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Chem (Chelm)

Chelm is a small town built on chalk hills and surrounded by marshy lowlands quite close to the current border with Belarus. There has been a settlement here since neolithic times. Throughout its known history it has been the scene of battles. In the 14th and 15th centuries it was the seat of a bishop, and for a while it was even part of Hungary.

This is the centre of Chelm and the ballons and flags were out as it was Chelm Day.

By 1519 the cities defences were so poor that King Sigismund the Old allowed it the privilege of making alcohol, so long as part of the profitwas used to repair the defences. New walls and gates were quickly built.

It's most important contribution to more recent history is that on the 23rd of July Soviet forces freed it from the Germans, and then promptly a committee was set up to form a new Communist government for Poland. Chelm was obviously not particularly to their taste and they quickly moved on to Lublin once that city was freed. However, on the side of one building there is a huge and badly faded wall mural to celebrate this fact.

Chelm today looks like it is groggily trying to escape a recent past in which it has been ignored, but now that materials are more freely available and the council is slowly realizing that magic help from a central commitee is no longer forth coming and so along with the power they enjoy is coming the nasty tastes of responsibility and accountability.

Later 19th century town building, with some small changes.

If Kazimierz Dolny in the west of the province is a centre of the Lublin Renaissance and Italianate architecture, then Chelm is the equivalent in the east for the baroque (barok). In particular, the Apostles church is a good example of what is called the Lublin Central Baroque style.

Dug into the chalk under the city is a multi level and quite extensive cave system, created by the mining of chalk. These have served as protection for the population in times of war and can still be visited. The full extent of the caves is unknown, once many of the towns people had there own entrance to the system under there house, useful both for shelter and to carry out their own mining business. Eventually it was banned as there were beginning to be some serious subsidence problems.

Chelm is home to many people whose ancestors were forced to flee Ukraine due to incursions by the Turks and even today many people from this town bear Ukrainian names. Between 1974 and 1998 it was a wojewodztwo in itself, but now it is back part of Lubelskie. Chelm has been a separate region from Lubelskie several times, but their histories are closely entwined.

Mainly 20th century buildings, with some features from the 1920/30's. They are a bit plain, but there are some nice balconies

A surviving old shop front, now used as the town museum. The entrance is not here, that would be just too obvious, no off to the left, through an arch into the rear courtyard and the door is on your left. Once you have succeeded in finding the entrance then the museum is large and extensive with many different kinds of exhibit. A recent boost is an off shoot of the rebuilding of the rynek, where archeologists have made many finds and learnt a lot about the workings of the city in the past. There is a wide range of stuffed animals and plants from the region, and of course the obligatory Second World War display.

The Jewish Synagogue, quite obvious when you have seen a few in the region.This has not been used for religious purposes since World War 2, and has long since been put to other uses. At least this one has not been destroyed, as most others in the region were. This building houses the 'Dom Teknika', but basically this is a bar of the Communist type: smelly, wood panelled and not recommended. There was also a bank, but in 2002 they were moving to other premises.

The Orthodox church. I am no specialist on Orthodoxy architecture, but is looks late 19th century to me. Orthodox-Eclectic, or maybe Eclectic-Orthodox?. This seems to be locked up for most of the time, probably because there are few Orthodoxy left in Chelm. If you are lucky then there will be a mass on and you will then have the opportunity of seeing inside.

Further along the same road is a school with a church attached, although the church is now the town museum of sacral objects. This church is the former Uniate church, sw Mikolaje. Little remains of the original interior, but there is a good selection of religious art, carvings and written work from the region. There is a tablet on the wall commemorating Jadwiga Mlodowska, who organised a school for girls and an institute for teachers in Chelm, next door to the church.

The Roman Catholic church in the centre of the town, in quite succesful, and not too over the top Baroque style.

A Roman Catholic church in the 1960/70's 'blocks of flats' part of Chelm. I think the architectural theme is the Ark, but it could be a cradle - or both. Adventurous, but like most modern churches they are too high inside to heat efficiently in winter and old people have to sit huddled for about an hour every Sunday.

The summit of the hill is on which Chelm is built is fairly flat and covers a couple of acres, and here we find the main basilica and one time HQ of the former Chelm diocese. There is a raised mound on the eastern edge of this area which is though to be the site of a former wooden castle, but today it is used as the Way of the Cross for the basilica instead of the more normal points inside a church. The basilica and the separate bell tower look to be in need of some external maintenance, but inside the basilica everything was in fine condition, a good example of a relatively unornamental Baroque. The view from the hill is tremendous and you can see for miles and miles, particularly to the east, as the surrounding land is so flat. Housing and some industrial buildings and then just thousands of strip fields and little woods to the horizon.

Unusual upper storey in that it is in wood.

Still in the centre, with a view to some of the surrounding hills. The narrow peak on the roof is probably Chelm Neo-Gothic...

...and something similar again.

Away from the very centre there are more wooden cottages, although on back streets of the very heart you can still see a few tucked away in corners. This is a typical example of a cottage in a rural town - it has a few extra architectural details not often found in the countryside.

We have had a look at several cemeteries, including a very badly kept Orthodox Christian one you can see from the back windows of the RC priests house up near the cathedral. Many of the surviving graves were badly broken up and the undergrowth had almost taken it over - and that's not to mention the drinkers who frequent the place. Here are the graves of many of the towns important people of the past, but what do the essentially RC and athiest council care? How much does the RC priesthood care? Well, looking at the smart and well kept garages nearby, not as much as they do for their cars.

Below this was a military cemetery with many graves dating from the Second World War, many even with faded red painted stars on them. There were once graves of Germans and Austrians from the First World War, but of these we could see no traces. There is, though, one of the ugliest war memorials one is ever likely to come across, if the designer wanted to impress the thought that war is ugly, then he succeeded. It looks like that with the change in the politics this cemetery now has less maintenance than in the past, although some of the graves are cared for by family. A few spare plots have been used since the war for Party figures.

The Jewish cemetery has received some care, it has a reasonable perimeter fence and even the grass gets cut over much of it every so often. There are very few original headstones still standing, sadly the few remaining originals are hidden in brush at the back and only replicas dot the maintained part. The hidden stones are a favoured spot for drinkers and drug addicts, but the rest of the cemetery is pleasantly peaceful.

The holocaust memorial

Part of the well maintained part of the cemetery.

A good condition grave, but in the part disappearing in the jungle growth at the back of the cemetery.

Visitors by train should be careful as there are two stations, a small on in the northern part and the main one in the west. The northern one, Chelm Miasto, is the smallest but it is only a short walk to the centre and i would recommend jumping off here if you do not have a map as it is the easiest to find. When you get of the train you follow the other people down the platform and then turn right at the road. You will pass a brick built mill and then come across a large junction. On one corner of the junction is the town's largest hotel, the brick like hotel Kamena. go straight over the junction and you are now at the bottom end of the town centre.

The second station, Chelm Glowny has a recent station and is the only one to have somewhere you can stand out of the weather. It is also quite interesting if you are a train buff as it is quite active and there are things like snow-plough trains here. Chelm Glowny also seems to be the end of the line for several city bus routes.

Chelm Miasto

Chelm Glowny

Buses at Chelm Glowny. chelm had a remarkable collection of rusty buses when we visited in 2002, excluding those pictured here, but the bus service seems quite good and well organized.

If you have a question, information to give or just want to talk or exchange emails with other people interested in this corner of Poland, this is the group for you (it must be, because that is what it was set up for!).
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