Though modified over the years, the exhibition in the main building has survived to this day unchanged in its basic concept. As before, the goal is to give the visitor an insight into the most important aspects of the natural environment in the Tatra Mountains and the region of Podhale, the history of the area and the local people’s way of living and culture.
Put up for display in the lobby on the ground floor is a plaster copy of the monument situated in the original bronze version at the junction of Zamoyski and Chałubiński Streets in Zakopane. It commemorates the museum patron Dr Tytus Chałubiński, here represented with Jan Krzeptowski Sabała (1809–1894), the famous Tatra fiddler and storyteller frequently accompanying the doctor in his outings in the Tatra Mountains. Designed by Stanisław Witkiewicz (1851–1915), the monument was executed by the sculptor Jan Nalborczyk (1870–1940). In celebration of the first Museum Director Juliusz Zborowski (1888–1965), a commemorative plaque was put up fifty years after the beginning of his work in the region of Podhale.
Amply illustrated with photographs, archival material and publications, the history exhibition introduces the visitor into the region’s past, starting with an outline of prehistoric phenomena with the first traces of man in the area and the emergence of settlement in the region of Podhale. The successive display stages present the development of Zakopane from a small village at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, its role as a health resort and cultural centre uniting the Poles during the partitions and as the ‘capital of winter sports’ between the two World Wars. The period starting in the second half of the 19th century was particularly eventful, witnessing the setting up of the Tatra Society and the activities of Tytus Chałubiński, Stanisław Witkiewicz and many other lovers of the local culture. In 1886, the village was granted health resort status, which resulted in the erection of numerous hydrotherapeutic establishments, sanatoriums, pensions and private residences. Cultural development was likewise intense as evidenced by the birth of the local press, the operation of a theatre company and the opening of a woodcarving and lace-making schools. Even before Poland had regained independence, Zakopane was a place where Poles felt unhampered in their expression of patriotism, giving vent to it in frequent demonstrations and the celebration of national holidays, especially on the threshold of sovereignty. At this time Zakopane attracted outstanding representatives of the world of politics, learning and art. Fascination with the Tatra Mountains and local folklore acted as a stimulus for literary, musical and artistic creation. Tatra-climbing and winter sports flourished during the two decades between the World Wars. Granted municipal status in 1933, Zakopane went through a period of urban development. During the Nazi occupation clandestine organizations, such as the Tatra Confederation, were active in Zakopane and the region of Podhale, which the history exhibition also illustrates. The local people’s emigration in search of a livelihood, initially to Hungary south of the Tatra Mountains and later to America, is another problem signalled.