Maramures: Wooden Architecture and Haystacks
Location: Northern Romania, the area of Maramures County
Maramures, also known as the ‘land of wood’, is that part of Romania most travel agencies promote as being bucolic and stuck in time with people leaving like they did at least decades ago. This is only partly true. The villages of Maramures are indeed bucolic, almost suffocated in the green landscape that surrounds them, with the tall belfries of their wooden churches and their slow-paced atmosphere in which time becomes a lost commodity you don’t miss or need.
Less true is, however, the assumption that things and life haven’t changed. Overall, many young people have left in search of a better life. The results of their work are often displayed in the same quiet villages that enchant travelers. New houses have appeared in rural Maramures, bigger and richer, but empty for most of the year except on their owner’s vacations. The new social realities coexist, nonetheless, with the traditional ones. Despite the changes, the culture of Maramures is still representative and authentic, impossible to copy or reproduce anywhere else as well as the kindness of its hardworking people.
The area of Maramures, historically extending beyond the Ukrainian border, has a particular history, in strong connection to its geographical remoteness. Isolated by the Carpathians, Maramures remained an independent territory after the Roman Empire’s expansion into ancient Dacia, almost 2,000 years ago. Centuries later it fell under the Hungarian rule and from the end of the 17th century, it was integrated into the Habsburg Empire. In 1918, Maramures reunited with Romania.
The isolation of its territory allowed the region to partially escape the complete collectivization of the agricultural land undertook by the communist regime in the rest of the country, one of the reasons it preserved until recently its almost archaic countryside scenery.
The culture of wood
The abundance of wood in the surrounding Carpathian Mountains has ultimately shaped the culture of Maramures. Poor in agricultural resources due to its landscape, the people of Maramures relied on wood exploitation, livestock, mining activities and seasonal working migration to survive. Wood became a symbol of their life, belief and social status in the community. Traditional houses were made of wood and the art of preparing and carving the raw material for their imposing wooden gates became an art transmitted from generation to generation. This is why only here you can admire wooden churches that still stand after centuries, rare testimonies of locals’ religious fervor.
Tourism in Maramures
The charm of the region ultimately lies within its specific culture that’s unfortunately rapidly disappearing. The image of its rolling hills and haystacks, of its wooden masterpieces entangled in a slow rural rhythm, spiced up with the omnipresent alcoholic drink ‘horinca’ and delicious food make Maramures one of the best places to visit in Romania.
Nature attractions: Maramuresului Mountains Nature Park, Rodnei Mountains National Park
Sports: Hiking, cycling, skiing
Not to miss: the wooden churches, Sighetu Marmatiei, a ride with the narrow gauge steam train Mocanita