Eastern Europe: Pt 7 – Zakopane

We soon arrived in Poland’s “Winter Capital”, the mountain town of Zakopane, as we explored the Tatras Mountains…

Zakopane:

Status: Tatra County, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Town, Poland

Date: 04/06/2015

Travel: Mini Bus, Zakopane Funicular Railway

Eating & Sleeping: Gazdowo Kuznia Restaurant

Attractions: Tatras Mountains, Funicular Railway, Shrine of our Lady of Fatima, Church of our Lady of Czestochowa, Cicha Woda River, Gubalowka Mountain, Parish Church of St Family, Ski Slopes, Jaszczurowka Chapel etc

Our 1st stop was the “Shrine of our Lady of Fatima”. Our Lady of Fatima is another name for the Virgin Mary, which came about after she supposedly appeared to 3 children in the Portuguese town of Fatima in 1917. The story grew into a cult, and a statue of “Our Lady of Fatima” was presented to Zakopane in 1961, which originally came from the Bishop of Fatima himself. It was housed in a small chapel here on the site, pre-dating the fantastic Church that now stands next to it.

Construction of the Church began in 1987, after another religious incident that occurred in 1981. This was the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II ( 1920 – 2005) by Mehmet Ali Agca (Turkish Assassin born in 1958) as the Pope entered St Peter’s Square in Vatican City. Luckily the Pope survived the attack, and would continue to serve the Catholic Church until his eventual death in 2005. The Church here in Zakopane was built as a “Votive Offering” to God for saving the Pope’s life, and was completed in 1992, to designs by Stanislaw Tylka, a local architect. John Paul II himself later visited the building to consecrated it in 1997.

As you can see in the 2nd picture, a statue of the late Pope stands outside to greet all those who enter the Church, and the flag of Vatican City can be seen behind him.

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To the right of both the Church/John Paul is a large Cross shaped tower. This is the symbol of the Tatras Mountains, where Zakopane is located.

Continuing into the town centre, we passed yet another Church, this time a stunning wooden building called the “Old Church of our Lady of Czestochowa”, built in 1847. This also makes it the oldest wooden religious building in the whole town. The original structure was slightly smaller, as the tower at the front of the Church was only added in the early 1850’s.

Next to the Old Church you will find a smaller stone Chapel called the Gasienicow Chapel from 1810, near the entrance to a truly stunning cemetery. All of the graves are finely crafted, and ornately designed, each completely unique.

We eventually parked up in the town centre, in a large car park next to the River Cicha Woda, which translates as “Quiet Water”. It is 1 of the main tributaries of the Oder River which flows through the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland before reaching the Baltic Sea, similar to the Vistula.

Heading North West away from the very centre of town, we passed through what appeared to be a bustling market, before we arrived at a rather special train station. This isn’t for the mainline to Krakow, or any of the surrounding countries that this area of Poland borders, however it IS a charming funicular railway which can take you to the top of Gubalowka, which reaches a full height of 3,694 ft and offers some spectacular views across the other Tatras Mountains, and Zakopane itself.

Looking back from the station there is a small observation platform you can climb up outside the station building, giving a good view of the Market, and a tall green Church Spire, which we would get to later.

The original line up the side of Gubalowka opened in 1938, taking visitors to the top of the mountain where they could enjoy the use of a large ski slope during the winter months.

Like many other funicular railways, it has been modernised over the years, and in 2001 it reopened with a brand new line, new rolling stock and modern stations at both ends. The majority of the line is single track, and as 1 train leaves at 1 end, the other leaves from the other station. They pass each other at a special passing place, shown in the 2nd picture, and at all times both are attached to a steel cable in case of an emergency, as the line is quite steep.

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As I said before, the views here are incredible, and you can look down through the tree line to gaze out over the whole of Zakopane, with 1 of its famous ski slopes visible over to the right, in the distance.

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Looking slightly further afield, the full expanse of the Tatras Mountains unfolded in front of us. The Mountain range crosses the border from Poland into Slovakia, with just short of 25% of the whole area falling within Poland.

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A large map helpfully points out each of the different peaks that you can see, although some of them are so high that they were obscured by cloud. It’s quite a view, so it’s no wonder that the Polish side of the Range is protected as the Tatra National Park, founded in 1954. A similar arrangement exists in Slovakia, although their park is a few years older, having been established in 1949.

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Retreating back down the mountain into town, we had an hour or so before we were due to set off back in the general direction of Krakow, so we had a wander around the local streets. I mentioned a tall Church spire before that was visible from the Funicular Railway Station, and here it is again, up close.

Zakopane has a rich array of Churches, and this particular example, called the “Parish Church of St Family” is no exception. Completed in 1896, it took almost 2 decades of work to realise the final designs of Stanislaw Witkiewicz (1851 – 1915, Polish Architect).

Like the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, it is granted an even more commanding presence over the town than the other buildings thanks to its location at the top of a grand staircase!

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Looking past the Church, the hustle and bustle of Zakopane town centre lay before us, and it’s full of old buildings, fine restaurants and the occasional souvenir outlet, which enabled me to pick up something specially for the final leg of our road trip, once we left Zakopane…

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Before that however we had a few other stops in Zakopane itself. The 1st was 1 of the magnificent Ski-Slopes that makes Zakopane a skiers paradise during Winter!

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Our last stop was another of Poland’s famous Wooden buildings, this fine Church on the outskirts of Zakopane. It is called the Jaszczurowka Chapel, which was also designed by Stanislaw Witkiewicz, and he based his designs on the type of houses you can see in Chocholow, which we passed through on our way towards Zakopane. You can find out more in my post here.

Inside, the Chapel has some incredible detail, and you can really see how each wooden beam has been fitted together. The view from the top of the steps is also quite impressive, with rows and rows of tall trees on the slopes of the mountains, looking towards the tall mast that stands atop Gubalowka.

Zakopane is a lovely little town, and well deserved of the title of Poland’s “Winter Capital”. It has some stunning views, fine architecture and some fantastic places to eat. We had enjoyed exploring the many Churches and Rivers in the area, as well as taking a trip on the Funicular Railway, but we had 1 more stop yet, as we approached the Slovakian Border…

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