Museums in the Małopolska region and their most unusual exhibits

Gorlice – this is where the first street oil lamp in the world was lit
A painting that was 120 metres long; a bathtub in which the president used to bath; the world’s first oil lamp; the gloves of a famous singer; the mummy of a cat and even a camera that took its owner’s picture after he died. These are some of the unusual exhibits that can be seen in the museums of the Małopolska region.

President Mościcki’s bathtub at Wawel Castle

The bathtub is luxurious, white, and fixed into the floor. It was manufactured by the English company Twyfords, which enjoyed the privilege of servicing the British court at the time. Two steps with a handrail lead to the bathtub surrounded by a nickel-plated railing. Ignacy Mościcki, who by virtue of a resolution of the Sejm could use the rooms in Wawel Castle was, however, afraid of such a spacious and deep bathtub. Each time, before taking a bath, he asked for the bottom to be covered with a mattress. There was often a telephone by the bathtub in case some urgent call had to be made. Today, in the Danish Tower, we can see what the marble bathroom and the presidential bedroom with modernist furniture from Zdzisław Szczerbiński’s workshop in Warsaw, look like. During the occupation, the presidential bed and bathtub were used by the German Governor Hans Frank.

The Hair of Saint Kinga in Wieliczka

They are white and salty, but durable. These salt hairs grew on marly light grey silt and are considered a very unusual form taken by halite. The mineral, or more precisely its crystals, tend to grow in one direction and stick together to form a single mass over time. But not in this case. Here, they have retained a very attractive structure and, although probably impossible to comb out, can easily be regarded as a clump of human hair. How could this beautiful salt structure not be associated with Kinga, the patron saint of miners, and the legend of her engagement ring that is said to have brought salt to Wieliczka straight from the Maramureş mine. Saint Kinga’s hair can be seen today in the Krakow Saltworks Museum  in Wieliczka.

A photo just before death, or Mieczysław Karłowicz’s cameras in Zakopane

Mieczysław Karłowicz combined his passion for music with his love for the Tatras. It is in the mountains that he composed and sought inspiration; he also passionately photographed them. And he was quite a photographer. The photograph with Klimek Bachleda standing in front of the Lodowy peak or views of Widły and Łomnica are still considered important souvenirs of documentary and artistic value. In the collection of the Tatra Museum in Zakopane you can find two cameras of Mieczysław Karłowicz – one of them has a very interesting story. Apparently, he took it on his last trek into the mountains before his death. It was February 1909 and the avalanche danger was high. Karłowicz tried to get on skis to the Black Pond Gąsienicowy. The last photo he left behind was the view from the slopes of Skupniowy Upłaz. Several dozen minutes later, the famous composer was carried away by an avalanche descending from Mały Kościelec. He was found two days later deep in the snow. The famous photography of the dead Karłowicz was taken with this very camera.

Stone from the pass under Mount Everest in Wadowice

“The most important to me was that I was the first person from Poland to climb Mount Everest - and, on top of that, on the same day that Karol Wojtyła was elected Pope,” said Wanda Rutkiewicz, the first European women at the highest peak of the Crown of the Earth. It was 16 October 1978. The stone brought from the so-called Lower Peak of Mount Everest was presented by Wanda Rutkiewicz to the Pope in person on 10 June 1979, on the last day of his first pilgrimage to Poland. John Paul II said at the time: “The good Lord so willed that we climbed so high on the same day. Both as the first Poles.” Then he allegedly added: “Please come and see me at the Vatican. We will break away to the mountains, just the two of us, regardless of what people say...”. Today the stone donated by Wanda Rutkiewicz can be seen in the John Paul II Family Home Museum in Wadowice. 

 

Mummified Cat in Kraków

We all know what does a cat look like. But not all of us have seen the mummy of a cat. Fortunately, we have one such exhibit in Kraków among the collection “Gods of the Ancient Egypt” in the Archaeological Museum. The Cat is the incarnation of the goddess Bastet. Remember that in ancient Egypt cats stood very high in the animal hierarchy and killing this pet was a serious crime punishable by death. The attachment to these animals was so great that in those days there were separate cat necropolises, and some cats were even honoured with rich sarcophagi after their death.

Ada Sari’s gloves in Stary Sącz

Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor and Gilda in Rigoletto, Ada Sari, or actually Jadwiga Szayer, used to perform on the greatest opera stages of the world. But does anyone remember that she grew up in Stary Sącz, where she moved with her family when she was three? In the old cemetery in Stary Sącz there is a tomb of the Szayer family and in the Regional Museum where you can find keepsakes of the famous singer, letters, photographs, a mirror, her testament, and also beautiful gloves.

Panorama of Transylvania in Tarnów

It was 120 metres long and 15 metres high and commemorated the Battle of Sibiu, the capital of Transylvania, fought on 11 March 1849 and the spectacular victory of the Hungarian Revolutionary army under the command of the Polish General Józef Bem. Several artists worked on it for five months. It toured several exhibitions and was then cut into pieces, which ended up in different places and different hands. It was in 1977, that one of these pieces found its way to the Desa store in Kraków. And so, the search for the rest began. Regional Museum in Tarnów knows about 31 fragments of the Panorama of Transylvania, and owns 20 of them. Unfortunately, this is still not enough to put it all together.

Polish plait in Kraków

It doesn’t look attractive, quite the opposite. But it’s undoubtedly one of the most interesting exhibits of the Museum of the Jagiellonian University Medical Faculty. Once thought to be a symptom of a rheumatic disease for which witches were blamed, it has become a source of unflattering metaphorical qualities over time. And yet it’s nothing more than a clump of hair on the head, which is caused by lack of hygiene, combing and dirt. Sadly, this is the only known disease that has Poland in its name (plica polonica, or Polish plait).

The first oil lamp of the world in Gorlice 

Did you know that it was in Gorlice that the world’s first street oil lamp was lit in the 19th century? And that Gorlice became the cradle of the European oil industry?  It all happened in 1854 and the historic lamp stood at the crossroads of Kościuszki and Węgierska streets in Gorlice. Today you can see here the statue of the Pensive Christ. The lamp prototype is located in the Regional Museum in Gorlice together with a pharmacist’s alembic, which was used for distilling crude oil.

Horseback riding in the Tatra Mountains? Only in ‘siedlica’! Tourist saddle from Zakopane

This is ‘siedlica’ designed for the exploration of the Tatras. No, nobody will carry tourists on their backs. This tourist saddle was designed by Walery Eljasz-Radzikowski, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, author of the famous guidebook to the Tatra Mountains. Worried that the ladies ¬ not used to walking in the mountains and trying to hike in high-heeled shoes would not get too high, he decided to help them a little in the exploration of the mountains.  ‘Siedlica’ was then put on the horse’s back and off you go! A seat, together with a bridle and a blanket, could be rented in villa Eljaszówka on Stara Polana in Zakopane for 60 cents a day. Then the unacquainted tourist was put aside, the mountaineer took the horse by the bridle and off they went. Today such ‘siedlica’ can be seen in the Tatra Museum named after Dr Tytus Chałubiński and based in Zakopane.. For the sake of accuracy – Eljasz-Radzikowski himself used to ride a horse in the Tatra Mountains in a normal saddle.

Torah from the synagogue in Dąbrowa Tarnowska

At the beginning of July 1942, the Germans established in Dąbrowa Tarnowska a ghetto for the Jewish inhabitants of the town and surrounding villages, as well as Jews brought from Łódź and Skierniewice. Already in the second half of the month some of the ghetto inhabitants were taken to the extermination camp in Bełżec.  Perhaps it was then that someone took from the synagogue the most precious object for the Jewish faith – the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, written on a special scroll. Without the Torah there’s no synagogue. There’s no life. The Torah was taken to the Redemptorist monastery in Tuchów with a request to keep it and “return it to where it was taken from once the prayer voices are heard again in the Dąbrowa synagogue”. Despite facing the death penalty for doing so, the monks hid the Torah. Meanwhile, all the Jews of Dąbrowa were sent to concentration camps. The plundered synagogue was used by the Germans as a warehouse. The synagogue was then locked for several decades, decayed and fell into ruin. It was not until the 21st century that it was renovated, to now house the Centre for the Meeting of Cultures. It was given new life and that’s when the Redemptorists returned the Torah that had been once deposited for safekeeping. The Synagogue in Dąbrowa Tarnowska is one of the most beautiful such monuments in Poland, and the largest in the Małopolska region. The scroll can be admired at an exhibition devoted to the history and culture of the Jews from Dąbrowa Tarnowska.

If you’re curious what other wonders can be seen in the museums of the Małopolska region, take a look at the guidebook, virtual version

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