A History of Zakopane

By Tim Lambert

Dedicated to Bea Mendyk

Early Zakopane

Zakopane is a flourishing winter sports center at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. It’s commonly called The winter capital of Poland. However, until the 19th century, Zakopane was only a tiny village. It does not appear in history until the 17th century. However during the 19th century, Zakopane grew larger and the Old Church, a wooden church was built in 1851.

Zakopane started to grow in the late 19th century. Because of its high altitude, people came to Zakopane to breathe fresh mountain air for their health. (Zakopane is the highest town in Poland). It was promoted by Dr Tytus Chalubinski (1820-1889). The Tatra Museum opened in 1889. In 1899 the railway reached Zakopane making it easier for visitors to reach. As a result, Zakopane grew rapidly.

Modern Zakopane

In the early 20th century Zakopane became a fashionable place for artists and intellectuals. Zakopane became a vibrant town. n Meanwhile in 1918 when Poland became independent again Zakopane became an important skiing resort. Furthermore, in 1930 the great composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) went to live in a house called Villa Atma in Zakopane. Willa Atma became a museum in 1976. The great writer Kornel Makuszynski (1884 – 1953) was a frequent visitor to Zakopane. When he died he was buried in the town.

Another famous inhabitant of Zakopane was the artist Stanislaw Witkiewicz (1851-1915), who was known as Wicktaky. He was also an architect and created a style of architecture called the Zakopane style. The first building in the style was the Willa Koliba in 1893. Witkiewicz also designed Willa Jedlami, which was built in 1897.

A cable car to Mount Kasprowy Wierch was built in 1936. Gubalowka Hill Funicular was built in 1938 and by 1939 Zakopane was a town of 20,000 people. The Festival of Highland Folklore was first held in Zakopane in 1965 and has been held there every summer since.

In the late 20th century Zakopane continued to thrive. The Witkacy Theatre was founded in 1984. The Wladyslaw Hasior Gallery opened in 1984. (Wladyslaw Hasior (1928 – 1999) was a famous Polish artist. He is buried in Zakopane). The Museum of the Zakopane Style opened in 1993 in the Koliba Villa. Meanwhile, The Museum of the Tatras National Park opened in 1957.

Today Zakopane has a population of about 28,000. Despite its small size it’s very popular with tourists and gets about 2 million visitors a year.

The Tatra Mountains

Last revised 2024