Walery Radzikowski — about the way the Tatra Mountains were conquered in the late 19th century
The beginnings of tourism in the Tatra Mountains date back to the 2nd half of the 19th century. In 1873, Galicyjskie Towarzystwo Tatrzańskie [The Tatra Society in Galicia] was established with its aim of marking out routes, building mountain shelters, doing ethnographic research and describing the uniqueness of the area (maps were created and meteorological phenomena were observed). All this brought tourists to the mountain trails.
A mountain guide leading two young ladies wearing gowns — what did he say while standing on the lakeside of Morskie Oko? Maybe he told them the story about a man who lost a chest containing valuables during a sea expedition as a result of a shipwreck. After some time, while he was resting by the Morskie Oko Lake, did he notice his loss floating on the surface of the lake.
Walery Radzikowski was not only a painter of mountain views but, above all, a precursor and propagator of Tatra tourism. He created one of the very first guide books — Ilustrowany przewodnik do Tatr, Pienin i Szczawnicy [An Illustrated Guidebook of the Tatra Mountains, Pieniny and Szczawnica], in which he included the following description of the charm of the Morskie Oko Lake:
“The colour of the water resembles the sea, it’s blue-black in general, but bright yellow from the shore and turns emerald green, then blue which becomes darker along with depth. (…) The Morskie Oko Lake is the only one among the Tatra lakes which feeds its fish; that is why it is also called the Fish Lake. (…) The main beauty of the Morskie Oko Lake is its surroundings and location within the tree line thanks to which the shores are decorated with beautiful trees”.
In a book published in 1870 he also gave some practical advice and guidelines:
“At first, those who want to take part in a trip can meet together and form a loyal group for the duration of the trip. One person among them is elected to be the manager who is in charge of the group’s business. When a plan and direction are premeditated, a reliable guide, who knows the path of the trip, is reserved. Apart from this, each person takes one mountain dweller as a helper whose duty is to carry food and clothes for a given person, take care of him or her and serve them day and night.
The worst gowns should be taken for the trip, bearing in mind that it is impossible not to tear them. One should wear short, light clothing and if necessary add a jerkin or a coat. The head should be covered with a wind protection hat. A second pair of underwear, as well as a second pair of shoes, and several handkerchiefs will be needed; the latter useful for a cold compress in case of a contusion. However, the most important item is a rubber coat.
When going on a long trip into the heart of the Tatra Mountains, one’s legs should be protected against abrasions or blisters on feet, which is often very troublesome and may become a reason to return from the trip without success. The remedy for such problems may be seemingly unpleasant, however great in practice; that is, one has to place suet into their socks and set off on the trip without the worry of any leg injury even during the longest march”.
While reading this advice today we may get an impression that it concerns an expedition to exotic, mountainous places. Though much of that is still valid, nobody thinks about taking an individual guide while going to the mountains. The Tatra Mountains have been tamed, which, of course, has the effect sometimes in the form of tourists wandering trails wearing high-heeled shoes and clothes unsuitable for weather conditions, which can be erratic in the mountains.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.
See “Przy Morskim Oku” (“Turystki w Tatrach”) [At the Morskie Oko Lake – Tourists in the Tatra Mountains] painting by Walery Radzikowski in the collection of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums.