Wonders of Poland: Morskie Oko – the most beautiful lake in the Polish mountains

Wonders of Poland: Morskie Oko – the most beautiful lake in the Polish mountains

How can you be in the Tatra Mountains and not see Morskie Oko? Everyone knows the largest mountain lake in Poland. Even if you have to walk a few kilometres to get there, or take the recently criticised horse-drawn carriages, there is probably no one who does not want to see its colour and the breathtaking panorama of the High Tatras.

Located in the Fish Creek Valley at an altitude of 1350 metres, it is over 50 metres deep and can be walked around on a 2.5-kilometre-long path. It is fed by two streams that flow down from the mountains: the Czarnostawienski and the Mnichowy. The Mieguszowieckie peaks and, above all, the majestic Mnich and Rysy mountains provide a unique backdrop.

The name itself is not particularly imaginative, the German settlers from Spiš called all the mountain reservoirs 'sea-eyes’. The highlanders used the names: White Pond or Fish Lake because of the natural stocking. These names were still in use in the 17th century. Although at that time only treasure and ore hunters ventured into the area of the huge mountain lake, the news of its existence was spread as a curiosity because fish lived in it.

Morskie Oko from the Pass under Chłopkiem/ pl.wikipedia.org

The first information about Morskie Oko dates back to 1575. In 1637, by the will of King Władysław IV, Władysław Nowobilski was granted the right to use the meadows by the lake. In 1824, the property, together with the valley of the Fish Creek, was bought from the Austrian authorities by Emanuel Homolacs, followed by Władysław Zamoyski, a social activist, philanthropist and founder of the Sokół gymnastics society in Kraków. In 1933 the lake and its surroundings were nationalised.

Although the lake is a legacy of the Ice Age, the story of its creation is full of fairy tales. Most of them assume that mountain lakes have no bottom and that somewhere in the depths of the earth they merge into a vast ocean.

This motif appears in the legend of a sailor who, during a great storm on the Adriatic, lost a chest of valuables, which was found in a lake in the middle of high mountains. A cauldron of robbers’ ducats, guarded by the King of the Golden Snakes, is also said to be waiting in Morskie Oko. It is also said that the bust of Emperor Francis Joseph, which was thrown from Rysy, was found by Baltic fishermen thanks to an underground connection to the sea.

Highland hats with genuine shells are said to bear witness to the connection between Podhale and the Baltic Sea. However, there is certainly no salty sea water in Morskie Oko, as its waters freeze in winter and the fish include freshwater trout. Interestingly, the trout from the Tatra Mountains, called the King of Morskie Oko, differs from those from other places: it has white fins and a larger head.

The shelter in Morskie Oko is the oldest in the Tatra Mountains. The opening of the first one, built in 1874, was an important social event and even Helena Modrzejewska and Adam Asnyk attended the opening. Unfortunately, the building was destroyed by fire in 1898. The chalet we see today was opened in 1908, and Władysław Reymont and Leopold Staff attended its opening.

Morskie Oko shelter is named after Stanisław Staszic, who is considered the first explorer of this mountain lake. In 1805 he had no special equipment and it is difficult to imagine that he had a boat, so he measured the depth from the shore by throwing a lead ball on a rope to the bottom. He found that the ball fell to a maximum depth of 583 feet, or almost 29 metres. We now know that the lake is more than 50 metres deep at its deepest point.

Photo: pl.wikipedia.org

The first tourist route to Morskie Oko led from Bukowina. On the initiative of the Tatra Society, founded in 1873, the construction of a road from Zakopane via Jaszczurówka to Morskie Oko began. It was completed in 1902. In the 1880s, 78 granite steps were built down to the lake itself, making it easier for tourists to reach the shore.

During the summer season, on a clear day, several thousand tourists head for Lake Morskie Oko. As late as the 1980s there was a bus service to Włosienica near the lake. After a major landslide, the road was closed and remains so to this day. The eight kilometres from Palenica to Białczańska can be covered on foot or by horse-drawn carriage. Horse-drawn transport has come under heavy criticism, but the arguments of environmentalists about the inhumane treatment of horses overloaded with passengers still lose out to local tradition. In June, a decision was made to make horse-drawn carriages less overloaded, and testing of an electric bus has begun.

Jolanta Pawnik

Source: DlaPolonii.pl