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The web-based catalogue of monuments of Dutch colonization in Poland is devoted to identification and description of the history (and evidence) of the Duch settlements in Poland. The document was compiled and administered under the aegis of the Stowarzyszenie Konserwatorów Zabytków (Association of Conserverss of Historic Monuments), which is the largest non-governmental organization whose members are professionally involved in preservation of historic monuments in Poland. Additionally, its purpose is to globaly promote information about Dutch colonization, and Polish participation in this colonization.

When traveling in the ice-marginal valleys of the Vistula, the Warta and the Bug rivers, one encounters a charming landscape, which for centuries bore witness to successful coexistence of man and nature. The area was extremely difficult to tame; for a long time it was not cultivated and preserved its natural appearance. Even today it delights the viewer with its ragged and authentic landscapes. Rows of willow and poplar trees growing along balks and floodbanks, numerous irrigation channels and dams, and above all the river's proximity, demand respect for the forces of nature. Yet they also attest to the astonishing quantity of work that was put into the cultivation of this floodplain. Man-made hillocks are clearly visible from afar. Homesteads, situated there, emphasize human dependence on the river.

Credit for both bringing this land under cultivation and for the introduction of a very characteristic type of homesteads and cottages needs to be given to the settlers who came to Poland from Friesland and Flanders in the early 16th century.

The land settled by the colonists was located along the main rivers - Vistula (from Kozienice to Żuławy Wiślane), Warta (Poznański province), Bzura (around Łęczyca), and Bug. The first settlements were founded in Royal and Ducal Prussia, then in Kujawy, Wielkopolska, and Mazowsze. The Dutch were the first colonists. In the 18th century, they were followed by German farmers from Lower Germany as well as Polish peasants. The Dutch settlers were nicknamed Olęder, which was the Polonized version of the noun "Dutchman" ("Holender" in Polish). Olęder signified not only the nationality of the settlers, but also the system of farming that originated in Holland. The system, which granted considerable freedom to the colonists, was based on the perpetual lease of land, with only cash rent payable to the landowner.

The relics of the Dutch settlements and architecture have been undergoing a slow transformation and natural destruction. The cultural and historical continuity of the colonized areas was broken in 1945, when the descendants of colonists were forced to leave. The buildings, crofts, and villages were taken over by newcomers, who transformed them according to their own designs. The current owners are not attached to the land they occupy and do not understand the purpose of specific arrangements: the distinctive lay-out of the homes and crofts, or their location on man-made elevations, which are removed from main roads and surrounded by planted vegetation.

A lack of understanding is responsible for the underestimation of the previous colonists' true value and achievements. The buildings are not properly maintained and are being adapted to the modern life style. Moreover, new building sites are not adequately elevated. All these factors contribute to the transformation of the countryside's cultural landscape and to the gradual destruction of the old sites. Disregard for the primary objectives of the colonization and its natural interrelation to the environment (especially to the neighboring river) were responsible for a number of undesirable changes. The Olęders' wisdom and experience is proven every year, when the rising ground-water threatens the non-elevated houses. The problem becomes especially acute in the case of snowy winters, after which water floods the entire ground floor.

Unfortunately, until now, the Dutch colonization phenomenon has not been fully catalogued. The total number of historical monuments (villages, crofts, and buildings) associated with this phenomenon is unknown. Furthermore, the range of the colonization is unknown, as is the number of the colonizers who arrived in the area, or the number of settlements they founded. Information about details is also insufficient; for example, we still do not have a full knowledge about authentic household furnishings of the Dutch houses. However, luckily, a few Polish museums possess collections of movable artefacts. This constitutes only a minute part of the knowledge about the subject. Even less is known about immaterial aspects of settlers' life, such as their everyday and holiday customs and traditions. The project "A Web-based catalogue of monuments of Dutch settlements in Poland" was completed in order to broaden knowledge about the subject, and to provide a detailed description of material and spiritual objects of the settlers' culture.

The first phase consists of documenting thematerial heritage associated with Dutch settlement in Poland, that is: villages, crofts, and buildings, both dwelling houses and farm buildings, as well as churches and cemetaries located in Pomorze, Mazowsze, Podlasie, Małopolska, Wielkopolska, Kujawy, Ziemia Łęczycka, etc. The project's purpose is also to promote Polish contributions to this culture and emphasize our common history. The information will be presented in a bilingual (Polish and English) webpage.

Because of the very large scope of the planned undertaking (website development and field cataloguing), as well as the necessity of raising appropriate funding, completion of the project is expected to take at least two years.

In the current year, the most important undertaking will be to design and post a website on the internet as part of program "Media z kulturą" (Culture in electronic media). The web-page will be devoted to Dutch settlements in Poland, presenting their history and material aspects (range, settlement network, villages, buildings and cemeteries) in one of Poland's largest historical regions - Mazowsze. Although Mazowsze was settled relatively late, with the first settlers arriving at the beginning of 17th century, the colonizers founded ca. 200 villages.

The goals of the project:

  • development of a website that will promote common Dutch, German, and Polish cultural heritage, which has become part of other societies and countries (Canada, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, etc.)
  • education and promotion of the idea of preservation and conservation of historical monuments of Dutch colonization in Poland,
  • creation of a positive image of Poland abroad and promotion of Polish culture in the world
  • enrichment of the national collections of cultural heritage - cataloguing and archiving the Dutch settlement in Poland,
  • promotion of conservation of rural architecture related to the colonization,
  • universal accessibility to the object documentation,
  • preservation of traditions and sources of folk heritage,
  • cataloguing and promotion of achievements of the Dutch settlement folk culture in the form of its cultural, material, and spiritual aspects.
  • conservation of the cultural landscape of Dutch villages, and preservation of regional identity of areas that were inhabited by the settlers until 1945.
  • promotion and popularization of multicultural aspects ofrural settlement in Poland,
  • attempt to eliminate the cultural barrier associated with rural settlement in Poland over the past centuries,
  • education of academic communities centered around the idea of rural monuments associated with the Dutch colonization.

The next year (2006), will be devoted to the completion the factual content of the project, which will consist of cataloguing the remaining area of Poland (Pomorze, Wielkopolska, Kujawy, etc.). This undertaking will be possible due to the existing resource base and funding gathered for this purpose.

The future database, which will include objects related to the Dutch settlers' culture, will undergo systematic augmentation. It is anticipated that the material collected in the database will be successively enriched with settlers' accounts, recollections, as well as archival and cartographic materials related to the area settled by the colonists, and that the material will prove useful for designing educational or promotional programs for schools and universities.

The database will be primarily promoted through the Internet, but also in periodicals and publications related to historical monument conservation: Ochrona Zabytków, Spotkania z Zabytkami, Wiadomości Konserwatorskie and others.

We hope that the completion of this project will not only help to determine the scope and type of historical resources related to Dutch settlements, but will also help to develop a conservation policy and prevent their destruction.

The website will also serve a very important function: it will promote information about the relation between the colonization and our country. The majority of foreign-language websites on Dutch settlement and Mennonites do not associate the Dutch settlement in Central and Eastern Europe with Poland. The authors write about Dutchmen in Prussia and Russia and illustrate this fact with maps of Poland, which from the beginning of the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century was under the rule of neighboring states. In fact, Dutch colonizers came to Poland in the 16th century, summoned by the Polish owners of the royal, private and church estates located in the floodplains.

The following are the main goals of the project: collection of all information related to the Dutch settlement (movable and non-movable objects, customs, traditions, accounts, and descriptions of settlers' culture), formation of a broad picture of this colonization, and description of the most precious and representative architectural objects. The conservation of these objects will help to preserve the settlers' cultural heritage.

The website will also provide a forum for exchange of information and opinions, as well as for collection of publications and articles on the subject. Users will be able to advertise exhibitions, plain-air workshops, conferences, publish documentation, architectural designs of the traditional houses, articles, e-books, posters etc. free of charge. (The authors will retain the copyrights). The website will also provide information about all activities related to promotion and conservation of historical monuments such as: training courses, meetings, and trips. We also plan that in the future the website will be self-financing through; for example, sale of e-books, or organizing sight-seeing trips to the areas related to Dutch settlement in Poland.

However, it is noteworthy that any further projects will be based on the complete documentation and description of all aspects of the Dutch settlement - both those that still exist as well as those that did not survive to the present day. Currently, this seems to be the most important task. People who are involved in the subject are aware that there is an urgent need to describe and protect the material objects of this heritage. Due to the advancements of civilization in recent decades, we may not be able to obtain knowledge about the settlement or protect all of its objects.

We hope that this project will draw a broad response from interested communities, and that members will get involved in its development and promotion. Description and promotion of the Dutch settlement heritage in Poland is the only way to ensure its preservation for future generations. We cannot allow that another example of traditional folk culture, which in this case is extremely precious because of its relation to three different nations, will be forgotten.

Home | Introduction | Download e-book | Conference 2001 | Special thanks | The note of law | Contact
Articles: Poland | Małopolska | Mazowsze | Ziemia Łęczycka | Żuławy | Nizina Sartowicko-Nowska | Ziemia Kwidzyńska | Ziemia Walichnowska | Ziemia Sieradzka | Ziemia Wieluńska

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