UNESCO in Poland? Of course! – Cracow, Warsaw, Auschwitz, Białowieża… But how many of you have heard about wooden Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches situated in southeastern Poland (and in Ukraine!) which are placed on the UNESCO List. These little treasures were built between XVI and XIX century, they survived the storms of history and now present the priceless heritage of the Carpathian culture (learn more here).
If you would like to visit these unique monuments, you need to remember few things. All of them are in the southeastern Poland, but it doesn’t mean they are always close to each other. The distance from Powroźnik (near Muszyna and Krynica Zdrój) to Radruż (near Horyniec Zdrój and Lubaczów) is almost 300 km! So looking for all of these churches you need to plan your journey well and remember that on your way there will be lots of other monuments and places of interest. Of course it’s impossible to see everything, however you can always try 😉 Considering that some of these villages are not close to the main roads, travelling by car is the best option. Cycling would be challenging and spectacular because of the mountain roads. If you’re able to communicate in Polish you can also try the hitchhiking between villages and small towns.
The easiest part is to visit Powroźnik (situated in Beskid Sądecki mountains), Owczary, Kwiatoń and Brunary Wyżnie (situated in Beskid Niski mountains). They are not very far from each other (see the map) however getting around will take time – often there is no easy connection between the mountain valleys, so you have to go around. Going east you will get to Turzańsk which is situated in the western part of Bieszczady mountains (not far from Komańcza). Smolnik (near the river San) is located in the eastern part of Polish Bieszczady (near Lutowiska). The distance between Turzańsk and Smolnik is more than 80 km (check on the map), which will take you definetely more than 90 minutes by car. If you plan to get to Chotyniec and Radruż you have to go north (120 km to Chotyniec and another 50 km to Radruż; click).
Remeber also that searching for the object usually won’t be difficult thanks to the special wayfinding sings and information boards. However if you have a problem – especially in the summer time – always look for the green island of old/high trees that often make the church invisible.
You may always admire the outside structure of the churches, however it is not obvious that you may enter each of them anytime. Powroźnik, Owczary, Kwiatoń and Brunary are situated on The Wooden Architecture Route in Małopolska (Polish: “Szlak architektury drewnianej w Małopolsce” or “Małopolski szlak architektury drewnianej”; more information HERE) and they are open to public from 1st May until 30th September every Thursday, Friday, Saturday (9 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 1.30 p.m.- 6 p.m.) and Sunday (12 a.m. – 5 p.m.). That’s definetely the best option to make a visit. If you’re travelling the area different time of the year or week always check if there is any information about the key to the church (Polish: “klucz do cerkwi”; “klucz do kościoła”) or about opening (Polish: “otworzyć/otwarta”) or visiting (Polish: “zwiedzanie”). Usually you will find such an information (on the main door or on a special board on/or near the church) as well as the telephone number you may call (remember to put 0048 in the begining). Of course you shouldn’t expect that the responder will speak English, but you can always try to communicate. If visiting out of season (Polish: “poza sezonem”) is possible only for organised groups of tourists you should find a senstence like: “tylko zwiedzanie grupowe/tylko grupy zorganizowane”. Individual tourists in Polish is “turyści indywidualni”. All of those might be usefull, even if you can’t say it. Remember also that local people might help you in getting information, especially school children and teenagers who all lear English at school. Please note: it would be appropriate to make a small donation, especially if someone opened the church for you. Sometimes you need to buy a ticket to enter the church, but it is not expensive.
If you want to see the churches of The Wooden Architecture Route in Podkarpacie (Polish “Szlak architektury drewnianej w województwie podkarpackim”; check more here – Polish only) it might be a little bit more complicated. Luckily one of the most valuable wooden churches in Poland situated in Radruż is open every day of week between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., but usually you have to make a call and wait about 10 minutes for an lovely, ederly lady. There should be no problem with visiting Smolnik during the tourist season (1-3 May; June and August; some other weekends of spring and autumn). We couldn’t find any information about the possibility of visiting the interior of Chotyniec church, but every Sunday there is a celebration at 11.30 a.m. Unfortunately we don’t have any news about Turzańsk, however maybe you will be lucky.
During the centuries most of these buildings were in the charge of more than one religious community, so it could have happend that (just for example) one was built as the Orthodox church, after some time it became Greek Catholic and now it serves the Roman Catholic parish. Here you will find the information which community in fact built a church.