Of many regions in this world worth a visit. Maramures, in northern Romania is one such little known corner of Europe. Amid beautiful rolling hills and lush river valleys live people who for the most part still follow the traditional agricultural way of life. The traditional villages were all built of wood, all houses, sheds shelters, fences, gates and churches with their roofs of shingle.
Why is the region considered unique and why do those who have been, want to return? The answer is a mixture of three things: amazing landscapes, genuine people and the simple civilization of wood. Nature, people, and churches are spiritually connected and have maintained this link throughout history. One proof of the uniqueness of the architecture is the inclusion of eight wooden churches in UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List.
Speaking of the wooden churches the most representative ones are the ones from Desesti (famous for the best preserved fresco), from Ieud (the oldest wooden church), and Poienile Izei or Bogdan - Voda. Also you can visit the wooden churches from Botiza, Rozavlea, Barsana, or Josani.
Also you should not omit the village of Dragomiresti, The Museum of the Peasant Woman from Maramures, situated in an old traditional house, where the host Mrs Zubascu will tell you in the charming language of the place the story of the museum and will explain to you everything.
The temperature during summer is at the highest around +27C (80-60 F) in the shade. The warmest month is July, when the average temperature is +20C (680 F) and the coldest February with average values dropping to - 23C (73-40 F). Winters are very long and as Maramures is surrounded by mountains, it is quite hard to reach it during the cold season the roads over the mountain passes are mostly closed between November and April.
Bogdan from Maramures left in 1365 as Voivod to Moldova to unify the Romanians from there and to proclaim the independence of a new Romanian feudal state against the Hungarian Kingdom. In Maramures, old Romanian territory occupied for a while as all of Transylvania by the Hungarian Kingdom, you will be enchanted by the beauty of the countryside and the old way of life so well preserved here.
Sapanta Merry Cemetery
Sapanta is one of the most famous places in Transylvania and in Romania as well. Here one may find a unique graveyard all over the world due to the inscriptions on the tombstones.
Here in Sapanta, the Romanians showed the entire world they could mock death even if they scarcely. This funny graveyard was Stan Patras’s idea, a sculptor who inherited this tradition from generation to generation. At first he carved in wood 10 crosses a year, his method of work still being preserved. The oak was the ideal material for the artist and could be carved with motifs and bas-reliefs. In 1934 the sculptor began to write epitaphs on the crosses. These epitaphs were usually a first-person short poem with archaic & regional contents.
One can easily grasp the philosophical nature of the sculptor’s creation, an antithesis between the relativity of death and the dynamic character of life itself, the main aim being escape from nothingness through art. The whole life of the village is strongly connected to this graveyard, whole generations of people wheter shepherds or farmersdoctors or musicians kept alive the sacred values, the customs and the traditions of this community through the years. The funny graveyard at Sapanta contributed to the development of culture and national conscience of the collective memory, creating new outlook on human existence. Stan Patras’s creative spirit made of this graveyard a monument of Romanian culture and civilization.
Desesti wooden church
The church at Desesti was built in 1770 and decorated in 1775. It is the church from Maramures which has the oldest and most beautiful painting. It is situated in the village Desesti which together to Giulesti, Vadu Izei, Bogdan Voda, belonged to the voivode Bogdan, a leader of the Romanians from Maramures who in the year 1364 crossed the Carpathians to the east to escape the opression of the ultra-catholic king of Hungary Ludovic of Anjou and founded the future medieval state of Moldova.
Entering inside of the courtyard you will see old and recent graves and many names “Pop”. It is a very common name in the area. Close to the church in the alley, on the right side you will see a big oak about 100 years old.
It is possible that the church may be closed; if so go to the house of priest, situated on the back/left side of the church, and ask him to open it.
The church was built of thick oak beams on a foundation of river stones. The roof with double eaves covers the main side of the church and the lower one covere the altar
The door is decorated with entwined ropes a motif which can be found around the windows of the church. The entwined ropes are in fact three strands which representthe holy trinity which protect the church to deny entry to bad spirits.
Entering inside you’ll see painted the Last Judgement a very common motive in our churches. On the right is depicted hell with close to the entrance, Death with a scythe in his hand and on the left Heaven.
Above you can see an icon of Mother of God and on the left side a stairway made from a trunk of a single tree.
Entering inside, you can find the narthex and the altar separated from the rest of the church by an altar screen with images in three tiers. On the top is represented the Crucifixion, on the next one is God and the prophets and on the last one Jesus and the apostles.
All the icons are covered with scarves handmade in this area and only here do you see this. The right wall of the narthex you’ll see at the superior part three paintings representing the moment when God makes Adam, and Eve, and to the left wall above the stairway leading to the balcony you can see a town depicted in a mirror backwards, which represents Sodoma and Gomora.
If you want a dreaptrip to Maramures, all you have to do is write to us and visit our website: www.visittransilvania.ro
Maybe you`ll have the luck to have me your guide.
The Monastery was built at the middle of the 16th century by the Dragos family on one of their properties, being contemporary with the famous Monastery of Peri and that of Biserica Alba, all having the same founders.
The monastery having as patron saint St. Nicholas was one of the most important monasteries in the Maramures area and the last Orthodox Archbishop, Gavril Stefanca was residing here in 1738.
Until 1787 the monastery was Orthodox, but in July 12, 1791 the goods of the monastery were confiscated by the Austrian state and given to the Greek-Catholic Monastery of Cernoc, the few monks left moved to the Monastery of Neamt. In this monastery were religious Romanian books, printed and brought from Moldavia and Walachia. The Monastery was also a kind of school for the Orthodox priests for the villages around. One could also buy icons painted here.
In 1805 the church of the Monastery was moved by the faithful nearer to the village in order to protect it from being destroyed.
In 1993 the Bishop of Maramures and Satmar Justinian Chira blessed this place and the monastic spirit came to life again.
The reconstruction of the Monastery of Barsana is a bridge between past and future, using as a source of inspiration the local traditions - the buildings inside the monastery area being made from oak wood and river stones. This complex was thought of as an architectural site which developed over time in accordance with the village`s finances and the spiritual needs of the Christian Orthodox religion.
The monastic ensemble consists of buildings dating from 1993.
In 1995 the cross was placed on top of the church. Between 1995 and 1996 the house with monastic cells and the chapel were built. Between 1996 and 1997 were built the summer altar and the gate at the entrance in the monastery in 1998 the tower, the belfry, the confessor’s house and on the exterior they built a museum which shelters a library.
The church is the highest wood building in Europe, being a synthesis of all elements specific to religious establishments in Maramures, the only difference being a semi-basement where the liturgy officiated until the church finished being erected. The tower is situated above the pronaos and has a long pavilion. The belfry is the main entrance in the monastery and has 2 side apses.
The master’s house is a building which has empty space on the basement, while the upper storey has rooms to rent for pilgrims.
The artist’s house consists of workshops for painters, sculptors and upholsterers.
The village of Ieud is one of the oldest establishments in Maramures, having been inhabited by the free Dacians and the Roman colonists. The actual establishment was founded in the mid 16th century by Voivode Balci, Voivode Dragos’ grandson. Tourist attractions: the Wooden Church (the Church on top of the hill) and the Ethnography Museum.
The Wooden Church (the Church on top of the hill) was built in 1364 with help from Voivode Balc and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary’s Birth, being also called the „Church on top of the hill“. It is built in the style of Maramures from fir-tree wood with very small windows on two levels. The wood paintings in the early Byzantine style date from 1782. In 1925 the oldest writing in Romanian, „The Codex of Ieud“ (1391-1392), was found in the loft of the church. Presently, the original may be found in the Library of the Romanian Academy in Bucharest. The Ethnography Museum of Ieud consists of old objects belonging to the inhabitants of the area of Maramures, folk costumes and traditional tools. In the courtyard of the museum one may admire a Maramures traditional house, with tourists allowed to use the weaving loom. Inside the museum there is a sales exhibition with artisan works where one can buy folk costumes, counterpanes, carpets and other souvenirs.
The Museum of Peasant Woman of Maramures
The Museum is situated in the village of Dragomiresti on the main road, opened in 2001. It is located in a traditional house of the Maramures area, made of stone, wood and adobe, having a relatively small interior courtyard where one may find objects used by peasant women specific to this area. The local tree will have the bowls of the family hanging on its branches. The number of bowls is indicative of a family size welfare, and they are of different colours. The red bowl on top of the tree means that the girl in the family is about to get married, a tradition which is still followed nowadays. The museum was founded in order to celebrate the woman as mother, grandmother, wife, sister or friend and her role in the development of human species. The Maramures peasant woman is the one who kept alive the Christian faith, the traditional customs, the folk costumes and the linguistic dialect over the centuries
Inside the museum one can admire exhibits such as:
- the spindle with ’tzurgalau’ specific to the area which has a legend: in order to be loved by a girl, a lad in the village gave her a spindle as a present telling her that if she found the piece which once taken out would unravel the spindle, they would break up; as the girl didn't find that piece, she began to like the lad and got together;
Also there are:
- tools specific to weaving in hemp, linen and wool;
- the tree with hanging bowls;
- specific kinds of fancy bread for different traditions and celebrations, masks worn by the lads at different religious celebrations;
- the dowery of a girl, consisting of loom-woven counterpanes, pillows, sheets, etc. all vividly coloured and beautifully decorated with geometrical and floral motifs;
- the oven used when cooking, but also when sleeping;
- one can also admire the interesting practical ideas : the way of setting the clay-made bowls on the beam of the house, to save storage space
- the folk costumes specific to every village in the region of Maramures;
- artisan objects (there is a sales exhibition and on request the tourist can dress up the folk costume specific to the area).
The Maramures Gates
You’ll meet it everywhere in Maramures, especially in the Iza Valley and in the area between the villages Calinesti, Rusi, Harnicesti and Desesti they are spectacular, beautiful, surprising and we are enchanted in front of them. Yes, I speak about the Gates from Maramures. I have seen it over many years on my ways trough this magic land, but only in the last years have I studied more closely the drawings and symbols carved there, trying to understand their significance. I will reveal to you my reader, the result of my studies. I have to tell you that the Maramuresan Gate is an expression of the folkloric art, a type of communication which use the signs, a language which tell us the message of the artesan. The decoration of the gates is dominated by the geometric shapes. The most common ornaments from the maramuresan gates are:
- The wolves tooth , the zig-zag shape;
- The Zig- Zag, the symbol being the one of the water and rain;
- The Round is a frequent tracery in the maramures art. It can show up simple or having a dot in the middle. The dot as symbol, starts from the point as the end of everything. The dot significance is in the same time the centre, the origin and the end of the reverse road and the creativity in the same time. The round had a universal utility, if we are thinking that the assyrieans used it to symbolize the God of Sky and in the Romanian art is a solar tracery. At the basics, the round has the significance of masculine - femenin, earth and sky or the four main elements (the water, the fire, the earth and the air). Also it symbolises fecundity of the womb
- The Triangle, is the geometrical representation of the sacred number 3, representing the Holy Trinity. The equilateral triangle symbolizes the divinity, harmony and proportion. It has the function as solar symbol too. Together with the sun, the triangle is twice a symbol of fecundity. In Judaism the equilateral triangle it was the symbol of God. Represented with the top up, is the symbol of the phallus and with the top down is the symbol of the womb.
- The sun divided in two parts , is the symbol of the end of the world in the folkloric beliefs. The end of the world will be anticipated by many natural disasters like the disappearance of planets. The carols are saying: „The end of the world will be/When the sun will not rise/And the moon will be gone from the sky“.
- The Sun wheele (the cross inscribe inside the circle): is a Christian symbol of martyrdom and belongs to the Uranian - Solar cult. The bronze minicarts have wheels decorated with the sun tracery. A type of this symbol is the cross inscribed in the round.
- The Sun wheele with many spokes; another symbol of the sun which gives us, light and warmth necessary to maintain the life.
- Rosette flower with six petals, had a large area in the Romanian folk art being shown in Oltenia and then in Transylvania. The rosette flower with six petals inscribed in a circle had first a solar function and then, after Christianization, became The Chrisomon, the monograme of Jesus Christ.
- The grape bunch with the grapes has an oriental nature being identified with the tree of life. The Sumerian sign for life was a grape leaf because this symbolizes immortality.
- 10. The tree of life it is usually represented by a rope out of which branch smaller ropes from place to. From place to place there are crosses inscribed into the circle usually on the gateposts.
- The stag: a totemic animal in the culture of many nations is a divine messenger. Also it is a sign of virility, having a connection with heaven and a solar function. It’s the image of force generating life and the god of fertility.
12. The Cross: appears as a tracery, long time before Christianity. It defends everybody against evil and it is represented in many ways.