Maramures is considered to be one of the most traditional regions in Romania, scattered with gothically wooden churches and villagers’ homes fronted by ornately carved gates. Its particularity seems to be the absence of passing time: ” Maramureş feels as if you are climbing into a horse-drawn time machine and heading back 100 years”. Smaller in scale and softer in contour than neighboring Transylvania, Maramureş is considered to be the heart of folkloric, medieval Romania where the last peasant culture in Europe continues to surivive. However, we recommend not to wait forever or too much for visiting because even here the 21st century is making inroads. Maramures villages are distinguished by their unique wooden churches with tall spires and shingled roofs, where century-old traditions are still part of daily life. The inhabitants of this area have preserved, to an amazing extent, the rural culture and crafts of their Dacian ancestors and these unique features can be seen throughout the entire mystic land of Maramures.
Maramures is famous for its unique places to explore:
- Carved Wooden Gates – The local craftsmanship can be best observed in the monumental Maramures gates, guarding the entry to the houses. Supported by three columns, they feature traditional ornamental motifs, including the sun and the twisted rope – both symbols of life and continuity. The villages of Barsana and Oncesti have, perhaps, the greatest number of impressive gates.
- Wooden Churches – As it has for hundreds of years, social life in Maramures continues to revolve around the village church. The Wooden Churches of Maramures – have been recognized by UNESCO as some of the most important sites of world heritage. Unique in shape and ornamentation, they have characteristic high roofs and tall, narrow, pointed steeples, often collectively describer as ‘the Gothic style of Maramures.’ For exemple, a popular place for Romanians is the monastery of Bârsana, a religious complex build of wood and protected by UNESCO as a world heritage site. The monastery is inhabited by 14 nuns and can be visited during weekends.
- The unique Merry Cemetery in Sapanta with its colorfully decorated wooden crosses. What is unique about this cemetery is the fact that is the only Happy Cemetery in the world. Here, the locals have a different perspective and spiritual philosophy of the world. The town folks’ ancestors considered death as a beginning, not the end, and this faith is reflected in the carvings in the town’s unique Merry Cemetery. They have find a way of leaving by turning even the saddest events into occasions for irony and humour. They went so far as to mock Death in verse. However, even without benefit of translation, visitors can appreciate the handiwork of sculptor Stan Ion Patras, who began carving these epitaphs in 1935, and his successors.
- The Vaser River Valley – onboard the narrow gauge railway ‘Mocanita’- is the best preserved gem of the area. Built in 1932, “Mocanita steam train” is today the last remaining functional forestry train in Europe, runing along a scenic road for about 30 miles. During stops, you can watch workers load firewood and take on water from clear mountain streams. On the trip back down in the evening, the engine driver whistles for brakemen to stop the train – sometimes to pick up or drop off passengers, sometimes to stop to pick wild mountain mushrooms.
- 38 natural protected areas – The 3300 hectares Pietrosul Rodnei Wildlife Reserve was pronounced UNESCO’s “ Reserve of the Biosphere”. Endemic wild plants, chamios and marmots are the chief protected species, thriving here in the middle of the beautiful alpine landscape spotted with glacial lakes.
But also for its spiritual and traditional values
- Traditional food – It is a Maramures custom to welcome travelers and guests with homemade breads and a small glass of horinca – a traditional double-distilled local plum or other fruit brandy. Other local specialties include smoked sausages, bacon and fresh ewe’s milk cheese.
- Traditional Crafts – Sheltered by shady valleys and mountains, the able hands of the people of Maramures gave birth to the art of crafting the bits and pieces of everyday life. From the clay cup and bowl, to the traditional bed throws in the festive room, from the wooden spoon to the imposing wooden gate, they all are the expression of beauty and of the spirituality that characterize the Maramures soul.
- Hospitality – Anyone who visits these places soon finds a friend among the old folks chatting at the gate or among the farmers working in the fields, because all of them have learned that hospitality is priceless, irrespective of how little wealth one has.