Advantages Interesting architecture and churches, the best skansen in Poland
|Value for Money|
|Ease of getting around|
The route from Warsaw to the Bieszczady Mountains in the south east of Poland is a very interesting one and in many parts quite untamed and beautiful. Krasiczyn marks the start of the most beautiful stretch of this route, the road winding through magnificent mountain scenery with panoramic views of green valleys. Whether visitors come from Warsaw or not they will all have to pass through the town of Sanok to reach the high mountains and Lake Solina. This old and pretty town is an ideal starting point for excursions in the Bieszczady; a range of mountains forming part of the Polish Carpathians.
I am glad we took time to see Sanok last summer when visiting the Bieszczady. The town had been recommended to me by several people and I had heard so many stories about the wonderful skansen and museums.
My first port of call was the Palace of Sanok, high up on the banks of the San. It is here where an interesting collection of icons are on display in the Historical Museum. This Castle has changed architectural styles from Gothic to Renaissance and was originally a Ruthenian fortification. The museum does not display all of the 700 icons (the biggest collection in Poland and the second largest in the world after Moscow) owned due to refurbishments in progress on the castle but will eventually show the full display when work has finished. Of the 300 on display you will see icons from the 15th right through to the 18th century. I was pleased to see that they had been placed in chronological order which made it easier to study the evolution of the style. The earlier images looked unreal and as I came across the later icons I could see that they were more realistic illustrating a Roman Catholic influence. For anyone interested in icons then I really recommend a visit to the museum which is open from April until October - 9am to 5pm. Closed on Mondays.
A collection of interesting paintings are also on display in the museum and across the road in the Beksinski Gallery; mostly contemporary and a very large display of art work from Polish fantasy artist Zdzisaw Beksinski who was born in Sanok and murdered in 2005. He is particularly known also for his photography and his 'fantastic realism' period where he painted Gothic, surreal, nightmarish pieces of work. I find his work absolutely fascinating because there is such love and tenderness depicted in his work but at the same time cruelty, jealousy, hate and death. The paintings exhibited in the gallery are only a small example of his work and I would say they are not the best examples although they are pretty remarkable. His more complex pieces of work have been donated to galleries outside Poland.
Like most towns in Poland there is always a church. Well, here in Sanok there are several churches including the Orthodox Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity. Constructed in neoclassical style in the year of 1784. Inside the iconostasis is something to be admired and the 17th century icon of the Blessed Virgin Mother and child is absolutely stunning.
If you manage to venture to the Olchowce quarter you will come across a Greek wooden Roman Catholic church which is still used today by Catholics. Not only is the exterior of the church attractive to look at but inside the décor still portrays a Greek Catholic style. This is situated about 5 kilometres from Sanok and difficult to find as it is completely hidden by tall trees. A bus can be caught from the centre which drops you nearby - you just have to keep your eyes peeled for the cluster of giant trees.
There is quite a variety of styles of houses throughout the town ranging from middle class buildings built in the popular style of the 18th and 19th centuries to the very interesting and attractive house belonging to the Zaleski family which was built in true Art Nouveau form.
Town Hall's are always interesting to view in Poland and in Sanok there is an old building from the 18th century which displays a clock on the front wall as well as emblems of the town and country. Another building which is actually used as the Town Hall today is a building that belonged to the District Office dating from 1875-80 and only the emblem of Sanok is displayed on the front façade.
Lastly, the open-air museum (skansen) with examples of the architecture of the Lemks and Boyks, the two Ukranian groups who lived in this area is really worth a visit. I have visited quite a few of these museums in Poland and Scandanavia and this is definitely the best example in Poland. Altogether, a hundred buildings including churches and a village inn, have been collected, decorated in traditional design and displayed to give visitors an idea of what village life was like for these two ethnic groups. Some of the houses display tools and craft exhibitions as well as art of the period including a large number of icons. The most impressive features of the skansen are the immaculate wooden churches. To see the interiors of all the buildings you have to go on a guided tour. A leaflet describing selected objects can be obtained in English as well other languages including French and German. The best way to reach the skansen is to catch a No 1 or No 3 bus from the main square. This will take you to the bridge that leads across the River San to the skansen.
Opening times: April to October - 8am to 5pm. Other months of the year it is open from 9am until 2pm.
I only visited Sanok for a day, didn't stay overnight so can't recommend a hotel or any form of lodgings but I can recommend a good place to have an acceptable meal and give your feet a rest. Inside the Dom Turystu hotel (a very communist looking building) is a cosy, folksy restaurant and bar that serves decent, wholesome mountain food. So if you like buckwheat pancakes, cabbage rolls, minced pork, mushroom broth, lots of pickles and huge chunks of smoked meat then this is the place to stop by.
I have seen a few towns and cities in Poland now and usually I find that after a while they all blend into one style but Sanok is different and is certainly a town to stop in for a day with its cultural heritage and wonderful setting. I really enjoyed it and will probably visit again next time I am in the south east of the country.
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