Sunday, October 18, 2015

Wooden Churches # 25 - Hrabová Roztoka, Slovakia

This small Greek Catholic church lies on a hill above the village of Hrabová Roztoka in eastern Slovakia, just a few kilometres from the border with Ukraine. The church was built in the middle of the 18th century and dedicated to Saint Basil the Great. A sign on the rear wall of the church declares it to be a 'national cultural monument' of Slovakia (this type of metal sign is affixed to most of Slovakia's wooden churches), but interestingly a second sign declares it to be 'Ukrainian national architecture' written in the Ukrainian Cyrillic alphabet.

The church has a simple, rustic design which is similar to the nearby church in the village of Ruská Bystrá. It follows a three-room plan with a nave, sanctuary and 'babinec' or entrance room, while above there are two towers with onion domes topped by three-barred iron crosses. In the front tower there are three bells which date from 1796. The roof and exterior walls underwent repairs and replacement of wooden tiles in the year 2000.

The impressive iconostasis in the interior dates from 1794 and is almost as old as the church itself. A rare feature of this church among those in Slovakia is the Czar door, in place of the usual 'Tree of Jesse' doors. In the second row of the iconostasis the image of the Last Supper is in the central position, instead of the more common image of Christ. Five icons were stolen from the church in 2003; they were later recovered, but were damaged and required restoration.

Kalná Roztoka can be reached by infrequent buses from the towns of Snina and Stakčín to the north, while the neighbouring village of Ruská Bystrá has bus services connecting it to the town of Sobrance to the south. Therefore it is possible to see both Ruská Bystrá and Kalná Roztoka in a day by walking along the forest trail between them and arriving and departing from each by bus. The church key keeper lives down the hill in the centre of the village, but they weren't at home when I visited.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Wooden Churches # 24 - Slavoňov, Czech Republic

This Roman Catholic wooden church sits on a small hill at the edge of the village of Slavoňov in the East Bohemia region of the Czech Republic. The church was built in 1553 on the site of a much older structure. It was originally founded by Utraquists (a moderate branch of the Hussite movement) and dedicated to Saint Martin, but the church became Roman Catholic in 1683.

The large bell tower within the church yard dates from the same era as the church, probably built in 1555. The lower half of the tower is made of brick and its height suggests it was also intended to have a defensive military function in the event of the village coming under attack. Three bells cast in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries hang in the tower.

The beams of the church are made of oak, spruce and fir logs. The joints between the logs were filled in with mortar and then the exterior of the building was covered in whitewash. The interior walls and ceiling are painted with murals of plants and flowers which date from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. The murals were restored twice in the twentieth century.

Getting to Slavoňov is possible by public transport since there are several buses daily from the nearby town of Nové Město nad Metují which has train and bus links to most major cities across the country. The village is just 4 kilometres east of Nové Město nad Metují so it is also possible to walk there along a forest trail. The church is open for religious services four times per week, and at other times the door into the front entrance room is left open where it is possible to get an obstructed view of the church interior.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Wooden Churches # 23 - 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.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Amazing Architecture # 1 - 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.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wooden Churches # 22 - 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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wooden Churches # 21 - Hunkovce, Slovakia

This photogenic Greek-Catholic church stands on a small hill next to the road in the village of Hunkovce in north-east Slovakia. There are Rusyn wooden churches in nearly every village between the town of Svidník and the Polish border, but Hunkovce's church is the only one which can be easily seen from the main road while driving past. The church was built at the very end of the 18th century, probably in 1799, and was dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.
The church has a perfect Lemko design plan, with the tallest of three towers above the narthex (entrance area), the middle one above the nave and the lowest above the sanctuary. Each of the towers features intricately detailed onion domes with large ornamented metal crosses in Baroque style placed above. The wooden structure of the building sits on a low stone foundation layer to protect it from water seepage from the ground.
There is a small Greek-Catholic cemetery on the hill surrounding the church, with several cast-iron cross markers that date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The small shingle-roofed entrance gate beside the road is all that remains of the traditional wooden fence which once surrounded both the church and cemetery.
The village of Hunkovce saw heavy fighting in the battle for the nearby Dukla Pass in 1944; most of the houses in the settlement were destroyed, and the church suffered extensive damage to the roof and walls. It was later repaired and named a National Heritage Landmark building in 1968. At the southern end of the village there is a large World War Two German military cemetery with the graves of more than 2000 German soldiers who fought in the battle.
In 2010 the exterior of the church was fully reconstructed with new wooden siding and roof shingles (these photos were taken a few months before the restoration). The church is empty and has no interior fittings because the iconostasis and icons were removed and placed in museums in Bardejov and Svidník. No religious services are held here, since there is a modern Greek-Catholic church across the road which serves this purpose for the local villagers. If you'd still like to see the inside of the wooden church, try to find the local priest who is often in the modern church across the road.
Hunkovce is one of the easiest churches to visit in Svidník region because it is directly on the main road to the Polish border and many buses travel along this route daily. The bus from Svidník takes about 20 minutes to reach the village, and it is another 25 minutes from there to the border. After crossing the border on foot, Polish buses run from the border to the towns of Dukla and Krosno. Svidník isn't very aesthetically pleasing, but it is the most convenient place to use as a base when visiting the wooden churches in this region, and the town also has a superb outdoor folk museum and the Ukrainian-Rusyn Cultural Museum.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wooden Churches # 20 - Tročany, Slovakia

This newly restored church stands in the centre of the small village of Tročany, located south of Bardejov in eastern Slovakia. Research conducted during the past few years has confirmed that the church is much older than had been previously thought; samples taken from its wooden beams were tested and the date of its construction was found to be the end of the 15th century or the first years of the 16th century. This puts it into the same age bracket as the Roman Catholic church in Hervartov, previously believed to be the oldest surviving wooden church in Slovakia. It is among the oldest Greek-Catholic wooden churches in the entire Carpathian mountain region.
Dedicated to Luke the Holy Apostle and Evangelist, the church has a standard Greek-Catholic floor plan with a sanctuary, nave and narthex (entrance area). Above the entrance porch there is a bell tower topped with a very unusually shaped cap which looks like a candle extinguisher. A similarly shaped cap sits above the central nave, while the sanctuary has no cap or steeple attached. The bell tower contains two bells which are still in regular use during religious services. At the top of the cap of the bell tower is a simple double-barred cross, while the cap above the nave has a more decorative single-barred cross.
The interior contains a restored iconostasis from the 17th century, though it is missing some of its original features. Instead of the typical Last Supper scene placed above the middle Czar door there is the Mandilion, a picture of the face of Christ on a cloth without a crown of thorns. In the sanctuary the altar is decorated with an 18th century icon depicting the Descent from the Cross, while the preparatory table in the corner has an icon of Saint Michael the Archangel. There are small windows on the right-hand side of both the nave and the sanctuary which allow some natural light to enter.
Today the church is used by both Greek Catholics and Roman Catholics, so the interior contains some modern Roman Catholic fittings which thankfully do not detract from the beauty of the older Greek Catholic artifacts. The church has undergone several renovations throughout its history, with major work carried out in 1897, 1933 and 1968. In 2010 and 2011 the church was completely restored both inside and out with funding provided by the European Regional Development Fund as part of a cross-border project to promote economic growth and cooperation between south-eastern Poland and north-eastern Slovakia.
The key for the church is kept by a family which lives at the opposite end of the village; if you are standing at the church go left along the road, pass the turning point for the road out to the main highway, continue up the slight incline of the hill and the house is on the right, the second house past the village office. You need to open their front gate and walk up and knock on the door on the right side of the house. The family are used to opening the church every day for visitors and are very friendly (they even speak a word or two of English) and they have pamphlets and books for sale about the Greek-Catholic churches in the region.
Tročany is not serviced by regular bus transport, but it is a two kilometre walk from the village out to the main road running between Bardejov and Prešov, and there is a bus stop at the turnoff to the village where buses pass by every hour or two. Prešov is a major transport hub with train and bus connections throughout the country, while Bardejov is the best place to base yourself for a tour of the wooden churches found in its vicinity.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wooden Churches # 19 - Brežany, Slovakia

This distinctive church sits on a grassy hillside above the small village of Brežany, fifteen kilometres south-west of the city of Prešov. Although it is a Greek-Catholic church, it is located far to the south and west of the region where the majority of these churches can be found in Slovakia along the Polish and Ukrainian borders.
The church was built in 1727 and is dedicated to Saint Lucas the Evangelist. The structure of the building has little in common with other Greek-Catholic churches in north-east Slovakia, since it appears to have features usually associated with Gothic Roman Catholic architectural design (such as the church in Hervartov, Slovakia). It can be assumed that because the Brežany church was built relatively far away from other Rusyn Greek-Catholic churches the construction techniques of the Roman Catholics in the neighbouring villages formed a more significant source of inspiration for the builders.
The floor plan for the church follows the basic three-part system of Greek-Catholic design, with a small sanctuary, the nave as the central room and the narthex (entrance room) represented by a stand-alone bell tower with space for seating beneath it. The bell tower bears a strong resemblance to one exhibited in the outdoor museum in the town of Martin in central Slovakia, while the overall building design is similar to a wooden church in Trnové, a village just outside of Žilina.
The interior contains an iconostasis from 1733, as well as a number of impressive baroque icons. The most important of these icons depicts the coronation of the Mother of God. On the western side of the nave above the door several decorative paintings of biblical scenes can be seen. The front door of the church is also original and dates from the middle of the 18th century. The bell tower contains two large bells which are still in regular use during services.
The jointing system used to connect the ends of the log beams together is very simple (see the photo above), with a small groove cut into the underside of each beam and the ends extended slightly beyond the corners of the building. The gaps between the logs are filled with clay and then whitewashed, creating a striped black and white appearance which is very uncommon among churches in Slovakia, being more commonly seen in northern parts of Moravia and Bohemia.
Beneath the bell tower is a traditional folk object which is very rare now in this part of the Carpathian mountains (see the photo below). This device is used to make a loud repeated sound which would call the villagers to church services. When the handle on the right-hand side is turned it raises a series of wooden slats with wooden hammers attached to the ends of them, causing the hammers to strike the hollow wooden shaft below which then emits a high-pitched sound. These noise makers are similar to the wooden "clappers" traditionally used in the mining towns of central Slovakia (such as Banská Štiavnica) to wake the miners for the morning shift. Similar objects can also be seen in the wooden churches in the Maramures region of north-eastern Romania, further to the east along the Carpathian range.
The key for the church is kept by a family who live down below in the village, near the turning point for the laneway that leads up the hill to the church. Far fewer visitors come to see this church than some of the more well-known Greek-Catholic churches to the north-east, so the family are not used to opening the church for visitors unless an appointment is arranged in advance. Offering them a donation for the church could help in convincing them to come and open it for you.
Brežany village is serviced by a couple of buses per day (fewer on Saturdays and Sundays) which connect it with the central bus station in Prešov. Buses more frequently pass through the village of Rokycany which is a two kilometre walk to the south-east of Brežany. Prešov has frequent train and bus connections with Košice, Bratislava and other major cities throughout Slovakia.