Gate to the forest
Hajnówka is located in the north-eastern part of Poland, in the Hajnowski poviat, in the picturesque region of the Białowieża Primeval Forest. On the edge of an ancient forest, immersed in an idyllic landscape interwoven with picturesque domes of Orthodox churches, wooden huts with colorful shutters, traditional gardens and orchards. Being the “gateway to the Forest”, it opens the way to the best-preserved natural forest in the European Lowlands. The Białowieża Primeval Forest, as the only natural area in Poland, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It also received the status of a Biosphere Reserve. Known all over the world, it is the pride and showcase of Podlasie, an element of its identity and undoubtedly one of the strongest tourist magnets in the region. Here you will see rich forests with majestic oaks, lindens, and ash trees … You will be fascinated by the dark face of forests and very picturesque, though less accessible, alder and riparian forests. As you walk along the designated tourist routes, you will observe large, ancient trees and a rich, diverse world of plants, fungi and animals.
The Białowieża Primeval Forest penetrates into the space of Hajnówka, or rather is still present here. It was the first, the city was built later. This is evidenced by centuries-old trees growing here, having the status of natural monuments. The oldest of them are between 100 and 300 years old. About 60 trees, which are under conservation protection, grow in the city. As many as 51 of them are noble English oak, Latin Quercus robur. The ancient Greeks considered this oak to be a tree of wisdom. In 2021, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of granting city rights to Hajnówka, 70 pedunculate oaks “Fastigiata” were planted in the city park. Thus, the number of trees for which the city is most famous has increased.
The “green heart of the city” is created by the city park. It has an area of over 8 ha and is located between the streets: Parkowa, Piłsudskiego, Armii Krajowej and Białowieska. Here you can walk along alleys situated among ancient oaks, lindens, birches, maples and hawthorns. While staying in this place, it is hard to believe that years ago there was a turpentine factory here. The sculptures found here will direct you to find the history of the city. The most magnificent of them is a group of several meters long wooden figures devoted to the “Unbreakable”, that is, forest workers of the interwar period.
LIVING IN THE RHYTHM OF TRADITION
Traditions practiced for generations are still alive in Hajnówka. This effortless authenticity has its own special charm and helps to understand the natural world order. You will get to know the true spirituality of the city best through direct contact with the inhabitants who are very friendly. On the street, in a shop or in a park, you will hear the local dialect. As they say, „My howorym po swojemu”. Hajnówka dialect is a combination of Belarusian, Ukrainian and Polish. It is an expression of identity and a strong bond with “locals”. You will experience other folk elements of Hajnówka culture, for example, during the Bison Fair – the largest local festival of flavor and folklore.
There is a place in Hajnówka where all local is concentrated – from natural products to interpersonal relationships based on “familiarity” and the local dialect. Here you will find out what the city is living today. You will get information and advice “first hand”. It is a market square in Hajnówka – a place eagerly visited by tourists. It is distinguished by its authenticity. It comes alive every Wednesday (market day), proving how valuable space it is for the local population. It shows the natural rhythm of life in the city and its surroundings, its seasonality. Depending on the season, you can buy fresh, ecological products from local households – eggs, seasonal vegetables and fruits, honey, mushrooms, hand-made cottage cheese, as well as local handicrafts.
SACRUM AND PROFANUM
Orthodoxy and Catholicism, the traditions and rituals associated with it, and the rich sacred architecture will bring you, as well as many newcomers earlier, into a state of calm and tranquility. Sublime sacred music and white choral singing, beating hearts of bells inviting to prayer, the glow and warmth of candles placed during services by the faithful for health or as an expression of remembrance for the dead – these are the most important elements of the cultural landscape of Hajnówka. The local cultural heritage and monumental nature are a source of inspiration for artists who create using natural materials.
The expression of such creativity are, for example, wooden sculptures. They are an expression of the eternal bond between man and nature, in this case – the bond between Hajnówka and the Białowieża Forest. Every year, there are open-air sculptures in the city, and you can see the works that are created in various places – one of them stands, for example, in the vicinity of the Hajnówka Cultural Center. Hajnówka is an inspiration for artists, especially painters and musicians, who draw inspiration from the local unique culture and nature. The result of their work are painting exhibitions and concerts. One of the most important events is, for example, the International Festival of Orthodox Music Days in Hajnówka.
Hajnówka has a unique atmosphere. In part, it results from a specific culture that emerged at the meeting point of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Partly from the history of the city established in the middle of the forest, which over the years developed on the basis of the timber industry. Wooden architecture is an important element of the aforementioned atmosphere.
Shutters, intricate decorations embossed in wood, ornaments and small porches with steps straight to the garden. Decorations were applied to boards, cut them out, and then attached to the corners of buildings, or under the roof, along the length of the house. The ornaments were painted in a color that contrasts with the façade, also wooden. It is these elements that made the architecture in Hajnówka unique. Architecture that is increasingly rare and forgotten. You can see it all here. Time-bitten admittedly, but still alluring.
If you want to feel the atmosphere of the former Hajnówka, go to Górna Street. It is one of the most atmospheric streets in the city. There are traditional country houses from the first half of the 19th century. Stand by one of them and feel the smell of old wood. This is a special place, time seems to have stopped here. If you are lucky, you will see the hosts sitting on the bench in front of the house as they used to be. And if you come in May, you will be able to enjoy the lilacs that grow in large numbers here. In summer, you will see flowers that were once seen often in grandma’s gardens, such as mallow.
Since we are talking about the meeting point of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, it is necessary to mention sacred architecture. It is worth taking a walk towards the monumental domes visible from a distance – this is the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Although it is not a monument, the building was built in the early 1980s, it is the largest two-level church in Poland and attracts many visitors every year. In the city center, there is the Church of St. Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
TASTES OF HAJNÓWKA
After a dose of sensations for the soul – enjoying the naturalness of the local nature, experiencing the multiculturalism of the region – it is worth stopping to strengthen the body as well. Hajnówka dishes are made of natural products, according to recipes passed down from generation to generation. So try the excellent quality of dairy products: cheese, cottage cheese, butter or traditional bread.
On the other hand, fresh bread smeared with honey and yeast rolls will remind you of the idyllic years of your childhood spent in the countryside. In addition, potato pancakes, dumplings, pancakes … – the very thought of these specialties will make you hungry. There is a healing scent of herbs in Hajnówka air – if you value natural medicine and herbal medicine, you will find something for yourself here.