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Origin and development of tourism in Giant Mountains



For the inhabitants of Bohemia and Silesia the beginnings of the oldest Slavic roads were paths over the Karkonosze mountains. Already of prehistoric times they were leading to places connected with the worship of water: springs of the Elbe River beneath the Śnieżka mountain and Łabski SPLACES OF WORSHIP

For the inhabitants of Bohemia and Silesia the beginnings of the oldest Slavic roads were paths over the Karkonosze mountains. Already of prehistoric times they were leading to places connected with the worship of water: springs of the Elbe River beneath the Śnieżka mountain and Łabski Szczyt, ‘The Holy Spring’ on the Grabowiec slope.

As early as in the Middle Ages two important roads ran across the Karkonosze mountains, namely: the ‘Silesian High Road’ – from Hostinne across the springs of the Elbe River and the Karkonosze ridge to the Silesian side to Jelenia Góra and Kowary; ‘the Czech High Road’ – from Wleń across Kamienica (vicinity of the present Szklarska Poręba) and the Karkonosze ridge, over to the Czech side and Czech Lowland.

The later network of tourist trails in Karkonosze was based on this original communication scheme from Silesia to Bohemia tried out during centuries.

Bolesław III Krzywousty (The Duke of Poland from 1102 to 1138) together with his army forced his way through the Karkonosze in 1100. ‘He marked a new way out leading to Bohemia… unexplored, through dreadful surroundings …’

Gaul Anonymous, A.D. 1113

An extract from the oldest Karkonosze mountains area map by Szymon Huttel, dating from the 16th century

According to tradition, already in the second half of the twelfth century the treasure–seekers (called the Walloons for their Roman descent) started penetrating Karkonosze and Isere Mountains. They came to Silesia from the south and west.

Economic activity of a man contributed to a better knowledge of the mountains. Walloons (mostly miners), were soon placed with wood-cutters – ‘dust-raisers’ , glass-workers melting mountain glass, and herbalists – ‘laboratory workers’.

A legend of a Mountain Ghost, sometimes called Mr John, Lord of the Mountains, Rübezahl, and Rzepiór, has been told by people living in Karkonosze since the old ages. Legends of Rzepiór – an embodiment of changeability and impetuosity of the Karkonosze nature, have always been a great tourists attraction.


Starting from the ancient times, people were looking for effective ways of wounds or diseases treatment and restoring of the lost health. Living in the natural environment, people were using well-known plants to get mysterious powers from them. The most famous ways of treatment were: willows’ bark for fever and joints’ pains, some resin for painful muscles’ crams and thyme for cough and various types of infections.

It was common opinion that plants had mysterious powers which could bring both the health and the death. The same agent could both cure and kill when used in the bigger dose.

A root of mandrake was regarded as a special one. When it was uprooted, a piercing groan could be heard. Mandrake was used to produce the relieve drugs. Its spited root (so called alrauna) that looked like a human being was a powerful magic agent especially in the Middle Ages. Many legends were connected with it.

For millenniums, people were looking for the philosopher stone that could be identified with the elixir of life. Its main goal was to clear the body of diseases, make the life longer or bring the old man back to young days.

With time, a group of people who knew a lot about existing plants, emerged. They started to prepare the first medicinal concoctions.

Roots-diggers and medicinal plants-pickers started their activity in Giant Mountains long time ago. With time, they more and more gave a helping hand for local pharmacists. Folk herbalist-alchemists (also called laboratory-assistants) were developing their activity intensively in 17th-18th century, especially in Karpacz where a special guild (to protect their business) was established . At the time of the intensive development of the guild, 28 herbalists were employed. They gathered journeymen, students, plants-pickers, assistants and sellers. Sellers were promoting and selling concoctions for various ailments on every market and fairs located in Lower Silesia and even abroad. They were seen in Prague, Cracow, Vienna, Moscow and London.

Almost for two centuries, Karpacz could exist and develop due to above presented guild. In fact, it did not have anything in common with quacks and charlatans, because the entire production of drugs was controlled by governmental pharmacists and all procedures had to be strictly obeyed.

On the exhibition, there are some plants that were picked up by herbalists in Giant Mountains, the old herbal pot (were plants were brewed and taken special powers). The original boxes for drugs are presented in the showcase next to the main exhibits. On the wall there is a bas-relief from 1930, prepared by the Carver School from Cieplice, that presents scenes of herbalists’ life such as: picking-up plants, activities in the herbal kitchen as well as the guild’s patron – the ghost of the mountains. In the past the bas-relief was located next to the main railway station in Karpacz.

In the middle of 19th century, as a result of new regulations (drugs amount restrictions, prohibition of door-to-door sales, limitation of trade markets and guild employment and significant development of pharmacy based on artificial chemicals similar to some herbs) the laboratory-assistants guild started to be on the decline. Its last representatives, as great experts on mountains, did guiding for a living.

At the exhibition you may see a sculpture – the triptych made by the Carver School from Cieplice Śląskie in 1930s: three scenes of herbalists’ life such as: picking-up plants, activities in the herbal kitchen as well as the guild’s patron – the ghost of the mountains called Karkonosz. Under the sculpture, in the showcase: the jar with the root of mandrake – in reality a root of a net garlic growing in the neighbourhood of the Small and Big Ponds in Karkonosze Mountains. The root was sold to the tourists as a souvenir - amulet as early as the 18th century. There are also little bottles, boxes, the herbalist’s knife, the jar, the mortar, the viper, the herbalist’s basket and the herbalist’s pot as well as the old photograph of Ernst August Zölfel – the last laboratory-assistant master located in the showcase.

Panoramas, waterfalls and palaces

Wanderers in the Giant Mountains admired exceptional beautiful panoramas looking from peaks .At the exhibition, there are reproductions of: the Massive Mountains, the Little Pond, the panorama from Miedzianka, view of Myslakowice and the following waterfalls: Łaba, Szklarka, Kamieńczyk and Podgórna. They also found palaces in Mysłakowice, Karpniki, Łomnica, Cieplice and Miłków very attractive

 History of mountain refuges

The first wooden mountain refuge at Sniezka peak, on the Silesian side, was built in 1850 by Fryderyk Sommer ,the innkeeper from Cieplice, who spent 2000 talars. He was also the last leaseholder of the refuge-chapel. The building burned on 22nd October 1857. It was rebuilt very fast but unfortunately it burned again in April 1862. Nobody knew why- maybe it was hit by a clap of thunder or somebody set it on fire. It is not a secret that the refuge brought impressive profits, so the owner decided to build it again for the third time. This last one existed for the longest time. It was well-equipped and in the good condition. After the Second World War it became a Polish mountain refuge.

When in 1868, at the Czech side of Sniezka peak, Blaške from the nearby Budy Graniczne built another mountain refuge, the competition significantly increased. F. Sommer won in this duel and in 1870 bought and took over the Czech mountain refuge. Since 1875 the Pohla family was the owner of both buildings. They managed both mountain refuges until the beginning of the Second World War. In tourist guides written at the beginning of 20th century the following info could be found: “ It is true that Pohl is the subject and the clerk of two emperors however he is a real ruler at the Sniezka peak”. He ran post offices in refuges: the German one – established in 1872 and Austrian-Hungarian. In 1873 the first postcard – regarded as one of the oldest in the world - was sent from Sniezka .

In 1960s and 1970s at the place of dismantled mountain refuge, the meteorological observatory and the restaurant – so called “flying plates” - was built.

The Chojnik castle

The reconstruction of the Piast castle Chojnik from the time of its magnificence (the first half of 17th century) is presented in the museum. Because of its attractive location, the castle played an important role in the development of the tourism in the region. Over the model, its photograph is hanging. At present, the ruins are one of the most important tourist attractions in the Jelenia Góra region.


Ryszard Kincel, an autor of a monograph on Polish hiking in Karkonosze in his book entitled ‘Polish nobility in the 17th and 18th centuries on top of the Śnieżka mountain’ wrote:

‘Poles, coming mostly from the flatlands of the Great Poland, Mazovia and Lithuania, when reaching Karkonosze discovered tourist values completely unknown to them’, remarking that ‘… they learned the love of the mountains in Karkonosze’.

Testimony of their stay are the entries in the visitors’ book laid out in Karkonosze shelter-houses. Many of these entries are of a poetic nature and their content expresses deep patriotic feelings.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries many outstanding Poles roamed Karkonosze, including: Adam Czartoryski, Izabela Czartoryska, Fryderyk Skarbek, Jan Olrych – Staniecki, Edward Dembowski, Józef Wybicki, Franciszek Dzierżykraj – Morawski, Bogusz Zygmunt Stęczyński.

There is a visitors’ book with Polish entries from a shelter on top of the Śnieżka mountain from 1800 to 1806, exhibited in the display case.


The first wooden shelter on the Silesian side of the top of the Śnieżka mountain was built in 1850 for 200 thalers by the innkeeper Fryderyk Sommer from Cieplice, who was the last leaseholder of the chapel – shelter. It burned down on 22 October, 1857. Even though it was quickly rebuilt, it burned down again in April 1862. The reason to that is unknown. Perhaps it caught fire because of a lightning or it was torched. It must have been bringing good profits, because its unlucky owner built the third shelter in a row the same year. The last one survived for the longest time. It was well-furnished and kept. A Polish shelter was located in it after the second World War.

Competition became fiercer when on the Czech side of the top of Śnieżka Czech shed-owner Blaške from the nearby Budy Graniczne (The Border Sheds) built another shelter in 1868. F. Sommer won it bought and in 1870 took over a Czech shelter. Since 1875 the Pohl family owned both shelters, which remained in their possession till the second World War. Guidebooks from the beginning of the 20th century quoted: ‘Pohl is the two emperor’s subject and clerk but he is a monocrat on Śnieżka’. In the shelters he ran a post office: German (established in 1872) and Austro-hungarian. In 1873 the first ever first-day cover from Śnieżka was sent from it, which also was one of the oldest ones in the world.

In the 1960s and 1970s a new metereological observatory and restaurant building - so-called ‘flying saucers’ were built in place of the pulled down shelter on the Silesian side.

It is situated by the main road leading to Śnieżka at 885 metres above sea level. On account of its origin and architecture it is the biggest tourist attraction in Karpacz Górny, well-attended by the tourists.

At the beginning of 19th century J.K. Dahl – a painter from Norway, at that time living in Dresden, became interested in the old church situated by the Wang lake in southern Norway, in the Valdres provinces.

Thanks to the lucky coincidence he managed to buy it for 120 thalers for – at that time reigning – king Fryderyk Wilhelm IV museum’s collection. After making a quite precise inventory of the little church, in summer 1841 it was reassembled and transported to the Berlin Museum’s storehouse. It would have been still remaining there for a long time untill it could see the light of day again, if another lucky coincidence not happened. Local philanthropist Fryderyka von Reden, an owner of the large estate in Bukowiec, persuaded the king to rebuild the church in Karpacz Górny. The land, where the church was planned to be located, had been donated by the landowner count Leopold Schaffgotsch to a highland community in 1842. Today it borders on Karkonosze National Park’s woodland. Total costs of rebuilding and adding a new presbytery amounted to over 80 000 Marks, excluding money spent on the purchase of the church and its transport from Norway.

The Feast of Dedication of the church took place on 28th July 1844.

Nowadays the Wang Church belongs to the Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland and services are held every Sunday.

The Karkonosze Society (1880 – 1945)

The Karkonosze Society - Riesengebirgs-Verein (RGV) played a significant role in the development of tourism in the Giant Mountains. It was established on 1st August 1880 on initiative of Teodor Donat from Mysłakowice. The members of the society were divided into sections which were active in many places – not only in Lower Silesia. The first section was established on 3rd August 1880 in Mysłakowice. At the end of 1880, 14 sections were active in Mysłakowice, Cieplice Zdrój, Jelenia Góra, Kowary, Podgórzyn, Świeradów Zdrój, Miłków, Kamienna Góra, Zgorzelec, Szklarska Poręba, Lubawka, Mirsk, Barcinek, Sosnówka; there were 867 members registered altogether.

In the first years of activity, the society took care of building and modernizations of roads in the mountains as well as marking of tourist paths. In 1905, on the jubilee of 25 years of the society existence, “the Jubilee Road” – the road that goes from Równia pod Śnieżką to Sniezka peak was opened. Between 1881 – 1943 the society published the magazine “Der Wanderer im Riesengebirge” – The Wanderer from the Giant Mountains - that promoted the geographical and historical knowledge about the mountains and the region. At the same time, tourist news and info about the society activity were published. In 1914, the organization made the place in the new building located in Jelenia Góra available for the Giant Mountains Museum. The museum still exists. In 1927, within the confines of the Giant Mountains Society, the Mountain Guard (Bergwacht), was brought into existence. Its main goal was to protect the nature and animals as well as monuments of nature. The Giant Mountains Society was active in the Giant Mountains until the end of the Second World War..

At the exhibition there is a photograph of Teodor Donat – the founder of the Karkonosze Society as well as another one that presents the obelisk located next to Big Pond in the Giant Mountains. There are also: a membership badge of the society, the geological picture of the Western Sudety Mountains section and also some photos that present the opening ceremony of the Karkonosze Museum in 1914. In addition, a funny reproduction of a postcard that promoted fund-raising for mountain roads building in the Giant Mountains is available to see. Finally, there are magazines published by the society “The Wanderer from the Giant Mountains”.


Health resort Cieplice played one of the most important parts in the development of tourism in Karkonosze. Those who were staying at Cieplice springs usually did not neglect hiking in the mountains. Climbing the top of Śnieżka became so fashionable that it was even described by an author of the ‘Śląski labirynt historyczny’ (‘The Silesian Historical Labyrinth’) has written:

‘Silesians, as well as foreigners, who visit Jelenia Góra’s hot springs, show interest in walking in the mountains with a guide and climbing to the top of Śnieżka.’

There are numerous preserved documents describing Polish visitors to Cieplice. The oldest ones date back to the 17th century.

It would be impossible to recall all of them but one particular stay should be mentioned: stay of Michał Radziwiłł in 1677 (then the Lithuanian vice chancellor) and Teodor Billewicz (his travelling companion), who in his travel diary included the first Polish description of Cieplice springs.

The most distinguished visitor however was Maria Kazimiera ‘Marysieńka’ Sobieska, the Polish queen, who came to Cieplice with her daughter Teresa and sons Aleksander and Konstanty in the summer 1687. Other visitors were: Hugo Kołłątaj (1792 and 1808), Edward Dembowski (1846), Wincenty Pol and Kornel Ujejski (1847), Roman Zmorski (1847) and many others.

The influx of Polish guests was so big that a guidebook in Polish was written especially for them. It was published by W. B. Korn in 1850: ‘Cieplice and its Vicinity in 38 Pictures Gathered in 12 Hikes through Pilgrimage in Sudety…’ one of the oldest Polish guidebooks.

This part of the exhibition is devoted to Tadeusz Różewicz,

an outstanding Polish poet and playwright, since the nineties in close relationship with Karkonosze and Karpacz. His works are exhibited here: the manuscript of the poem ‘Gawęda o spóźnionej miłości’ (poemat o Wandzie Rutkiewicz)’ (‘A tale about late love’ a poem about Wanda Rutkiewicz), the poem ‘W gościnie u Henryka Tomaszewskiego w Muzeum Zabawek’ ( ‘Visiting Henryk Tomaszewski in the Toy Museum’) and the humorous sketch ‘Dziwna i nieprawdziwa historia o spotkaniu z Rübezahlem czyli Janem Liczyrzepą w Karpaczu’ (‘The strange and untrue story about meeting Rübezahl, that is John Liczyrzepa in Karpacz’.

These works have been published thanks to a joint effort of friends from Karpacz in 300 numbered copies in a luxury edition in December 1997.

When organising a temporary exhibition in the Museum of Sport and Tourism in Karpacz a notelet dedicated to the 80th anniversary of the artist’s birth was issued in 1000 copies and also a luxury edition of the ‘Jeden dzień w życiu poety’ (‘One day in poet’s life’) in 300 numbered copies.

In 2003 at the second anniversary of the opening of this exhibition

the museum published a publication ‘Tadeusz Różewicz – poeta

i dramaturg w Karkonoszach’ (‘Tadeusz Różewicz – the poet and playwright in Karkonosze’).

Moreover, poet donated his first fountain pen and glasses, which make very precious exhibits.

Nonetheless, the most precious exhibits are three Literary Award ‘Nike’ Nominations (1998, 1999, 2000) and the Literary Award ‘Nike’ 2000 itself. ‘Silver pen’ in a case – readers award in a contest under the same name, distinctions and honorable mentions, among other: Grand Cross Rebirth of Poland Order ‘Polonia Restituta’, a prize from a weekly magazine ‘Nowiny Jeleniogórskie’ – ‘Kryształ Górski’ awarded in February 1988, a diploma and a medal ‘Distinguished for Karpacz’, ‘Key to Wrocław Gateways – a merit award granted by Wrocław’, and many more.

Wanda Rutkiewicz – ”Polish woman on the peak of the world”

In 1979, Sports and Tourism Museum of Karkonosze region organised a contemporary exhibition entitled: ”Polish woman on the peak of the world” that summarized the activity of the most outstanding Polish climber Wanda Rutkiewicz. On 18th October 1978, she became the first Western and the third woman to reach the top of Mount Everest 8.848 m.
Wanda Rutkiewicz started climbing in the Sudety Mountains; more precisely in the Sokole Mountains, in the Rudawy Janowickie and in the Giant Mountains. She climbed over Snieżne Kotły and Wielki Kocioł Małego Stawu.
The following registration is a great memento after the exhibition:

”Thank you for nice honouring
of reaching the top of Mount Everest by me
by the exhibition that has been prepared
so great by the Sports and Tourism Museum”

Karpacz, 27th October.1979 Wanda Rutkiewicz
This registration become an inspiration for the great poet Tadeusz Różewicz to write a beautiful poem entitled: “The tale about late love”. Its manuscript is owned by the museum.