Suraż – the smallest town in Poland

On the route of our trips, another abutment of reflection over the beauty of the region and its interesting history is Suraż. There is a couple of reasons, due to which it’s worth to mention this town. Going to Suraż we need to remember that it is not a typical tourist town. There is not much monuments there, however it’s worth to visit the private museum of Mr. Litwińczuk, to reach the peak of Bona Sforza or to come into a monumental church, which dates back to 1876. If the weather is fine, it’s worth to visit the public beach by the Narew river. However, history of this place is fascinating, therefore not using possibility of visiting this town while being nearby, should be considered a major abuse.

Suraż is situated about 30 km from Białystok into Southeast direction. According to the statistics, Suraż is the smallest town in Poland – it has 2150 citizens. Suraż obtained the town charter in 1445. It is another town, in which the settlement dates back to the primeval times. Historians state, that this terrains had been inhabited since 4th -5th century B.Ch. Between villages of Zawyki and Doktorce, the traits of Celtic settlements from the period of the 1st and 2nd century A.D. were found. Location of Suraż by the Narew river was conductive to communication with remote settlements, trade and defense of territory.

As it was mentioned above, the Hill of Bona Sforza is situated in Suraż. The name doesn’t necessary reflects entire history of this place. It is a post-glacial elevation, which is 10m high. Originally, there was a castle located on the hill’s top, which dates back, accordingly to the archeologists, to the 11th century – we cannot be sure if the Russian dukes were interested in this hill or if any other nations had their settlements there. In the 11th century the castle was erected there, with a moat and a drawbridge facing the current market.

Accordingly to the archeological studies, the pagan ceremonies were maintained in Suraż until the 13th century.

The 12th an 13th centuries are remembered as the constant invasions of Tatars, Yotvingians, Lithuanians, Masovians and Teutonic Knights. It is only the 14th century, which brought a relative peace to Suraż. The town became incorporated to the Crown – important information here: under the direct protection of Bona Sforza. She ordered to built a castle with a brick tower in the place of the previous burg city. If someone analyses consciously, it would be clear, that Jagiellons were devoted to this regions. Within a radius of 100 kilometers, the family of last Jagiellons had its favourite places, were their castles were erected: Sigismund I the Old in Knyszyn, Sigismund II Augustus in Tykocin and the ‘Mother Queen’ in Suraż. The castle hasn’t survived until nowadays – it was completely damaged during the ‘Swedish Deluge’ – and it has never been reconstructed again.

In the 15th century a wooden sanctuary was erected here and the parish was established too. According to the historical sources, in 1501, the king Alexander Jagiellon founded here a church of Corpus Christi. The temple survived until the 18th century. Another church was built in 1744, and when it was burnt by thunderbolt in 1872 it was rebuilt not as a wooden church anymore, but it was made of stone and it is still on its place. It is worth to mention, that there is a figure of Nazareth Jesus in the church. Accordingly to the legend, the figure was brought here form Egypt, which explains the olive-green color of Jesus’ skin. Another legend says, that the Jesus’ hair were growing continuously. Supposedly, they were cut by the little girls, who were attended to the First Communion sacrament. The hair stopped to grow when a Gypsy woman profaned the Jesus’ statue by cutting a wisp of his hair for a magical practices.

Suraż was situated on the borderland of numerous cultures, what resulted in a specific colour of local community. The town is still divided into Polish ‘lacka’ and Russian sides. The old markets (Polish and Russian) have partially survived as well as the old order of streets. The Polish market (together with the market in Pułtusk) was classified as the biggest in the Europe. On the Russian side there were two Orthodox churches located, both of which have not survived until nowadays.

While being in Suraż it is worth to visit the private museum of Mr. Władysław Litwińczuk. It is located in the house of its owner on the 6 Białostocka Avenue. One day, Mr. Litwińczuk told me about very interesting archeological excavation. Archeologists were digging up by the castle in order to find some exploratory material. After few days of work, they found a bricked up chamber in the underground part of non-existing castle. Probably, it was a dungeon, built in times of Bona Sforza. The chamber was bricked up and sealed. The first thought that came to mind was that it could be a treasure. Due to this fact, the archeologists were trying to get inside more eagerly. Unfortunately, there was no treasure, but the prisoner, who was bricked up alive in the cellar. The story has been developed while drinking tea. I asked what happened to this prisoner. Mr. Litwińczuk answered that the bones of that man are carefully packed up below his own bed. I didn’t want to ask if the house is haunted at nights, but the question would be rater justifiable.

In the museum we may observe the fossils of Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras, tools made of flint stone, militaries made of bones and horns as well as ethnographical, numismatic and philatelic exhibits. Currently, the museum is managed by Wiktor Litwińczuk, son of museum’s founder.

Finally, one more story:

Due to the fact, that Suraż is the smallest town in Poland, there is an interesting story connected with it. There is no industry in Suraż, it is a typical country town, but the citizens are proud of their past and obtaining the town charter form the king Alexander Jagiellon, over 500 years ago. The story that happened is a real story – a farmer, who was riding through Suraż with the cart full of hay, collapsed and so did his cart. Citizens of Suraż hurried to help the man. The cart was loaded with hay very quickly. The farmer thanked the local people for their help, but the words that he said, should not be spoken: ‘what a good people live in this village’. As fast as he finished to say his sentence, his hay was scattered on the street again.

Despite of its rich tradition, Suraż has never developed excessively. It was due to the decision of Tsar, who decided in the end of the 19th century, that the railway will be passing through Łapy, the town nearby Suraż, but more details will come soon, with the description of Łapy.

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