutes.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wooden Churches of the Carpathian Mountains # 32 - Uzhok, Ukraine

This small church, found in a remote corner of the Carpathian highlands of Ukraine, was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2013 together with fifteen other tserkvas in Ukraine and Poland. The village of Uzhok lies in the Uzhok pass, the highest pass in this part of the Carpathians and one of the most scenic locations in Transcarpathian Ukraine. The church is one of the most famous in the region and often features in tourism and other promotional materials as a symbol of Transcarpathian Ukraine.
The church was built in the Boyko style in 1745 and dedicated to Saint Michael. Supposedly the church was originally placed higher up the slope of the hill, but it was moved down nearer to the road because it was difficult for elderly villagers to walk up the incline. The architectural proportions of this church make it one of the most perfect examples of the Boyko style of architecture. The large triple-layered roof above the nave stands above the smaller single-layered roof of the narthex and the double-layered sanctuary roof. The shape of the tower above the narthex is similar to that of churches in the Lemko style found a little further to the west in the Carpathians.
The brightly coloured interior has had several modern additions to its fittings and decorations, but still has a pleasing appearance overall. The 18th-century iconostasis has luckily been only slightly altered from its original appearance. The elegant windows with white framing are not an original feature and were added during a later renovation. The church exterior is covered in a dark coating of oil stain to protect the wood, and this has led to the church being referred to locally as 'the little black ship'.
Standing next to the church is a wooden bell tower, though its roof and upper walls are now covered in metal rather than wooden shingles. During World War One the government of Austro-Hungary (the state to which Uzhok belonged at that time) had the bells from the bell tower removed and melted down for military use. On the slope above the church is the village cemetery, with many older graves overgrown by grasses and trees.
The village of Uzhok is most easily reached by train, since there are several regional trains daily from Uzhhorod which run directly there. A few trains daily also continue onwards to Lviv to the north. There are a couple of buses and marshrutkas which run to the village daily from Uzhhorod, but the timing of the trains is more convenient to make a comfortable day trip. Just before arriving at the platform for Uzhok the train crosses a spectacular rail bridge across the valley, offering excellent views in all directions.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wooden Churches of the Carpathian Mountains # 31 - Ruský Potok, Slovakia

This small Orthodox church stands on a raised patch of ground in the centre of the village of Ruský Potok in the far northeast corner of Slovakia. The forested hills of the Poloniny National Park surround the village on three sides, and sections of the UNESCO-listed Beech Forests of the Carpathians site are also nearby.
The church was built in 1740 and dedicated to Michael the Archangel as a Greek Catholic church. Since the year 2000 it has been used by the local Orthodox church community, though services are only held on religious holidays and special occasions.
The church contains a three-section floor plan (narthex, nave and sanctuary) on an east-west axis which is typical of Greek Catholic churches found in this region. The church was built on a low stone foundation to enhance its durability.
Next to the church is a small bell tower which contains three bells. The bell tower is not part of the original church plan and was built only in 1956. The three bells it contains were originally housed in the belfry in the tower above the narthex of the church. The tower features a series of small windows, which is a unique feature among the churches found in this region.
The iconostasis in the church likely dates from the eighteenth century. Due to the narrow space available in the small nave, the icons on the far left and right are placed on the side walls at a ninety degree angle to the rest of the iconostasis. This is another very unusual feature which does not appear in any of the other churches in this region.
The church was originally surrounded by a stone wall with two entrance gates, though at present there is a wooden fence with one entrance gate leading down towards the village square. A modern church has been built within the same grounds as the original wooden church.
Ruský Potok is very difficult to reach by public transport, since no buses run to the village and just a few buses per day pass along the Snina - Ulič road four kilometres to the south. The road into the village from the Snina - Ulič main road is paved and fine for access by car or bicycle. There is a blue-marked hiking trail over the hills connecting the villages of Topoľa, Ruský Potok and Uličské Krivé, and since all three villages contain wooden churches this route makes a nice one day trek.