Strážnice open-air folk museum offers a glimpse of life in past centuries

Strážnice, photo: Zdeňka Kuchyňová

In today’s Spotlight we travel to South Moravia, to the town of Strážnice, the heart of the ethnographic region of Slovácko. The town is a traditional centre of regional ethnographic festivities. Today we take you to the Strážnice open-air folk museum featuring local village architecture and showing glimpses of life in the past centuries.

The open-air museum in Strážnice presents examples of popular architecture from different parts of the region of Slovácko, such as the districts of Moravské Kopanice, Zálesí and Horňácko. The local terrain has been altered to resemble the typical countryside of the respective districts. In all, there are 65 houses in the museum. The entrance building comes from the year 1612. Formerly a brewery owned by the local nobility, today it houses a gift shop selling various local products to visitors. Among them a small pipe, played by shopkeeper Renata Janasová.

“This used to be called ‘the ragman’s pipe’. People who travelled around villages and bought old rags to make rugs from them, used to wear these pipes around the neck. The ragmen used to play them as they walked from village to village.”

When you enter the open-air museum, a ten-hectare area of picturesque countryside opens up in front of you, scattered with centuries old houses. Here you can learn not only about the types of local architecture but also about the way people used to live here in Slovácko. One part of the outdoor exhibition is dedicated to the ethnographic district is Moravské Kopanice. It is an isolated area where old traditions had been conserved for a long time, as guide Eva Rýpalová explains.

Strážnice,  photo: Zdeňka Kuchyňová
“The very name comes from the way soil was worked there. People who lived there had to dig – or kopat – with hoes to be able to grow at least something on the barren slopes. These people were called Kopaničáři and the area was named Moravské Kopanice.”

Kopanice was inhabited by people who originally came from Hungary or today’s Slovakia. They were given a plot of land where they could build a modest house. The houses displayed in the open-air museum are built from timber and the holes between the beams are plugged with moss and mud. However, covered with white plaster, they look like brick houses. Also, they have rather unusual chimneys.

“Chimneys in Moravské Kopanice end below the roof. They open into the attic and there is a flat piece of rock placed over the opening. As hot sparks would hit it, they would cool down and fall back down into the stove. The smoke was released through the cracks in the opening into the attic and then through the roof. Houses in Kopanice consisted of just one room and a shed. The whole family, sometimes up to 11 people, lived in this small room.”

The tour around the museum continues to another ethnographic district – Luhačovické Zálesí – an area between the regions of Valašsko and Slovácko, where mountains turn into lowlands. That is reflected in the building material – the houses are no longer built from timber but from adobes. The former house of Anna Mrázková from the village of Doubravy gives the visitor a taste what a household with a newborn baby looked like, including various superstitions and rituals connected to childbirth.

“In labour, the woman let her hair loose and had all cords and laces untied on her clothes and shoes. All locks in the house were unlocked and all cupboards opened, so everything would be open and loose and the child could come into this world easily. When the baby was born, the midwife examined it. When the baby was born with a tooth, it was considered a bad omen for the whole family. So they would try to push the tooth back or even extract it. When the baby was given its first bath, nine herbs were added to the water so that the child would be healthy. A boy was given a piece of iron in order to be strong and a girl a handful of straws for beautiful long hair. A small coin was thrown into the bath for wealth. Then the child was smeared with butter so it would be precious to everybody and had a red string tied around its hand for protection from evil powers.”

The house from Zálesí and the one from Kopanice make an interesting comparison. Even though both were built at around the same time, the visitor has a feeling that there is a hundred years’ gap between them. In Zálesí, the houses had wooden floors and tiled stoves. In Kopanice the floors were made from mud and the houses had stick chimneys.

The open-air museum features more recent houses as well. For example the house of Mr Mališek from Provodov. It comes from the 19th century but the interior is from the 1930s. There is a separate bedroom for the husband and wife, a kitchen with a kitchen range and a sofa where the breadwinner could take a nap after lunch.

“That’s when cupboards came into fashion and various painted saucepans and cups were displayed on the upper shelves with glass doors. The lower part was for pots and pans and the middle was a worktop.”

The house is locked again and we are going to see different farm buildings, such as barns, a drying room for fruits, a winepress and a wine cellar but also a blacksmith’s workshop and a weaver’s house. A replica of a miller’s house which used to belong to the Čerešník brothers and was built in 1716 presents wedding preparations.

“After the first banns, the bride-to-be walked around the village. If she was poor, she went from house to house; if she was rich she only went to see her friends and asked for wedding presents. Wherever she asked she had to be given something even if it was just a handful of feathers to stuff her pillow. After the third banns it was the bridegroom who walked around the village with his best man and invited people to the wedding table. A day before the wedding they parted with freedom. A candle was lit and while it burnt, merrymaking went on. Once the candle went out, that was the end of the party and everyone went home.”

Few people know that weddings were originally held on Wednesdays or Thursdays.

Finally, we move to the district of Horňácko, a region at the foothills of the White Carpathians. It is situated around its centre of Velká nad Veličkou and the district is known for its rich folklore traditions. We see streets here and gardens separated by fences. While there were no chimneys on the Kopanice houses, here there is a lot to admire. Eva Rýpalová again.

“The inhabitants of Horňácko competed in who would have the prettiest chimney. So they made various windows, steps and roofs on them. Those had a practical reason, too, because the chimneys were often used for smoking meat. Now we are standing in front of the blacksmith’s workshop of Mr Veverka from Lipov. It was preserved exactly as the last blacksmith left it in 1971.”

The Strážnice open-air folk museum does not only display houses and tools but sheds some light on what human life was like in the past centuries in South Moravia, including customs and rituals concerning childbirth, marriage, work as well as death. Finally, the path through the 18th and 19th centuries takes us back to the present – the entrance building where visitors can buy local handmade products: ceramics – painted Moravian faience or typical fabrics woven on an old loom but also glass products as shopkeeper Renata Janasová points out:

“This is a winegrowing region, so part of the exhibition is also dedicated to winegrowing. These are tasting glasses that you can hang around your neck. It is a practical thing. It is a traditional product, but alas, it’s empty.”

Photo: Zdeňka Kuchyňová