By Guest Blogger Iulia Iuga
When people hear I am originally from Romania, they often ask “what’s there to visit in your country besides Dracula’s castle?”. I tell them that of course, the region of Transylvania is a great place to see, and that truth be told, vampires or no vampires, there is an aura of mystery that this medieval area still keeps locked in its walls.
But I also tell them that there is much more to explore in Romania, apart from the famous Brașov-Sibiu circuit. I tell them that one of my personal favorite destinations in Romania is the most up-northern area called Maramureș.
The land of Maramureș is quiet, predominantly rural and traditional. Certain villages here are probably some of the few places in Europe where you can still see young people dressed in traditional port on a day to day basis, not for putting on a show or as part of a fair.
There is a certain level of tourism developing in the area, but the great thing about it is that people here promote the true traditional customs, handicrafts and values, without altering them or importing any “plastic” replacements. Chinese souvenirs are yet to make it here. True, it is a bit difficult to get around without a car, so it is best to rent one when visiting the area.
A land which is almost virgin to tourists, where locals continue the same traditions of centuries old; a place where you feel like you’re taking a trip not only in space, but also in time. It’s been called the land of wood, due to the traditional houses built out of it and in front of which you can admire beautiful handcrafted doors, also made of wood. But this is also of land of green heels and haystacks, of deep beautiful valleys and of home-made alcohol.
The air is fresh, the people are as friendly as they get, the food is all natural and therefore healthy and the landscapes are unforgettable.
Top Attractions in Maramureș
1. Săpânța, The Merry Cemetery
The colorful cemetery from Săpânța village is probably the best advertised attraction of the area. Those buried here have Romanian naïve paintings on their tombstones along with short poems describing their life and the reason they died. Arguably artistic, it provides a good sample of traditional motifs and perception of beauty.
A sample poem written on one of the tombstones:
Under this heavy cross
Lies my poor mother in-law
Three more days she would have lived
I would lie, and she would read (this cross).
You, who here are passing by
Not to wake her up please try
Cause’ if she comes back home
She’ll criticise me more.
But I will surely behave
So she’ll not return from grave.
Stay here, my dear mother in-law!
2. The UNESCO Listed Wooden Monasteries of Maramureș
There are 8 wooden monasteries located in the Maramureș area that are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. As described by UNESCO, they are “outstanding examples of vernacular religious wooden architecture resulting from the interchange of Orthodox religious traditions with Gothic influences in a specific vernacular interpretation of timber construction traditions, showing a high level of artistic maturity and craft skills”.
The Bârsana Monastery is probably the best know out of the 8. There are documents attesting the existence of a monastery on this land ever since the 1300s, but the building that still stands nowadays was built in back in 1720 and became a parish church in 1806.
While under the Austro-Hungarian occupation, the monastery, as a cult place, helped keep a bond between the occupied area and the other Romanian speaking countries of the time, Wallachia and Moldova, by bringing in books in the Romanian language that were taught to the priests to be. They were the most important figures in the highly religious society of the time and so they were the ones who kept the connections alive between people under different occupations.
3. A ride down the Vasar Valley with a steam-powered Mocănița train
Mocănița is a narrow gauge railway which can be found in different areas of Romania, most notably in Transylvania, Maramureș and Bucovina. These raiways were built in the early 1900s, both for passengers and cargo through mountainous areas that were hard to access otherwise.
Nowadays, most of them are out of use and have been long forgotten. The Mocănița that goes through the Vasar Valley in Maramureș is however still in use. It was built in the 1930s. Its initial function was logging and it still serves this purpose, but these days it’s being used more as a touristic attraction.
There is even a foundation started by a Swiss who visited the area back in the 80s and, charmed by it, started this foundation called “Hilfe für die Wassertalbahn in Rumänien” in order to help with the rehabilitation works on the railway.