Unspoiled traditional living in a village in Maramureș

by Victor Grigore, Webphoto.ro

In the north-western end of Romania lies a special land who’s fame turned into legend. Historic Maramureș extends a bit into today Ukraine, but is a region where genuine Romanian spirit is preserved as a valuable heritage. Locals return from hundreds of kilometers from their workplaces in Spain, Italy, England or Holland to wear folkloric costumes and attend weddings with local music and rituals.
The people of Maramureș are the most welcoming and kind people of Romania, still regarding even tourists as special visitors that honor their villages and have to be greeted in the best way.

The particularity of this region comes from its geography, with mountains that prevented it being conquered or controlled by the Hungarian or the Austrian empires, that found hard to manage the villages scattered over several hills with vast forests. The same detail made it troublesome for the communist system to carry out its program of collectivized agriculture. As forests make up to 80% of the surface of Maramureș, plenty of villages were not even included in this program that aimed at using large farming areas with mechanical equipment, but ended up destroying a lot of peasant culture in many areas of the country.

On all sides of the region there are mountain ranges as high as 2.000 meters, with forests of oak, beech and fir. The abundance of wood created a unique architectural style here for houses and churches. The massive gates, carved with artistic motifs are a mark of this region, a way of showing pride, status and attachment to traditions. Churches have a Gothic look, with extremely tall spires also hand hewn. Sometimes the entire church is made of wood, including the nails, as wood is not only decorative and warm, but also believed to have some spiritual significance. Wood comes from a tree, a living part of the creation, that connects earth and sky, and was also used to make important objects in Christian history, like the cross or the arch of Noah. In Săpânța, close the Ukraine, there is even the tallest wooden church in the world, a Guiness record.

The communities of Maramureș have been hard hit by the decline of industry and mining after the Revolution of 1989 and decided to take matters into their own hands. Entire villages have been emptied by an exodus of all the able population. Men and women went to Western Europe to work on construction sites and other places, just as once Maramureș was a destination for foreign communities of Czechs, Jews, Germans or Slovaks. While the influx of capital from the West made some of the villages develop quickly, there is also a down-side to this unseen exodus. The locals, who send money home from Europe, have started to make large houses with new and cheaper technologies, that abandon completely the traditional wooden style of architecture. Villages famous once for their wood craftsmen like Botiza or Vadu Izei, are now starting to look like residential neighborhoods of Bucharest. The houses are comfortable and ready to receive the wave of tourists, attracted by the fame of the place, but look less and less like they used to.

One place where you can see traditional architecture without modern interventions is the Museum of Maramureș Village in Sighet, where most of these images have been taken.

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