The Wooden Treasure
For centuries, the Lublin region had a rich tradition of using wood in construction and other industries thanks to dense woodlands in the area. The trees growing here gave character to the natural landscape of this place, while wood as a building material created the colours found in the local countryside and towns. Until just a few decades ago, wooden architecture dominated the entire region. Two world wars and the communist era that followed led to the destruction and devastation of a significant part of the wooden architecture. Valuable examples of wooden architecture and entire towns were destroyed. Large areas of the forests were also devastated.
As part of the project “Wooden Treasure. Preserving Heritage, Design Future”, we wish to emphasise what an excellent material wood is for construction, and demonstrate how strongly it defined the character of the region’s cultural landscape.
There are few countries in the world where the history of material culture would be as strongly associated with wood as it is in Poland […]. This is also because the world of Polish wooden architectural forms arose thanks to the natural conditions of the landscape, which was largely filled with primeval forests and thick woods.
Lying on the border between East and West, the Lublin region has for centuries fascinated people with the unusually diverse, enchanting Polish wooden folk architecture. The diversity resulted mainly from the geography and history of this area, and was the effect of the entwining interactions of different building traditions. Here, one could see Roman Catholic churches, Eastern Orthodox and Uniate churches, Protestant chapels, Jewish synagogues and even Tatar mosques; above all, however, small towns with their extremely characteristic wooden architecture and quadrilateral market squares were mostly home to Poles and Jews, but not only. One of the most important factors that had an impact on the charm of these towns was wood as a building material, as most of the houses, places of worship and other structures were built with it. This was due to the widespread presence of large, dense forests around the villages, towns and estates. Over the centuries, wooden construction became an inseparable and the most conspicuous part of the Polish landscape. Wooden architecture became its organic extension.
Wood began to predominate in village and small‑town architecture. It became the basic construction element for building walls and roofs, and was used in finishing various works (carpentry) as well as a material for ornamentation. Thanks to the use of wood in construction, people developed very specific tooling skills (carpentry, woodworking). Let us now examine the most common wooden architectural structures.
Naturally, the most important wooden structures were always houses. Other structures were agricultural buildings (barns, granaries, buildings for animals) as well as what is known as small architecture (including beehives, gateways, gates and wells). Sacred structures (Catholic churches, Orthodox churches, synagogues, mosques, Protestant churches, chapels and crosses) were also important, as were the industrial ones (watermills, windmills, oil mills, smithies, etc.) and public buildings (taverns, firehouses, schools).
At present, traditional wooden construction is increasingly a thing of the past. Windmills, watermills, smithies and taverns are now rare, as are wooden buildings from provincial homesteads, thus there is a need to describe and save objects where this is still possible. Each preserved wooden structure is a witness to traditional wooden architecture, but also a source of knowledge about local and national customs, culture and history.
The image of villages and small towns – i.e. the places where wooden architecture was most visible – has changed dramatically as a result of the war. The distinctive atmosphere given to them by the local Jewish community is gone with its typical wooden landscape destroyed to a large extent. What wooden buildings remained became for their owners a synonym for poverty and backwardness, which led to a subsequent wave of destruction – replacing wooden buildings with brick ones. This was accompanied by a complete lack of awareness and respect for the importance of wooden architecture. For many years, building with wood virtually disappeared. Wooden architecture was widely perceived as antiquated.
Within the project “Wooden Treasure. Preserving Heritage, Design Future”, we would like to show the role wood played – and perhaps continues to play – in old Polish architecture. We would like to present the delightful uniformity and harmony of woodworking with the natural environment and reconsider where the unique character of wooden houses and the beauty of small towns with their wooden buildings came from.