The properties erected by the aristocracy were first and foremost based on the profit mostly stemming from feudal rent paid by peasants, and from the duties retained by the gentry (a share in levies, penalties, court fees, etc). The aristocracy started to build their first private castles in the 13th Century to manifest their strength and financial situation. The castles were there not only for defence, but also to serve as residencies. In practice, the construction of magnificent estates became a tool in the fight for higher income and more prestigious official posts.
In the 15th Century, together with a change in the economic system in Poland – from the rent system to the manorial system – there also grew the significance of a residence as a method of manifesting the family’s power, yet the defensive function of the estate was still preserved. The aristocrats sometimes even took their surnames from the names of their seats or even their residencies. This elevated the family’s importance, made it stand out, and also facilitated the closeness of kinship, and in that way contributed to the preservation of the family (in the male line) so that the family nest would not pass to the more distant family members or other people (this took place when a daughter got married, and the property became the property of the husband).
Starting in the 16th Century, the aristocratic residencies were slowly losing their defensive importance, more and more becoming part of a vast property resource, and, aside from residential properties, they also served as administrative centres. At that time, in terms of the economy and feudalism, the manorial system was also developing – peasants were definitely bound to the ground through the imposition of serfdom. Despite there being some movement between the estates, the nobility slowly sealed itself. The mediaeval knight families were disappearing, and new great houses started to appear, such as the Zamoyski, Zebrzydowski, Potocki, Lubomirski, Myszkowski and also the bourgeoisie – Bonera, Dantyszek, Kromer, and Ciołek.
At the end of the 16th Century and in the first part of the 17th Century, stone and brick constructions became more and more prevalent in Małopolska landscapes (though wood was still the main building material). The most clearly-visible element in Polish architecture and decorative art of that time was oriental patters, which influenced the new, important, and spreading ideology – Sarmatism. Oriental elements are visible, especially in the house interiors and nobility clothing.
With the transfer of the capital to Warsaw (1596) there started another stage in the aristocratic architecture in Małopolska, though a rather negative one. This was the period of the Baroque maturing in Poland. The development of this style was greatly dependent on political events, and one of the most important ones for Małopolska was the transfer of the capital. Małopolska, having lost its old significance, also lost the great initiatives which were maintained there. Great houses were sailing away, and with them artists and architects. Fewer and fewer foundations were laid. Old residencies were being redeveloped, but often they were abandoned. What’s more, the destruction inflicted on this land by the Deluge (1655-1660) sealed the fate of the landed gentry’s residencies. Fewer and fewer nobility lived in the Małopolska – sons of aristocrats were leaving for the Eastern Borderlands to find new lands for themselves. In effect the amount of land owned by the affluent and moderately-affluent gentry increased. The numbers of the poor gentry – petty gentry and landless gentry –increased, while monastic possessions grew.
The end of the 18th Century brought about important changes to Małpolska and the whole country – changes that divided the country, which is still visible today. The lands of Podkarpacie, due to the first partition of Poland (1772), which fell into Austrian rule, started to fall into poverty and destitution. At that time, there were practically no new residencies built, and many buildings were lost forever. The fate of many manors was sealed in 1846, when a peasant uprising against the nobility broke out in Galicia.
In the 19th Century there began a period of leisure and of the development of resorts. Krynica Zdrój, and from the 1860s Szczawnica, Rabka, and Zakopane also started to develop. Especially this last town exerted increasing influence on intellectuals and artists, who began this period of fascination with the mountain and highlanders’ traditions. What once entailed hiking in the mountains and admiring mountain vistas, had much more serious effects – some thinkers were searching for the authentic Polishness in Podhale – which was lost during the partitions on other Polish lands. Stanisław Witkiewcz introduced the Zakopane style, which was to serve as the basis for the creation of Polish national architecture.
Winning back independence changed everything. This did not only include territorial changes, or the long-desired unity of one’s own country – changes in social relations started to take place. Here Małopolska played a vital role in a phenomenon that we can call “approaching the ordinary people.” Artists and writers that lived in worked in this area turned to this part of society which had been blanked for centuries. The interest in peasant culture and its representatives initiated before by, among others, Włodzimierz Tetmajer, Lucjan Rydel, and Jacek Malczewski, developed and expanded.
The interbellum was also the last period during which Polish landed gentry erected new buildings. The palaces and mansions, built at that time, and constructed by the aristocracy and rich gentry, were also the residue of the old social and architectonic order.
Article type A historical article thematically connected with the “Feudal Carpathian Mountains Trail”