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Sanok – what to do and see

If you plan exploring the South-East of Poland you will find visiting Sanok an interesting experience.

It is a charming small town (pop. 40,000 ) in the Podkarpacie region.

From here it's a small step to the Bieszczady Mountains.

Sanok, City Center
Sanok, City Center

The importance of Sanok was greatly influenced by its location at the junction of the medieval border between Poland, Russia and Hungary. King Casimir the Great confirmed the town's location privilege already in 1366. Around Sanok, starting from the mid-19th century, just like in the whole Podkarpacie region, numerous oil fields were built.

Also here was a famous railway wagon factory producing railway rolling stock for CK Monarchy, and then the Second Polish Republic (1918-1938) and finally transformed into the Sanok Bus Factory Autosan.

In the interwar period, the Central Industrial District established the Company for the Rubber Industry - later Stomil.

After the outbreak of World War II, Sanok became a border town and was later incorporated into the General Government of the Third Reich (Nazi Germany).

On June 22, 1941, the “Barbarossa Plan" began to be implemented with an attack on Soviet fortifications.

In the years 1940-42, courier routes to Hungary led through Sanok, and numerous diversionary actions were carried out by the Home Army. In Sanok, the District Headquarters of the Polish Underground Armed Forces of the Home Army was located.

The period of persecution of the Polish population and the extermination of the Jewish and Gypsy population also began.

The end of the war did not end guerrilla fights. Especially those between the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the Polish People's Army (AL) and the independence underground (AK) in south-eastern Poland did not stop. The UPA wanted to prevent repatriation to the USSR and make its own independent state. Burning villages and terrorising Poles by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army become a terrifying everyday experience for the local population.

The last, dramatic chord of the civil war was the so-called the Vistula River Action, aimed at the final dismantling of the UPA units. Two years after World War II, the communist authorities began to deport the Ukrainian, Łemko and Bojko people from the Bieszczady Mountains.

The action “Wisła"; started on 28 April 1947 and lasted until 8 August 1947. 140 thousand people were displaced from the Bieszczady Mountains, mainly to the Regained Territories in the West of Poland. The drama of the displacement, however, often concerned people who were in no way connected with the activities of the Ukrainian partisans. The system of collective responsibility worked. After 1989, the Polish authorities repeatedly condemned Operation “Wisła”.

What to do and see in Sanok

To visit all of Sanok, I don't think one day is enough but let us try.

Why don’t we start with the Castle, now the Historical Museum. The originally Gothic castle was rebuilt in 16C in the Renaissance style by order of Queen Bona Sforza, wife of King Sigismund the Old.

Bona, a genuine Italian lady, is probably the most famous and longest reigning Polish queen, who supported Poland’s economic development, the power of the Jagiellonian monarchy and naturally art. She never visited the castle herself, but King Casimir the Great, King Ladislaus Jagiello had previously stayed there.

On the remains of the medieval tower from the times of King Casimir the Great a viewing terrace was built, from which a beautiful panorama of the surrounding area with the flowing under San river not far from the castle.

Panorama on San River, Sanok
Panorama on San River, Sanok

In addition to the historical part of the Castle, two exhibitions are worth seeing:

- The ICON Collection - with over 700 unique works.

They depict portraits of saints, episodes from their lives, scenes from the Holy Scriptures, as well as apocrypha and legends. Icon (from Greek eicon - image) created centuries ago - within one undivided Church - is today the main and inseparable element of Orthodox spirituality.

The icon status in the Orthodox Church can be compared to the status of relics in the Western Church. The difference is that the East saw in them the possibility of access to divine power, while the West focused solely on the possibility of obtaining protection from them. The icon in Eastern Christian spirituality is the element that enables contemplation and closeness to the Sacrum, therefore it will always remain a work of prayer rather than an artistic work.

- Zdzisław Beksiński Gallery with over 600 works (including paintings, sculptures, photographs). Beksiński is one of the most intriguing contemporary artists born and raised in Sanok.

Not everyone will like his gloomy paintings, but his artistry and imagination are astonishing. The exposition in the halls of the Sanok castle is the only such a grand collection of the artist's work. You could say that this is an author's exhibition. Almost all of the works in the Historical Museum have been chosen by the artist as the most important in his output, wanting them to be presented in this museum.

21 February 2005 Zdzisław Beksiński was brutally murdered in his Warsaw apartment. According to the artist's last will and testament, the Historical Museum became his sole heir, taking over several thousand works, including photographs, drawings, graphics and paintings.

In 2016, a film about the life of Zdzisław Beksiński and his family – “Ostatnia rodzina” (The Last Family) - directed by Jan Matuszyński - was made. To get a better understanding of the artist's world, it's worth seeing it before you visit this collection.

Next. I suggest we go to the Market Square. The square plan with 100-metre-long sides was drawn up by the Austrian authorities after the reconstruction of the town in 1786. It had different names, including the WW2 period at Adolf Hitler Square and the October Revolution during the People's Republic of Poland.

The most beautiful building on the square is the Old Town Hall, which has been renovated as beautifully as the 18C and 19C tenement houses surrounding the Sanok square. Relax here and enjoy the unique regional dishes, such as proziaki, zalewajka, stolniki or fuczki.

Sanok, the Town Hall
Sanok, the Town Hall

After lunch, you can sit on a bench next to a soldier called Schwejk. The hero of Jaroslav Hašek's book, “The Adventures of the Good Soldier of Szwejk"; stayed in the city in 1915. According to the same book, he tried to get some fun out of the house for an important war meeting of his Lieutenant. According to tradition, rubbing Schwejk's nose guarantees luck in love.

Sanok, Szwejk
Sanok, Szwejk

For the afternoon we propose an open-air museum. The Folk Architecture Museum in Sanok with an area of 38 ha is the first and the largest open-air museum in Poland and one of the most beautiful outdoor exhibition in Europe.

Picturesquely located at the foot of the Biała Góra (White Mountain) allows you to go back in time and learn about the cultural richness of the region and its turbulent history. It has been divided into sectors that look like villages inhabited by various ethnographic groups of the foothills and eastern parts of the Polish Carpathians. There is a small-town Galician market square, houses of former craftsmen, shops, buildings inhabited by clerks, doctors and pharmacists.

There are more than 100 objects from the 17C-20C, including cottages, farm buildings, homesteads, wooden churches, Orthodox churches, a mill and even a manor house or oil equipment.

Sanok, Open-air museum
Sanok, Open-air museum

If you are going or returning to trekking in the Bieszczady Mountains it is worth to stop for a day in Sanok.

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