The Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska are one of the wonders of ancient Eastern European architecture, which have come down virtually intact to the present day after nearly a thousand years of history.
Today the Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska are one of the most amazing UNESCO World Heritage sites in Poland and can be easily visited on a day trip from Krakow.
What are the Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska?
Małopolska, as the region of Southern Poland is called, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful regions in Poland, and is famous for being rich in natural and historical wonders. This is the region where Krakow is located, but also where most of Poland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located.
But there is a truly hidden gem in Małopolska, which few people know, but which is really worth a visit: in this area surrounded by the Carpathians and the Tatra Mountains, it is still possible to see over 250 examples of ancient wooden architecture dating back to the Middle Ages.
Of great importance are the wooden churches, known as the “Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska”, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which represent an extraordinary and wonderfully preserved heritage of medieval wooden churches belonging to the traditional culture of the Roman Catholic Church.
This particular style of wooden churches began to spread towards the end of the Middle Ages, around the sixteenth century, with Gothic influences and details that recall the Greek-Catholic and Orthodox presence in the region.
The churches were built using the “horizontal trunk technique” and the tower structure with uprights and beams, building techniques very popular in the Middle Ages in Northern and Eastern Europe.
The Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska are Gothic buildings that have survived in their original form and are still today completely authentic even in their function, as they are places for traditional festivals and religious ceremonies.
The Małopolska Region in 2001 established a 1500 km tourist route called Wooden Architecture Route, which includes 252 most valuable historical wooden buildings, including Roman Catholic, Greek-Catholic and Orthodox churches, historic houses and parks.
The route is well signposted throughout the region thanks to more than 600 information panels and frequent signs that allow tourists to correctly follow the itinerary and visit the sites. On the official website of the Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska’s Route you can find all the details of the attractions of the route.
In addition to the incredible heritage of Roman Catholic churches, in the area there are also some wooden Tserkvas, small wooden Orthodox churches (some are Eastern Catholic churches, affiliated for example to Greek or Byzantine Catholicism, but almost all today are transformed into Roman Catholic churches), which are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage lists with the name of Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine.
Among these, the Virgin Mary’s Care Tserkva in Owczary, the St. James the Less Tserkva in Powroźnik and the Mother of God Church in Chotyniec are definitely worth a visit.
Discovering the Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska
Since 2003, six wooden churches of Małopolska have been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
- St. Michael Archangel’s Church in Binarowa
- All Saints Church in Blizne
- St. Michael Archangel’s Church in Dębno
- Assumption of Holy Mary Church in Haczów
- St. Leonard’s Church in Lipnica Murowana
- Saints Philip and James Church in Sękowa
St. Michael Archangel’s Church in Binarowa
St. Michael Archangel’s Church (Kosciol Sw. Michala Archaniola) is located in the village of Binarowa about 150 km from Krakow.
It dates back to 1500 and is one of the oldest churches in the region. Inside it preserves a precious mural painting representing some scenes from the New Testament, the figure of the Madonna carved in wood dating back to the fourteenth century and carved seats.
All Saints Church in Blizne
All Saints Church is located in the village of Bliznie, about 180 km from Krakow. It is located right on the main street of the city, so it is very easy to find it.
The church dates from the mid-15th century and was built in a Late Gothic style. It is located on a small hill, surrounded by an ancient and suggestive forest. It is bordered by a wooden fence that includes four masonry chapels, added later.
The interiors are characterized by elegant ornaments on the walls and a beautiful organ gallery. A decoration with vegetable and grotesque motifs enriches the interior. The oldest paintings in the church date back to the 15th century, among them the painting of the Passion of Christ and the scene of the Last Judgment are noteworthy.
St. Michael Archangel’s Church in Dębno
St. Michael Archangel’s Church is located in the small village of Dębno, 90 km from Krakow, near the Dunajec Gorge, and dates back to the 15th century.
It is one of the best preserved wooden churches in Poland and is internationally recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of Poland.
The peculiarity of the church is that it was built without any nails, but right with the use of wooden dowels. Despite this, it has been perfectly preserved over time.
At the beginning of 1600 a tower with a pyramidal dome was added. Its interior is famous for being polychrome, which makes it the oldest polychrome wooden work in Europe.
St. Michael Archangel’s Church in Dębno features paper and leather paintings and floral, geometric and animal motifs can be seen on the walls. One of the oldest elements is the cross, dating back to 1380, which according to legend was brought there by the waters of the Białka River.
The church can only be visited in spring and autumn, it is kept closed in winter to protect it from humidity.
Assumption of Holy Mary Church in Haczów
The Assumption of Holy Mary Church in Haczów is located about 200 km from Krakow and stands along the bank of the River Wisłok in the center of the town.
It is the largest medieval wooden church in Poland and one of the largest in the world, as well as the oldest in the nation. It dates back to 1388, when the King of Poland Władysław Jagiełło decided to establish a parish in Haczów and so the first Gothic church was built.
Over the years the church was renovated and enlarged several times, with the addition of the tower, windows in the nave, the sacristy and more space for the faithful.
The interior decorations are very old, and date back to around 1494. The church also houses precious representations of the Passion of Christ, the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the assassination of St. Stanislaus and St. Michael the Archangel.
St. Leonard’s Church in Lipnica Murowana
St. Leonard’s Church is located in Lipnica Murowana, about 50 km from Krakow. The church as it can be seen today dates back to the 15th century, but this was built in place of an older church, dating back to 1143.
It has a single wide nave and according to tradition the windows are only on the southern side, with the doors located to the south and west of the Church. The church originally did not have a tower, but a bell tower was added in the 17th century.
It is located inside a cemetery, which creates a very suggestive and particular atmosphere.
Inside, the decorations are mainly in the Baroque style, while the ceiling decorations date back to the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The church can only be visited in spring and summer.
Saints Philip and James Church in Sękowa
Saints Philip and James Church is located in Sękowa, a village located about 140 km from Krakow, near the Slovak border, and is one of the most impressive wooden churches of Southern Małopolska.
It was built in 1520, with a curious oval-shaped plan. The tower with the dome, the small bell tower and the large external arcades were added in the 18th century.
During the First World War, the church suffered considerable external and internal damage, and only in the 90s was a major renovation and restoration work carried out that brought the church back to its original appearance.
The interiors are less impressive than the other churches, due to the destruction, but still houses a beautiful 17th-century altar decorated and carved in a late-Renaissance style and a late-Gothic stone font from the 1500s.
Behind the church, the Sękowa river flows, which makes the view very picturesque. Visits are open all year round.
How to visit the Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska
The Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska can easily be visited on a day trip from Krakow, or you could stay a few days in the area and also visit the many wonderful things to see in the area, such as the Dunajec Gorge and the beautiful town of Zakopane.
The best way to visit the area and follow the Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska tourist route is by car. If you don’t have your own car you could rent one in Krakow. Car rentals in Poland are quite cheap and of good quality, here you’ll find all information about the best car rentals in Krakow.
Alternatively you could book a guided tour from Krakow: an expert guide will pick you up at your place in Krakow, take you to see the main wooden churches of Southern Małopolska, show you the wonderful landscape of the area and take you back to your accommodation in the evening.
Useful Tips for Your Trip
Many people choose to visit the Wooden Churches of Southern Malopolska on a day trip from Krakow, so here you can find the best useful tips to better plan your trip to Krakow and the wonderful region of Southern Poland: