Schronisko nad Morskim Okiem
Fot. Cybularny, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Shelter over the Morskie Oko Lake – the most beautifully situated building in the Polish Tatra Mountains

The PTTK mountain chalet over the Morskie Oko Lake is located by one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in Poland. From the windows of the veranda, you can admire not only the famous reservoir, but also the Rysy Mountains towering picturesquely over it. The facility consists of two parts: The Old Hostel dating back to the 19th century and the New Hostel, built in 1908 by the Tatra Society. The building was declared a historical monument in 1976 and is protected by law.

The earliest mention of an existing facility in the area dates back to 1823. The first hostel was built in 1827 by Emanuel Homolacs, owner of the land around the lake. It had no shafts and was very modestly equipped. It was renovated several times, but by the 1850s and 1860s it was already in very poor condition.

The chalet before the fire, 19th century. Source: Polon Digital National Library

In 1865, the hostel burnt down. It was not until 1874 that the Tatra Society started building a new one. A small wooden building with accommodation for 25 people was erected. The building was opened on 3 August 1874, and the ceremony was attended by, among others, Adam Asnyk and Helena Modrzejewska. On the initiative of Leopold Świerz, the hostel was named after Stanisław Staszic on 16 September 1875.

Temporary Tatra Society shelter over Morskie Oko in 1899. Photo: CBN Polona

In the following period, the standard of the hostel was slowly raised. In 1891, it was extended to an area of 252 sq. m and 27 double rooms, and a second building was added next to it, intended as a coach house, used by tourists to “garage” their horse-drawn carriages. The chalet served tourists in the summer seasons until the night of 1 to 2 October 1898, when another fire consumed the building. After the actual chalet fire, its role was taken over by the coach house, which it still serves today. At present, the so-called Old Hostel (the former coach house) is the oldest existing hostel in the Polish Tatras.

Schronisko nad Morskim Okiem
New Hostel, early 20th century. Source: Digital National Library Polon

The current New Hostel was built in 1908 and has since become one of the most popular accommodation facilities in the whole of the Tatra Mountains. It was given the Zakopane style by Stanislaw Witkiewicz. He was inspired by traditional highland architecture and design, to which he added some motifs from the Art Nouveau style then in force. In this way, stunning buildings were created – wooden, built from amphibians using the log method, covered with shingles, often on a high stone foundation. Characteristic of the style are the numerous decorations.

Postcard from 1912 and the same place today. Source: AKON Ansichtskarten Online and Cybular, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the Second World War, the building was used by the German border guards. Between 1945 and 1980, the hostel was run by Wanda and Czesław Łapiński. Since then, the history of the building has been inextricably linked with this name – today the management of the hostel is handled by Maria Łapińska, together with her son and daughter.

Schronisko nad Morskim Okiem
Shelter at the Morskie Oko Lake, year 1949. Source: NAC – National Digital Archive

In the 1970s, motivated by the need to protect the lake, the management of the TPN intended to move the original building to the planned open-air museum of Tatra architecture, and in its place to build a new building without accommodation and catering functions, housing the management of the national park, the mountaineering museum, the GOPR duty station and guest rooms for a narrow circle of people connected with the park management. These plans were never realised.

After a major refurbishment between 1988 and 1992, the chalet has a capacity of 79 beds. It also has a restaurant and bar and houses the TOPR rescue station. In 1997, the chalet was visited by Pope John Paul II, who was a lover of mountains and hiking.


Read also: Architecture in Poland | History | Wood | Interesting facts | Travel

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