From „bąsiory” to oil platforms

Residents of the area of Gorlice have known petroleum since time immemorial. This is proved by the ancient names of many nearby places and rivers still used today: Ropa, Ropica or Ropki (with the stem ropa, meaning “oil, petroleum”).
According to the legend, King Władysław I the Elbow-high already knew about the flammable properties of petroleum, because he ordered lanterns to be lit with “rock oil” (this is what petroleum was called, because it flowed out of rock crevices) in special signalling shrines in Szymbark, Gorlice, Biecz, and Bobowa. Certainly, another interesting event took place near Chełm Mountain in Ropa. In 1530, when the starost (or provost) of Biecz, the treasurer of King Sigismund the Old, Seweryn Boner, was looking for gold there, he struck oil which flooded his mine. To this day, there is a rhyme about this event in the area of Gorlice: “He, who was searching for gold in Ropa (Oil), was rinsed with oil.”

The real golden age commenced in this area in the second half of the nineteenth century, with the appearance of an extraordinary pharmacist-scientist in Gorlice, Ignacy Łukasiewicz, and as a result of favourable administrative and economic decisions. In 1860, Gorlice became the capital of the county, which allowed for greater independence, and, by the decisions of the national parliament from 1862 to 1865, it was resolved that the oil belongs to the owner of the land on which it has been struck. The oil wells began to emerge immediately; in 1874, they already existed in fourteen nearby towns and 630 employees had found employment there. Oil production began to reach an industrial scale.
However, before this occurred, local inhabitants extracted oil with far less professional methods. One of them was to dig pits — the so-called siors — in which oil and water accumulated, and a little more developed one: the excavation of wells up to 150 m deep, for example, the hand-dug wells visible in Tadeusz Rybkowski's painting, from which oil was extracted by buckets or primitive hand pumps. At their bottom, there was usually a man sitting, scooping oil with a bucket. His work was not only heavy, but also very dangerous. Despite supplying him with air using a special blower, he was exposed to strangulation or the explosion of natural gas.

Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums,
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See: Painting “Oil wells of Lipinki” by Tadeusz Rybkowski