Sitting in the shadow of Mount Sniezka (1,603 m), the highest summit in the Sudetes, Karpacz is one of the most popular and entertaining mountain holiday resorts in Poland. Listed among the “winter capitals of Poland”, it draws more visitors than it has permanent inhabitants and is especially attractive for outdoor types – not only skiers, but also hikers. Another asset of Karpacz is its proximity to Karkonosze National Park, which has plenty of hiking areas to explore.
This little town, or rather large village, lacks any central area. Situated along a 10 km long winding road, it consists of two parts: Karpacz Dolny (Lower Karpacz) where most hotels, pensions and eating venues are, and Karpacz Gorny (Upper Karpacz), simply a collection of holiday homes.
When in Karpacz, it might be an idea to pay a visit to the unusual, though small Toy Museum. However, the real treat is the unique 13th century Lutheran Wang Chapel, to be found half way between the town and Mount Sniezka. Interestingly, not a single nail was used constructing this wooden structure.
The town makes a perfect base for hiking excursions to Karkonosze National Park, just to the south of the city. From here there are six different trails leading to Mt Sniezka, the most obvious aim for the majority of walkers, as well as a several ski lifts and a chairlift.
Apart from beautiful lakes, waterfalls and rock formations, the distinctive feature of the Karkonosze landscape include the kotly (cirques) – enormous cavities carved by glaciers during the ice age and edged with sheer rocks. There are half a dozen of them on the Polish side of the Sudetes.
History of Karpacz Poland
The origins of Karpacz go back to the end of the 14th century, for it was then that the iron ore, silver and gold began to be mined in the Sowia Valley. Archaeological research allows us to suppose that before that the area was penetrated by those combing the mountains in search of precious jewels. In the vicinity, on the slope of Mount Grabowiec, there was a place of pagan worship. Conceivably other such centres were within today’s Karpacz. It is possible that Mount Sniezka, the highest peak of the Sudetes, was believed to be sacred, though this is only an unproved supposition.
On the site of today’s city, settlements based on metallurgy developed dynamically, with both smelters and the wood-cutters who produced charcoal from the wood of the surrounding forests. As recently as a century ago, Karpacz was still a mining centre of considerable size.
The 17th century St Wawrzyniec chapel emerged on Mount Sniezka. Besides the inhabitants of the nearby settlements, over time more and more pilgrims from territories further away would come to the chapel to pray. Czech Protestants escaping persecution during the Thirty Year’s War stayed on permanently, thus giving rise to dissenters settling in the area. Czechs contributed to the creation and development of the highly appreciated center of mountain folk medicine.
The rapid growth of tourism did not begin until after 1895, when Karpacz got a railway connection with Jelenia Gora. At the end of the 19th century, the first winter sports enthusiasts arrived in Karpacz. Building the chairlift to Mount Kopa (1,375 m) further advanced the region’s popularity among skiers.
In 1844 the unique mediaeval Wang chapel was brought from Norway and rebuilt in Upper Karpacz. Until the outbreak of World War II, Protestants constituted the majority of the inhabitants.
Since 1970's Karpacz has no longer been a collection of separate settlements scattered across the hills. Most buildings are now situated along the main artery, ul. Konstytucji 3 Maja. Karpacz was granted a town charter in 1960.
Wang Church Karpacz
A sharp departure from the elaborate Baroque and Gothic basilicas that pepper most of Poland, the Wang Church (also written Vang) is one of the few remaining relics of the Norwegian school of stave architecture. In fact, the whole structure moved from Scandinavia and re-erected in its current spot in mountain-shrouded Karpacz in 1842. It’s still got mysterious runic inscriptions that blur the boundaries between late Paganism and Christianity, not to mention enchanting dragon-shaped carvings jutting from the apses above.