Orava Forest Railway – Craft House

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Natural features and populating of the Orava region

In the first half of the 13th century, there were only few settlements in the region of Orava. It was the king Belo IV who ordered populating of border areas of the northern Hungary. The oldest villages appeared along the Orava River and the trade route leading to the customs office in Tvrdošín. According to the founding documents, the laws such as customary, German, Wallachian and the seclusion law were applied in the villages.

Based on the Wallachian law, the villages located in the mountainous and sub-mountainous areas were peopled by the new herdsmen population in the period from the 15th – 17th century. Over the course of the centuries, local residents adapted to the lifestyle, and apart from the obligatory feudal taxes, they also performed guarding duties in the border area. The newly applied system not only populated the settlements but also introduced the new ways of farming and product processing.

Domestic craftsmanship was practiced in individual households as a main or side occupation which provided the families with an additional source of income. Its primary focus was the production using locally available natural materials. While the products were originally made for the personal use only, the improvement of tools, production technique and the use of materials gradually led to over-production and the resulting exchange trade. The customary law also allowed craftsmen to sell the products on weekly markets.

First written records of craftsmanship and its products are quite rare and not older than from the 17th century when more specific information appears in written sources. Shoemaking, milling and blacksmithing are considered to be the most widespread crafts.


Carpathian sheep farming system and shepherding

Spreading of the Carpathian sheep farming system started in the sub-mountainous Orava villages in the 18th century, with herdsmen farming their sheep predominantly on unutilized pastures in the mountainous areas. Apart from wool, meat and hide, herdsmen were primarily focusing on sheep milk processing. Specific milk products, including several kinds of sheep cheese (such as “bryndza”, later “oštiepok” or “parenica”) and sour milk called “žinčica”, were produced.

In order to establish common administration, sheep owners were organized in herdsmen societies. These societies hired specialized shepherds called “bača” who would be responsible for their flock and a hut. According to the mountainous farming system, the flocks would remain on a given pasture with their shepherds from spring to autumn, even at night. Such stay of several months connected with milk processing, would require building of new constructions for various uses, from shelters for shepherds and the flock to milking and product storing.

Proportionally to the economic development, the shepherding would significantly affect the formation of traditional culture and lifestyle. Specific shepherd songs, dances, customs and art forms also emerged.

Sheep farming with a significant number of shepherds was particularly typical for Zázriva village in the lower Orava, and in villages Novoť and Oravská Lesná in the upper Orava. Direct continuation of milk production connected with sheep and cattle farming, is still recognizable in these villages. Traditional cheese production practised in private households gradually spread around the Orava region and still serves as one of the most important sources of income. String cheese and braided string cheese “korbáčiky” remains especially typical for the region where its production functions as a side occupation. Thanks to its milk products, present-day Orava shepherding is very popular for agro-tourism.


Cattle provided both the draught force and the means of support ensuring the prosperity of a homestead. Apart from the cattle farming in summer, shepherds also occupied themselves with growing crops and other different activities, such as producing the so-called shepherd dishes or various wooden tools and simple musical instruments. Several types of pipes, traditional Slovak overtone flutes, horns (made from actual horns), rattles or bagpipes were the most widespread. Figurative beehives and sacral sculptures followed the tradition of the woodcarving craft.


Timber logging and transport

Orava Compossessorate was one of the enterprises that provided certain source of income to the residents of the sub-mountainous villages, employing them in afforesting, logging and the following timber processing, or in building various constructions. The main trading commodity was the unprocessed wood that was being transported by rafts or, later, by railway to Komárno or Budapest.


Thanks to the richness of forests, it was primarily logging, rigging and rafting that were practised the most often because of their connection to timber logging. This was also closely connected with farming, as wood was used either as the main building material, or for the preparation of tools. The work of lumberjacks (tree logging and bark removing, sawing, chopping and gathering), practised mainly in winter and in spring, was physically demanding. Various tools, such as axes, wooden or iron wedges, bark peelers, sledgehammers or choppers, were commonly used, and, from the 18th century, also saws. From the mining site to the valleys, timber was transported by sliding down the hillside, drawn by cattle and horses or by people on sleighs. This was either in the form of whole trunks, or in smaller pieces sawn or chopped into “metrovina” (one-metre-long logs) or “siahovina” (one-fathom-long logs).


Being the example of floating transport with the use of rafts, rafting was provided the means of subsistence till 1930s. Its development was closely connected with timber logging as well as the improvement of floating possibilities of given rivers. The importance of rafting lied in its contribution to the internal and foreign market with timber and other goods. In order to achieve the flow sufficient for rafting, water dams called “tajchy” were built. The rafts themselves were constructed by tying up or nailing round timber logs together. Then, oars were attached to the front and the back. These controlled the raft during floating. From the second half of the 19th century, the importance and extent of rafting was slowly decreasing. This was caused by the railway construction and the building of first dams which made the water transport impossible.

Cart transport

Apart from rafts, cart transport performed by owners of draught animals, was the next option for timber transport. It was mainly the mining which contributed to the significant development of cart transport in times of insufficient road network. With the construction of the railway and collectivisation of agriculture, this way of obtaining additional income slowly vanished.

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Homemade and craft production

Wood-processing crafts


Shingle production was a traditional building craft till the half of the 20th century. Wooden houses and other constructions for farming were being covered with shingles made right in the households. The shingles were cut with a two-handed knife on a cutting table. In the 20th century, the machine production using special cutting saws called “šindliarky” started to complement the traditional hand-chopping.


Traditional carpentering was undoubtedly one of the oldest building crafts. Carpenters were specialized in processing round timber and its following use in building wooden constructions, trusses, technological devices (mills, fulling machines, mangles etc.), bridges, scaffoldings, boarding and furniture.


The work of wheelwrights was primarily focused on the homemade production of wheels, carts, sleighs and other wooden objects. The production required almost all wood-processing techniques, mainly cutting, striking, twisting and bending.


Coopery production was concentrated on boxes and containers made of chopped wooden parts called “dúžky” which were put together either by wooden withes, or metal hoops. Their products included various wooden barrels, containers for milk processing called “putne”, cans, buckets, containers with two ears called “šafle”, “zvárky” used for washing and so on.


Furniture and other different objects needed when building a house, such as windows, doors, stairs or banisters, were made by joiners. In villages, self-educated joiners performed their craft. The furniture they produced reacted to the needs and wants of a village population by its function as well as its decorative ornamentation.


Wickerworks of basketry were most commonly made from willow osiers, roots and straws, and were used for storing and transportation of various materials and foodstuffs. Just like technical and art qualities of the products, the range of what was produced by different craftsmen was greatly diverse.

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Homemade and craft production


Using hand tools and heat processing, blacksmithing consisted in making iron products by forging. This was all happening in blacksmithing forges called “kuzne”. In the countryside, blacksmithing was primarily focused on production and reparation of farming tools. In connection with shepherding, bell-making was also developed. Its traditional form is still preserved in the village Zázrivá.


Even in less fertile regions, such as Orava, millers were needed to process corn in order to produce flour and other products (hulled grain, grout). The flour was originally obtained by hand-pounding the corn in wooden containers called “stupy”, or milling in hand-operated devices called “žarnovy”.


Pottery is considered to be one of the oldest crafts, with its primary focus on producing dishes from fired clay. The products were originally made by hand-modelling, and later with the use of a potter’s wheel. Everyday life and practical needs of households often reflected in the range of pottery products.


The centres of stonemasonry were located in the areas where suitable material could be found. Stone was mostly used to produce work tools which made use of its firmness, strength and hardness. It was also irreplaceable in building and was used for making gravestones, crosses set by roads, sculptures and so on.


Textile production using linen or woollen cloth was the base for the development of weaving production. The diversity and eventual use of textiles was determined by the everyday life. Weaved textiles were primarily used as parts of garments or as materials needed in households and farming.


Blueprinting technique started to permeate into folk garments and interior textiles in the 19th century. It represented a specialized branch of dyeing where linen or hemp cloths with optionally printed ornaments were dipped in a cold indigo solution.


The main occupation of tanners was processing a raw animal skin and its subsequent shoemaking production. An extract from tree barks called ooze was used in order to prevent decay of the material. The processed leather could also be passed to other craftsmen.


The products of furriers included the hand-sewn upper parts of folk garments, head covers and accessories. For villagers, sheep and lamb fur were primarily used. Apart from the aforementioned products, special strips of fur called “ircha” was also made and was used for coats and their bordering.


Currently mostly performed as a hobby, in a traditional way of living, beekeeping had a character of a side occupation. Breeding of domesticated bees evolved as a continuation of its older predecessor – the forest beekeeping. Bee products, such as honey and wax, were trade and export commodities of a significant importance.