What does true Goral culture look like?

Nov 6, 2022, 10:20 a.m. I Quality Content

Thanks to a Czech, we have an idea.

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The clouds parted briefly as I left Ždiar, after a long rainy autumn weekend in the Belianské Tatras. Havran, the highest peak culminating at 2151 meters, was already covered in snow. Despite the piercing sun, the Ždiar drizzle briefly turned to snow.

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Curving at the eastern end of the High Tatras, the Belianske Tatras are just four major peaks: Muráň, Nový, Havran and Ždiarska Vidla, forming a 14 kilometer long ridge. They cover just 55 square kilometres, mostly off limits to tourists to protect rare animals and plants. The adjacent valleys of Predné and Zadné Meďodoly, separated by the saddle of Kopské Sedlo, run southeast to west from Tatranská Kotlina to Tatranská Javorina. Summer tourists are drawn to the trails and wooden churches; winter skiers flock to the snowy slopes; In both summer and winter, a cable car connects Ždiar to the Strachan Ski Center, and Belianska Cave is open almost all year round. Yet the High Tatras and their famous resorts attract more visitors and publicity.

I came at a time when hardly anyone comes. For a few nights I was the only guest in my rustic and elegant pension in Ždiar, which suited me perfectly. Every day cold rains came and went, the mist rose and fell on the south ridge in front of my terrace, misleadingly asking me if I should venture out or not. A few sheep munching on the last grass outside outnumbered the tourists, their scent carried by the damp wind and morning chimney smoke.

It was the perfect time to learn about the culture and people of Goral – Slovaks and Poles with a difference. Their ancestors, the Vlachs of present-day Romania, reached these mountains as early as the 14th century, settling first on the Polish side and in the 16th century in the Spiš region in northeastern Slovakia (then “Upper- Hungary”).

“When I visited Romania, many of the words – and the landscape – were similar,” says Katarina Burgerová, founding member of Spolok Goralského Dedičstva (Goral Heritage Association) from Ždiar. “They call a fur vest ‘serdok’, just like us.”

The language is localized: up to six sub-dialects exist between here and Zakopane in Poland. “In Ždiar we say the ‘ř’ like the Czechs do,” Burgerová notes, “but on the hill in Zamaguria they don’t.” Burgerová, a native of Ždiar whose birth name is Goral Kriššáková can talk for hours about her culture.

“I’m crazy about it,” she said. “We present it as it should. Sometimes other people like to modernize it, like line dancing. But we only do this village and the original Goral dances. However, it is also improvised.

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Helen D. Jessen