Towns of the Lublin Region – a cultural phenomenon
Towns and cities are a fundamental part of the nation’s urban and economic structure. Small towns are not only a collection of buildings and places, but also living forms that constantly change over time, a repository of the country’s cultural heritage. Today each historic town is regarded as a town of cultural heritage, hence it is imbued with a symbolic meaning and certain values passed on from generation to generation. Despite many common features, each town is different, which results from a range of determinants related to history and urban development. This is what the cultural phenomenon of small towns is about.
The definition of a small town
A small town can be described as a spatial grouping of a limited number of buildings within a specific clearly laid-out area, intended for a small population. The adjective "small" is used to describe populations of various sizes, usually ranging between a few and a dozen or so thousand people, and generally not more than thirty thousand inhabitants.
The term "small town" was already used by historians and urban planners in the interwar period to describe settlements with urban functions and of local economic importance. Such settlements should be regarded as entire systems encompassing the socio-economic, cultural, spatial, technical and ecological aspects of communities living there, as well as their mutual relations and their interactions with the environment.
E. Łuskina wrote in 1910: "A small town, an intermediate form between the village and a city, can easily combine the best characteristics of the two and become a sanctuary of cheerful family life, within moderate limits of affluence and requirements that will always correspond to the national average (…). In view of the beautiful tradition of our small towns, preserved in the general layout and the often valuable historic monuments, in view of its moderate size that enables one to grasp its entirety, in view of the closeness to nature (...). It depends on the culture and sensitivity of the inhabitants whether the town will be filled with a spiritual, social and esthetic content, and whether it assumes a harmonious and atmospheric appearance".
T. Chrzanowski aptly described small towns as "a collective work of architecture and urban planning". Town layouts were usually developed at a specific time as a finished work, but it took them some time to gain substance. Hence, a small town was at once an open and a closed work. The architectural substance of the town layout revealed the culture of the architects, patrons, town owners and inhabitants.
Small towns, with their churches, synagogues, Orthodox and Uniate churches, residences, inns and town halls, met the basic needs of their inhabitants as well as people living in their immediate neighborhood.
Already at the turn of the 20th century, people became interested in the beauty of historic town layouts, picturesque architecture, building zones, set-offs, scenic vistas, etc. Towns did not follow the same template, each had an individual form and appearance that became vividly and agreeably etched in one’s memory. A town developed naturally, subject to a plan and certain limitations, which, however, did not restrict freedom and imagination. Its development resembled the creation of a work of art; no wonder then that the image of a town itself often became a work of art. Thus wrote S. Tomkowicz in his work Szpecenie kraju (Disfigurement of the Country) in 1909.
>>> see the virtual model of Józefów Biłgorajski who shows the town space in the period between the world wars
The landscape of small towns in the Lublin Region
The town layout comprised residential buildings, until the 19th century exclusively made of wood. Before the Second World War, the economy of most towns in the Lublin Region was linked with agriculture. For farmers from the neighboring areas, a town provided a market for their produce, and was a center of crafts and manufacturing.
The cultural phenomenon of small towns arises from their history and multifaceted development. Therefore, the identity of a specific town is determined by the basic historical facts, details of the charter of incorporation, administrative status, town crest and seal, etc. The development of a town is linked with the functioning of governing and lawmaking bodies, the town council, courts, associations, and schools. The special character of small towns is also shaped by regular events such as markets, fairs, or church festivities.
The unique landscape of small towns is defined by their architecture comprising not only historic buildings, but also contemporary ones. The majority of towns have retained their historic town centers with their characteristic complex structure and certain dominant elements. The preserved historic architecture is frequently the only proof that a given town used to be multicultural.
History, culture, various aspects of community life, and religious structure are reflected in town landscape, which constitutes a synthesis of mutually interacting natural and anthropogenic elements from various historical periods. The structure of small town landscape is by no means uniform as it has developed over the centuries as the setting for the life and work of consecutive generations. Therefore, it is essential for the process of change to be gradual so that the identity of the place, tradition and culture is not destroyed. Towns, including the smallest ones, are now perceived, in broad terms, as instruments of social education. Towns should not be regarded as a sum of preserved buildings and sites, but rather as a phenomenon that is created today by each generation anew, in accordance with its attitude to its past.
Towns as a heritage site are of exceptional importance for two reasons. Firstly, their architecture is accessible to everyone as the daily environment of the entire community, and it lends itself to direct interpretation. Secondly, towns constitute public heritage to a much greater extent than many other aspects of heritage, perhaps due to the fact that the authorities have assumed substantial responsibility for the conservation, preservation and presentation of architectural heritage.
Prepared by: Joanna Zętar