When we were in Poland some months back, we had the opportunity to visit a wonderful Skansen just outside Krakow. ‘Skansen’ is a Scandinavian word for an open air ethnographic museum, something like the superb Dakshinachitra in Chennai. (If you haven’t seen this one, do put it on your list of things to see in Chennai!) Simply speaking, a Skansen is an open air museum which offers a look into traditional folk culture and architecture and puts together a selection of typical rural buildings with barns, churches, houses and homesteads.
These are re-assembled to look like a natural village and they are furnished and decorated in their original style. So there are natural crafts of the region, artefacts, etc which offer an insight into the life, work and the history of the place. There could also be craftsmen in traditional dress like glass bowers or silver smiths to create that perfect ambience. There are more than 35 Skansens scattered all over Poland; each region has one. What a wonderful concept! Imagine if we had one in each region in India: our Rajasthani havelis, old Chettinad mansions, Kerala tharawads all preserved for posterity!
The Skansen that we visited is in the Malopolska region just outside Krakow on the way to Auschwitz, called the Vistula Ethnographic Park. The park itself is scenic set amidst green rolling hills, gardens and orchards and at the foot of an ancient castle. There are thematic sectors that the park is divided into- small town, village, manor house and then the church. We see old bee-hives shaped like men and women. There are old homesteads consisting of many buildings, a potter’s residence with his tools-of-trade and a museum store selling souvenirs in a re-constructed 1825 house! We also see a weaver’s home where scenes have been re- constructed. Strangely, weaving here used to be the man’s traditional occupation and not the woman’s and there is a tableau showing the process of flax. One cottage has under its roof both the residential part and the livestock area- talk about man and beast living in peaceful co-existence.
The show stopper is the 17th Century church, a wooden structure with gorgeous paintings inside. Our guide is a young college going girl from the area who seems to love her job.
The manor house is the typical ‘Zamindar’s house’ and today houses the museum administration. It re-enacts the life of a wealthy noble family of that era with rich furnishings, paintings and furniture. What I particularly enjoy is the ceramic tile stoves of that era! We see troupes of red-cheeked school-kids with their teachers spending a day looking at the architecture and enjoying a picnic here...Now I have put the ‘original’ Skansen in Stockholm, Sweden on my wish listJ