Bełżyce (Belzyce)

A Small Town in Lubelskie, plus the neighbouring village of Wzgórze (Wzgorze)

Belzyce lies about 25km to the southwest of the city of Lublin and consists of a grid of streets laid out around a large, rectangular market square. The market, or rynek, is long gone and the area is now a park with many mature trees surrounded by mainly brick 2 storey shops and buildings typical to former market towns of the region. It lies in an area of relatively flat and open agricultural land in the almost imperceptable valley of a very small river, the Ciemięga (Ciemiega).

We visited the town on a generally sunny Saturday morning in late September and had a very pleasant day looking around the place, buying cakes and strolling through the surrounding countryside. Belzyce is quite obviously a place with a much more successful past, and judging by the buildings it was already in decline by the beginning of the 19th century. The feel is very much agricultural and, despite being the central town of the local gmina, has not really got to grips with the modern world. I think that this town may one day be a great find for the growing number of commuters working in Lublin and living outside the city as the access is quite good and the atmosphere quite relaxed. At the bottom of the page is a map of the town and neighbouring Wzgorze, all the pictures here have numbers that refer to the numbers on the map.

(1)

Originally a village, it obtained town rights in 1417, and in 1452 there was a parish established here. Typical with many villages gaining town rights, it was relaif out to give it its grid pattern of streets around a central square or rectangular rynek. It thrived for several centuries due to its location on the trade route between Cracow and Vilnius. Zamkowa Street indicates that there was once some form of fortification here, the only remainder of this is the manor house from the 19th century. The earliest building is the church, a Baroque style building from 1654, with some additions later in the same century. Belzyce was a centre of the reformation miovement when many Protestant nobles met here at a Calvinist meeting house during the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century.

(2)

First with the moving of Poland's capital to Warsaw and then the partitioning of Poland in the 1790's came the loss of the trade route and the decline of the town. While this did not cause Belzyce to completely disappear from the map, partly because it was still part of a manor's estate, the quality of the 2 storey 19th century rynek buildings indicates commerce was generally low. There are also few commercial buildings from the early 20th century, a period when other similar towns were beginning to expand again, and by the early 1920's the manor was no longer functioning as part of an estate and the manor building was converted into a miltary hospital.

3, 2 storey brick buildings, typical of 19th and early 20th century market towns in rural Poland.

There is no clear visible evidence of a building that could once have been a town hall, except possibly one low Classically designed building on the north side. The present town hall dates from the 1960's and is just off the rynek on the eastern side. The parish church is off to the northwest of the rynek, which means that the main, western, entrance to the church is away from the town.

Around the rynek there are numerous small shops, one small 'bar mleczny', numerous short tress typical to Polish market towns and quite a few old ladies selling farm produce from baskets laid out on the ground. On the next parallel street to the south is the 'dom kultury' with its cinema, a typical piece of 1960's style of cheap communist period architecture. On the western side of the rynek is a small workshop with metal working machines, a blacksmiths shop which has somehow survived on the rynek and managed to transform itself to the needs of the modern small farmer and townsman. Most of the buildings around the rynek are brick, but there are still a couple of wooden ones as well as a couple of more recent buildings at the eastern end.

4, The present day equivalent of a blacksmiths shop, on the rynek.

5, A very traditional style of business premises, a tailors shop on the south side of the rynek.

Away from the rynek there are many wooden houses, most of them decaying remnants of once quite presentable buildings. One of the reasons for the decay is the splitting of a single building into to homes, probably the effects of the typical Polish custom of division of property among all the children in a will, with the result that no one feels responsible for the maintenance of the complete property. Sadly, one can see that Belzyce is not a particularly prosperous place, although there are many bright spots. Agriculture was quite recently practiced quite close to the town centre, and there are many barns a few paces walk away from the rynek, although for the past 30 years oro so many of the fields have become house building plots.

6, A divided property, one of the smaller ones.

7, A field falling into disuse, and its barn, surrounded by 20th century buildings to the east of the rynek.

8, Nearby is this barn, with a sign on it advertising meble (furniture) for sale.

To the southwest of the rynek is probably the finest area of original styles of wooden houses, often 2 storey, with a couple of streets planted along its length with the ubiquitous small, round headed trees of the small Polish country town. I have not yet found out what kind of tree, but they retain their shapes often through pollarding or judicious pruning back of branches in the autumn.

9, 2 Storey wooden house, with slight Zakopane styling to the upper storey, and town trees along the street.

10, Another 2 storey house in the same area, this time of a simpler style but still with the town trees.

11, To the west of the Rynek is this brick built building housing a bakery.

One direction in which there has been quite a lot of expansion in this period is on the southwestern corner of the town, engulfing the formerly separate hamlet of Wzgórze (Wzgorze). A very pleasant walk is to be had along a path surfaced with paving stones and raised slightly above the surrounding land in the direction of Wzgorze. You leave the rynek at its southwestern corner and just follow the straight road to the west and keep going until it becomes the above mentioned track. The path continues for a couple of kilometers in generally straight alignments. There are many interesting wooden buildings to be seen and alongside the path in Wzgorze is a small fire station and a clean and respectable little bar where you can also buy hot drinks, a limited range of hot meals etc. If you keep going you will end up in Krężnica Okrągła (Kreznica Okragla), and a return to Belzyce is possible by the main road, or by a small lane a couple of hundred meters to the north and parallel with the path you hav just walked.
12, A Wzgorze cottage and garden

13, Wzgorze, a very low-lying village

14, A nice cottage in Wzgorze with a terrible extension, and the porch was probably much better before it was panelled in.

To the north of the centre, at a distance of a couple of hundred meters, well beyond the PKS bus station, is a shop and a restaurant on the left, built in the late 1990's of red brick. We have not tried the restaurant as we came upon it late on a saturday afternoon just when we were planning to return home. Earlier we did try the 'Bar Słoneczny', on the south heading road from the southeastern corner of the rynek for a cup of coffee, but here you have to be prepared for bleak and long faded 1960's style communist bar interior and hard drinker clientele, but the serving woman was nice.

15, The church.

The church is cleaned on a Saturday morning, so this is a good time to go and have a look around the inside. Be prepared for the 'goldy woldy' late Baroque style and some dreadfully tacky modern pictures, but made up for by the really big and interesting 'points of the cross' pictures. The mainly grassed over former churchyard is worth a quick look round if you fancy looking at some more tack - almost unbearable unless you are the kind of person who goes all squidgy over children singing hymns out of tune - type. Fortunately, it is obvious that the locals care for all of this, so I find it easy to forgive even the advert for the dangerously nationalist Radio Maryja just outside the church grounds (one of Radio Maria's doctrines is that only bad things come from the West, so if you are not a born Eastern European, that means You).

15, One of the points of the cross in the church.

15, A harvest festival decoration from the altar, a bit faded a few weeks after the event.

The former manor is in a sad state of decay, it currently is the local ambulance station and until recently still a local hospital. It is located on the northeastern side of the town, head east from the northeastern corner of the rynek along ul. Zamkowa, which bends a bit, and then turn left down ul. Szpitalna. It is about 200m along on the left and could almost be missed in summer when the trees are in leaf. Entering the building itself would requiring asking and convincing one of the people who work there, we didn't try it as it was late in the day for us.

16, A cottage of significant size in terminal decay, with the porch already having collapsed.

Getting to and from Belzyce is easy as buses are frequent from Lublin, what you need to look for are Opole or Poniatowa mini-buses that park up behind the PKS bus station, don't bother with PKS buses unless you have loads of free time on your hands as they are the slowest things, excepting old men on bicycles, on Polish roads. Belw-zee-cha? is all you need to ask the driver.


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