Discover Maramures and Romania with our Walking Tour in Maramures
Maramures, also known as the ‘land of wood’, is that part of Romania most travel agencies promote as stuck in time, with traditional villages and people working the fields for a living. This is only partly true.
The natural landscape is indeed scenic. The tall belfries of the wooden churches and the slow-paced atmosphere of smaller villages make it a great destination to discover on foot. Time often becomes a commodity you don’t miss or need if you choose to stay in one of these places.
Less true is, however, the assumption that things and life haven’t changed at all. 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. Many new houses appeared in rural Maramures, bigger and richer but empty for most of the year.
The new social realities coexist with the traditional ones. Despite the changes, the cultural identity of Maramures is still representative, impossible to copy, as well as the kindness of its hard-working people.
A short history of Maramures
The history of Maramures was strongly influenced by its geography. Isolated by the Carpathians, Maramures remained an independent territory after the Roman Empire’s expansion in ancient Dacia, almost 2,000 years ago. Centuries later, it fell under Hungarian rule, and hundreds of years after it became a part of the Habsburg Empire. In 1918, Maramures reunited with Romania, at the end of WW1.
The isolation of its territory allowed the region to partially escape the forced collectivization ordered by the communist regime. This is one of the reasons it preserved until recently its almost archaic countryside scenery.
The culture of wood as a way of life
The abundance of wood in the surrounding mountains has shaped the culture of Maramures. Forced by poor agricultural resources, the people of Maramures relied on wood exploitation, livestock, mining activities, and seasonal working migration. Wood became a symbol of their life, belief, and social status.
Traditional houses were made of wood. 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, excellent testimonies of locals’ strong belief in God.
The most beautiful places to see in Maramures
The charm of the region ultimately lies within its specific culture. Its rolling hills and haystacks, its wooden masterpieces entangled in a slow rural rhythm, spiced up with the omnipresent alcoholic drink horinca and delicious food make Maramures a great destination.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The symbol of historical Maramures, the wooden churches are scattered across the region. Surprisingly, these centuries-old monuments survived invasions, war, and the determination of the Habsbourg Empire to impose a new religion.
History & Culture Landmarks
The Memorial of Victims of Communism from Sighet is the mirror of the first decades of communism in Romania. A major extermination prison for the interwar democratic elites, the Memorial is a must-see for its powerful incursion into the history of communism.
Check the visiting schedule on www.memorialsighet.ro
If you’re curious to find out more about this time, visit also the Memorial House of Ilie Lazar from Giulesti. A local leader of the National Peasant Party, Ilie Lazar was imprisoned between 1946 to 1964. He was surveilled by the secret communist police until his death in 1976.
Elie Wiesel Memorial House
The childhood house of Nobel-prize winner Elie Wiesel is another great landmark from the small town of Sighetu Marmatiei. The center of the massive Jewish deportations organized by the occupying Hungarian forces in 1944, Sighet is one of the tragic locations of the Holocaust.
The Memorial House offers a straightforward history lesson about the somber faith of the local Jewish community during WW2.
Check the visiting schedule on http://muzeulmaramuresului.ro
The Jewish Cemetery
Continue with a visit to the Jewish Cemetery, the biggest of this kind in Maramures, only a short walk from the Holocaust Memorial. Hundreds of funeral stones offer a better perspective on the size of the Jewish community just decades ago.
To visit the cemetery, call the number listed on the entrance door. Ask the caretaker of the cemetery to show you the Soap Monument, a funeral stone that hides a piece of soap brought from the extermination camp in Auschwitz.
Mocanita Steam Train
The most famous steam train in Romania, Mocanita runs on the last forestry railway in Europe. The narrow-gauge line, in function since the time of the Habsburg Empire, goes deep in the forests of Vaser Valley.
Book your tickets on www.cffviseu.com
Photo source: Facebook Mocanita
The Merry Cemetery
The Merry Cemetery from Sapanta is one of the most famous images of Maramures and Romania. Its blue painted crosses and ironic poems offer a lively atmosphere that makes you forget you’re in an actual cemetery.
The Peasant Women’s Museum
In the traditional rural Maramures, women took care of the house, worked the fields, cooked daily, and made clothes for the entire family. The story of these strong and hard-working women is the theme of a small museum from Dragomiresti.
Maramures Village Museum
The Village Museum is organized as a miniature version of rural Maramures. Old households, a wooden church, traditional installations, and colorful houses of local minorities recreate the past rural world.
Check the visiting schedule on http://muzeulmaramuresului.ro
The Florean Museum
This open-air museum of sculptures looks and feels almost abandoned, hidden in the forest, outside Cernesti village. You’ll miss it unless you pay close attention to the side of the road, looking for a small statue in front of the tree line. It’s best to park your car and walk the next two-kilometer until you see the first sculptures.
Creasta Cocosului Peak
Creasta Cocosului Peak is the most popular nature icon in the region, seen from all the villages along the Mara Valley. Various routes take you there, crossing Gutaiului Mountains, on foot or cycling.
Rodnei Mountains National Park
The second-largest national park in Romania, Rodnei Mountains have the highest altitudes in the Eastern Carpathians, 2,303 meters on Pietrosul Mare Peak. Breathtaking hiking trails go to its highest peaks, glacial lakes, and caves.
Discover more attractions in Maramures