Friday, October 5, 2012

The Anatomy of a Lemko Longhouse

Reproduction of a Lemko farmhouse from Pielgrzymka.
Sanok Skansen (outdoor museum) in Sanok, Poland.
Photo by C. Caudill, 2011
by Corinna Caudill

Until about the middle of the twentieth century, Lemkos typically lived in wooden “long houses” (dovha khata) - multipurpose buildings that combined dwelling space, grain storage, and livestock stables.  Since Lemkos made their living mainly on agriculture and breeding animals, these types of farmhouses were practical structures used by many central and eastern Europeans given the climate and the materials that were available for construction.  The typical house had thick timbered walls and a thatched roof covered with rye straw.  Farmers usually built the homes by themselves with the help of relatives, friends and neighbors.

Design and Construction: The Lemko longhouse was designed to shield its residents from the changing elements of their mountain climate, to conserve heat, to provide shelter for livestock, and to provide storage for harvested crops.  The wooden cottages were built with wooden or stone posts driven into the earth in the corners, forming the structural frame.  In the spaces between the posts, horizontal logs were placed, interlocking in the corners.  The corners and spaces between the logs were stuffed with a type of moss insulation.  Doors were attached to posts, which were fastened to the wall.  The corner posts extended to the height that the ceiling would be placed, where wooden logs would be laid horizontally and overlaid with crossbeams and joists which supported the rafters.  Windows (usually small) were cut into the logs, and grooves were carved to hold glass, which was usually obtained through trade in nearby towns.  (Kubijovyc, pp.303-304)

Layout of the Farmhouse: The longhouse was rectangular in shape and compartmentalized into storage, living quarters, and shelter for livestock.  According to the Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture:
"...the basic model for domestic dwellings throughout most of the region was a tripartite structure, consisting of an entry vestibule (sini/sien’/pitvor), the living quarters (khyzha/perednia khyzia), and pantry (komora).  The house was constructed from large beech or oak logs with a four-sided sloped roof covered with straw sheaves.  The interior walls were covered with clay and white-washed.  Along the outside front and one side wall was a wide porch supported by carved posts.  In the living space, just to the left of the door, was an earthen stove; under the window a large bed; to the right were benches; and in the center a table.  Small windows punctuated the front and side walls under the porch.  This was the basic model for houses in the Carpathians, although in the Lemko Region, the form of traditional houses has varied with regard to the relative size and layout of the three parts of the structure.  The roofs may have been covered with wooden shingles rather than straw, and some families with relatives abroad (who sent funds) even had tin or metal roofs.  From this basic structure the so-called long house (dovha khata) evolved with the addition of elements that resulted in a structure that was rectangular in shape." (Magosci and Pop, p. 11.) 

Above: Drawings from Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture by Magosci and Pop.
The top depicts a basic tripartite structure, and the bottom depicts an extended version.

The longhouse served the Lemkos as both a residential dwelling and a facility for working to meet their basic needs of food and shelter.  The interior of the longhouse included the following compartments, separated by walls and doors:

(1.) Entry Vestibule (Sini/Sien’/Pitvor)- The entry vestibule was usually located toward the center of the structure, and once inside, there were separate doors leading to the other rooms of the home.  By having a separate entry room limited the amount of cold air that would find its way into the house in the cold winter months.

Depiction of a kitchen (kuknya) with a wood stove
 in the living area of a Lemko longhouse.
OOL Lemko Museum in Stamford, CT.

Photo by C. Caudill, 2012
(2.) Living Space (Khyzha/Perednia Khyzia)- Located near the center of the house were the living quarters which consisted of a large kitchen adjacent to a large living room, both having earthen floors.  The kitchen (kuknya) had a large stove that served as the only heating source in the house, as well as a wooden table and benches (in some areas of the Lemko region, such as the Jaslo area, tables were covered with stone from nearby quarries.)  The living room opened to the pantry/storage room and sometimes had another door opening to a separate thrashing room (although in simpler structures, the pantry and thrashing room were combined.)

(3.) Pantry/Storage Room (Komora) - An important consideration to Lemko farmers was the storage of food for the winter.  The komora was a dedicated area for storing leftover crops and provisions.  Leftover grain was kept in wooden chests, large bins, or granaries, and sometimes hollowed out stumps were used as containers.

(4.) Stable (Stainia- Stables were usually located on the other side of the vestibule, near the center of the structure, and generally housed horses and cows.  Straw from the thrashing room was used to feed cows during the winter when there was no grass available for grazing (which meant that cows yielded little milk during the winter.)  Horses were fed hay and oats.

(5.) Threshing Room (Pelevnya/Boisko/Stodolya)- In the late fall and winter, farmers used this room to thresh grain (beat the stems or husks to separate wheat from chaff, yielding grain, hay and straw), and the residual straw was placed in the joists (horizontal wood beams under the rafters) to provide insulation.

A harrow (plowing tool) stored outside a 
reproduction of a Lemko longhouse.  
Photo by C. Caudill, 2011 at Sanok Skansen
(6.) Shed (Shopa)- Sheds were usually located at the end of the house, and were used for storing farm equipment and machinery.  Farmers also stored large farm equipment, such as harrows, on hooks outside the house.

(7.) Hay and Grain Storage (Polovnyk/Pelevnyk) - Along one side of the length of the structure was a long, narrow area for storing grain, straw and hay.  This feature also provided some additional insulation to the house.  External insulation was accomplished during the winter by stuffing any cracks or crevices in the inside or external parts of the house with straw, or by tying straw to the outside of the structure.

Where to Find a Lemko Longhouse Today: 
In many parts of Europe, longhouses are relics of a more distant past.  However, some longhouse structures still remain in Lemko villages that managed to escape destruction during World War II and its aftermath.  The ethnographic park or skansen (Park Etnograficzny) in Sanok also contains several examples of Lemko longhouse reproductions from the villages of Komancza (Sanok area); Smolnik (Sanok area); Krolik Polski (near Rymanow); Pielgrzymka (Jaslo area); and Zdynia and Klimkowka (Gorlice area.)

(1.) Kubijovyc, Volodymyr (Ed.) Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopedia.  Volume I.  University of Toronto Press, 1963.
(2.) Magosci, P. Robert and Ivan Pop.  Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture, 2005.
(3.) Kipfer, Barbara A.  Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology, New York, NY 2000.
(4.) Rapawy, Stephen.  "War Comes to Karlykiv."  Lemkivshchyna Magazine.  Issues 3 and 4, 1998.

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1 comment:

  1. Don't forget the Sacz Skansen in Nowy Sacz. The buildings there were taken from villages in the Nowy Sacz region (as opposed to the skansen in Sanok, which has buildings from the Sanok and nearby regions in the east. Nancy Revak